Annual Report



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Maine’s Research University at Work

For many, 2020 will be marked by COVID-19 and the considerable challenges that come with a global pandemic. For us, 2020 also will be marked by the great accomplishments and the inspiring collaborations that have taken place at the University of Maine, where we are proud of our university community for its dedication, teamwork, and resilience in the face of the pandemic.

As Maine’s research university, it is the distinguishing part of our mission. Research impacts all areas — from student success and cutting-edge academic programs to workforce development, innovation and economic advancement. In recent years, while advancing as a modern 21st Century research university, we have placed considerable emphasis on the growth and development of the research enterprise, and its resulting impact on Maine and beyond.

We are pleased to report that significant advances have been made in the realization of the above-mentioned goals, and despite the daunting challenges caused by the pandemic, this has been an outstanding year for research and scholarly achievements at Maine’s land, sea, and space grant university.

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

Advancing as a modern 21st Century research university, with nationally and internationally recognized programs that have global impact and local relevance in diverse areas, ranging from the energy, environment, advanced structures, marine and forestry sectors, to human health, food and agriculture, community revitalization, and cultural preservation.

A 21st-Century Research University

Serving Maine and Beyond


Advancement in Health Care

UMaine’s new Institute of Medicine provides foundation for collaborative advancement in health care in Maine and beyond

A new Institute of Medicine at the University of Maine will coordinate and support the research and public outreach efforts of some of the state’s leading experts whose research and scholarly work at UMaine advances rural health care, diagnostic medicine, immune system diseases and disorders, and medical humanities.

The newly formed institute will serve as a bridge connecting the health care community with the university, and in doing so, it will provide guidance related to medical research, medical device development, rural health care and outreach, community engagement and workforce development.

By bringing together ideas from the state’s research university and health care providers, it is expected that new strategies for therapeutics, medical devices, rural outreach and counseling will be developed, having significant positive impact on health care for people in Maine, says David Harder, institute director and research professor of medicine, who joined the university in 2019.

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Growing Virus Research

Maginnis awarded NIH grant to examine virus fatal in people with weakened immune systems

More than half the human population is infected with a virus that resides undetected in the kidneys of healthy people.

But when a carrier of the human JC polyomavirus, or JCPyV, has a weakened immune system, the virus can migrate to the brain, where it becomes fatal.

The virus spreads through contaminated food or water and from person to person — as it settles in a person’s urinary tract and bone marrow and can be shed in urine. The virus stays in these sites for a lifetime, and many people never know they have it, says Melissa Maginnis, assistant professor of microbiology at the University of Maine.

In people with weak immune systems, the virus can travel to the brain and cause a serious infection called progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML), which damages the outer coating of nerve cells, causing permanent disabilities and death.

“This research will pave the way forward to better understand how viruses are able to sneak into cells and cause infection,” Maginnis says. “This NIH award represents hard work and contributions from my entire team, and we are very excited to continue moving this research forward.”

Melissa Maginnis, Associate Professor of Microbiology at the University of Maine

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Leading Biomedical Research

The Graduate School of Biomedical Science and Engineering is a unique collaborative graduate program comprising the five institutions which represent the biomedical research community within the State of Maine founded in 2006, with four private partnering institutions: The Jackson Laboratory, MDI Biological Laboratory, Maine Medical Center Research Institute, and the University of New England.

The program currently has 75 students, 71 alumni, and 195 faculty. It is the largest STEM Ph.D. program in Maine.

Current degree programs offered:

  • Ph.D. in Biomedical Science
  • Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering
  • Professional Science Masters in Bioinformatics

The GSBSE received a five-year $1.07 million NIH Institutional Research Training Grant (T32) grant titled “Transdisciplinary predoctoral training in biomedical science and engineering” in 2019. The predoctoral trainees of this program will be well-positioned to make fundamental discoveries and breakthroughs leading to significant advancements in human health and wellbeing.

