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January / February 2004

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UMaine Today Magazine


A gift for growing

A Gift for Growing
Photo courtesy of Mike Vayda

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The gift of an agricultural research facility in Island Falls, Maine, to the University of Maine will provide a scientific growth spurt for research being done in cooperation with the state's potato and horticultural industries. Island Falls potato grower Arthur Shur donated the facility to UMaine in honor of his father, Jacob. It will be known as the Jacob Shur Research Facility.

The research station includes a building and three greenhouses where scientists will use advanced tissue culture techniques to develop plant varieties for Maine's climate and soil conditions, says Steve Reiling, director of the Maine Agricultural Center at the university.

"The size of this facility enables us to accommodate a much larger research effort in this area than we can do on campus," says Reiling. "When breeders identify a plant with desirable characteristics, the best method to reproduce them in large quantities for research purposes is through tissue culture. The building has room for up to 1 million plants."

Plants propagated through tissue culture rather than seed retain the exact genetic composition of the parent plant.

Prior to the donation to UMaine, the facility was leased to Monsanto Corp., for genetically modified potato research. That effort has been terminated and no research related to genetic modification is being done at the facility. Susan Ballou of Island Falls managed the facility for Monsanto and will continue at the research station, working for UMaine.

University research projects already under way at the facility include horticultural work on garden plants with commercial potential and on disease-resistant white pine trees.

Setting up shop

The first company to take wing from the University of Maine Target Technology Incubator in Orono, Maine, designs complex parts for the automotive, aerospace and consumer products industries. After joining the Target Center in March 2003, Foxtech Design Inc., opened an office last fall in Ellsworth, Maine. Four other fledgling companies hope to follow by establishing businesses in the state, says Target Director Debbie Neuman.

The four start-ups now share office space at Target with several established companies. They have received support to write business plans, identify markets, develop their technology and secure financing.

Foxtech owner Scott Cromwell started his company in Michigan in 1997 and moved to Maine in 2003. A resident of Blue Hill, he specializes in computer-aided design.

At UMaine, he has worked with the Advanced Manufacturing Center and Fogler Library. He also has received business mentoring through the Maine Small Business Development Center, and participated in the MaineTech 2003 show in Augusta and the governor's trade mission to Ireland.

"Scott has exceptional technical skills and has grown into a successful entrepreneur. We will continue to monitor his progress and assist him with the ongoing challenges of operating a business. I am confident years from now, he will be a growing and successful Maine company," says Neuman.

Neuman notes that research-based start-ups take an average of three years to become self-sufficient. "That is what we are working toward with every tenant of the incubator: graduation as businesses in the community, armed with the knowledge, resources and connections they need to be successful."

Digital delivery

A gold mine of information about Maine's culture and natural history will be available electronically to classrooms throughout the state as a result of a federal grant to Fogler Library at the University of Maine, the Maine State Museum and Maine Public Broadcasting Corp.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) has awarded a more than $470,000 grant to make digital resources about Maine accessible over the high-speed broadband network that includes the Internet.

The Windows on Maine project will focus on two major educational initiatives produced by Maine Public Broadcasting and partners. HOME: The Story of Maine, is a series of 13 half-hour television programs about Maine's history; Quest: Investigating Our World is a series of 24 hour-long programs about the natural and environmental sciences in New England. Both television series are accompanied by in-depth Web site content and companion classroom material. Windows on Maine will store and make accessible these two exemplary education programs, along with supporting historical and scientific digital media gathered from partner collections.

Materials will be distributed in real time and be accessible on demand to the laptop computers of 7th- and 8th-grade students, personal computers in high school classrooms, and others outside the state via the University of Maine's Internet2 connection.

"By leveraging the delivery power of broadband technology with digital collections from Maine's cultural agencies, this collaborative effort promises to provide sustainable support to Maine's educators in all parts of the state, even the most remote and economically underdeveloped locations, as never before," says Marilyn Lutz, director of library information technology planning at Fogler Library and a principal investigator for the project.

Senior $ense

Seniors across Maine will benefit from a new University of Maine Center on Aging program funded by a $1.3 million Corporation for National and Community Service federal grant.

The three-year Senior $ense program will involve the recruitment, training and placement of 30 full-time AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers in more than 15 community organizations throughout Maine. The volunteers will help to develop financial, employment, and consumer counseling services and resources for seniors living in poverty.

The center is recruiting volunteers to serve for one to two years to help improve the lives of Maine seniors.

"By providing a way to deliver resources and services that are customized to different regions of the state, we aim to help Maine's elders learn to more effectively deal with money and related issues and, in turn, reduce their risk of becoming victims of unscrupulous businesses," says Lenard Kaye, director of the Center on Aging.

Kaye notes that the program will use technology to expand its reach to all people who might benefit from it. The project will include the construction of a comprehensive, interactive Web site where resources will be available to all older adults, their families, and health and human services personnel.

Organizational partners in the project, where VISTA members will be assigned, include UMaine Cooperative Extension, Maine's Area Agencies on Aging, many of the state's Community Action Agencies, Penobscot Community Health Center, and the Maine Jobs Council.

Consultation and training support also will be available through the Elder Abuse Institute of Maine, the Senior Community Service Employment Program, the State Bureau of Elder and Adult Services, and AARP of Maine.

Meaning in middle school

A new list of 14 characteristics of successful middle schools speaks to how effective education can be in the lives of young adolescents, says a national authority on middle-level education.

