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UMaine Today Magazine


Sensors for chemical and biological agent detection

UMaine's Environmental Sensor Research Group in the Laboratory for Surface Science and Technology (LASST) brings together expertise from several academic departments to perform tasks ranging from basic science to applied technology in collaboration with industrial partners.

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Heightened concerns for national security have raised the profile of ongoing research on sensors for detection of chemical and biological weapons in the UMaine Laboratory for Surface Science and Technology (LASST).

Funded initially in 1998 by the Department of Defense, the lab's work on what has become known as the "chem/bio sensor project" has achieved some notable success, as well as an appreciation for the complexity of the task.

"We have succeeded in several crucial areas," says Robert Lad, LASST director and professor of physics. "We've produced semi-conducting metal oxide sensors on a sapphire crystal that are stable under a range of operating temperatures, and we've demonstrated a gas filtering system that appears to reliably separate target molecules, which is an important step in the detection process."

In sensor trials, several faculty, staff and students at LASST have been using non-hazardous chemicals that have properties similar to dangerous agents such as Sarin, a nerve gas used in the Tokyo subway attack in 1995. "These simulant molecules have important chemical end groups that mimic the real warfare agents but lack critical elements that would make them toxic," says Lad. Eventually, trials will have to be run at secure military sites with live agents.

LASST scientists are working with several private firms and military labs to develop sensors based on semi-conducting metal oxide, surface acoustic wave and fluorescence technologies. One of those projects involves the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Virginia on a project to adapt sensor components to silicon microchips. Such an adaptation would allow LASST designs to be further miniaturized and integrated with other electronic devices.

Potential applications for "chem/bio" sensing technologies include use by soldiers in the battlefield, use in ventilation systems in office buildings and in research leading to improved gas masks.

Ambassador lectures on campus

The current relationship between the United States and Russia was the subject of a Sept. 7 talk on campus by Thomas Pickering, undersecretary of state for political affairs in the Clinton administration and a former U.S. ambassador to the Russian Federation.

His visit was co-sponsored by the William S. Cohen Center for International Policy and Commerce in the UMaine College of Business, Public Policy and Health, and by the World Affairs Council of Maine.

Pickering's address was part of the Cohen Center's lecture series on international policy and commerce.

Other William S. Cohen lecturers have been retired U.S. Senator and astronaut John Glenn, and then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

As Secretary of Defense, William Cohen gave the inaugural address of the lecture series in 1998.

Quintessential Quartet: Graduate string quartet program in its third year

The newest artists-in-residence in the School of Performing Arts are members of the UMaine/Bangor Symphony Orchestra Graduate String Quartet. They are Yosuke Kawasaki, first violin; Jethro Marks, viola; Georgy Valtchev, second violin; and Inna Nassidze, cello.

Annually, four students are selected from a nationwide search to enter the quartet and perform with the Bangor Symphony.

In addition, the quartet travels to schools throughout the state to perform and conduct workshops for students.

Diane Roscetti, School of Performing Arts director, is in charge of the program, arranging all performances and outreach, and serving as faculty coach and mentor.

All four of the quartet members are award-winning artists in the international spotlight.

A hole in one for the Maine economy

When golfers teed off at one of Maine's 138 courses in 1999, they contributed more than $200 million in revenues and additional spending to the state economy.

"The industry is clearly a significant part of the economy. Golf is a factor in every county of the state, even though it is concentrated in the southern and coastal counties," says Todd Gabe, assistant professor of resource economics and policy at The University of Maine.

Gabe and Tom Allen, an assistant scientist in UMaine's Department of Resource Economics and Policy, surveyed golf course owners and managers, as well as studies of tourism and spending by golfers. They used figures for 1999, the last year for which complete statistics were available at the time of the study.

Green fees and memberships are the primary sources of income for golf courses. The industry in Maine supports more than 4,700 workers.

On average in Maine, a golf course generated about $50 in revenues for an 18-hole round of golf in 1999. Out of the total 1.7 million rounds of golf that year, about 516,000 were played by non-residents of Maine.

Since 1990, 22 new courses have opened in Maine and, as of last March, five more were under construction.


To help livestock producers get through the winter, The University of Maine Cooperative Extension is again offering the Maine Hay Directory, an online listing of hay and forage sellers and buyers in the region ( The directory, created during a forage shortage three years ago, lists contacts that have or need forage and hay in Maine and Eastern Canada.

Fighting fungus in the blueberry barrens

University of Maine biologists Seanna Annis and Connie Stubbs are a fungus-fighting duo. Their mission: to help Maine blueberry growers protect their crops.

The two scientists are coordinating a multi-year research effort to identify the different types of fungi present in blueberry plants, to understand which types cause problems and to develop protective steps that growers can take.

Growers requested the study to find out if they could reduce losses from fungal diseases.
Mummyberry, caused by a fungus, is the most prevalent disease, and growers now take steps to control it. However, changing crop production practices, such as the increasing use of irrigation and mowing, could contribute to other diseases.

David Bell, director of the Maine Wild Blueberry Commission, calls the research critical for the future of the industry. "For a long time, growers have recognized that there are other fungal diseases in the fields. This research will help them understand if and how much they affect yield and how their cropping practices might encourage or minimize them. It's an important long-term investment."

