Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

Fantastic Migrants

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

Saturday, Sept. 6 is World Shorebirds’ Day — a time to celebrate “fantastic migrants.” For biologists Rebecca Holberton and Lindsay Tudor, nearly every day is World Shorebirds’ Day.

They’re in the midst of a two-year study of one of those fantastic migrants — the semipalmated sandpipers (Calidris pusilla). Named for the short webs between their toes, the small sandpipers scurry synchronously on black stilt-like legs, “cherking” and searching for food on the shore.

This year, like last, Holberton, a professor at the University of Maine, and Tudor, a wildlife biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIF&W), are conducting health assessments and placing “nano tags” — or very small VHF radio transmitters — on sandpipers.

By monitoring the semipalmated sandpipers’ movements, the scientists learn more about the birds’ stay on the Maine coast during their migration from the Arctic to South America.

In 2013, the first year of the study, Holberton, Tudor and UMaine graduate student Sean Rune learned that during the sandpipers’ stopover in Down East, Maine, they moved between feeding sites along upper Pleasant River, upper Harrington River and Flat Bay during low tide and roosted on offshore ledges at high tide.

Hatching-year birds ate and rested an average of 17.5 days in Maine and adults stayed an average of 12.4 days. Adult semipalmated sandpipers weighed, on average, 5 grams more than hatching-year birds on their first migration.

The young sandpipers, on their first migration and new to this area, may have needed more time to gain enough weight for the energy reserves they needed to fly nonstop to their wintering grounds, Holberton says.

Tudor says it’s easy to be a fan of the little balls of fluff that nearly double their body weight to a hefty 1.4 ounces while resting and refueling during their two- to three-week time in Maine.

When the peeps have packed on sufficient weight, they soar 10,000 to 15,000 feet above the Maine coastline to head out over the ocean and catch a good tail wind. If all goes well, they’ll arrive in South America two to four days later.

One of the species’ many talents — in addition to making their way back to their exact same wintering site each season — is the ability to break down lipids in their fat-filled fuel tank under the skin to power their nonstop 3,000-mile journey over the Atlantic Ocean.

Sandpipers don’t put down in the ocean as they can’t tolerate the cold water, says Tudor, which makes their stay on the Maine coast critical to a successful final leg of their uninterrupted migratory flight to South America.

“When in Maine, they’re our (the public) responsibility, our birds,” Tudor says.” We want to know if the habitat (in Maine) is meeting the birds’ needs.”

Studies indicate that since the 1970s the number of these feathered vertebrates has plummeted 80 percent in North America, Tudor says.

The population decline isn’t exclusive to semipalmated sandpipers. Globally, one in eight, or more than 1,300 bird species, are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International as reported in National Geographic.

This project increases the researchers’ knowledge about reasons for the nosedive in numbers of semipalmated sandpipers and points to which of its life stages are most perilous.

Semipalmated sandpipers face a variety of challenges, Holberton and Tudor say, including climate change in the Arctic where they breed, loss of coastal habitat along their migration route, and being the target of hunters on the coast of South America where they winter.

The 5-to-6-inch-tall birds are opportunists that feed on intertidal invertebrates at the interface of land and sea. Thus, they’re an indicator species for the health of mudflats as well as sentinels for the natural world in general, Holberton says.

“The Gulf of Maine ecosystem is really facing challenges,” Holberton says. “We share resources and if birds are in trouble then so are we. This is another piece of the puzzle.”

The research, funded by Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, Eastern Maine Conservation Initiative, Maine Agricultural and Forest Experiment Station, and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, utilizes 50 automated VHF telemetry receiver towers that range from the Bay of Fundy to Cape Cod.

The nano tags and towers enable the scientists to track the birds when they arrive in Maine and when they leave. Data is fed into a repository coordinated by Phil Taylor at Acadia University.

Tudor and Holberton are pleased the semipalmated sandpipers’ project has expanded; this summer, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is conducting similar research at the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Wells. Comparing the data from Down East with data from southern Maine will be interesting and insightful, says Tudor.

The MDIF&W reviews permits for shoreland development and makes recommendations for conservation management plans for high-value habitats. Tudor says it’s important to know if the initiatives are working and whether birds’ needs are being met.

Using binoculars to watch migrating sandpipers and other shorebirds is a great way to celebrate World Shorebirds’ Day, say the scientists; it’s important for people, and dogs, to give them space so they can eat and rest for their upcoming journey.

Tudor and Holberton encourage bird enthusiasts to participate in bird counts and to contact their local Audubon Society for suggestions on ways to assist birds. Holberton invites bird watchers to like the Gulf of Maine Birdwatch page on Facebook.

