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UMaine Today Magazine


Insights

New on Campus

Solar Radiation
Engineering and Science Research Building
 

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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 U.S.


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 tackling English.

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 Spanish.

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.


Moving earth

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 an end."


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 renewable resource.

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 and tabletops.

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 polymers.

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 rainforests.

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 cycles.

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 58 students at South Bristol Elementary School in Maine, and the Volcano School for Arts and Sciences in Hawaii.


UMaine surfing

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 public land.

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/).

 

UMaine Today Magazine
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