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College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture–Research & Development


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Lambing Season Underway at Witter Farm

Spring has arrived at the University of Maine’s J. Franklin Witter Teaching and Research Center where lambing season has begun.

About 20 students in the Animal and Veterinary Sciences Program are providing prenatal, delivery, and post-delivery care for the flock of registered Icelandic ewes at the Orono farm. Since the season began in early April, the students have overseen five sets of births. Five more births are expected in the next few weeks.

James Weber, associate professor in the School of Food and Agriculture and the university’s attending veterinarian, is coordinating the student participation. He says the students are responsible for 100 percent of the animal care and are heavily invested.

“A student who was assigned to lambing watch texted me one night to say she thought the ewe was going to give birth,” Weber says. “By the time I arrived at the farm, there were 15 other students there. And this was at 9 p.m.”

The experience provides an educational, hands-on opportunity for the students, especially the seven who plan to attend veterinary school next year, Weber says.

Witter farm currently is home to 10 ewes, two rams and 11 lambs, as well as cows and horses. The sheep have recently returned to campus after the farm’s herd was sold six years ago because of financial constraints, Weber says.

Weber’s $200,000 USDA grant for research on a deadly sheep and goat parasite helped bring the lambs back to the farm. The three-year Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) study aims to develop and implement a winter management protocol for Haemonchus contortus, or barber pole worm, in northern New England.

During the region’s cold winters, the parasite is confined to the animals’ digestive tract. In the spring, overwintering larvae mature to adults that contaminate pastures and can sicken or kill pastured animals. The researchers hope to reduce the effect of the pests on grazing sheep through winter treatments, or by delaying return to pasture until the first generation of adult worms die within the host.

Weber and his team will take the data they find at Witter and test it on commercial farms in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. They also plan to teach the protocol, as well as conventional diagnostic and treatment tools, to commercial sheep and goat farmers throughout the region.

In addition to contributing to research and veterinary care education, the sheep have provided an opportunity for students to market and sell wool to local spinners, Weber says. The students also may market some of the lambs that aren’t needed for the study.

The farm is frequently visited by locals, as well as children on field trips, who enjoy seeing and learning about the animals. Witter Farm is open daily to visitors.

Photos and more information is on the students’ Ewe Maine Icelandics Club Facebook page.

Nutritious Sea Vegetables

University of Maine associate professor Denise Skonberg and graduate student Dhriti Nayyar are working with a Bristol company to study the shelf life and nutritional values of aquacultured sea vegetable products.

Maine Fresh Sea Farms, a startup based on the Damariscotta River, is one of five Maine companies to share $471,571 in Value Added Producer Grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Program. The federal grants were awarded in August 2014 to preserve rural jobs at companies that process and add value to agricultural products.

Maine Fresh Sea Farms received $71,673 to help “study the feasibility of delivering fresh aquacultured sea vegetable products to the marketplace using agricultural produce and seafood distribution systems,” in addition to helping it create a business plan, the USDA said. The funds also will help the company retain 21 jobs and create 10 more over the next decade.

To study the products, the company turned to Skonberg, a professor of food science and human nutrition in the School of Food and Agriculture. Skonberg and Nayyar are collecting baseline data on the length of time several species of sea vegetables can be considered fresh while under refrigeration. They also are conducting basic nutritional analyses to help meet nutritional labeling requirements.

Skonberg anticipates the study will provide key information about the nutritional benefits and shelf-life stability of four varieties of sea vegetables that are farm raised in Maine.

“This information will help the newly developing seaweed industry in Maine with marketing their products, and will help them make decisions about how best to harvest, handle, process, store and distribute products to their customers,” Skonberg says. “The results will promote the production of locally sourced, high-quality and nutritious seaweed products from Maine and help in job creation along the coast.”

Throughout the yearlong project, the researchers will look at four species of freshly harvested aquacultured seaweeds — sugar kelp (Saccharina latissima), dulse (Palmaria palmata), Gracilaria, and winged kelp (Alaria) — grown on the company’s Clark Cove farm.

