UMaine Portland Gateway announces CONVERGE Maine seed grant winners

Three interdisciplinary projects focused on meeting Maine needs have been awarded competitive seed grants through University of Maine Portland Gateway to facilitate convergent research across the University of Maine System.  

The grant program, CONVERGE Maine, brings together UMS experts with an interest in transdisciplinary work, developing and strengthening partnerships with other institutions and organizations within the state, and addressing a societal challenge or scientific question facing Maine today. 

Faculty and professional research staff and scientists were invited to submit proposals in late 2021. Each team agreed to attend a kickoff event to co-develop a research collaboration plan prior to receiving the award. Proposals that engage community members in a meaningful manner were given special consideration.

Brief synopses of the funded projects follow.

Building Sustainable Transdisciplinary Networks to Support Just and Equitable Energy Transitions

This project will establish a cross-campus network to advance research on energy transformation, with a particular focus on inclusive, equitable and just approaches to that process. Decision-making around new renewable energy provides an exemplary applied scenario for this innovative pilot work. Research faculty across campuses work on various aspects of renewable energy, but often lack the resources to come together in a coordinated way and, more importantly, to sustain a collaborative commitment to transdisciplinary teaching and research. This pilot initiative directly addresses this gap.

Collaborators from UMaine include Jessica Jansujwicz, research assistant professor in the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Conservation Biology; Linda Silka, a senior fellow at the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions; and Sandra De Urioste-Stone, an associate professor in the School of Forest Resources and assistant vice president for research.

Transdisciplinary One Health Approach to Zoonotic Canid Parasites in Maine

The primary goal of this transdisciplinary research is to better understand the risk of parasites to wild and domestic canid health, as well as to human health. To address this goal, researchers will quantify the prevalence and distribution of gastrointestinal parasites in Maine wild canids, evaluate the effects of heavy metals on parasite infections in wild canids, examine the overlap in parasite species found in domestic dogs with those found in wild canids, and evaluate the potential zoonotic risk to pet owners.

Collaborators from UMaine include Pauline Kamath, assistant professor of animal health, and Sue Ishaq, assistant professor of animal and veterinary sciences, both in the School of Food and Agriculture; and Darren Ranco, associate professor of anthropology and chair of Native American Programs. External collaborators include Michele Walsh, state veterinarian, Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

The following University of Maine One Health National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Traineeship (NRT) graduate students also are participating in this project: Elizabeth Pellecer Rivera, Alaina Woods and Tegwin Taylor, Ph.D. candidates in ecology and environmental sciences; and Remy Babich, a Ph.D. candidate in biochemistry and biomedical sciences.

Farm-to-Product: Creating Sustainable Kelp-Based Bioplastics

The project researches how to create fully vertically integrated kelp-based bioplastic production in Maine, propelling development in the blue economy by leveraging the plastics and aquaculture expertise in the area. Researchers will use the proof-of-concept results generated in this project to apply for federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants to engage in further research and development oriented to commercialization. 

Collaborators from University of Southern Maine include Asheesh Lanba, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Composites Engineering Research Laboratory, and Eklou Amendah, an assistant professor of marketing. Collaborator Adam St. Gelais is an aquaculture innovation specialist at the UMaine Aquaculture Research Institute. External collaborators include Katie Weiler, founder and CEO of Viable Gear Company; Davis Lee, chief technology officer at Clocktower Engineering; and Andrew Schoenberg, serving as technical advisor.

The three projects represent the first round of awards through the CONVERGE Maine program of UMaine Portland Gateway. The Gateway, initiated in 2021 and located in Portland, Maine, serves as a connection to UMaine research, education and outreach by acting as the front door for university engagement in southern Maine and beyond.

The Portland Gateway actively develops and fosters collaborations that address Maine’s challenges, scientific questions, and education and business needs. Activities of the initiative are focused on preparing the knowledge and innovation workforce, contributing to societal advancement and propelling economic development.

For more information on the CONVERGE Maine seed grants, contact Pips Veazey; or