Abigail Wiegand: Food science, nutrition student investigates potential of sugar kelp

Abigail Wiegand of Stratford, Connecticut earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Southern Connecticut State University in 2016, and now is a master’s student in food science and human nutrition at UMaine. 

“I am passionate about food and nutrition because it is where science meets everyday life. Everyone eats every day, and the body uses chemistry to turn that food into useful energy and building blocks,” says Wiegand. “I am fascinated by the interaction between people and their environment, and food is the most tangible focus of that relationship.” 

Wiegand’s research focuses on Maine-grown sugar kelp. She freeze-dries the kelp, then extracts bioactive compounds and analyzes the samples to determine their concentration of polyphenols, a class of antioxidant compounds, and to measure their ability to neutralize free radicals, which cause cell damage. She also uses the kelp extracts to treat cells in vitro, testing to make sure the extracts are not toxic and determining their ability to reduce nitric oxide production, an indicator of cellular inflammation. 

In June, Wiegand presented her research at the American Society for Nutrition’s annual international conference in Baltimore, Maryland. 

“I was very proud of the opportunity to gain exposure for myself, my research and the University of Maine,” she says. “It was a privilege to be able to learn about cutting-edge research from the leading researchers in the field.”

In addition to studying seaweed, Wiegand enjoys hiking, practicing yoga and spending time at home with her cat and fiance, as well as cooking and traveling — mostly “to eat my way around the world,” she says. 

“I absolutely love living in Maine,” says Wiegand. “My favorite thing about being a part of the UMaine community is how welcoming it is. I immediately felt at home when I arrived, and I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”

Contact: Cleo Barker, 207.581.3729