Contact: Beth Staples: 207.581.3777

Advanced Structures and Composites Center Testing Largest Structure Yet, BDN Reports

Friday, August 29th, 2014

The Bangor Daily News reported engineers at the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center are evaluating a 180-foot wind turbine blade for strength testing. Habib Dagher, director of the center, said the blade is the largest structure ever to be tested at the facility, which is one of two sites in the nation capable of handling the blade. He told the BDN there is a growing interest across the nation in using fewer but larger turbines because they are more cost-effective in energy production.

Ward Interviewed for Press Herald R&D, Innovation Fact-Checking Commentary

Friday, August 29th, 2014

A Portland Press Herald business reporter spoke with Jake Ward, vice president for innovation and economic development at the University of Maine, for a commentary titled “Fact checking LePage on R&D, MTI and innovation.” Ward was interviewed in response to a recent comment made by Gov. Paul LePage stating the University of Maine System has 37 patents that are not being commercialized. Ward said the system has 77 patents assigned to it and more than a third are jointly owned with a private business or have a commercial license agreement or license options. Others are associated with ongoing research projects funded by both public and private dollars, he said.

Maine Edge Publishes Report on Blackstone’s Sexual Harassment Study

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

The Maine Edge published a report about sexual harassment research conducted by Amy Blackstone, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Maine and chairwoman of the Sociology Department. In a recent study, Blackstone examined how perceptions of sexual harassment at work are linked to an individual’s age, experience and historical backdrop. She found age is important because how perceptions shift over time links to several age-related processes such as maturity and historical context. Blackstone’s findings were documented in an article published in the Mid-South Sociological Association’s journal “Sociological Spectrum.”

Evelyn Fairman: At the Nano Scale

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

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Evelyn Fairman of Bangor graduated from the University of Maine in May with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, and minors in renewable energy engineering and mathematics. This fall, she has begun graduate work in energy science, technology and policy, with a disciplinary concentration in chemical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. Upon graduation in May 2015, she plans to work with alternative liquid fuels in an industrial setting.

For two years while at UMaine, Fairman was involved in nanocellulose research. Her work, which applied cetyltrimethylammonium bromide (CTAB) in order to dry and rehydrate nanocellulose for easier transport, was recognized with a 2013 UMaine Center for Undergraduate Research Fellowship. This spring, her work was featured in the Maine Journal, and Fairman was recognized by UMaine with the Edith M. Patch Award. Most recently, the poster from her Honors thesis, “Avoiding Aggregation During the Drying and Rehydration Phases of Nanocellulose Production,” was a finalist in the Society of Women Engineers Collegiate Technical Poster Competition.

Earlier this year, Fairman presented her research findings at the 2014 National Collegiate Research Conference at Harvard University. This summer, she also spoke at the 2014 TAPPI International Conference on Nanotechnology for Renewable Materials in Vancouver, B.C.

In her research, Fairman was mentored by engineering faculty members David Neivandt, James Beaupre and Karen Horton; Honors College Dean Francois Amar; and forest operations professor Douglas Gardner.

Why did you decide to major in chemical engineering?
I chose to major in chemical engineering because I wanted to change the way energy is manufactured and distributed. I felt obligated as an educated citizen to reverse the effects of climate change by reducing our nation’s dependence on fossil fuels. As a junior in high school, I hoped to one day design an alternative liquid fuel for the transportation sector. I was especially interested in the potential of fuel cells. I knew I wanted to major in engineering, but it was the University of Maine’s Consider Engineering summer program that convinced me to choose chemical.

How did you get involved in undergraduate research?
I contacted David Neivandt after I graduated high school. I had met him at the Consider Engineering program the previous summer, so I felt comfortable reaching out to him via email. He knew I was an incoming first-year chemical engineering major, and he was more than happy to assign me a student research assistantship under the guidance of one of his Ph.D, students, James Beaupre. The three of us continued to work on various research projects throughout my undergraduate career at the University of Maine.

What difference did the research make in your overall academic experience?
My classroom experience was richer because I was able to reinforce academic topics with hands-on experimental testing. I always loved math and science in high school, but I chose engineering because it was an applied field. It’s not often that an undergraduate has the opportunity to collect and analyze data for an independent research project, while getting paid. I was extremely lucky to have Dave and James as mentors. The research experience gave me the confidence to speak up in class, to ask questions if I didn’t understand the material, to present my results in weekly meetings, and to never hesitate to use upperclassmen and graduate students as resources. Indeed, my research experience convinced me by the end of the summer before my freshman year at UMaine that chemical engineering was the right field for me.

