Annual Report 2019


Maine’s Research University at Work

President and VPR Portrait

We are delighted to present the 2019 Research Report for the University of Maine. This has been a remarkable year for research and scholarly achievements at Maine’s fl agship research university, where over 80% of all university-based research in Maine takes place. The University of Maine confers 96% of all PhDs awarded in the state. As one of the nation’s select land, sea, and space grant institutions, the University of Maine for over one-and-a-half centuries has been at the forefront of educational advancements, research innovations, and community impact.

The university’s nationally and internationally recognized research programs have global impact and local relevance in diverse areas, ranging from the energy, environment, advanced structures, marine and forestry sectors, to advances in human health, food and agriculture, community revitalization, and cultural preservation. Our institution is on the path to reach the highest Carnegie Classification for any top national university as a doctoral university with very high research activity.

To learn more about the impactful research and scholarly achievements realized at the University of Maine, we invite you to visit our research web page or contact us at


Joan Ferrini-Mundy, President

Kody Varahramyan, Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School

A world-class research university of global impact and local relevance, resulting in maximum socioeconomic impact on Maine and beyond.

A 21st-Century Research University

Serving Maine and Beyond


High Achievers

PHOTO BY MARIUSZ POTOCKIThe National Geographic and Rolex Perpetual Planet expedition team, including
Climate Change Institute glaciochemist Mariusz Potocki, had a spectacular view near
Yellow Band, the rock on Lhotse Face between camps III and IV.
UMaine climate scientists participate in the National Geographic and Rolex’s Perpetual Planet Expedition on Everest, to better understand ‘Earth’s critical life support systems’

In May, Mariusz Potocki breathed the rarefied air near Everest’s summit. So too, though, did hundreds of others.

Potocki was astounded by the view just below Mount Everest’s Balcony at about 8,300 meters. Clusters of brightly outfitted climbers stood in a line, then moved, inch by inch, single file, toward the 8,850-meter-high (29,035-foot) peak.

“It was a little bit irrational,” says Potocki, a University of Maine Climate Change Institute (CCI) glaciochemist who was working his way to the roof of Earth as part of the National Geographic and Rolex Perpetual Planet Expedition to Mount Everest.

A bit ironic, too. The goal of the two-month multinational, multidisciplinary endeavor was to document people’s impacts on one of the planet’s most severe environments.

Thankfully, Potocki, one of six CCI scientists who took part in the single most comprehensive scientific expedition to Everest, already had accomplished his mission. He had collected the highest ice core on the planet.

“Dreams do come true,” Potocki says of conducting science on the 60-million-year-old mountain.

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Historic 3D Printing

The Advanced Structures and Composites Center celebrates historic event: Unveiling the world’s largest 3D printer and 3D-printed boat

“This is a big deal,” said Sen. Angus King at the Oct. 10 unveiling of the world’s largest 3D printer at the University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center (UMaine Composites Center).

Big, indeed. In fact, UMaine now boasts three Guinness World Records for the world’s largest prototype polymer 3D printer, largest solid 3D-printed object, and largest 3D-printed boat.

While the 60-foot-long printer and the resulting structures it produces are huge, physically – the innovative research and collaborative interdisciplinary work behind them are enormous.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is a key partner in the fundamental, biobased additive manufacturing research enterprise at the UMaine Composites Center. This collaboration will focus on developing innovative and sustainable materials conducive for large-scale 3D printing.

We have designed the Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Research Collaborative program to provide our undergraduate students with hands-on learning opportunities. Our students work in a team environment taking on the major challenges of our day. This project demonstrates their efforts, tackling the challenge of out-migration of younger generations and re-imagining how the education system could help deter this.

Kody Varahramyan Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School

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Paving the Way

The University of Maine is a leader in cutting-edge, innovative research that will improve transportation throughout New England, reduce costs and positively impact the durability of infrastructure.


A $500,000 National Science Foundation research grant to the University of Maine to study self-driving vehicles aims to make the transportation of the future more accessible, usable and trustworthy.

Nicholas Giudice and Richard Corey, who run and direct the VEMI Lab at UMaine, are co-leaders of the project, which is designed to improve user trust of fully autonomous vehicles through a new study they call human-vehicle collaboration (HVC).

The goal is to explore new ways of sharing how decisions are made and information is communicated between the human passenger and the artificial intelligence “driver.” This will address the key human factors of perceived loss of control over driving activities and fear of not “knowing” what the vehicle is doing during autonomous operation.