Basic nutritional analyses will be conducted on the raw sea vegetables on a wet weight basis — not dried — for use on nutrition labels. Samples of each species will be collected throughout the year during the time period that each would normally be available for harvest and sale. Using standard harvesting and handling procedures, Maine Fresh Sea Farms will transport the vegetables to UMaine where they will be refrigerated and then stored for up to 12 days, or until they are unfit for human consumption. Whole fronds along with a shredded seaweed salad version of three species — sugar kelp, winged kelp and dulse — will be periodically tested for quality.

Although some nutrient data already exist for dried sugar kelp and dulse, it has been shown that growing conditions, region, strain and time of harvest can affect the nutrient profile of sea vegetables, according to Skonberg. The sea vegetables will be assessed for basic nutrient composition — water, fat, protein, total minerals and carbohydrates.

The shelf-life studies will be conducted at two holding temperatures, one close to freezing at 35 F and another at 45 F, which is on the high end of normal holding temperatures.

The researchers will look at how each species performs at different temperatures and forms. Soluble protein content, which has been shown to be a good indicator of quality loss in fresh seaweed, will be monitored through protein analyses, Skonberg says.

An in-house sensory evaluation will be conducted by an experienced panel to assess quality deterioration of the whole fronds and seaweed salad. Panel members will rate aroma, texture, color and overall quality of the samples.

Nayyar has already conducted shelf-life studies on sugar kelp and dulse, and will be starting another shelf-life study on winged kelp this spring. The researchers have found that sensory evaluation, as well as instrumental color and texture were better indicators for assessing shelf life than microbial analyses.

The shelf life studies and basic nutritional analysis are expected to be completed in December 2015.

Maine Fresh Sea Farms also has worked with Maine Sea Grant, the Brawley Laboratory at UMaine, and the Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research.  One result of the collaborations is Sea Belt, a Scotch Ale brewed by Marshall Wharf Brewing in Belfast using dried sugar kelp grown at the Damariscotta River sea farm.

In addition to funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Program, Maine Fresh Sea Farms won a Phase I Small Business Innovation Research Grant from the National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration and has applied for a Phase II. The Maine Technology Institute has provided grant writing assistance and a Business Accelerator Grant.

Restaurants interested in the company’s fresh sea greens can email service@brownetrading.com or call 800.944.7848. Maine Fresh Sea Farms also supplies wholesale dried sugar kelp; more information is available by emailing mainefreshseafarms@gmail.com.

Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747

Image Description: Seaweed research

Forestry Researchers Surveying Residents Along Penobscot River for Economic Development Study

University of Maine professors and Center for Research on Sustainable Forests leaders Sandra De Urioste-Stone and Robert Lilieholm are conducting a survey under the Bay-to-Baxter initiative. The study seeks to identify sustainable economic development pathways for the Penobscot River corridor that protect and leverage the region’s natural resources and quality of place.

De Urioste-Stone, leader of the CRSF Nature-Based Tourism Program, and Lilieholm, Conservation Lands lead for CRSF, are mailing 3,000 surveys to residents along the Penobscot River to learn their views on recreational use of the river, as well as their thoughts on the community and its ability to adapt to changing social, economic and environmental conditions.

“It is extremely important to understand and incorporate residents’ views and feedback for effective land and sustainable development planning to occur,” De Urioste-Stone says.

The survey is part of the larger project, “Promoting Sustainable Economic Development and Quality-of-Place in Maine: The Penobscot River ‘Bay-to-Baxter Corridor’ Initiative,” which is led by De Urioste-Stone with team members Lilieholm; Claire Sullivan, associate dean for community engagement; Linda Silka, of the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center; and John Daigle, associate professor in the School of Forest Resources.

The researchers hope the survey will inform ongoing and future sustainable economic development and environmental efforts in the region that stretches from Penobscot Bay to Baxter State Park.

The area faces sustainability threats, as well as opportunities, and the team will use community feedback to support improved land use and economic development decisions across the region.

Research objectives include determining:

  • Characteristics of residents’ use of the Penobscot River, including activities, predicting future recreation use and perceptions of environmental conditions of the river;
  • Characteristics of residents, including attachment to the Penobscot River, status of employment, education and other socio-demographic descriptions; and
  • Beliefs associated with community resilience to environmental and economic development changes.