How do you describe your research to lay people?
That is a very good question. It is very important for scientists to be able to translate their research to layman’s terms, not just to fuel curiosity in those who work outside the field, but also for funding purposes. Here is what I usually say: The state of Maine has a strong pulp and paper industry. I am sure you know that we use trees to make paper. Well, trees — and all plant matter — are composed of cellulose. Cellulose is a useful material, but if you break it down into smaller pieces until it reaches nano-scale dimensions, we call that nanocellulose. Nanocellulose has very unique properties that allow it to be applied in a wide variety of fields. There is, however, a problem with the way nanocellulose is being produced industrially. Currently, nanocellulose is produced in an aqueous slurry. The water in this slurry eventually needs to be removed. However, when we remove the water, the nanocellulose clumps together and loses its nanoscale dimensions. Thus, its desirable properties are lost and it is no longer nanocellulose. My research project has a patented solution to this problem: We use the chemical additive CTAB to effectively dry and rehydrate nanocellulose.

Which faculty mentor did you work with most and what did you learn most from him or her?
I worked most closely with James Beaupre. James encouraged me to think outside the box and to consider all possibilities before drawing a conclusion. His guidance taught me to pay close attention to detail both during experiments and during data analysis. Outside the laboratory, his positive attitude reminded me not to forget the big picture.

Why did you choose UMaine?
I chose UMaine for the strong engineering program. Employers all over the U.S. recognize UMaine graduates as hardworking, genuine people. Having worked as an R&D intern for a chemical distribution company based in Delaware, I can say with confidence that UMaine engineers have a very good reputation outside of the state.

What is the most interesting, engaging or helpful class you took at UMaine?
I really enjoyed being in the Honors College. I know that’s not a specific class, but it allowed me to think about problems from alternative perspectives and to interact with students with different majors than my own. Also, my research project ultimately served as my undergraduate thesis for the Honors College. I cannot reflect on my academic experience at UMaine without thinking of the Honors College.

What was your favorite place on campus?
My favorite place on campus was the studio in 1944 Hall because I was actually really involved in the dance department at UMaine.

What advice do you have for incoming students?
Learn to manage your time and to study effectively. Never hesitate to reach out to upperclassmen in your major or faculty in your department. Once you’ve mastered the classroom environment, get involved in extracurricular activities, student clubs and/or Greek life. Join a professional organization (SWE, AIChE, etc.). Make a five-year plan. You’ll be surprised at graduation when you’ve achieved your original collegiate goals. Always push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Take a summer internship or study abroad if your program allows. Attend a hockey game and learn the Stein Song.

Have you had an experience at UMaine that has shaped the way you see the world?
I was a member of Sophomore Eagles, one of the four traditions groups on campus. The Sophomore Eagles is composed of 12 second-year female undergraduate students who exemplify five personality traits: scholarship, leadership, friendship, dignity and character. I cannot speak more highly of the other 11 young women who were Eagles along with me.

Ten years from now, what do you hope to be doing?
I would love to use my engineering background to eventually move into a policymaking role, perhaps at the EPA or at the state level. If that doesn’t happen, then I can see myself working as an investment banker in the energy sector.

Reuters Interviews Hayes About JAMA Commentary

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

Marie Hayes, a University of Maine professor of psychology, spoke with Reuters about an invited commentary she co-wrote with Dr. Mark Brown, chief of pediatrics and director of nurseries at Eastern Maine Medical Center, for the Aug. 25 Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The commentary, “Legalization of Medical Marijuana and Incidence of Opioid Mortality,” references a study in the same JAMA issue examining the link between medical marijuana laws and unintentional overdose mortality from opioid analgesics. “Because opioid mortality is such a tremendously significant health crisis now, we have to do something and figure out what’s going on,” Hayes told Reuters, adding efforts that states are making to combat deaths, such as prescription monitoring programs, have been relatively ineffective. “Everything we’re doing is having no effect, except for in the states that have implemented medical marijuana laws,” she said. Fox News and the Bangor Daily News carried the Reuters report. Live Science, Boston.com, Los Angeles Times, Science Codex and The Washington Post also reported on the JAMA articles. The Portland Press Herald carried the LA Times article.

BDN Article Cites UMaine Electrical Engineering, MDOT Moose Illuminator Project

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

The Bangor Daily News reported on efforts the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) is taking to reduce the number of moose-vehicle accidents. The article states the MDOT has several plans in the works, including a “moose illuminator project,” that calls for the installation of LED lights along sections of Route 161 with a high moose concentration. The lights would turn on after dark when a vehicle approaches, with the intent of lighting the roadway to reveal moose, the article states. The project was designed in cooperation with students in the University of Maine’s Electrical Engineering Department as part of their senior project this past spring, according to Andrew Sheaff, a lecturer in the department. “This was a really cool project,” he said. “And we hope it will help out motorists avoid moose.”

