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September / October 2003

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UMaine Today Magazine


Sensing Shelf Life

Mick Peterson

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Carbon-carbon composite materials, like those at the center of the Columbia space shuttle accident investigation, are the focus of nationally funded research at the University of Maine.

Researchers in a UMaine mechanical engineering laboratory have successfully characterized the high-temperature degradation of the composites one of the first steps in developing a sensor that can monitor the integrity of these materials in structures such as a missile or an aircraft wing. The work is funded by grants of more than $700,000 from the Missile Defense Agency of the Office of Naval Research.

"NASA took some criticism for not monitoring the integrity of the shuttle wing structures, but it's not fair. Non-destructive testing techniques that can be applied to these types of materials are just being developed," says Mick Peterson, associate professor of mechanical engineering who leads the UMaine research effort. "We are now beginning to develop methods that can help us understand the degradation mechanisms by using in situ sensors."

In laboratory tests, Peterson's team used ultrasound to monitor the degradation of carbon-carbon composite material at temperatures of more than 1,000 degrees Celsius. The goal is to develop a high-temperature sensor with the ability to indicate the integrity of a carbon-carbon material already in use in a structure.

Carbon-carbon composites are constructed of carbon fibers embedded in a carbon matrix. They were developed in the 1960s for the space program because they retain their strength under high temperatures.

The theoretical shelf life of carbon-carbon material can be calculated by knowing how quickly it oxidizes. However, says Peterson, "useful life can change if something comes in and gets hotter than it's supposed to or if there's some contamination. We could have accelerated these oxidation processes in the carbon, and those accelerated oxidation processes can lead to premature failure."

Peterson and his research team expect to have a prototype sensor system completed this year. Most recently, their preliminary research findings were presented to the International Conference on Composite Materials in July.

Surveying the future

In recognition of the high demand for surveyors by private firms and government, the University of Maine has established a Surveying Engineering Technology (SVT) Program.

The Bureau of Land Management has pledged $250,000 to support the academic offering. Additional financial support is coming from the New England state surveying societies and the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping through the Surveying Education Foundation of New England Inc.

Faculty in the UMaine program include Ray Hintz, Knud Hermansen, Louis Morin and Steve Adam. Hintz, the SVT coordinator, has written software programs that are used by more than 25 state departments of transportation and consulting firms in the country. Hermansen also is a registered professional engineer and attorney.

SVT students learn the fundamental surveying skills determining property boundaries, locating them on the ground and creating maps combined with engineering, business and communications. To graduate, students must have supervised work experience and take the Maine state surveyor fundamentals exam.

The new program is part of the School of Engineering Technology, which offers construction management, and electrical and mechanical engineering technology degrees.

UMaine offers the only four-year surveying program in New England. An agreement with Central Maine Community College in Auburn enables graduates of that school's two-year surveying program to transfer course credits directly to UMaine. Efforts are under way to develop similar agreements with two-year programs in other New England states.

Looking for a crustacean connoisseur near you?

The Lobster Institute at the University of Maine now offers on its Web site ( an international directory of researchers with expertise in a variety of crustacean-related areas. The directory includes scientists from Maine, New England and countries such as Canada, Australia and Japan. According to Lobster Institute Director Bob Bayer, the experts list can be a valuable tool for those in the industry, as well as for scientists, students and the public.

Abrupt atmosphere

In the last decade, ongoing research has overturned some long-held beliefs about the Earth's climate. Until 1992, prevailing scientific opinion considered climate to be a lethargic beast. Change came slowly, it was thought, over eons. Moreover, oceans and atmosphere two of the most important parts of the climate system were considered to be largely independent of each other.

Not any more

Eleven years ago, the results of ice core analysis from the Greenland Ice Sheet Project 2 (GISP2) surprised scientists with a glimpse of a more temperamental climate system. Since then, evidence in ocean sediments and ice cores from Antarctica and high mountain glaciers have told similar stories. We now know that average temperatures, storm frequency, precipitation patterns and even ocean currents have changed substantially in less than a decade.

"There's no longer any doubt that the climate system in the past has changed relatively quickly," says Paul Mayewski, director of UMaine's Climate Change Institute and the leader of GISP2. "It's unlikely that there's a single cause, although in my opinion, changes in the amount of energy output from the sun could play an important role."

Climate can change the course of human history. The fate of ancient civilizations was influenced by changes in the frequency and severity of flood and drought. About 600 years ago in a climate shift called the Little Ice Age, sea ice expanded at the poles and average temperatures dropped, causing Norwegian colonies to be abandoned in Greenland.

If scientists could get to the bottom of climate shifts, they might be able to predict future climate with more reliability. Such knowledge could have implications for energy, agriculture and even political stability.

Mayewski and his colleague George Denton, UMaine Libra Professor of Geological Sciences, are working with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins to develop a federal $60 million research program on abrupt climate change. As currently envisioned, UMaine would lead a consortium that would include the University of New Hampshire, the University of Washington, Penn State and Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Music for multigenerations

Live music performed by some of Maine's leading artists is being heard in living facilities for the elderly as the result of a unique cooperative program between the University of Maine Center on Aging and the Bangor Symphony Orchestra.