The Lower Penobscot River Watershed offers an ideal setting for studying and integrating stakeholder participatory scenario modeling, community resilience and sustainable economic development, De Urioste-Stone says.

The region faces multiple sustainability challenges, including an aging population, poverty, energy and food insecurities, high dependence on resource extraction, heavy reliance on social assistance programs, strong urban-rural gradients, active species and watershed restoration efforts, and public health challenges.

The difficulties, which aren’t unique to Maine, pose risks to social, political and economic systems around the world, according to the researchers. They hope what they learn in Maine will have widespread applicability.

Even with its set of growing challenges, the watershed has several assets that can develop and leverage community health and economic growth. These assets include UMaine, the Greater Bangor area, the I-95 corridor, Bangor International Airport, an international border, an abundant coastline and natural and cultural amenities that attract tourists. Recent development proposals have sought to build upon and leverage those resources, the researchers say.

The project will integrate information generated through the resident and user survey for an alternative futures modeling study led by Harvard Forest and funded by the National Science Foundation that aims to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of decision making.

The study includes service-learning opportunities for several undergraduate and graduate students and is funded by UMaine’s Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions, the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the UMaine Rising Tide/NSF ADVANCE Award.

The Conservation Lands and Nature-Based Tourism programs at CRSF conduct applied and collaborative research to better understand, monitor and anticipate important issues regarding Maine’s conservation lands, and to understand the economic impacts of tourism.

UMaine Study: Residents Support Investing in Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy

Fifty-two percent of surveyed Maine adults supported increasing all Mainers’ monthly electricity bills to invest in renewable energy options and/or energy efficiency programs to reduce carbon emissions.

That’s according to a University of Maine study that also found 37 percent of the nearly 400 respondents viewed energy efficiency and renewable energy investments as complementary. They divided the money evenly — giving half to renewable energy investment and half to energy efficiency programs.

UMaine economist Caroline Noblet and colleagues conducted the study in 2013, the same year fossil fuels (81 percent) and nuclear energy accounted for more than 90 percent of energy use in the United States.

“Energy choice studies generally only gauge support (or not) for a policy, rarely do they take the next step — as we have done here — to look at how people would allocate these investment dollars,” Noblet says.

“Understanding how Maine people evaluate, and make tradeoffs between, energy policy options is important when we consider investments in our energy portfolio.”

The survey included four renewable energy options — hydroelectric energy, land-based wind, deepwater offshore wind and tidal energy; each survey participant evaluated one of these choices against energy efficiency.

The average dollar amount households were willing to pay for these programs was $6.76 a month, or more than $80 per year, per Maine household. When respondents had to choose how much funding to give to each option — renewable energy investments or to an energy efficiency program — participants allocated 56 percent of funds to energy efficiency and 44 percent of funds to renewable energy, on average.

In addition, 76 percent of respondents indicated they would distribute 50 percent or more of funds monthly to energy efficiency; 13 percent said they would allot all of the money to energy efficiency.

The authors said it is important for energy portfolios to include options attractive to multiple audiences.

Noblet conducted the study with Mark Anderson, senior instructor in resource economics and policy and Fellow in the George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions; Mario Teisl, director of the School of Economics; Shannon McCoy, UMaine psychologist; and Ed Cervone, executive director at Educate Maine.

A total of 397 randomly selected Mainers 18 years old and older took part in the survey — 63 percent were male, 57 was the mean age, $71,153 was the median annual household income and $100 was the average monthly electric bill.

The researchers noted the surveyed sample was older, had a higher percentage of males and a higher income than Maine’s 2012 census percentages.

The study was conducted as part of Maine Sustainability Solutions Initiative, a program of the Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions, supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation to Maine EPSCoR at the University of Maine.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

Bloom Plankton Hitches Rides on Eddies

Just as crocus and daffodil blossoms signal the start of a warmer season on land, a similar “greening” event — a massive bloom of microscopic plants, or phytoplankton — unfolds each spring in the North Atlantic Ocean from Bermuda to the Arctic.

Fertilized by nutrients that have built up during the winter, the cool waters of the North Atlantic come alive during the spring and summer with a vivid display of color that stretches across hundreds and hundreds of miles.

