WABI (Channel 5) and WVII (Channel 7) attended the open house of the Virtual Environment and Multimodal Interaction (VEMI) Laboratory at the University of Maine. The lab is part of the Spatial Informatics Program in the School of Computing and Information Science and houses Maine’s only research facility that combines a fully immersive virtual reality installation with augmented reality technologies in an integrated research and development environment. The lab’s director Nicholas Giudice, a professor of spatial information science and engineering, and Richard Corey, the lab’s director of operations, spoke about the work being done in the lab. Giudice said the lab offers virtual reality that merges different senses such as sound, sight and touch to make the viewer feel like they’re in the virtual reality.
Archive for the ‘Research’ Category
UMaine researchers seek to improve the teaching of thermodynamics and electronics in physics and engineering.
Researchers at the University of Maine hope to improve the teaching and learning of two central topics in physics and engineering that are critical to undergraduate programs through a three-year project.
John Thompson, an associate professor of physics and cooperating associate professor of STEM education, and MacKenzie Stetzer, assistant professor of physics and cooperating assistant professor of STEM education, have received $599,999 from the National Science Foundation to investigate student learning of thermodynamics and electronics — including electric circuits — in both disciplines.
“Only in the last 10 years or so have researchers really targeted student learning beyond the introductory level, including in laboratory settings. Interdisciplinary research that focuses on specific physics and engineering content is also relatively novel,” says Thompson of the project.
Both of the targeted areas are aligned with a recent National Research Council report on the status and future directions of discipline-based education research, Stetzer adds.
Undergraduate programs in physics and engineering often include parallel courses that teach the same topics, so the researchers want to determine the important differences between what students do and don’t learn in courses that cover the same material.
Thompson and Stetzer have previously conducted research on learning in STEM fields. Their research — along with studies conducted by many other researchers — confirm that if a student can correctly solve textbook problems, it doesn’t always mean they understand the underlying concepts.
The researchers plan to look at content in parallel courses across disciplines for similarities and differences; study student conceptual understanding across disciplines before and after instruction through written questions, interviews and classroom observations; and use research results to guide the modification and testing of existing instructional materials as well as the development of new materials for use across disciplines to help students learn difficult material in physics and engineering courses.
“Figuring out what works across disciplines and leveraging the strengths of effective instructional strategies employed in both disciplines are ways to increase the efficiency of these typically rather time-consuming research-based curriculum development efforts,” Stetzer says.
Physics Ph.D. students Jessica Clark and Kevin Van De Bogart are leading the work in thermodynamics and electronics, respectively; the research will be the focus of their dissertations. Donald Mountcastle, associate professor of physics and cooperating associate professor of biochemistry, and Wilhelm Alexander Friess, associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of UMaine’s Brunswick Engineering Program are the project’s senior personnel. The research is taking place in courses in mechanical, chemical, and electrical engineering, as well as in physics.
The majority of the project’s research staff are members of UMaine’s Physics Education Research Laboratory (PERL) and the Maine Center for Research in STEM Education (RiSE Center). The PERL consists of about 15 faculty, postdoctoral and graduate students in physics and science education. The RiSE Center includes faculty from several STEM departments and houses programs for a master of science in teaching and a Ph.D. in STEM education.
The researchers say due to the project’s interdisciplinary nature, it has the potential to improve the teaching and learning of physics and engineering at not only UMaine, but beyond, including internationally.
“The development of effective instructional materials based on research is particularly challenging. While many individual faculty develop their own materials and strategies, they usually don’t have time to thoroughly research how well that all works and iteratively refine the materials,” says Thompson, who is also co-director of the PERL.
The modified materials created from the project will be designed to be easily integrated into existing courses and won’t require instructors to implement an entirely new curriculum.
“Coming from a physics perspective, we’ve already begun to see reasoning approaches in engineering classes that we hadn’t observed when working with physics students,” Stetzer says. “We expect to see a similar phenomenon as we collaborate more fully with our engineering colleagues in the project and begin to ask engineering-based questions in physics courses.”
The findings are expected to positively affect all disciplines engaged in teaching thermodynamics and electronics, and could lead to the development of a more coherent educational experience, especially for undergraduates in physics and engineering, the project proposal states. The documentation of differences in instructional approaches and learning outcomes could become a valuable resource for instructors, textbook authors, curriculum developers, education researchers and governing bodies in both disciplines.
“Our findings on student difficulties and the effectiveness of different instructional approaches should inform more nuanced studies within each discipline. This will in turn produce new results that can improve the learning and teaching of these topics more broadly,” Thompson says.
Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747
Understanding more about the relationship between weather and maple sap flow, and how Maine syrup producers will adapt to climate change is the focus of research being conducted by a University of Maine graduate student.
Jenny Shrum, a Ph.D. candidate in the ecology and environmental sciences graduate program in the UMaine School of Biology and Ecology, is attempting to unravel the biophysical relationships between weather and sap flow. The goal is to better understand what drives flow and how expected trends in climate may affect the processes and harvesters in the future.
