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UMaine Today Magazine


Glaciers of Flubber

Leigh Stearns
Leigh Stearns

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Watching glaciers move can be tedious. Things don't happen very fast. But University of Maine graduate student Leigh Stearns has found a way to make the science lesson fun and understandable.

Stearns and four Maine teachers, all participants in UMaine's NSF GK–12 Teaching Fellows Program, won an award at an international scientific conference in Beijing, China, earlier this year for their poster describing the use of "flubber" to study glacier movement. Flubber is a homemade concoction of glue, Borax powder and water that, when mixed to the right consistency, can be used to demonstrate the slow but inevitable movement of ice sheets and mountain glaciers.

The international Climate and Cryosphere conference was sponsored by the World Climate Research Programme, April 11–15, hosted by the China Meteorological Administration.

In her research, Stearns studies the growth and decline of large ice sheets, such as those in Antarctica and Greenland. She uses data from satellites to determine changes in ice sheets over large areas. As an NSF GK–12 Teaching Fellow, she visited the classrooms of teachers who attended the conference to conduct science lessons.

"My goal is to help students realize that there are many different factors affecting how glaciers flow," she says.

Look for the Eco Label

Few consumers take environmental factors into account when they buy a new vehicle, according to early results of a University of Maine research project.

With support from a nearly $400,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), researchers are conducting consumer panels and surveys, and testing the effectiveness of vehicle performance information for the public.

In particular, they want to know if an "eco-label," a sticker for cars and trucks that meet environmental standards, would help consumers make decisions.

According to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Maine cars and trucks are one of the largest sources of in-state air pollution. Nationally, the EPA says that car and truck tailpipe emissions account for about one third of the air pollution.

The research team includes faculty members Mario Teisl and Jonathan Rubin, and students Alice White-Cyr and Caroline Noblet, all of the UMaine Department of Resource Economics and Policy. Collaborating on the project: the Maine Automobile Dealers Association Inc., Maine DEP and the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

Most participants in the consumer panels said they don't use the air emissions and fuel consumption information available online. They assume that vehicles comply with government regulations that roughly equalize air emissions among different vehicles. However, consumers have more than 120 options for vehicles that achieve better fuel economy and lower air emissions than competitors within the same class.

Addressing Adolescent Drug Abuse

The Center for Community Inclusion and Disability Studies has received $650,000 to create a Prevention Center of Excellence at the University of Maine to study what is needed in Maine to prevent substance abuse and its consequences.

The project is a result of a cooperative agreement between the center and the state Office of Substance Abuse, which is administering a five-year grant awarded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration.

"The intent is to look at substance abuse for adolescents in the state of Maine," says Stephen Gilson, principal investigator and professor of interdisciplinary disability studies. "In addition to asking questions, we'll also look at the environments — the media, music, social, academic and virtual environments."

The prevention center will identify Maine communities underserved by existing substance abuse prevention programs. The goal is to provide the information necessary to craft prevention strategies relevant to those communities, say Gilson and Liz DePoy, professor and coordinator of interdisciplinary disability studies.

Strategies could involve policy changes in state, school or community drug programs, establishment of community centers and other ways to get educational information to young people.

Crying for Consistency

Two researchers at the University of Maine, working in conjunction with colleagues in Japan, have found links between infant and child sleeping arrangements and the phenomenon of "yonaki" or nighttime crying. The research suggests how parents, infants and toddlers all can get a better night's sleep by making bedtime arrangements as consistent as possible.

Marie Hayes, UMaine professor of psychology, and Michio Fukumizu, a pediatric neurologist from Tokyo, Japan, and visiting scholar at UMaine, with two Japanese coresearchers, have identified several factors in an infant's first few months of life that can affect how he or she sleeps and how often he or she wakes in distress during the night. The results of their research were published in an article, "Sleep-Related Nighttime Crying (Yonaki) in Japan: A Community-Based Study," in the journal Pediatrics.

The study involved interviews with the parents of 500 infants, toddlers and children at a well-infant clinic in Tokyo. It is customary in Japan for parents to bring infants and toddlers into their sleeping quarters — typically a mattress on the floor (tatami) — to nurse and fall asleep. Later, most infants stay with the parents, a practice termed "cosleeping," which makes the child more accessible to the parent during the night. For a small percentage of infants, sleep occurs in a separate crib-like bed away from the parents, but in the same room.