North Atlantic Bloom turns ocean into sea of plankton

In what’s known as the North Atlantic Bloom, millions of phytoplankton use sunlight and carbon dioxide (CO2) to grow and reproduce at the ocean’s surface.

During photosynthesis, phytoplankton remove carbon dioxide from seawater and release oxygen as a by-product. That allows the oceans to absorb additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. If there were fewer phytoplankton, atmospheric carbon dioxide would increase.

Flowers ultimately wither and fade, but what eventually happens to these tiny plants produced in the sea? When phytoplankton die, the carbon dioxide in their cells sinks to the deep ocean.

Plankton integral part of oceanic “biological pump”

This so-called biological pump makes the North Atlantic Ocean efficient at soaking up CO2  from the air.

“Much of this ‘particulate organic carbon,’ especially the larger, heavier particles, sinks,” says scientist Melissa Omand of the University of Rhode Island, co-author of a paper about the North Atlantic Bloom published March 26 in the journal Science.

“But we wanted to find out what’’s happening to the smaller, nonsinking phytoplankton cells from the bloom. Understanding the dynamics of the bloom and what happens to the carbon produced by it is important, especially for being able to predict how the oceans will affect atmospheric CO2 and ultimately climate.”

University of Maine Darling Marine Center researchers Mary Jane Perry, Ivona Cetinić and Nathan Briggs were part of the team with Omand, Amala Mahadevan of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Eric D’Asaro and Craig Lee of the University of Washington that did just that.

They discovered the significant role that swirling currents, or eddies, play in pushing nonsinking carbon to ocean depths.

“It’s been a challenge to estimate carbon export from the ocean’s surface waters to its depths based on measurements of properties such as phytoplankton carbon. This paper describes a mechanism for doing that,” says David Garrison, program director in NSF’s Division of Ocean Sciences. The NSF funded the research.

Tracking a bloom: Floats, gliders and other instruments

During fieldwork from the research vessels Bjarni Saemundsson and Knorr, the scientists used a float to follow a patch of seawater off Iceland. They observed the progression of the bloom by making measurements from multiple platforms.

Autonomous gliders outfitted with sensors gathered data including temperature, salinity, as well as information about the chemistry and biology of the bloom — oxygen, nitrate, chlorophyll and the optical signatures of the particulate matter.

At the onset of the bloom and for the next month, four teardrop-shaped seagliders gathered 774 profiles to depths of up to 1,000 meters (3,281 feet).

Analysis of the profiles showed that about 10 percent had unusually high concentrations of phytoplankton bloom properties, even in deep water, as well as high oxygen concentrations usually found at the surface.

“These profiles were showing what we initially described as ‘bumps’ at depths much deeper than phytoplankton can grow,” says Omand.

Staircases to the deep: ocean eddies

Using information collected at sea by Perry, D’Asaro and Lee, Mahadevan modeled ocean currents and eddies (whirlpools within currents), and their effects on the spring bloom.

“What we were seeing was surface water, rich with phytoplankton carbon, being transported downward by currents on the edges of eddies. Eddies hadn’t been thought of as a major way organic matter is moved into the deeper ocean. But this type of eddy-driven ‘subduction’ could account for a significant downward movement of phytoplankton from the bloom,” says Mahadevan.

Perry, interim director of the DMC, says the discovery reminds her of a favorite quote from French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur: “Where observation is concerned, chance favors only the prepared mind.”

“I feel that this project is a wonderful example of the chance discovery of an important process in the ocean carbon cycle,” she says. “It all started when I was chief scientist on the R/V Knorr during the North Atlantic bloom expedition, spending hours and hours staring at profiles of temperature and phytoplankton.

“Initially it was very puzzling — how could high surface concentrations of phytoplankton and oxygen make it down intact to 300 and 400 meters? But the combination of many measurements from autonomous gliders and simulations from models lead to the unexpected finding that ocean eddies or whirlpools are important forces in transporting phytoplankton and their associated carbon to great depths.”

In related work published in 2012 in Science, the researchers found that eddies act as early triggers of the North Atlantic Bloom by keeping phytoplankton in shallower water where they can be exposed to sunlight to fuel photosynthesis and growth.