Shrum plans to collect on-site weather station data and sap flow rates at three test sites and to interview small- and large-scale producers to determine if those who have been managing sugar maple stands for years will be more or less resilient to climate change, and if large-scale producers will be better equipped to adapt. Her research is supported by the National Science Foundation and EPSCoR through UMaine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative and its Effects of Climate Change on Organisms research project.
The physiological process for sap flow is not completely understood, Shrum says. It involves a complex interaction between freezing and thawing of the xylem tissue within the tree, and the molecule sucrose which maple trees use to store carbohydrates between seasons.
“When the tree defrosts, the frozen liquid in the tree becomes fluid and that provides a medium for the sugars that are stored in the trunk to get to the branches,” Shrum says, adding that in order to continue flowing, the ground also has to be defrosted so the tree can pull in water during the next freeze cycle and recharge the positive pressure in the trunk to restart sap flow.
Sugar maple trees grow as far north as New Brunswick and as far south as Georgia, yet maple syrup is only produced commercially in the 13 most northern states because of the colder weather, Shrum says.
In Maine and other northern areas, more than one freeze-thaw event happens during the winter. This lets the process repeat and allows the season to last between six and eight weeks as opposed to a few days, which is likely in southern states such as Georgia and Missouri, where maple trees grow but aren’t commercially tapped. Warm weather or microbial build-up in taps usually ends the season, according to Shrum.
In Maine, the season usually starts sometime between the middle of February and the middle of March, and continues for about six weeks, Shrum says.
“This winter has been really weird; we’ve had really warm weather and really cold weather and as far as sap flow, that might be a good thing,” Shrum says. “But not enough is known.”
One change that has been proven is the start time of the sap season.
“Studies are starting to show that the preferred block of time for tapping is starting earlier if you base it on ideal temperatures,” Shrum says, citing a 2010 Cornell University study by Chris Skinner that found that by 2100, the sap season could start a month earlier than it does now.
For big-time operations, Shrum says an earlier season probably won’t be a problem because they can just tap their lines earlier, but she’s not sure how smaller Maine operations will adapt.
“They might not be able to change their season,” she says. “A lot of the smaller operators have multiple jobs; they make money off maple syrup, but also in other fields such as woodcutting or construction. It just so happens maple syrup is a block of time when they’re not doing anything else, so it makes sense. But if that season changes, it might not fit into their schedule as well.”
Shrum will interview a variety of producers — small- and large-scale operators, people who have been tapping trees for 30 or more years and people who started within the past five years — to learn the reasons for tapping and better understand resilience within these groups.
To record weather and sap flow data, Shrum, who holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Humboldt State University, will deploy weather stations at maple tree stands in Albion, Dixmont and Orono. She’s also using iButtons to record soil temperatures and time-lapse photography of the buckets to record hourly sap flow rates. She can then relate flow rates to variables the weather stations record, such as temperature, precipitation and sunlight.
Although climate change is likely to affect sap flow, Shrum is confident there will always be maple syrup made in Maine.
“None of the climate change scenarios that have come up result in maple trees not growing in Maine. We’re definitely still going to have freezing events in Maine; it’s not going to get so warm that that’s not going to happen,” she says.
Shrum says maple syrup could become a big commodity in Maine if more of a market was created through government incentive plans, and if the state decided to make it a priority — similar to Vermont.
“Everything is good about maple syrup. There’s very little that’s controversial about it, and the biology is fascinating,” Shrum says.
Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747
The Penobscot Bay Pilot reported on ice core research led by Paul Mayewski, director and distinguished professor of the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute. Mayewski and his team, who are studying nearly 11,700-year-old ice cores from Greenland, found today’s climate situation in the Arctic is equivalent to, but more localized, than the warming during the Younger Dryas/Holocene shift about 11,700 years ago. Mayewski and Nicole Spaulding, a postdoctoral candidate at the Climate Change Institute, also spoke with WABI (Channel 5) about how the institute is using laser technology to study ice cores. Mayewski said ice cylinders are extremely valuable for researchers to understand how climate has changed.
Marie Hayes, a psychology professor at the University of Maine, spoke with the Bangor Daily News for the article “For Maine babies exposed to drugs, disadvantageous mount after leaving the hospital.” Hayes spoke about her ongoing research on the health of drug-affected babies conducted with Mark Brown, chief of pediatrics and director of nurseries at Eastern Maine Medical Center. She said many babies face challenges after leaving the hospital, such as poverty, poor nutrition and parents with limited parenting skills, which makes it difficult to isolate the effects of prenatal exposure to opiates. She added many of the infants also are exposed to tobacco and alcohol while in the womb. Hayes’ research has also determined babies prenatally exposed to drugs have displayed subtle problems developing their stress response, which could lead to a low tolerance for frustration and new challenges as they grow up.