The performances at senior housing facilities feature music by ensembles and commentary by music educator David Klocko. Joining the elders in the audience are area schoolchildren.

The initiative was made possible by a grant from the Maine-based Davis Family Foundation.

"It is always important to work to develop multigenerational connections between members of the community and elders who are at risk of becoming disconnected," says Lenard Kaye, a UMaine professor and director of the Center on Aging. "The idea here is to link those in nursing homes and other similar facilities to the lifeblood of the community, represented in this case by younger people and outstanding music. Music is one of those common threads that brings together people from different generations."

Bangor Symphony Orchestra Executive Director Susan Jonason says the musicians are enthusiastic about this project.

"One of the great things about a community-based orchestra like ours is that our performers literally know their audience and have a real connection with the community they serve," she says.

Cultivating connections

Recognizing the acute need for trained seasonal farm workers in the state, University of Maine Cooperative Extension has started the Maine Farm Jobs Project, an innovative program to match workers with opportunities.

Maine farmers and growers, as well as operators of greenhouses and nurseries, fill out a short online form, providing information about jobs available and the types of skills new employees need.

A second short survey on the Web, designed for people looking for work in these areas, provides pertinent information about the availability of workers.

Once opportunities are identified, Cooperative Extension staff will design and present training programs. The goal is to equip prospective employees, including those who live in the state, with the practical skills and knowledge needed for work on farms or in greenhouses and nurseries in Maine.

Hearing a need

For the 35th Annual Summer Games of Special Olympics Maine that were held on campus in June, volunteers from the University of Maine community and from throughout the state were there to lend a hand. This year, those volunteers included six faculty members, and graduate and undergraduate students from the UMaine Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, who conducted a hearing clinic for Special Olympics participants.

The clinic was one of three health screenings offered during the competition as part of the international Special Olympics Healthy Athletes initiative. The vision, dental and hearing screenings promote health and improve access to healthcare for Special Olympics participants.

At UMaine, the hearing clinic was coordinated by audiologist Jim Dean of Mid-Coast Speech and Hearing Center in Camden, Maine, and audiologist and university faculty member Amy Booth. Dean has participated in and organized hearing screenings for Special Olympics worldwide.

During the summer games on campus, 150 athletes and their coaches had their hearing assessed; 33 percent of them were recommended for further evaluation. Data from this and other Special Olympics hearing clinics are being compiled for further research on hearing loss in this population.

More than 1,000 athletes ages 894 competed in one or more of the 11 athletic events on campus. The summer games have been held at UMaine for more than 15 years.

Watch for signs of Black Bears on the highways this fall

This fall, Maine residents will have a new way to show their Black Bear pride while supporting scholarships for University of Maine students with the purchase of a UMaine specialty license plate for passenger vehicles.

The Black Bear license plates are available beginning Nov. 1 for $20 for the first year, $15 for renewals. Ten dollars from every purchase or renewal of a UMaine plate is tax deductible and benefits the university's Maine Black Bear Scholarship Fund.
The Black Bear Scholarship Fund supports need-based scholarships for UMaine students.

Newly named

The largest college at the University of Maine has a new dean.

Ann Leffler, a former associate dean at Utah State University, has been named dean of UMaine's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Leffler is a sociologist who has been on the Utah State faculty since 1980. She has served several terms as associate dean of Utah State's College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. She also has twice been interim dean, served as interim vice provost, was director of the Liberal Arts and Sciences Program, and was chair of the Regents' Task Force on General Education. Her research focuses on leisure as a passionate avocation.

Leffler earned a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California at Berkeley in 1979.
Liberal Arts and Sciences is one of UMaine's five academic colleges.

Waste not, want not

Members of Alpha Phi Omega fraternity and their friends love leftovers. Every Friday night during the academic year, you'll find them going from one University of Maine dining commons to another, seeking out the remains of the day the extra bowls of salad, the side dishes and hot entrees that went unserved.

The students forage for food so that those in need can partake.

UMaine's Food Run Project has been a community effort of Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity since the 1980s. In recent years, members of Gamma Sigma Sigma service sorority have joined the effort.

In cooperation with Dining Services staff, the students wrap, bag and package up a week's worth of leftovers after the evening meals on Friday nights, then deliver them in a van donated by Cyr Bus Line to a soup kitchen and a homeless shelter in Bangor, Maine.

The leftovers most often include breads, pasta dishes, salad fixings and desserts. No milk-based products or foods that could spoil in transport are collected.

"Every week, four of us go to Manna Ministries to serve a meal and interact with people who eat the food we took there from the dining commons," says Will Borst, chair of the Food Run Project for Alpha Phi Omega. "Both Manna and the shelter are always grateful to have the food that would otherwise be wasted."

Dining Services Director Edward Nase estimates that 240 pounds of leftovers each week for 36 weeks are distributed to the needy through the volunteer efforts of the students.


UMaine Today Magazine
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