Inaugural Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Research Collaborative Grant Winners Announced

Inaugural grant program awards $245,000 to interdisciplinary undergraduate research

The Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Research Collaborative has announced nine winners of its inaugural grant program funded by the Office of the Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School (OVPRDGS) and the UMS Research Reinvestment Fund (RRF).

Funded projects involve teams of two or more faculty members from different disciplines with primarily undergraduate researchers working in areas of interest, such as UMaine’s Signature and Emerging Areas of Excellence.

“We are delighted for our students who as part of their undergraduate education at UMaine have the opportunity to gain invaluable knowledge through the interdisciplinary team-based research experience provided by the IURC program, where learning goes beyond the classroom, and where students are prepared to become successful professionals and lifelong learners,” said Dr. Kody Varahramyan, Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School.


An OVPRDGS review panel received a total of 31 grant applications spanning ten different disciplines. Five proposals were chosen and awarded approximately $25,000 per project to span a 12-month performance period starting March 1, 2018.

“Making Maine’s local food system sustainable: Opportunities to address hunger and reduce waste”

  • Principal Investigator: Dr. Deborah Saber (Nursing, UMaine)
  • Partners:  Dr. Jean MacRae (Civil and Environmental Engineering, UMaine); Dr. Cindy Isenhour (Anthropology, UMaine); Dr. Balu Nayak (Food and Agriculture, UMaine); Travis Blackmer (Economics, UMaine); Dr. Linda Silka (Mitchell Center, UMaine)
  • Sector: Environment & Food

The team will mentor undergraduate students from 5 key disciplines (nursing, engineering, anthropology, food science, and economics) to collect and analyze data to better understand food and waste systems and identify opportunities for improvement.

“Planning for uncertainty: The role of schools and community institutions in preparing the next generation for a new economy”

  • Principal Investigator: Dr. Catharine Biddle (Education and Human Development, UMaine)
  • Partners: Dr. Mindy Crandall (Forest Resources, UMaine); Dr. Kathleen Bell (Economics, UMaine)
  • Sector: Socioeconomics, Education

As rural economies across the nation shift away from natural-resource based manufacturing, youth and adults wishing to remain in rural places face an uncertain work future which requires the ability to adapt and innovate over the course of their lifespan. This interdisciplinary collaboration engages undergraduate researchers in bringing together perspectives in education, natural resource management, and economics to understand the changing economic and educational needs of rural communities and to examine mechanisms for these communities to better leverage schools to promote the alignment between education and local workforce needs.

“Assessing riparian management as a tool for balancing Maine’s forest economies and freshwater resources: a collaborative undergraduate research approach”

  • Principal Investigator: Dr. Hamish Greig (Biology and Ecology, UMaine)
  • Partners: Dr. Amanda Klemmer (Biology and Ecology, UMaine); Dr. Mindy Crandall (Forest Resources, UMaine); Dr. Robert Northington (Biology and Ecology, UMaine); Dr. Shawn Fraver (Forest Resources, UMaine)
  • Sector: Ecology, Forest Economy, Agriculture

We will resample an existing Cooperative Forestry Research Unit-funded experiment to quantify long-term (17 yr) economic investment in alternative riparian buffer designs and their outcomes for forested freshwater resources. Our team’s interdisciplinary approach to issues at the nexus of forest and freshwater resources fills a critical regional and national research need.

“Risk of zoonotic disease from an iconic wildlife reservoir: An interdisciplinary approach”

  • Principal Investigator: Dr. Pauline Kamath (School of Food and Agriculture, UMaine)
  • Partners:  Dr. Sandra De Urioste-Stone (Forest Resources, UMaine); Dr. Anne Lichtenwalner (Food and Agriculture, UMaine)
  • Sector: Wildlife, Human Health

Rapid changes in environmental conditions and land management have resulted in shifts in wildlife populations and, thus, the emergence of zoonotic (i.e., of animal origin) diseases in nonendemic regions. Tick borne diseases (e.g., Lyme disease), in particular, are expanding in Maine and are a foremost concern due to their detrimental effects on human health, outdoor recreation behavior, and demand for tourism services.

We will integrate (1) the prevalence and distribution of zoonotic pathogens in moose and winter tick; (2) recreationinsts’ risk perceptions and behavioral responses; and (3) stakeholder views of zoonotic diseases’ effects on cultural assets, natural resource-based economies, recreation behavior, and individual wellbeing.

