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UMaine Today Magazine


Hearing right from the start

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages all hospitals to adopt universal hearing screenings for children under 1 month old.

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Keeping at-risk children in Maine in the healthcare and social services systems to give them the help they need is one of the goals of a $1.45 million research project at The University of Maine, funded by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy, part of the Health Resources and Services Administration.

The program, Child LINK (Linking Information Networks), is part of UMaine's Children at Risk Project. It begins with newborns at risk for hearing impairments, focusing on early detection and treatment for these children who, without intervention, could face developmental delays.

Child LINK designs and electronically links child health and development databases for the state. The result is integrated information providing the most comprehensive picture possible about Maine children with special needs. With that information, the state can better track and evaluate the development of these children, and above all, ensure that they get the services they require.

"More than 13,000 children are born every year in Maine. The database will help us focus attention on the children with hearing impairments who may benefit most from available services," says Craig Mason, UMaine associate professor of interdisciplinary studies and director of Child LINK.

"The database will give us a better understanding of the challenges these families face and what can be done to help. We will get a sense of where these children are falling through the cracks, and what can be done to fill those cracks in the system."

Starting this year, information concerning infants being screened and evaluated for hearing disorders, and those youngsters being referred to intervention and treatment services, will be entered in the database. The data will form the foundation of a tracking system in Maine's Newborn Hearing Program.

With the tracking system, healthcare and social services providers can effectively plan and establish a comprehensive system of developmentally appropriate services for newborn children and infants up to age 3 who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. Access to the database is regulated by the Bureau of Health.

The core of the database is modeled on recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "With our expanded approach, we are on the cutting edge of what the CDC is trying to do," Mason says.

Help with the herds

Dairy cows don't take a day off, but sometimes their owners have to. That's when The University of Maine Cooperative Extension Relief Milker System can help.

A relief milker is trained to step in to milk a dairy herd, giving a farmer a break from chores that have to be done at least twice a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Relief milkers can give farmers time off and backup during emergencies, relieving a shortage of labor on Maine farms.

"It's a schedule that can take its toll on farmers and their families," says Extension dairy specialist Dave Marcinkowski. "There is little or no time for illness, doctor's appointments, educational opportunities or even just a break from the farm."

People who want to become relief milkers attend daylong training sessions at the University's Witter Animal Science Center to learn the basics of milk production and how to care for and milk cows on today's modern dairy farms. Relief workers are 16 and older, and come from all walks of life, including students and retirees.

The training is supported by Maine's dairy processors, including Agri-Mark, Oakhurst and Garelick.

About 450 families operate dairy farms in Maine.

The statewide network of relief milkers is compiled in the Maine Relief Milker Directory, which is available on the Web ( or by calling a county Extension office.

National Masters Championships

The USA Track & Field National Masters Championships are again coming to The University of Maine.

Aug. 811, more than 1,000 men and women, ages 30 and older, are expected to compete in track and field events at UMaine's Clarence Beckett Track and Field Complex.

The championships were last held at The University of Maine in 1998. Athletes from 48 states and 10 countries competed.

At that time, 41 American Masters records and nine World Masters records were set at the University.

The athletes were accompanied by more than 2,000 friends and family members, most staying four to eight days in Maine. It's estimated that the event gave an almost $2 million boost to the regional economy.

Cold facts about fats

Today it's hard to be health-conscious without being aware of ongoing concerns about the effects of saturated and unsaturated fats on the body. At The University of Maine, basic research by Theresa Grove, a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Marine Sciences, may have implications in future biomedical research on how the body uses fats.

Grove is attempting to unlock the molecular mysteries behind an enzyme that appears to play a major role in the oxidation of fatty acids in Notothenioid fish. The fish, native to the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica, have a pronounced tendency to oxidize unsaturated fatty acids for energy. Mono-unsaturated fat in cardiac and aerobic skeletal muscles is used, even with both saturated and unsaturated fatty acids present.

Using biochemical and molecular techniques, Grove is studying the structure of the protein fatty acyl CoA synthetase to begin to learn how it may recognize fats by differential specificity, and how it functions at these cold physiological temperatures.

The Peoria, Ill., native is part of a research group, led by UMaine Professor of Marine Sciences Bruce Sidell, that studies Antarctic fish to learn how the species evolved to thrive in an extreme environment. Sidell's research, ongoing for more than two decades, has interested medical researchers seeking to understand how cells respond to stress, which includes life in a formidable climate.

Documenting Franco-American French

The first sociolinguistic study of Franco-American French is under way in Maine, led by North American French scholar Jane Smith, an assistant professor of French at The University of Maine, and Cynthia Fox, associate professor of French studies at the University at Albany.

The three-year collaborative study is funded by a $301,130 grant from the National Science Foundation.

Franco-Americans in New England and New York state represent the second largest concentration of French speakers in the United States. Yet they remain the only significant group of North American French speakers for whom there is no body of recordings preserving the spoken word. Until now, their language has not been the subject of systematic, representative sampling and research.

In the sociolinguistic study, the researchers are investigating linguistic structure and "the human dynamics behind the language" to understand what social or economic factors influence language maintenance or shift.

