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Finding value in waste is one of Neivandt’s specialties, and when he found a way to turn lobster shells — a by-product of lobster processing facilities that usually ends up in landfills — into golf balls, the world took notice. UMaine’s biodegradable lobster shell golf ball, which made headlines and attracted interest from commercial partners in the United States and abroad, combines ground lobster shell with a natural binder. It breaks down rapidly in water, which makes it ideal for use on cruise ships.

The idea for the ball came from Carin Poeschel Orr, who earned a master’s in marine bioresources at UMaine. She mentioned it to Bob Bayer of the Lobster Institute, who tried to make a prototype in his basement. He soon realized he was in over his head, so he called Neivandt, who recruited Alex Caddell, an undergraduate bioengineering student — and golf aficionado — from Winterport, Maine, to work with him on the project.

Bayer had previously worked with Neivandt, undergraduate Ryan Dawes and Brian Beal of the Downeast Institute for Applied Marine Research & Education on another problem — one that threatens the sustainability of Maine’s famous fishery.

Larval lobsters have a survival rate of less than 0.1 percent in the first three months. Aquaculturists have tried to raise crustaceans in captivity, but they’re cannibalistic, and it’s cost-prohibitive to keep the babies separated. Neivandt’s team used discarded clamshells as small-scale hatcheries, sealing them with a biodegradable polymer and etching them with notches to allow the flow of food — algae.

“He’s a great problem solver, as are all good engineers, but we work particularly well together because he really seems to enjoy working on unique — and some would say ‘off-the-wall’ — ideas,” Bayer says.

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