“Fall detection and prevention research collaborative”

  • Principal Investigator: Dr. Ali Abedi (Electrical and Computer Engineering, UMaine)
  • Partners: EMHS, Dr. Vincent Caccese (Mechanical Engineering, UMaine), and Dr. Marie Hayes, Psychology, UMaine)
  • Sector: Health Device, Aging

The goal of this project is to study and develop a new wireless indoor localization system for patient tracking and fall monitoring.

The proposed new wireless localization system will be able to track patients after they leave their bed or chair, as well as predict and prevent falls, using a novel scheme presented in this proposal.  In addition, the research results will lead to prototype developments with the potential for patenting and commercialization.

RRF: IURC Winners

The RRF Advisory board received a total of nine grant applications and selected four for funding. These projects were awarded approximately $30,000 each and will commence in the coming months.

“Maine ag data monitoring app–Undergrad Interdisciplinary”

  • Principal Investigator: Dr. Joline Blais (New Media, UMaine)
  • Partners: UMaine Presque Isle, Sustainable Year Round Agriculture Initiative (SYRA)
  • Sector: Agriculture, Computer Science

The goal of this project is to test hardware sensors for environmental monitoring in Maine year round agricultural systems including controls that integrate seamlessly with Maine farmer’s production needs. This is a research and development project with urgent and direct application to Maine farm’s through the Maine Technology Institute’s Sustainable Year Round Agriculture (SYRA) Cluster Initiative.

“High throughput predictive bioenergetics through statistical machine learning for big-data to assess biological responses to environmental stressors”

  • Principal Investigator: Dr. Nishad Jayasundara (Marine Science, UMaine)
  • Partner: Dr. Wei Zheng (Mathematics and Statistics, UMaine)
  • Sector: Biology, Data Science

The goal of this research is to build a team of undergraduates to integrate biological sciences with big-data statistical approaches to develop a commercializable statistical tool that can predictively compute the capacity of an organism to maintain energy homeostasis when exposed to toxicants and other stressors (e.g., temperature). Once developed, the tool can be used as a predictive toxicity screening method, a critical need as highlighted by the US national toxicology program, especially in their grant solicitations. Undergraduates trained through this project will get direct hands-on experience in method development and experimental design in metabolic research, and big-data analytical methods. These will directly contribute to their further training as scientists and will significantly improve their analytical skills on big-data, a highly sought after attribute in the current job market.

“Muscular Dystrophy genomics research collaborative”

  • Principal Investigator: Dr. Benjamin King (Department of Molecular and Biomedical Sciences, UMaine)
  • Partner: Dr. Clarissa Henry (School of Biology and Ecology, UMaine)
  • Sector: Healthcare, Genomics

Muscular dystrophy is a large group of debilitative diseases that result in weakened skeletal muscle and affect approximately 250,000 individuals in the U.S.

We propose to identify the molecular mechanisms that contribute to impaired muscle function in the novel zebrafish mutant by computationally modeling how networks of genes are dysregulated together to find critical regulatory genes.

“Track III: Coastal ecosystem science for Maine’s marine economy and coastal communities”

  • Principal Investigator: Dr. Heather Leslie (Darling Marine Center, UMaine)
  • Partners: UMaine Machias, University of Southern Maine
  • Sector: Marine Science

Coastal ecosystems are of great value. They provide food and clean water, protection from coastal storms, and also are home to some of the most productive ecosystems on the planet, fueling seafood and tourism industries valued at more than $5B per year in Maine alone. To ensure a continued flow of benefit from healthy marine ecosystems to the communities and local economies that depend on them, we need knowledge of how these systems work. We also need to build capacity of the next generation of coastal ecosystem scientists, managers, and citizens. This Undergraduate Research Collaborative focused on Coastal Ecosystem Science will catalyze innovative ecosystem science of direct benefit to Maine’s marine economy and coastal communities. It will also contribute to developing the next generation of marine scientists and managers, by enhancing the technical, communication, and collaborative skills of the students, researchers, and industry professionals engaged in these projects.

The Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Research Collaboratrive grant program will continue to award projects annually.

For more information, contact Director of Grant Development, Jason Charland,