GSBSE is providing the biomedical workforce of the future, supplying industry and academia in Maine and beyond with highly trained graduates. The graduates of the GSBSE programs go on to have successful careers in Industry and Academia, with 42% staying in Maine.

Improving Muscle Retention

Elisabeth Kilroy’s dissertation project explored a novel approach to improving muscle retention in people affected by muscular dystrophy.  To develop support for her research Kilroy engaged with the public, garnering international media attention and a research award from the Morgan Hoffman Foundation. She spoke to U.S. senators and representatives as an advocate for federal support of muscular dystrophy research.

In the spring of 2020, Kilroy received the College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture’s Outstanding Service Award before graduating. “My goal is to cure muscular dystrophy. Thousands of individuals are losing the fight against muscle wasting and weakness, and I know that I can help them.” Her project adviser, Clarissa Henry, is a professor of biological sciences in the School of Biology and Ecology.

Kilroy graduated earlier this year with a  Ph.D. in biomedical science, and is now a Post-Doctoral Scientist in the Flanigan Lab at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

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Detecting and Deterring Biological Threats

Daniel Regan: Innovation earns the Dr. Susan J. Hunter Presidential Research Impact Award

Daniel Regan, a Ph.D. candidate in the Graduate School of Biomedical Science and Engineering (GSBSE), is conducting research focused on the development of platforms for the detection and deterrence of biological threats.

A year into his work in assistant professor Caitlin Howell’s Biointerface and Biomimetics Lab, Regan had an idea for a new type of catch-and-release filter for use in medevacs. The original concept combined his passion for military biodefense and biomedical engineering. His goal was to monitor biological threats while improving patient care and overall cleanliness. Little did he know that his project would be highly applicable to a rapidly emerging COVID-19 pandemic.

“Bio threats are only going to become more problematic as time goes on, but it doesn’t stop at manmade threats. For decades, scientists have been suggesting that a major pandemic may be imminent,” Regan says. With COVID-19, those hypotheses were proven correct. It quickly became clear that the catch-and-release filter originally planned for military use could be useful in other environments, such as nursing homes, emergency rooms, schools and more.

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Tackling Biodiversity Loss Through COVID-19 Recovery

UMaine professors contribute to report advising how governments can tackle biodiversity loss through COVID-19 recovery

Two University of Maine professors contributed to a report that explores how governments can help mitigate ecosystem and species loss through their COVID-19 stimulus and recovery plans.

While many countries hope to implement regulatory and funding measures to help “return to normal,” the authors of a Rutgers University-led paper, including Michael Howard and Cynthia Isenhour from UMaine, urge officials to take measures that would help halt decades of biodiversity degradation exacerbated by previous policy decisions. Their recommendations include incentives, regulations, fiscal policy and employment programs that would support ecosystem resilience and prohibit actions that threaten various animals, plants and other wildlife.

“As disastrous as the pandemic has been, the disruption does provide an opportunity to reconsider our path and to design economic systems that are more sustainable, healthy and resilient,” Cynthia Isenhour, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Climate Change

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Supporting Rural Communities

In a time of crisis, student research aims to improve food outreach efforts

In an effort to investigate best practices for tackling food insecurity in Washington County, students in the psychology and community studies program at the University of Maine at Machias are surveying area residents about food-related volunteer work.

The surveys are part of a course on research methods and design in which students develop a project on an issue impacting the community. UMM professor Lois-Ann Kuntz says the project comes at a crucial time when the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated ongoing problems with food security in Washington County.

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UMaine researcher, students help state officials forecast economic fallout in Maine from COVID-19 

A University of Maine researcher and six graduate students are helping Maine state officials estimate the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

Andrew Crawley, an assistant professor of regional economic development with the UMaine School of Economics, and his students are working with the State Economist’s Office to develop forecasts for how much COVID-19 will affect Maine’s economy. They will create five models to evaluate the possible loss in tourism spending, travel-related spending, cruise ship spending, state revenues and overall sectoral output changes. The forecasts will also include prospects for recovery.