JAMA Taps UMaine Psychology Researcher for Commentary on Potential for Medical Marijuana to Save Lives

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

The potential for medical marijuana to curb the growing incidence of opioid analgesic-associated deaths is the focus of an invited commentary in the Aug. 25 Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), co-authored by a University of Maine psychology researcher and a physician at Eastern Maine Medical Center.

The invited commentary, “Legalization of Medical Marijuana and Incidence of Opioid Mortality,” by Marie Hayes, a UMaine professor of psychology, and Dr. Mark Brown, chief of pediatrics and director of nurseries at EMMC, references a study in the same JAMA issue examining the link between medical marijuana laws and unintentional overdose mortality from opioid analgesics.

This is the second time in the past two years that Hayes has been tapped for commentary by JAMA as a result of her research on substance-exposed newborns. And in 2013, she also was the co-author on a JAMA research paper.

“The striking implication is that medical marijuana laws, when implemented, may represent a promising approach for stemming runaway rates of nonintentional opioid analgesic-related deaths,” write Hayes and Brown.

Use of medical marijuana to lessen the drive to use opiates at lethal levels in individuals with psychiatric, nonpain-related conditions is particularly promising, the Maine researchers write. That’s critically important for states like Maine, where the rates of opioid analgesic overdose deaths are high, and addiction and related psychiatric disorders represent an estimated 50 percent of opioid analgesic-related deaths.

The question that needs more study, says Hayes, is whether marijuana provides improved pain control that decreases opioid dosing to safer levels.

Since 2009, research led by Hayes and Brown has included the collection of genetic data as part of a longitudinal study of mothers and their substance-exposed newborns. In 2011, Hayes and Brown began collaborating with Drs. Jonathan Davis and Elisha Wachman at Tufts Medical Center to determine which genes would be most helpful in predicting severity of withdrawal symptoms and, ultimately, most effective treatments and lengths of hospital stays.

Their research is part of a $3 million, multi-institution National Institutes of Health (NIH) study led by Davis at Tufts Medical Center and Barry Lester at Brown Medical School. Hayes is a member of the steering committee on the associated clinical trial, providing expertise on genetic polymorphisms and developmental outcomes in neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) infants.

The first findings of the collaborative research with Wachman and Davis at Tufts Medical Center, and Hayes on the genetics of neonatal abstinence syndrome were reported in JAMA in 2013. The research team also included Jonathan Paul, a former UMaine doctoral researcher under Hayes who helped develop the genetic model and who is now an NIH postdoc at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

A year ago, JAMA featured an editorial by Hayes and Brown, “The Epidemic of Prescription Opiate Abuse and Neonatal Abstinence,” detailing the challenges of caring for this vulnerable population, cautioning against defunding maternal treatment programs, and calling for stepped-up research into effective medications and other protocols.

Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745

Holberton Quoted in SeacoastOnline, AP Reports on Bird Migration Research

Monday, August 25th, 2014

Rebecca Holberton, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Maine, was quoted in a SeacoastOnline article about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service using tiny transmitters to study shorebird migration patterns. The tags transmit signals to radio towers on the Northeast coast of the United States and Canada, with two of the towers in the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge in Wells, according to the report. The Wells activity is part of a larger project to study migration patterns of semipalmated sandpipers, which began in 2013, the article states. The larger project is co-directed by Holberton and Lindsay Tudor, a shorebird biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Holberton said the project is still at the beginning. “Last year was the first time for shorebird tracking in Maine,” she said. “This is the first year in Wells. It’s the first year with more than one site in Maine. We want to continue and expand to more sites in Maine and more species.” The Associated Press and the Bangor Daily News picked up the SeacoastOnline article. The Portland Press Herald and Maine Public Broadcasting Network carried the AP report.

UMaine Mentioned in Press Herald, BDN Articles on Tick Increase

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

The University of Maine was mentioned in articles by the Portland Press Herald and Bangor Daily News on climate change and the increase of ticks and Lyme disease. Both reports referenced a question on the November ballot that will ask voters to approve an $8 million bond that would support a laboratory administered by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension for monitoring Lyme disease and other health threats related to mosquitoes, bed bugs and ticks. Research from UMaine’s Climate Change Institute also was referenced in the BDN article. A clinical research associate at the Maine Medical Center Research Institute, which tracks tick populations in the state, said CCI research shows the state will grow significantly warmer by 2050.