New on Campus
A new $16 million Engineering and
Science Research Building on campus is now the home of the University of
Maine Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and the
Laboratory for Surface Science and Technology. A highlight of the
facility is a 3,500-square-foot clean room for research and development
in the areas of nanotechnology, microfabrication, sensors and
biotechnology. It is the only such facility in northern New England and
one of approximately 25 university-based clean rooms of its kind in the
Spanish as a first language
University of Maine Spanish Professor Kathleen March and five current or
former students have embarked on a cooperative pilot project tutoring
Spanish-speaking migrant workers Down East. But instead of helping
Spanish-speaking families with English as a second language, the tutors
are bringing them up to speed on their own language, Spanish, before
March is working with Candace Austin, the founder of Mano en Mano, a
Milbridge, Maine-based nonprofit social service organization. Austin
tutors Hispanic families in English through the public library and
schools in Milbridge, a community where 12 percent of the population,
mostly berry pickers, wreath makers and fish factory workers, speak
Austin found that many of the migrant family adults were unable to read
and write beyond third- or fourth-grade levels in their own language,
and were unable to transition from Spanish to English.
The recent suspension of the state Migrant Education Program brought
enough new people to her door, Austin says, that she called upon March
to help put together a Literacy Volunteers certification workshop and
find 10 bilingual people willing to travel to Milbridge to tutor
families. Half of the tutors are from the Milbridge area; half are from
the university community.
The year-long tutoring project is partially funded by a $25,000 grant
from the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. If successful, the
program could be a national model.
Think of large earth-moving projects: highway interchanges, coalmines or
Boston's Big Dig. According to Roger Hooke, a University of Maine
scientist, such activities have propelled humans into becoming arguably
the most potent force in shaping the planet, surpassing natural
phenomena like rivers and wind. He finds this troubling, and other
scientists are taking note.
As a research professor in the Department of Earth Sciences and with the
Climate Change Institute, Hooke studies glaciated landscapes. He has
worked in Maine, the Canadian Arctic and Sweden on the forces that
molded ice sculpted hills, built gravel ridges and left large landforms
such as Cape Cod and Long Island.
In the early 1990s, a newspaper report on the annual number of housing
starts in the United States led Hooke to wonder just how much earth was
being displaced by human activity. He gathered data on residential
subdivisions, road construction and mining. His goal was to estimate the
amount of soil and rock that humans move from one location to another
through activities akin to the forces of nature that he also studied.
In 1994, Hooke published the results in a paper in GSA Today, a journal
of the Geological Society of America. He estimated that on a worldwide
basis, humans move more of the planet around, about 45 gigatons (billion
tons) annually, than do rivers, glaciers, oceans or wind. For
comparison, he estimated that meandering rivers may move about 39
gigatons of sediment a year. Others have estimated that rivers deliver
about 24 gigatons of sediment to the oceans annually. Even that enormous
figure can be partly attributed to people. Soil erosion from farm
fields, construction sites and other sources contributes significantly
to river sediment.
Continuing his research, Hooke has put human earth moving into
historical context. After all, people moved rock to build monuments such
as Stonehenge in England, and pyramids in Egypt and the Americas. In the
journal Geology in 2000, Hooke estimated that in the last 5,000 years of
human history, the total amount of soil and rock moved by people would
be enough to build a mountain range about 13,000 feet high, 25 miles
wide and 62 miles long.
In the last century, powerful technologies have enabled people to
accelerate this process. At current rates, the size of that metaphorical
mountain range could double in the next 100 years, he wrote.
"One might ask how long such rates of increase can be sustained and
whether it will be rational behavior or catastrophe that brings them to
Pulp to polymers
Wood pulp used in the paper industry has untapped potential, according
to University of Maine professor Adriaan van Heiningen, who is
researching ways to squeeze more energy and new products from the
With a three-year, $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy
and a contract with International Paper, van Heiningen, who holds the J.
Larcom Ober Chair in Chemical Engineering, is focusing on a portion of
pulp known as hemicelluloses. In a pulp mill, most of the hemicelluloses
end up in the spent pulping liquor and are burned. However,
hemicelluloses contain a considerable amount of oxygen and do not
generate much heat when burned in industry boilers. Van Heiningen wants
to increase the value of hemicelluloses for the paper industry by using
them for new value-added products, ranging from ethanol to car fenders
The U.S. paper industry needs new sources of revenue to compete
internationally and the country needs alternative fuels to reduce its
dependence on fossil fuel, says van Heiningen. The process he's
researching could use more of the biomass in trees and create more
products at competitive prices.