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Working Together to Solve Problems

Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions

The Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions builds partnerships in which teams of students and faculty with diverse expertise collaborate with communities to find solutions to complex problems. Although sustainability challenges arise in many different contexts — municipal planning, coastal fisheries, public health, forest management — all require a focus on a combination of economic, environmental, and social issues.

Along Maine’s Coast

Building networks – Led by Bridie McGreavy and her research team, the Maine Shellfish Learning Network connects stakeholders from more than 20 coastal communities spanning the entire coast to strengthen shellfisheries and livelihoods.

Preparing for change – Josh Stoll and his colleagues are conducting research to help lobstermen and coastal communities prepare for potential challenges in the fishery such as climate change and trade.

Safer roads, searun fish – A research team led by Sam Roy is developing cost-effective strategies for culvert replacement that result in both safer roads and improved fish passage.

Student Focus – Engineering student Sohaib Alahmed is collaborating with oyster and mussel farmers in Frenchman Bay to identify pollution problems and strategies for minimizing their impacts on both wild-harvest and aquaculture fisheries.

Across Maine’s Forests and Farmlands

Improving agriculture, reducing climate change – Adam Daigneault and his colleagues are assessing strategies for promoting soil health and lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

Mobilizing to fight an invasive insect – A team led by Darren Ranco and John Daigle continues their collaboration with Wabanaki basketmakers to fight the emerald ash borer. This invasive insect could decimate Maine’s brown ash trees, jeopardizing the livelihoods of basketmakers.

Student focus – Economics student Joey Reed conducted research focused on community resilience in the Katahdin Region. His research included survey design, data collection, statistical analysis and in-person surveys. One highlight was getting to interact with local residents.

Toward Health & Well-being

Reducing food insecurity – Rachel Schattman is involved in a study to see how food security in Maine has been affected by COVID-19 and how food insecurity can be alleviated.

Ticks and tourists – A team led by Sandra De Urioste-Stone and Allison Gardner is assessing the abundance of ticks in Acadia National Park and helping park staff reduce exposure risks to visitors.

Student focus – In collaboration with a 37-member stakeholder group, including representatives from Hannaford and Good Shepherd Food Bank, a team of undergraduate students helped identify six solutions to reduce food waste and food insecurity.

Enhancing Equity Outcomes for Maine

In response to a request from the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future, graduate student Sara Kelemen helped lead a project focused on improving the equity outcomes of Maine’s Climate Action Plan.

Pathways for Native Students

Darren Ranco and his colleagues are leading a new initiative with the Wabanaki Youth in Science (WaYS) Program in which Native American students will guide their peers through research projects and professional development activities.

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Developing Research Success

The Office of Research Development (ORD) helps faculty, staff, and students at the University of Maine secure the resources they need to deliver on the promise of ground-breaking research and scholarship.

In FY 2020, ORD provided support to faculty and researchers in the submission of over 115 proposals to extramural sponsors requesting a total of over $105 million. Prior efforts from ORD were evident in many of the awards received in FY2020: at least 25 of the UMaine’s funded projects totaling $35 million involved major support from ORD staff. Staff focus on large scale interdisciplinary funding proposals, highly competitive student research training grants, and the provision of grant writing workshops and consultations to the research community.

The department takes a keen interest in supporting faculty new to the university to orient them to resources, initiatives, and funding opportunities. ORD offers professional development and ongoing training to support members of the University community in building competitive research programs. In FY 2020, ORD provided hundreds of research consultations to University of Maine System faculty, staff, and students. Over 300 meetings with researchers were conducted, covering project management, proposal editing, opportunity identification, research program consultation, and guidance for internal funding and/or limited submission.

This year, ORD launched a Grants Academy, which recruited 10 participants from three UMS campuses for a seven-month guided journey toward proposal development. Eight faculty members completed the program, developing projects bound for NIH, NSF, USDA, and DoD. The University of Maine plays a vital role serving the people of Maine, and ORD assistance boosts the diversity, sustainability, and growth of research operations. The year 2020 witnessed unprecedented success for UMaine researchers, and ORD is proud to have supported their efforts.