Next, the scientists will seek to quantify the transport of organic matter from the ocean’s surface to its depths in regions beyond the North Atlantic and at other times of year, and relate that to phytoplankton productivity.

Learning more about eddies and their link with plankton blooms will allow for more accurate global models of the ocean’s carbon cycle, the researchers say, and improve the models’ predictive capabilities.

“The processes described in this paper are demonstrating, once again, how important the ocean is for removal of atmospheric carbon and controlling Earth’s climate,” says Cetinić.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

Image Description: Eddy

A New Frontier

University of Maine marine scientist Bob Steneck is part of an international team that has unlocked an underwater time capsule in the North Pacific that has been monitoring the climate for centuries.

The time capsule is the long-living, slow-growing alga Clathromorphum nereostratum that creates massive reefs in shallow coastal regions of Alaska’s Aleutian archipelago. These solid calcium carbonate structures have fine growth rings — similar to tree growth rings — which Steneck says contain historical environmental information.

The team used a cutting-edge microisotopic imaging technique to reconstruct 120 years of seasonal changes in ocean acidification (pH) in the region. The technique uses lasers to measure isotope ratios of the element boron at the scale of tenths of millimeters.

The technique, Steneck says, provides researchers with a detailed historical timeline, including rate of ocean acidification both seasonally and over hundreds of years. The scientists learned that since the late 19th century, the ocean has been acidifying at a rate that corresponds with rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

“The next frontier is to determine millennial records so we get a better sense of what was normal for ocean acidification in cold water coastal zones,” Steneck says.

The alga grows approximately 1 millimeter every three years, so plants collected last year that are nearly half-meter thick could easily be more than 1,000 years old, he says.

“These and similar types of coralline algae are living in all oceans,” says lead researcher Jan Fietzke of the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel in Germany. “Thanks to laser ablation techniques, in the future we can use other samples to look much further back into the past…”

In fact, UMaine postdoctoral associate Doug Rasher is currently in Scotland analyzing specimens that he and Steneck collected last year in Alaska.

The team’s seasonal analyses also indicated strong variations of pH in each year.

The researchers, who also hail from the United Kingdom and Canada, say the annual variation is likely due to large kelp forests in the region that consume large amounts of carbon dioxide in the spring and summer as they grow.  The kelp forests then completely die back each winter.

“In a sense, these ecosystems are breathing by inhaling CO2 each summer and releasing it every winter,” says Steneck, who is based at the University of Maine Darling Marine Center in Walpole.

Each year, more carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere, some of which is absorbed by the ocean as carbonic acid. This, in turn, decreases the pH and increases acidity of the ocean, say the researchers.

Steneck says 90 percent of marine resource value in Maine involves shellfish, including lobsters, scallops, oysters and clams. Lobsters and other organisms depend on high pH to create limestone shells and it takes metabolic energy to make limestone.

When the ocean is more acidic, the metabolic cost necessary to make shells increases, he says. Some energy that would normally be allocated to organisms’ immune systems could be compromised, possibly increasing their susceptibility to disease.

Lobsters afflicted with shell disease increased fivefold between 2010 and 2012 in Maine; in southern New England during that time, scientists and lobstermen indicated that one in four lobsters caught was diseased.

Steneck says being able to determine if acidification in a specific coastal area might be affected by extreme rainfall events or sewage treatment, for example, could help create more localized ocean management policy.

To retrieve specimens for the research, Steneck dove in 34-degree water off the Aleutian Islands and used a jackhammer to cut off chunks of the Clathromorphum nereostratum. The chunks were loaded into cargo nets, airlifted to the surface, towed to the boat and lifted aboard with a crane. Onboard, Steneck cut the chunks into pieces for research.

A paper about the findings will be published Feb. 24 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

Image Description: Aleutian islands

Follow a Researcher

Connecting K–12 students in Maine and around the world with researchers in the field is the goal of a new program offered by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension with support from UMaine’s Climate Change Institute (CCI) and the Maine 4-H Foundation.

Follow a Researcher aims to give students a glimpse into a scientist’s world by providing live expedition updates and facilitating communication between the youth and scientist.

