UMaine Early College students put Belfast Bay under the microscope

Eleven students from six Maine high schools and area home-school programs started the summer in various Belfast Bay locations as part of an intensive three-week STEM research course offered through the University of Maine’s Early College Program. 

The students came from Belfast Area High School, Hermon High School, John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor, Lawrence High School in Fairfield, Maine Ocean School in Searsport and Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro. 

Students followed National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) laboratory methods for the analysis of microplastics in the marine environment. They selected sites, employed sampling techniques, learned laboratory skills, solved problems, and analyzed, interpreted and presented data, says Susan Therio, a chemistry instructor of the course. 

Their data revealed that microplastic strands, fibers, films, paint chips and hard plastic fragments with fibers were most prevalent in samples taken from Belfast Bay. 

Another group of students explored the effect of microplastics on the feeding rate of blue mussels on algae. 

In a second study facilitated by David Thomas, a biology instructor, students investigated the effects of predation on juvenile clams by conducting an in-situ experiment in Belfast Bay’s high intertidal zone. Results showed that predation by milky ribbon worms and blood worms was minimal even though both were found in covered pots containing the clams. Green crabs were thought to be the main predator of clams in the open pots. 

The high school students presented the results of their research, career-planning and job-shadowing experiences in poster presentations and talks at a Hutchinson Center symposium. Kristina Cammen, UMaine assistant professor of marine mammal science and faculty associate in the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions, was the event’s keynote speaker.

Introduction to Integrated Science and Career Exploration (INT 188) is a college-level STEM research course designed to introduce high school students to higher education, and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In the 38 hours of course and lab work, students undertake a guided research project with peers. Upon completion, students earn three UMaine college credits. They also participate in eight hours of job shadowing and career planning with local STEM-related businesses. 

Through a partnership between the Maine Department of Education and UMaine, tuition is waived for students of Maine public and home schools for up to 12 college credit hours per year. The UMaine Early College Program is a leader in the University of Maine System initiative to “strengthen the connection between secondary and higher education.”

Starting Sept. 3, UMaine will offer more than 80 on-campus courses and over 35 online fall courses suitable for rising high school juniors and seniors. Interested students and parents are encouraged to contact Allison Small, Early College Program coordinator, 207.581.8004; for more information.