From aiding successful funding requests for highly relevant COVID-related research to supporting efforts to secure major federal funding for research and graduate training, ORD works in tandem with other research support units of the university to deliver on UMaine’s mission: advancing learning and discovery while addressing complex challenges with research-based knowledge.

Maine’s First Small Satellite

UMaine WiSe-Net Lab, AMSAT partner to develop Maine’s first small satellite 

The University of Maine Wireless Sensing Laboratory (WiSe-Net Lab) and the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation (AMSAT) have signed an agreement to collaborate on the building and operating MESAT1, Maine’s first small satellite, to be launched in space in the next three years.

MESAT1 is the state’s first CubeSat — one of 18 small research satellites selected by NASA to carry auxiliary payloads into space between 2021–23. It is part of NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative that provides opportunities for nanosatellite science and technology payloads built by universities, schools and nonprofit organizations to ride share on space launches.

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Supporting Research Goals Through Advanced Computing

When working on a research project in nearly any discipline, it’s important to not only collect and analyze data, but to also make sure the data is saved and backed up. In fact, it’s a formal requirement of most funding organizations and a recommended practice even when not required, including at the University of Maine. Depending on the research area and involved disciplines, there is a spectrum of research data storage and computing needs. Some people only need a data back-up service, while others require large-scale parallel computing capabilities. In order to help researchers overcome difficulties related to their high-performance computing needs, UMaine’s Advanced Research Computing (ARC)  was created in 2019.

ARC’s mission is to: “support the University’s research mission by providing advanced high-performance computing expertise and services to researchers from across the University and beyond.”

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Innovation in Deep Learning

When you think of Artificial Intelligence (AI), what is the first thing you imagine? A computer learning to out-think humans? Machines rising up to overthrow their human overlords? Or do you consider your car’s automatic alert system, booking your plane tickets through a virtual travel agent, or communicating through your cell phone’s smart assistant?

According to Dr. Salimeh Yasaei Sekeh, an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at the University of Maine, it’s not uncommon for many people to mistake AI as a technology of the future, when in reality, we have already integrated AI into our everyday lives, in ways that are incredibly helpful.

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Growing the Aquaculture Economy

Over the past decade, Maine has seen 2.2% annual growth in aquaculture, which has had an overall economic impact of $140 million annually. Tackling the growing challenges for the sector — from emerging finfish and shellfish diseases to the effects of climate change — is critical.

To address these issues facing the industry in Maine and the nation, an Aquaculture Experiment Station has been established by the University of Maine Aquaculture Research Institute (ARI), in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and Auburn University. This cooperative agreement is a commitment to an ongoing conversation between researchers and the aquaculture industry to increase sustainable production and industry stability.

The cooperative research and development agreement, eligible for renewal every five years, is funded by $950,000 from USDA ARS for the first year, and $750,000 annually thereafter. The Aquaculture Experiment Station will harness the expertise of ARI-affiliated faculty in Orono and at UMaine’s Darling Marine Center in Walpole, and ARS researchers based on the Orono campus and at the National Marine Cold Water Marine Aquaculture Center in Franklin. The agreement also includes shellfish researchers at Auburn University in Alabama.

“Aquaculture is critical for the future of our coastal communities and for the economic recovery of Maine,” said UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy. “For more than a decade, UMaine’s nationally and internationally recognized aquaculture researchers and facilities have been dedicated to problem-solving, student experience and workforce development, and advancing this sector to benefit the state’s economy. This partnership builds on those strengths, and creates a synergy among cutting-edge expertise, resources and research.”

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Aquaculture in Shared Waters receives top honors from National Sea Grant award program

Aquaculture in Shared Waters, a program that prepares fishermen and others to start aquaculture ventures in Maine, received a Sea Grant 2020 Superior Outreach Programming Award from the Sea Grant Extension Assembly. Superior Outreach Program Awards recognize projects and programs that can serve as an example across the entire National Sea Grant network.

