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UMaine Today Magazine

Student Focus

The pier of the future

Melanie Bragdon
Photos by Michele Stapleton and Larry Ayotte

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It is one thing for a student to get hands-on experience in field construction and another to be a project manager overseeing construction of Maine's first wood composite commercial pier.

University of Maine graduate student Melanie Bragdon is involved in fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) composite research. Her work has taken her from UMaine's state-of-the-art Advanced Engineered Wood Composites (AEWC) Center laboratory in Orono to the shore of the Narraguagus River, where her work was instrumental in the recent construction of Milbridge, Maine's new municipal pier.

As a student, Bragdon's research focuses on computer modeling and laboratory testing for commercial pier decks. The Milbridge pier project transformed theory and lab work into practice and success. The pier (approximately 16 feet by 160 feet) was constructed using FRP glulam panels, which are made of lumber vertically laminated to form a 4-foot-wide panel.

"We had a company make glulam panels and we applied the FRP to them in the lab," says Bragdon, who hopes to be a structural engineer working abroad when she completes her graduate degree in civil engineering.

The new pier replaces a deteriorated concrete-covered wooden structure. The reinforced glulam panels used on the new pier weigh a third as much as reinforced concrete, yet they have the same strength and stiffness. The cost of building the new pier with composite materials is $670,000, which is comparable with prestressed-concrete construction. However, because of its design and materials, the composite pier is expected to last much longer than one made of concrete.

AEWC is an international leader in the research and development of the next generation in construction materials advanced wood-nonwood composites. Its director is Habib Dagher, the University's Bath Iron Works Professor in Structural Engineering.

Intersection of biology and philosophy

Kevin Peterson
Photo by Monty Rand

After four years at The University of Maine, Kevin Peterson of Cumberland graduated in May with both a bachelor's degree and a year's worth of graduate-level experience at one of the world's most prominent research centers.

As an undergraduate, Peterson spent two semesters as an intern at The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, the world's largest mammalian genetic research institution. This summer, he continued to work at Jackson Lab and began his graduate program in biological sciences. He expects to earn his doctorate from UMaine in four years.

In 1997, Peterson enrolled as an undeclared major in liberal arts. In his first year, he took a philosophy class that "had a big influence in making me ask questions and think about bigger issues," he says.

Those philosophical questions carried over into a developmental biology class taught by Professor of Zoology Mary Tyler, prompting Peterson's interest in developmental genetics and a fascination with "how life can begin from one cell."

For Peterson, biology and philosophy intersect. "Both use observation and hypothesis. Science starts as a philosophical pursuit," he says.

At Jackson Lab, Peterson works on a research team led by Jackson Lab scientist Tim O'Brien. The team also includes UMaine alumnus Ian Welsh, a 1996 co-valedictorian.
In a comparison study of human and mouse chromosomes, the researchers are trying to understand what genes are essential for development.

After he earns his Ph.D., Peterson plans a career in research. He also hopes to author his first book, which he says will blend biology, philosophy and ethics.


UMaine Today Magazine
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