“Current vehicle designs have often overlooked passengers and their diverse needs, especially the very people who will benefit most from their release,” says Giudice. This project seeks to extend the potential of autonomous vehicles to all users.


The Maine Better Transportation Association (MBTA) – the largest transportation organization in the state – recognized Habib Dagher, founding executive director of the University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center, as the 2019 Transportation Champion.

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The Next Generation of Conservation Leaders

The National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) Program has awarded the University of Maine with a five-year, $2.9 million grant.

This is such an exciting program that allows for collaboration among faculty, students and conservation partners to work across disciplines, to solve emergent conservation problems in Maine.

Sandra De Urioste-Stone, Faculty Fellow and NRT Team Leader

A unique traineeship program designed to produce interdisciplinary environmental conservation leaders now offers Master’s and Ph.D. degree opportunities to address the challenges presented by global and local changes in environmental, social, economic and climatic conditions.

The National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) Program has awarded the University of Maine “NRT: Enhancing Conservation Science and Practice” program with a five-year, $2.9 million grant to train graduate students in research-based curricula to pursue a range of STEM careers in all workforce sectors associated with conservation efforts. The first cohort of seven graduate students started in fall 2019, with two more starting in spring 2020. Students participate in a variety of courses and have the opportunity to collaborate with a diverse group of peers, mentors, faculty and conservation partners as they pursue their research and coursework.

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Collecting Genetic Fingerprints

Solving coastal ecosystem challenges.

In August 2019, the University of Maine, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, and other collaborators were awarded a $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) EPSCoR program to develop efficient ways to collect the DNA of those small organisms. The Maine EPSCoR Track-1 Grant: Molecule to Ecosystem: Environmental DNA as a Nexus for Coastal Ecosystem Sustainability for Maine (or Maine-eDNA), will collect, identify, and link the genetic fingerprints of marine ecosystems back to specific species.

The Maine Environmental DNA initiative represents a multi-institutional partnership that will position Maine as a national leader in the understanding and sustainable use of coastal ecosystems, and in addressing the statewide workforce needs in critically important areas, including biotechnology, ecology, environmental and data sciences

Kody Varahramyan, Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School

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Supporting Marine Economy

$1.6M from NOAA Sea Grant National Aquaculture Initiative

Maine Sea Grant, UMaine researchers, and partner organizations received $1.6 million to lead four projects to advance sustainable aquaculture in Maine.

The projects will:

  • Establish a Maine Aquaculture Hub to build capacity for innovation, diversification and workforce development
  • Examine public perceptions of recirculating (land-based) aquaculture systems (RASs)
  • Develop innovative technologies for commercial shellfish growers
  • Examine the viability of quahog and oyster cultivation in Maine

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$2M American Lobster Initiative

Maine Sea Grant and UMaine researchers Rick Wahle and Damian Brady are project leaders in the $2 million NOAA National Sea Grant initiative to increase the American lobster industry’s resilience to the biological, economic, and social impacts of ecosystem change in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank.

“With these new resources, the Maine Sea Grant program will be able to conduct additional research and analysis that supports the sustainability of this emerging sector of the Maine economy—from work on food safety and quality to developing new markets and providing critical information to policy makers.”

U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King

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Interns Dive into Aquaculture

A collaborative program between the Aquaculture Research Institute (ARI) at the University of Maine and aquaculture industry partners supported 13 undergraduate interns in a wide range of hands-on research and work experiences this summer.

Aquaculture research covers broad topic areas, such as fish health, product development, impacts of ocean acidification, species husbandry and science communication strategies. Students looking for careers in aquaculture farming or with regulatory entities, such as NOAA or the Department of Marine Resources, benefit from experiential internships like the ARI Summer Aquaculture Internship Program.

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Art Fusion and Interpretation

Giles Timms, Assistant Professor of Art

Giles Timms, assistant professor of art, is a digital artist who combines various media and genres into new, hybrid forms to explore the interrelationship between art, technology and science. In the classroom, he encourages students to embrace experimental failure when creating digital art and 2D animation.

“When we explore new concepts and methods — and go beyond what we already know — we learn and grow,” he says. Timms describes his research process as iterative and experimental. He explores the fusion of media and technology, looking for combinations that work in an innovative way. Touch my Human was inspired by the “terrific and terrifying absurdity of modern life.”

Laurie Hicks, Professor of Art and Curator of the Lord Hall Gallery

Laurie E. Hicks, professor of art and curator of Lord Hall Gallery, views art as a means to investigate, understand and engage with the diverse experiences and possibilities that make up everyday lives. As a teacher, Hicks encourages students to reach beyond the creative process and enhance awareness of how art functions as a means of communication and how that influences our thinking, and as a result, our actions.