A team of researchers from the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center won the Best Paper Award from the Society of Naval Architects & Marine Engineers at the 19th Offshore Symposium, Feb. 6 in Houston. The paper, “VolturnUS 1:8 — Design and Testing of the First Grid-Connected Offshore Wind Turbine in the U.S.A.,” was written by Anthony Viselli, Habib Dagher and Andrew Goupee, and outlines UMaine’s design, fabrication, deployment and testing of the prototype, deployed in June 2013 off Castine, Maine. The prototype serves to de-risk the technology as it transitions to a commercial project planned for 2017.
A team of University of Maine scientists studying nearly 11,700-year-old ice cores from Greenland found that history is repeating.
Paul Mayewski, director and distinguished professor of UMaine’s Climate Change Institute, says today’s climate situation in the Arctic is equivalent to, but more localized, than the warming during the Younger Dryas/Holocene shift about 11,700 years ago.
Mayewski led the research team that examined Arctic ice formed 11,700 years ago during a rapid climate transition from the Younger Dryas (near-glacial) period to the Holocene era (period of relative warm since then). Ice cores, in essence, are timelines of past climates.
The abrupt shift then included a northward shift in the jet stream, an abrupt decrease in North Atlantic sea ice and more moisture in Greenland. These changes resulted in milder weather, fewer storms and initially more than a doubling of the length of the summer season around Greenland, the team says.
“It is highly unlikely that future change in climate will be linear as evidenced by the past and by the recent, abrupt and massive warming in the Arctic,” Mayewski says. “Understanding and ideally predicting the likelihood, timing and location of future nonlinearities in climate is essential to realistic climate prediction, adaptation and sustainability.”
The ice formed during that one-year onset of the Holocene climate “sheds light on the structure of past abrupt climate changes and provides unparalleled perspective with which to assess the potential for near-term rapid shifts in atmospheric circulation and seasonality,” Mayewski says.
Additional exploration of the ice cores, with respect to the length of seasons, is expected to yield information about precursors for abrupt climate shifts. “Identifying and using the precursors will fill an essential void in climate prediction models by testing for sensitivity in the context of past analogs,” the researchers say.
In the university’s W.M. Keck Laser Ice Facility, the researchers had the first-ever ultra-high-resolution look at ice cores formed during the swift shift from the near-glacial period to the current period of relative warmth. The ice core samples were removed from a depth spanning 1,677.5 meters to 1,678.5 meters, or from 11,643 to 11,675 years ago.
Mayewski has led more than 50 expeditions to the Arctic, Antarctica, Himalayas, Tibetan Plateau, Tierra del Fuego and the Andes. He has shared his research with numerous media venues including “60 Minutes,” “NOVA,” BBC, “Fresh Air” and “The Diane Rehm Show.”
The research team includes Sharon Sneed, Sean Birkel, Andrei Kurbatov and Kirk Maasch, all from UMaine. The researchers’ findings are included in the article, “Holocene warming marked by abrupt onset of longer summers and reduced storm frequency around Greenland,” published in the January 2014 issue of the Journal of Quaternary Science.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
A study being conducted by University of Maine researchers to determine what flowers are most attractive to bees was the topic of the latest column in the Portland Press Herald’s Maine Gardener series. UMaine professors Alison Dibble, Lois Berg Stack and Frank Drummond are conducting the study at gardens in Old Town, Jonesboro and Blue Hill with the help of graduate student Eric Venturini. Honeybees have become scarcer and more expensive to bring in from out of state, which makes wild and native bees more important to commercial growers and home gardeners, according to the article.
Companies considered to be good social performers are more likely to limit the levels of pay for their executives than similar firms within their industries, according to University of Maine researchers.
However, the top executives at the large firms examined in the study are not being penalized. The average compensation package in the sample was about $8 million, and additional pay above this level is not likely to generate additional motivation, say Maine Business School faculty members Patti Miles and Grant Miles, who conducted the study.
In their findings, published in Social Responsibility Journal, the researchers suggest that executives for the good social performers may be willing to “sacrifice at least a piece of financial compensation for the intangible rewards of being seen as good corporate citizens.”
A review by the journal publisher congratulated the researchers for their study findings that relate to “wider debates that have gone on around corporate ethics.”
Their findings were based on an examination of data from a sample of 57 firms identified as possessing “good corporate social responsibility,” which were compared to 57 firms of similar size and in the same industries. All of the firms included in the study were drawn from the Fortune 1000 list, and most rank within the Fortune 500.
The companies were selected as good social performers based on criteria such as inclusion in Fortune’s list of most admired and most accountable companies, or by filing reports with the Global Reporting Initiative and United Nations Global Compact. Overall, 33 industry segments were represented, with the greatest number coming from pharmaceuticals and petroleum refining.
Executive compensation data were drawn from public reports from 2005–07. The researchers examined both CEO pay and average compensation for the company’s top management team. In both cases, there was a significant correlation between corporate social responsibility and lower levels of executive pay.
Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745
The Morning Sentinel cited research from the Lobster Institute at the University of Maine for an article about a proposed bill designed to protect Maine’s lobster industry by banning two pesticides that have been partially blamed for hurting lobster populations in New York and Connecticut. According to research from the Lobster Institute, the lobster industry pumps $1.7 billion into Maine’s economy.