Their research, based on interviews with Franco-Americans, will explore such areas as family background, linguistic history, ties with French-speaking Canada and France, and participation in ethnic activities. They also will study dialect variations between Quebec and Acadian French in Franco-American French, as well as the influence of English on the language.

In addition to providing baseline data on the sociolinguistics of language choice and change in eight Franco-American communities, the project will create a permanent linguistic record of the largely undocumented variety of North American French.

When getting D's is a good thing

Exposure to the sun isn't all bad. In fact, a little sunlight every day is good for your bones.

As part of an osteoporosis research project, scientists in The University of Maine Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition are looking at how much vitamin D, a critical factor in bone health, is generated by the skin in response to sunlight.

Their results emphasize the importance of a diet including adequate amounts of vitamin D and calcium, especially during the winter.

Susan Sullivan, assistant professor, and Jennifer Cobb, a master's student from Kingfield, Maine, are focusing their efforts on adolescent girls. Research has shown that the foundation for healthy bones is established in adolescence. Inadequate bone mass in these early years can contribute to osteoporosis later in life.

Vitamin D, which is necessary for calcium absorption, is produced by the reaction of sunlight on the skin during the summer. However, the light is not strong enough to do the job during the fall and winter. Even on a summer day, Sullivan says, clouds can cut in half the production of vitamin D.

Sullivan and Cobb, who began their project in 2000, are working with other scientists in the United States and Australia. Their goal is to understand how sun exposure, exercise and diet contribute to strong bones by providing adequate levels of bone-building vitamin D and calcium.

The researchers found that girls who spend more time outside in the summer have more vitamin D in their blood. However, at Maine's latitude, the sun is not strong enough until mid-March to kick off the vitamin D production process. Even on a sunny day in August, the sun isn't strong enough to start vitamin D production until about 9 a.m.

Sullivan and Dr. Clifford Rosen of the Maine Center for Osteoporosis Research and Education in Bangor, Maine, are now collaborating on a three-year study in which the researchers are closely monitoring girls' diets, bone density and time spent outdoors.

Asleep at the school bell

Addressing the problem of sleepy teens is not as simple as adjusting the start of the school day

Teen struggles to get up in the morning and stay awake in school have more to do with science than with stereotyping. Research shows that adolescents generally benefit from sleeping later because the biological changes of puberty favor morning sleep.

However, addressing the problem is not as simple as adjusting the start of the school day, according to a recent report from The University of Maine.

A study by the Center for Research and Evaluation in UMaine's College of Education and Human Development compiled information from existing reports and data from eight urban and suburban schools in Minnesota that have altered the start of classes to accommodate sleepy students.

In her report, UMaine Research Associate Gail Downs points out that schools need to approach such changes cautiously and comprehensively, and be aware of possible consequences and complications that vary from community to community.

Decisions whether to change the school day must be balanced against other factors, including how the time shift will affect sports and other after-school activities, students' afternoon jobs, family routines, teachers' lives, bus transportation and the use of school facilities by community organizations.

The study emphasizes that changing the time of the opening and closing school bell must be a local decision, made with the participation and input of the community after extensive communication and candid discussion of all concerns and benefits.

Peaceable kingdom

A long-held ideal portrays Canada as the peaceable kingdom. While historians have identified hundreds of disturbances in the northern nation during the 19th century, only a few have received scholarly attention.

"Throughout history, and even today, a peaceful Canada is held up in contrast to a violent America," says Scott See, University of Maine Libra Professor of History. "However, the desire to believe in this ideal often obfuscates history."

In his research on the history of social and political conflict in British North America (Canada), See has found that Canada in the 19th century was a "fairly rambunctious place." Important categories of collective disturbances riots and group conflicts include movements in opposition to immigration (nativism), vigilantism, political turmoil, racial conflict and labor struggles.

"Canadians were rioting and publicly contesting issues on a scale that easily mirrored events in the U.S. and Britain in the same period," says See, who recently received a competitive Senior Fellowship from the Canadian Embassy to complete research on a book on collective violence in 19th-century Canada.

"One of my scholarly contributions might be that people will rethink the peaceable kingdom ideal, which has done such a disservice to an accurate rendering of Canadian history," says See, a member of UMaine's multidisciplinary Canadian Studies Program, the strongest of its kind in the U.S.

"I would also like to think that by gaining a greater understanding of collective violence in history, we increase the likelihood that the future will be less contentious."

Competing in a concrete canoe

Under the theme "Rock and Row," a University of Maine team of civil and environmental engineering students is entering a sleek 20-foot boat in this year's regional concrete canoe competition, sponsored annually by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

"We've been experimenting with a variety of concrete mixes using lightweight ingredients and a composite reinforcing mesh," says Robert Pontau, a senior from Wiscasset, Maine, and a member of the team. "We hope to break some records this year."

The winner of the event will join other regional competition winners at the national concrete canoe competition at the University of Wisconsin in June.

A dozen colleges and universities in New York and New England are expected to participate in the regional competition, being held this year at UMaine, April 2627.

Funds to support the team have been provided by seven

Maine engineering firms, as well as civil and environmental engineering alumni.

In addition to competing in five races, the students will write a paper describing their design, create a display and give an oral presentation before a panel of judges.


UMaine Today Magazine
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