“My hope is that they will learn to critically engage with, unravel, and make sense of the visual and material culture that surrounds them — and perhaps more importantly, that they create as artists,” says Hicks.

Between 2010 and 2015, Hicks explored the role of a documentary photographer in the ChinaVine research project. Her efforts resulted in archiving more than 10,000 images to make information about China’s cultural and artistic traditions accessible to an English language audience.

Hicks continues to examine how photographers act as active and intentional interpreters of the world; how they communicate particular views of the world and how they decide what is important to record — and what is not.

Poetry as Therapy

Kim Crowley: Humanities fellowship recipient finds therapy in poetry

Kim Crowley has personally experienced the therapeutic benefit of writing poetry during difficult times. Her Honors thesis, “The Personal is Poetic: A Case for Poetry Therapy,” aims to further advance the method of using poetry as therapy for individuals who seek to process traumatic or otherwise difficult personal events. As an inaugural recipient of the Clement and Linda McGillicuddy Humanities Center (MHC) Undergraduate Fellowship,

Crowley conducted an in-depth literature review into the field of poetry therapy. She wanted to see if there was a scientific basis for the therapeutic effects writing poetry has for her.

She found a substantial gap in the current literature on poetry as self-help — and hopes that will soon change.

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Leading in Telepractice Therapy

Judy Walker travels to many places during a typical day: from several spots in Maine, and all the way to Fiji. All without leaving her lab. Walker is an associate professor in Communication Sciences and Disorders and coordinator of the University of Maine Speech Therapy Telepractice Program. She oversees services provided by students and faculty to clients around the world in need of speech therapy, such as those with language disorders or brain injuries. Most of these clients live in rural areas and do not have easy access to health care services.

The telepractice method, conducting therapy online, is cost-effective and allows sessions to take place with minimal technology. To attend, users must only have a device that can connect to highspeed internet.

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Connecting Cultures through Art

Artist Titi de Baccarat leaves exhausted but focused after his month-long residency at the Innovative Media Research and Commercialization Center (IMRC).

“This opened up lots of possibilities. I had twenty-four hour access to the facilities without pressure and a collaborative atmosphere,” he explains.

De Baccarat hands over a 3D printed set of ears – exact replicas from the Intermedia Program graduate student who helped him with the equipment – to prove the collaborative nature of the “Researcher in Residence” program.

“I wanted the students to feel part of my project,” he says, smiling.

The result of his focus is a new collection of almost two dozen sculptures that have emerged as figurative extensions of how he sees human potential. Through these colorful works, de Baccarat wants to bring attention to issues such as justice and privilege.

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Wound-healing treatment using wild blueberries receives MTI grant

University of Maine professor of clinical nutrition Dorothy Klimis-Zacas has been awarded a $25,000 grant from the Maine Technology Institute (MTI) to support research into the wound-healing properties of bioactive compounds found in Maine wild blueberries.

Klimis-Zacas has been researching the favorable effects of wild blueberries on human health for more than 20 years. Her recent work focuses on two classes of compounds extracted from wild blueberries — anthocyanins and phenolic acids — that have documented benefits in the treatment of chronic diseases

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New Program Combines Medicine and Arts

The proposed Maine Arts and Humanities in Medicine Certificate is unique in its collaborative relationship between a community hospital and state university. It has the potential to raise the profile and recruiting potential of both organizations,

Doctors who complete their residency requirements at Northern Light Family Medicine and Residency in Bangor will have the opportunity to obtain a certificate of advanced learning from UMaine through the year-long fellowship.

Fellows will take courses on creativity and research methodology, attend a weekly seminar to discuss various contemporary topics in medicine with their other fellows, and produce a project worthy of publication or public display. The display could be a musical or theatrical performance, a graphic arts presentation, or a fine arts exhibition.

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NIH T32 award supports biomedical science, engineering

The University of Maine has received a five-year, $1.07 million Institutional Research Training Grant (T32) from the National Institutes of Health. This funding is the first of its kind to be awarded in the state of Maine from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Learn more about this project.

UMaine Medicine Initiative

A transformative and coordinated community of collaborating researchers and educators that in partnership with health care providers and other stakeholders are dedicated to the advancement of human health and wellbeing in the state of Maine and beyond, through discovery and learning in health and life sciences, from basic and translational research, to clinical practices and healthcare workforce development. Visit the UMaine Medicine website for more details.