Van Heiningen has more than 20 years of experience in pulp and paper
research. He works with professors Douglas Gardner and Joseph Genco,
research engineer Haixuan Zou, and graduate students on new uses of
hemicelluloses extracted from wood chips prior to pulping.
In UMaine's Pulp and Paper Process Development Center, wood chips are
chemically extracted at varying temperatures and pressures. The trick,
says van Heiningen, is to extract hemicelluloses in a way that preserves
the quality of chips used in the standard Kraft chemical pulp process.
The extracted hemicelluloses can then be fermented into fuel ethanol
and/or further converted into other chemicals to form industrial
Hemicellulose-based polymers will be used in the Advanced Engineered
Wood Composite Center to make new products.
Insight Lite: Flu-fighting foods
Didn't get a flu shot? You may want to stock up on some flu-fighting
foods recommended by University of Maine food scientist Mary Ellen Camire, a spokesperson for the national Institute of Food Technologists.
Chicken soup is a traditional treatment for colds and flu. The hot
liquid helps soothe the throat and unclog nasal passages. Hot beverages,
non-creamy soups and pungent spices have similar effects. Try Chinese
hot and sour or Thai tom yum soup.
Cranberry juice contains compounds that prevent certain types of
bacteria from sticking to tissues in our bodies. Although little is know
about cranberries' benefits against viral infections, drinking cranberry
juice could help prevent streptococcal throat infections.
If you eat yogurt with active bacterial cultures, you are consuming
probiotics. These "good" bacteria survive for short periods in our
intestines, stimulating the immune system to fight infections. Regular
consumption is essential for deriving health benefits, so add yogurt
daily during flu season.
Regular consumption of vitamin C (about 60 milligrams, easily provided
by a glass of orange juice) should help ward off infections. Despite the
popular myth that vitamin C prevents colds, an evaluation of 29 research
studies involving more than 11,000 people concluded that large doses
don't offer protection for most people.
From the ashes
Volcanic activity regularly creates new landforms from deposits of tephra, ash and lava. These initially sterile, pristine deposits undergo
a range of physical, chemical and biological transformations that lead
in some cases to diverse, complex ecosystems such as Hawaiian
With an $886,000, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation,
Gary King of the University of Maine Department of Biochemistry,
Microbiology and Molecular Biology has established the Kilauea Volcano
Microbial Observatory to study microorganisms that colonize lava
deposits. He will focus on carbon monoxide-oxidizing bacteria colonizing
two deposits that are 45 and 55 years old.
The bacteria are important because they contribute to budgets of carbon
monoxide in the atmosphere and participate in major biogeochemical
Preliminary results indicate that many new species can be anticipated,
including symbiotic microbes that affect plant development.
In addition to its research efforts, the Kilauea Volcano Microbial
Observatory will support an educational outreach program involving grade
5–8 students at South Bristol Elementary School in Maine, and the
Volcano School for Arts and Sciences in Hawaii.
Early this year, the University of Maine will launch its new top-level
Web site, redesigned by the Department of Public Affairs and Marketing.
The site offers a new virtual tour of campus, as well as a
day-in-the-life feature with student Melissa Armes and two videos:
"UMaine in a Day" by new media major Christina Seeber, and "Green Bike
Tour of Campus," providing a cyclist's perspective. The site is
intuitive and informative, with daily university news and a spotlight
section highlighting upcoming campus events. Current and prospective
students, parents, family, alumni and retirees will find links catering
specifically to their needs.
Yours? Mine? Ours?
Ask a Mainer who owns the beach, and you're likely to get several
answers: The beach is private property; it's owned by the town; or it is
Maine has thousands of miles of coastline, yet only a small percentage
of it is publicly owned. However, the public has certain traditional
rights to the land between high and low tides, even where that land is
privately held. Understanding those rights can be tricky.
To help people navigate the legal issues and technicalities of public
access to the Maine coast, a new publication has been produced by John
Duff of the Marine Law Institute, University of Maine School of Law, and
Maine Sea Grant. Public Shoreline Access in Maine, A Citizen's Guide to
Ocean and Coastal Law reviews existing access laws, describes several
landmark court cases establishing public and private rights to coastal
land, and discusses options for communities seeking to secure public
access to the coast. Copies of the publication are available from Maine
Sea Grant at the University of Maine or online (www.seagrant.umaine.edu/).