“Science isn’t just white lab coats and pouring things into beakers,” says Charles Rodda, a doctoral student at CCI and the program’s first researcher. In his case, science means putting on crampons, scaling glaciers and drilling ice cores in Peru and Tajikistan to conduct research focused on abrupt climate change.

In March, Rodda and fellow CCI graduate student Kit Hamley will travel to Peru to collect snow and ice from glaciers high in the Andes. During the summer, he will travel to Tajikistan to join an international team that will retrieve and research samples from the world’s largest nonpolar glacier.

While in the field, Rodda will interact with participating classrooms and students by sharing prerecorded weekly videos and live tweeting in response to questions.

“We’re interested to see what they’re interested in,” Rodda says. “We of course are focused on the science, but we’re hiking in some of the most beautiful regions on Earth.”

To interact with students, Rodda will use the inReach Explorer, a global satellite communicator created by Maine-based company DeLorme. The tool allows him to text or tweet directly to students from the glacier. It also will track his movements and generate an online map so students can follow his trek in nearly real time. To document his journey, Rodda also will take several cameras, including a GoPro; a solar panel and battery pack to charge electronics; an iPad; satellite receiver; and memory cards.

In advance of the weekly question-and-answer sessions, prerecorded videos of Rodda explaining aspects of the expedition and research will be released. The videos were created to spark discussion among students and are aligned with Next Generation Science Standards.

Rodda, who has participated in several outreach events around the state as a UMaine Extension 4-H STEM Ambassador, says having a science-literate society is important and getting students interested at an early age is essential.

“I think that’s the time — middle and early high school — when students seem to decide if they’re going to be interested in science or not. There’s great research happening here at the University of Maine and we want to make sure students know about it,” he says.

Several schools from around Maine, as well as schools in Iowa, Ohio, Rhode Island and Connecticut have already signed on to take part in the program, which is funded by the Maine 4-H Foundation. Rodda and Hamley plan to visit participating Maine classrooms after they return from Peru in April.

In Peru, Rodda and Hamley will look at signals that have been captured in the ice during El Nino events, or warming in the waters of the equatorial Pacific. They hope to see what El Ninos look like in climate records to determine if those events may be a trigger that shifts the climate system in Central and South America from one phase to another. Rodda completed preliminary research in Peru in 2013.

This summer in Tajikistan, Rodda will work with researchers from around the world to drill a long core that will be split among teams from the University of Idaho, Japan, France, Germany and Austria who will study a variety of the core’s characteristics. Rodda will focus on the ice’s chemistry makeup while others will focus on topics including physical measurements or biological signals, he says.

In advance of Rodda’s Peru trip, youth in grades six through eight took part in a UMaine 4-H Science Saturday workshop where they were challenged with determining how to keep ice core samples frozen and intact for research. Students were given ice and materials and were tasked with designing a container that would keep ice frozen under a heat lamp for a specific amount of time.

In reality, Rodda says bringing ice cores home from Peru is more like “Planes, Trains & Automobiles.” It involves horseback riding, long car rides, even longer airplane rides, and a lot of dry and blue ice, which he describes as heavy-duty freezer packs.

“It’s a great way to get students on campus to sort of demystify the university and show them some of the cool stuff we do at the university and in the sciences,” Rodda says of 4-H Science Saturdays, which are offered by UMaine Extension.

“Follow a Researcher is part of a big effort to connect youth in Maine with current university students. It may be the first time a youth has contact with someone who is going to college, or their first connection to a university,” says Laura Wilson, a 4-H science professional with UMaine Extension. “STEM Ambassadors are working in areas all over the state, from an after-school program in Washburn to programs offered in urban areas of Lewiston and Portland.”

Organizers would like to continue Follow a Researcher after the pilot year, as well as expand it to other disciplines throughout the university.

“By connecting youth to campus, we may be inspiring them to explore higher education, and perhaps come to UMaine in the future,” Wilson says.

Teachers interested in following Rodda on his expeditions may call Jessica Brainerd at 800.287.0274 (in Maine), 581.3877; or email jessica.brainerd@maine.edu. More about Follow a Researcher is online.

Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747

Image Description: Follow a researcher

UMaine Awarded $150,000 Grant for Food, Agriculture Research, WABI Reports

WABI (Channel 5) reported the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture have awarded a $150,000 research grant to the University of Maine to help fund the university’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. The project aims to develop a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) method to better understand food-borne pathogens, according to the report. U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King announced the award in a press release. “Federal funding is crucial to supporting our university system and this announcement is great news for the University of Maine. Their continued exemplary research and the advancements these programs produce are an important contribution to the Maine economy,” the senators said in a joint statement. The full release is online.

Smith’s Research Hot Topic for ScienceInsider

Top 10 lists are compiled annually — last year there were lists for best books, Seinfeld characters, movies and restaurants. In 2014, an article about a University of Maine professor’s research made a best-read list.

Michelle Smith, assistant professor in the School of Biology and Ecology, co-authored a paper about teaching approaches.

Aleszu Bajak penned “Lectures Aren’t Just Boring, They’re Ineffective, Too, Study Finds,” for ScienceInsider about the research that Smith and others conducted with lead author Scott Freeman of the University of Washington, Seattle. The piece was ScienceInsider’s third most popular of the year, just behind pieces on plagiarism and Ebola.

The researchers re-analyzed 225 studies that compared grades of students enrolled in undergraduate science, engineering and mathematics courses taught in a typical lecture format with the grades of students in STEM courses that utilized active learning methods.

Freeman, Smith and others found students in classes that incorporated active learning techniques were 1.5 times more likely to pass than those in traditional lecture format classes. In addition, they found students in active learning sections earned grades nearly one-half a standard deviation higher, or, for example, a B rather than a B-, than students listening to a lecturer.

The well-read study, “Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics,” was published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

In Bajak’s ScienceInsider article about the study, Harvard University physicist Eric Mazur was quoted saying the research is important and that “it’s almost unethical to be lecturing if you have this data.”

He continued, “It’s good to see such a cohesive picture emerge from their meta-analysis — an abundance of proof that lecturing is outmoded, outdated, and inefficient.”

Also in December, Smith and Farahad Dastoor, lecturer of biological sciences, were highlighted in a National Science Foundation story titled “Rules of engagement: Transforming the teaching of college-level science.”

Thanks to Smith and Dastoor, 800 UMaine students in three introductory biology sections utilize clickers (response devices) and engage in small group conversations rather than sitting and listening to information dispensed by a “sage on a stage.” Smith “is helping to re-envision science education on her campus as well as across the country,” says the article.

In 2013, Smith became principal investigator on four projects and co-principal investigator on another that were granted $6.8 million in total funding from the National Science Foundation; UMaine’s portion was $1,012,269. The projects are aimed at improving nationwide science instruction and assessments. The studies are collaborative with other universities and involve UMaine administrators, faculty, postdoctoral and graduate students, undergraduates and area K–12 teachers.

Contact: Beth Staples 207.581.3777

Image Description: active learning with Michelle Smith

Capps Part of Mexican Stream Ecology Collaboration to Study Urban Rivers

Krista Capps, a research assistant professor in the University of Maine Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Conservation Biology, is leading a project that aims to provide the foundation for greater understanding of urban rivers in developing countries.

The project, “Mexican Urban Stream Ecology Collaboration (MUSE),” received a $60,690 grant from the National Science Foundation for initial data gathering in Mexico.

Much of what scientists know about the influence of urbanization on stream ecology comes from studying rivers and streams in countries such as the United States and Australia, according to the researchers. However, urban rivers in developing economies may be used by humans for sources of untreated drinking water, direct conduits for sewage and freshwater fisheries.

Understanding how biological communities and processes are affected by increasing urbanization is essential to correctly manage urban watersheds in developing regions, the researchers say.

MUSE will bring together stream ecologists and fish biologists from the United States and Mexico to begin to understand the links among urbanization, stream ecology, and freshwater fisheries in southern Mexico.

The researchers say they hope the project initiates a new collaboration that will generate knowledge and resources for scientists and natural resource managers.


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Contact Information

College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture--Research & Development
5782 Winslow Hall, Room 101
Orono, Maine 04469-5782
Phone: 207-581-3228 | Fax: 207-581-3207E-mail: fred.servello@maine.edu
The University of Maine
Orono, Maine 04469
207.581.1110
A Member of the University of Maine System