Undergraduate Research Initiatives

The Center for Undergraduate Research provides unique opportunities each year for hundreds of undergraduate students to assist world-class faculty and gain skills to conduct their own research.

CUGR’s primary mission is to increase, improve and enhance undergraduate students’ participation and experiences in research, scholarship and creative activity across all academic disciplines. Students are supported with internal research funding and resources for external funding — allowing them to obtain research experiences that may not be available at other institutions.

Through the Maine Space Grant Consortium program managed by CUGR, students and faculty work collaboratively on new aerospace technologies, space developments, and other engineering prospects.

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Advancing Space Research

Researchers make meaningful contributions to real-world — and out of this world — topics with funding support from the Maine Space Grant Consortium (MSGC) and NASA’s National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program.

Ali Abedi, professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, works with students to develop cutting-edge technology and discover new ways to explore the universe. “UMaine has a lot of talent,” says Abedi, who also is director of the Center for Undergraduate Research and Assistant Vice President for Research. UMaine graduates have gone on to careers at SpaceX and NASA.

With $1.5 million from NASA, Abedi and students developed an inflatable habitat in the UMaine Wireless Sensing Lab. The doughnut-shaped structure could house astronauts when deployed to other planets. Maine’s first produced technology to be sent into space was developed by Abedi and his students. The payload collected data from the International Space Station to wirelessly detect structural leaks — a potentially deadly issue for astronauts.

Students involved in space-related research are from a variety of academic fields.


Daniel Regan, a doctoral candidate in biomedical engineering, conducts research on pathogen collection and handling systems for spacecraft biosurveillance. The system allows the user to recover airborne pathogens

for analysis to address the issue of bacterial contamination onboard the International Space Station. The findings also could be useful for soldiers and first responders.

“Applying our skill-sets into action for a real problem that requires immediate attention is an incredibly humbling experience,” says Regan. “I never imagined engineering a system enabling astronauts and support staff to filter and analyze airborne pathogens onboard spacecraft would be part of my graduate school experience, but it certainly will be one of the highlights of my time in Maine.”


Erin McConnell, a graduate student in quaternary and climate sciences, examines chemistry measured in ice cores sampled from glaciers to learn what past climate was like in western Canada/southern Alaska. She uses today’s known atmospheric circulation patterns to study ice chemistry and learn about earlier climate in the region. “I am passionate about helping vulnerable populations cope with climate change impacts,’’ says McConnel. She hopes to communicate the details of climate change so citizens will be educated about this pressing issue.

$1.5 million from NASA enables Abedi and his students to develop an inflatable habitat in the UMaine Wireless Sensing Lab

Smart Data for Healthy Forests

Local and regional communities depend on the health of the forest ecosystems to support biodiversity, conservation, recreation, and a forest-based workforce.

Compiling data to better assess, understand and forecast complex forest landscape changes is the goal of a four-year, multidisciplinary regional project led by the University of Maine.

The project was awarded $6 million from the National Science Foundation, with $3 million contingent on project progress and availability of funds.

It will bring together expertise and facilities from UMaine, the University of New Hampshire, and the University of Vermont to build a digital framework that integrates, analyzes and visualizes complex data streams across the region’s vast forest.

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Mapping Out a More Flood Resilient Future

University of Maine at Machias researcher finds solutions for community challenges.

Tora Johnson, associate professor of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) at the University of Maine at Machias, conducts research and teaches in the small town of Machias. She also chairs the Environmental and Biological Sciences Division and directs the GIS Service Center.

A social scientist by training, Johnson is interested in how communities make decisions and manage natural resources. Her research incorporates community engagement — which also is a cornerstone of her students’ classroom experience.

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Greenland Expedition

A multi-disciplinary team of 16 University of Maine System researchers and faculty traveled to southwest Greenland June 21-29 to address 21st century challenges throughout the Arctic, North Atlantic and Maine by experiencing the impacted region first-hand.

The “Arctic Futures Workshop” was organized by the Director of the Climate Change Institute, Paul Mayewski and the Director of the Center for Oceans & Coastal Law and Graduate Law Programs, Charles Norchi.

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CORE: Shared Research Resources and Facilities

The University of Maine has an extensive set of major research equipment and resources made available through CORE.

CORE centralizes major research equipment and facilities at the University of Maine to make it easier for anyone to find and use — whether it’s internal research faculty or staff, or external clients who want access to this equipment for their own research. CORE enables internal and external users to have easy access to state-of-the-art technology and services delivered by experts on a fee-for-service basis.

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