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Digital Humanities: New Methods for Engaging Our Past

As the humanities specialist at the McGillicuddy Humanities Center, Karen Sieber helps support the scholarly research and creative activities being undertaken by students and faculty on campus. Working with the center’s director, Michael J. Socolow, Sieber produces humanities-centered programming, mentors undergraduate humanities fellows, and promotes humanities projects, programs, and opportunities on campus. She uses her background and training in public history and the digital humanities to encourage students and faculty to think creatively about public engagement.

With a background in community archives, exhibit curation and digital mapping, Sieber has worked on several projects engaging audiences with vital but often forgotten moments of U.S. history. These include the destruction of the Black community of Hayti, the Loray Cotton Mill Strike of 1929, and the Red Summer race riots of 1919. Her website, Visualizing the Red Summer, includes the digital archive she built of 700 items collected from around the country about the lynchings and mob violence against Black Americans that summer, as well as data visualizations about the nationwide series of events. The site is now used in classrooms around the globe, and is a featured resource by the National Archives.

Sieber has also made great contributions to the historical scholarship here at the University of Maine working with students in Professor Liam Riordan’s Public History class, and librarians at Fogler Library, to piece hidden campus histories into a digital tour. She’s presented her new findings at the Mount Desert Island Historical Society, in classes at the University of Maine, and in other public venues.     

In collaboration with Socolow, Sieber launched a pilot oral history project this fall titled “Maine Remembers the Coronavirus Pandemic.”  The project seeks to capture this current idiosyncratic moment for future historians and scholars. Funded in part with a gift to the center by Doug Baston ‘69, “Maine Remembers the Coronavirus Pandemic,” will expand in 2021 as new subjects, partners, collaborators, and funders are located. Sieber also organized a workshop led by a senior program officer from the National Endowment for the Humanities to help humanities faculty learn about, and plan, future grant applications.

Karen Sieber’s humanities work demonstrates how the University of Maine, and the McGillicuddy Humanities Center, remain committed to highlighting the applicability and relevance of humanities research to an array of contemporary social, cultural and political issues.

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Culture and Community in Interdisciplinary Arts

UMaine MFA Program Graduate Student Spotlights

Arturo Camacho (José Arturo Quiroz) was born in Mexico State, Mexico, where he spent the majority of his early life. He came to the United States at the age of 19, and traded his pursuit of an engineering degree for a B.F.A. in intermedia with a minor in photography from Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts. After graduating, Camacho remained in the U.S. where he adopted a nomadic lifestyle which influenced his search for belonging and subsequently, his art. Much of his work showcases and catalogs pieces of popular culture, such as video game consoles, toys, and technology from the turn of the millennium. He utilizes media such as photography, video, sculpture, and restoration techniques to focus on relics from millennial childhood and their relationship with psychology and social development.

Rachel Church is an intermedia artist, book artist, and printmaker. She has a B.A. in art with a concentration in printmaking and entrepreneurial studies and a B.F.A. in studio art with a minor in book arts, both from the University of Southern Maine. In 2008, she was an intern at the Engine House Press, on the island of Vinalhaven, Maine and in 2009, she spent a year printing with the Peregrine Press in Portland, Maine, thanks to the Kate Mahoney Memorial Scholarship. More recently, she was selected as the Baxter State Park 2018 Artist in Residence. She is currently a member of Running with Scissors Studios and teaches printmaking and bookmaking workshops. Church defended her thesis titled “I Love It When You Make Me Coffee in The Morning,” for her Intermedia M.F.A. degree in August 2020. Her current work explores gender issues through food and material culture, with a particular focus on cookbooks.

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Presenting Art as a Common Experience

Art perspectives: Justin Wolff

Justin Wolff is a professor of art history at the University of Maine. He teaches courses on modern, contemporary, and American art as well as art theory and criticism. His research focuses on 19th and 20th century American art and culture. Wolff’s new book titled “Rufus Porter’s Curious World: Art and Invention in America 1815-1860” was published in 2019.

Read the Q&A interview with Wolff as he reflects on his work, current projects and teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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