"A strong case is made for the courageous leadership needed by middle grades teachers and administrators," said Ed Brazee, speaking at a November news conference in Washington, D.C., where the National Middle School Association (NMSA) released its research findings.

"Middle schools work when principals, teachers and parents work together to achieve a common vision and place a strong emphasis on student learning and creating a culture of caring and support."

Brazee is a University of Maine professor of education and editor of NMSA publications. He joined other officials of the national organization in calling for policymakers to act now to implement the recommendations, which are part of NMSA's revised position statement, This We Believe: Successful Schools for Young Adolescents.

A companion document, Research and Resources, supports the effectiveness of the 14 qualities, when all are in place.

The National Middle School Association believes successful schools for young adolescents are characterized by a culture that includes:

Educators who value working with this age group and are prepared to do so.
Courageous, collaborative leadership.
A shared vision that guides decisions.
An inviting, supportive and safe environment.
High expectations for every member of the learning community.
Students and teachers who are engaged in active learning.
An adult advocate for every student.
School-initiated family and community partnerships.
Curriculum that is relevant, challenging, integrative and exploratory.
Multiple learning and teaching approaches that respond to students' diversity.
Assessment and evaluation programs that promote quality learning.
Organizational structures that support meaningful relationships and learning.
School-wide efforts and policies that foster health, wellness and safety.
Multifaceted guidance and support services.

What lies beneath

When descendants of Revolutionary War veteran William Crabtree wanted to locate the captain's final resting place, geologist John Nelson helped them find the 19th-century cemetery. Turns out, it was under a house in Falmouth, Maine.

Normally, the Ph.D. candidate in the University of Maine Department of Earth Sciences conducts research on the last ice age in southern Maine, where he lives. He uses an electrical resistivity measurement (ERM) that gathers information about rock and soil layers underground.

He also used ERM to locate that long-forgotten burial site. Last September, his presentation on his efforts received a Best Paper Award in the Division of Environmental Geosciences at the Eastern Section of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists annual meeting.

ERM injects electric current into the ground, then detects the signals reflected to the surface that show the location of water tables, impervious soil layers and bedrock. However, electricity doesn't flow easily through air, including pockets that form where the earth has been disturbed.

Put to the test

Structural and materials tests performed by the Advanced Engineered Wood Composites (AEWC) Center at the University of Maine have received an international stamp of approval that will help companies to develop new products.

The International Accreditation Service (IAS) Inc., has certified AEWC as a laboratory that meets standards for 47 different tests of plastics, wood products, composites, adhesives, and structural panels and assemblies. IAS is a nonprofit subsidiary of the International Code Council that provides the foundation for quality-control functions used by industrial associations and government agencies.

"Businesses in Maine can come to our laboratory not only to develop new products, but to get them tested and approved by building code agencies in the U.S. and around the world. We are pleased that we can now offer this unique service that will help grow Maine industry," says Habib Dagher, AEWC director.

The AEWC Center currently works with more than 100 Maine companies in the wood products, construction and composite materials areas to help them develop better products, including composite ships, bridges, consumer products and building materials.

The UMaine center is one of four university laboratories in the U.S. to receive this type of accreditation, and the only one with such a wide range of certified testing procedures.

Losing loggers

In the future, who will cut the trees for northern New England's logging industry? The question is more than academic. A steady flow of timber is the foundation of the region's forest products industry, which generated $9 billion in estimated revenues in 2000.

A recent University of Maine survey of loggers in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Quebec suggests that a continuing shortage of woods workers could drive up prices for wood and increase mechanization trends, ultimately affecting the state's pulp and paper industry.

The survey results are getting attention in Augusta, where legislators are concerned about working conditions and pay scales for loggers. Those who run training programs for woods workers also are using the information to address logging industry issues.

Andy Egan, UMaine associate professor of forest resources, sent eight-page questionnaires to loggers in the four jurisdictions. Of the 1,103 replies, 63 percent came from Maine; 18 percent from Quebec. The rest were split between Vermont and New Hampshire.

The results suggest that the composition of the region's woods workers will change considerably in the next decade. Just over half of the respondents expect to be in business in the next five years, and more than two-thirds say they would not encourage their children to follow in their footsteps. Factors contributing to the potential exodus are low average annual incomes (from $15,615 in Quebec to $28,449 in Vermont), lack of health insurance and paid vacation, and a perception that the public views logging as an unskilled profession.

Keeping an adequate labor supply will require increases in wages, benefits and wood prices, says Egan. The lack of social prestige associated with logging remains a barrier for the future workforce.

Clean joints

Lasers perform multiple tasks. They restore eyesight, scan groceries at the checkout counter and bond metal components in a seamless weld. Expanding on the industrial benefits of the technology, University of Maine engineers are working with the U.S. Navy and two Maine companies Technology Systems Inc., of Wiscasset and Applied Thermal Systems (ATS) of Sanford to bring the benefits of laser welding to ship construction.

Laser-welded structural components can be produced faster and with more precision than conventionally hot rolled or welded parts, says Vince Caccese, UMaine associate professor of mechanical engineering. That's because lasers focus intense energy with greater pinpoint accuracy compared to other welding technologies. Since lasers can work with a variety of metal alloys, they also make possible the use of stronger metals, resulting in lighter structures.

To date, the research has focused on a part used to stiffen bulkheads and other stress-bearing elements of a ship hull. Tests confirm that the laser-welded parts stand up to bending and fatigue more effectively than conventional parts. Non-magnetic steel also has been welded an achievement of considerable interest to the Navy, says Caccese.


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