The researchers have found 122 different genera or groups of fungal species on blueberry plants. A single infected plant tends to have many types of fungi living within its tissues.

Annis and Stubbs, working with post-doctoral researchers and undergraduate students from UMaine and other colleges, collected stems from 31 fields in 1999, 20 fields in 2000 and 12 fields this year.

"I'm convinced that we'll find species of fungi that have not been described in the scientific literature before," says Annis.

Wired for wireless

Shibles Hall, home of the College of Education and Human Development, is a prototype in wireless technology for The University of Maine campus.

While other UMaine facilities have some wireless capacity and services, Shibles is now 100 percent wired for wireless, with a power hub system capable of handling up to 100 portable computers.

The result: flexibility to instantly create a technologically rich environment in any classroom.

"Wireless technology allows our faculty and students to concentrate on teaching and learning with technology, not on circuits and cables," says the college's dean, Robert Cobb.

Access points installed during the past year provide building-wide access to the Internet and other networks for any properly configured portable computer.

The infrastructure for the new wireless technology at Shibles was made possible by a $5,000 gift from Marion Rich Waterman Meyer, a 1951 UMaine graduate, career educator and former assistant dean at the Syracuse University School of Management.

Patent to help paper mills

DuPont has donated patent rights to The University of Maine for new papermaking technology that may increase the efficiency and environmental performance of paper mills.

UMaine chemical engineers will work with Sappi Fine Paper North America, which has paper mills in Somerset and Westbrook, Maine, to explore ways to refine the patented retention additive technology and make it commercially viable.

DuPont selected UMaine from a number of universities to receive the donation, based on its ability to develop the technology, its scientific reputation, and its capability for adding value and eventually commercializing the technology. Research will be done by scientists and engineers in the University's Pulp and Paper Process Development Center.

A rigorous process determined who would receive the technology, says Stephen Craft, manager of technology licensing and sales manager for DuPont. "There were many high-ranking universities around the country that were competing, but . . . from the word go, I think I knew The University of Maine was ‘it.'"

The patented technology developed by DuPont allows paper to retain more fibers and chemicals, a savings in both paper production and wastewater treatment. Potential revenues stemming from use of the technology will depend on research results and market conditions.

"We are delighted to be the commercial partner in this relationship," says Douglas Daniels, mill manager in Somerset for SAPPI Fine Paper North America. "We are the leader for coated fine paper in the world. And we'll take one machine at a time and convert to this technology because it's smart business."

Women and war

Experiences of military women in wartimes are the focus of a women's studies class and oral history project at The University of Maine.

The semester-long course, Women and War, taught by historians Carol Toner and Mazie Hough, is offered statewide via streamed live video on the Internet. To learn about the changing role of women in the military, and how those changes reflect evolving social constructions of womanhood in American society, students study the history of Maine and wars throughout the world, feminist theory and the methodology of oral history. They then interview women who served in the military, beginning with World War II.

This semester, students interviewed women who served in the Vietnam and Gulf Wars.

The interviews are being compiled as part of the Maine Women Veterans Oral History Project, sponsored by UMaine and the Maine Commission on Women Veterans.

Inspiration for an oral history project on military women came from Donna Loring, the representative of the Penobscot Nation to the state legislature and chair of the Maine Commission on Women Veterans.

The Margaret Chase Smith Library in Skowhegan, Maine, provided initial funding to transcribe the taped interviews. As a U.S. senator, Smith wrote the Women's Armed Services Integration Act of 1948, which gave women permanent status in the military.

Technology enhances Native American Studies

Two professors in one of the nation's premier American Indian studies programs will teach courses at The University of Maine from their classrooms at the University of Washington.

Two-way video technology is making the East-West connection possible. G. Thomas Colonnese, a Santee Sioux, and Marvin Oliver, Quinault/Isleta-Pueblo, both professors in the University of Washington's American Indian Studies Program, are teaching UMaine Continuing Education courses as Visiting Diversity Libra Professors.

Colonnese's course on the American Indian novel began in October. Oliver's course on two-dimensional art of Northwest Coast Indians begins in Winter Session.

The professors present their courses on-site at the University of Washington and via the Internet using compressed video technology to UMaine classrooms. During the classes, students in Orono and Seattle are able to interact with each other in real time.

In addition, the two scholars will come to campus to present public lectures and to interact with UMaine students and faculty, and members of Maine's Native American community.

Snowmobiling cleaner, quieter

University of Maine mechanical engineering students are building a quieter, more environmentally friendly snowmobile.

Last year, a student team worked with Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Mick Peterson to test noise levels, power output and emissions generated by a 1994 snowmobile. This fall, they modified the engine to make it run cleaner without sacrificing performance.

The students found that, although noise levels have been reduced considerably since the machines were first developed, emissions have not. Their tests showed that one week of snowmobiling generates air pollutants equivalent to one year of driving the average car. In addition, on a 1,500-mile run, snowmobile emissions equate to about 30 gallons of unburned fuel.

The UMaine student engineers' improved model will be entered in the third annual Clean Snowmobile Competition, which is a national event of the Society of Automotive Engineers.


UMaine Today Magazine
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