The study's findings suggest a critical factor contributing to night-waking is not as much cosleeping or separate sleeping arrangements, but rather changes in where the infant sleeps during the night and during naps. Neither the cosleeping nor separate sleeping quarters matters fundamentally, write the researchers.

"In other words, it is consistency in sleeping arrangements, from sleep onset until awakening, that appears to be critical," Hayes says. "Infants and toddlers are disrupted when the sleeping arrangements, i.e. the site of sleep, are variable or changed between sleep onset and later in the sleep period."

Military Strength

In a $6.2 million U.S. Army research program, the University of Maine Advanced Engineered Wood Composites (AEWC) Center will conduct research on high-strength structures for military applications.

Among the projects under development: tent protective structures, high-performance air beams, rigidified inflatable structures, rapidly deployable bridges, and ballistic modular building components.

AEWC researchers will work with the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Center and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The research will take advantage of a new, $4.5 million expansion of laboratory space that was financed with a voter-approved bond in 2003.

The new facilities expand AEWC's capacities to develop thick composites technologies, resin-infusion processes and polymer extrusion. The space accommodates an anticipated 35 additional research personnel, including engineers, scientists and support staff who will be funded through the new research program.

Maine Writing

Looking for good books about Maine? Some of the best are by Maine writers. We asked Margery Irvine, who teaches an English Department course on Maine authors, to list five of her favorites:

Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett
This classic has lost none of its value. It's a beautifully written description of a coastal town on the cusp of great change and yet timeless in its humanity.

The Weir by Ruth Moore
Island life — unsentimental, unromanticized. Moore's dialogue is brilliant, her characters live and breathe.

The Beans of Egypt, Maine by Carolyn Chute
One of the first, and best, novels about the working poor. Chute's prose is both brutal and beautiful, her story both tragic and funny.

The Weight of Winter by Cathie Pelletier
My favorite (so far) of Pelletier's novels about Mattagash in the St. John Valley. Her characters are funny and heart-breaking, her depiction of northern Maine dead-on.

Empire Falls by Richard Russo
A giant of a book, dealing with the rise and fall (and rise?) of Maine's mill towns, with parents and children, and with the cruelty of the young.

The View from Above

For scientists, the view of Earth from space has never been better or more critical. Details about the planet's changing face are the raw data for monitoring the environment and anticipating the future consequences of human activity.

With a $330,000 National Science Foundation grant, the University of Maine is New England's window on the planet as seen through the eyes of new satellites. The grant paid for the purchase and installation of a new 2.4-meter-diameter, 800-pound satellite tracking dish on the roof of Aubert Hall on campus.

According to Andrew Thomas, a professor in the School of Marine Sciences and principal investigator for the project, the dish will enable UMaine to receive data from the latest generation of Earth observation satellites operated by NASA, as well as those of other international space agencies.

The closest existing system for receiving the information is at Rutgers University. Institutions already lining up to take advantage of UMaine's data-receiving capabilities include the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth; Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, West Boothbay Harbor; and the Maine Department of Marine Resources.

More than 70 scientists have expressed interest in the new data for their research at UMaine, a NASA Center of Excellence in Remote Sensing.

Cataloging Microbes

Microorganisms in the sea hold important keys to understanding how marine ecosystems work and interact with the atmosphere. However, scientists are only beginning to catalog the bacteria, protozoans and other plankton in the ocean.

A team of researchers, including University of Maine microbiologist Gary King, has taken an important step by sequencing the genome of a bacterioplankton known as Silicibacter pomeroyi. The organism is a member of the marine Roseobacter clade, a group of microorganisms that comprises up to 20 percent of bacterioplankton in coastal and open-ocean mixed waters. The genes sequenced provide clues to the function and ecology of the organism.

Silicibacter pomeroyi uses inorganic compounds, including carbon monoxide and sulphide, and consumes products of marine algae. In taking up carbon monoxide, microorganisms remove carbon from water and, indirectly, from the atmosphere.

King, the Clare S. Darling Distinguished Professor of Oceanography at UMaine's Darling Marine Center, focuses on microbial processes and their influence on atmospheric trace gases.

Finding the Philharmonic

Pianist Phillip Silver has begun research that he hopes will one day reveal the yet untold story behind the founding of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

Considered one of the best major symphony orchestras in the world, the 69-year-old Israel Philharmonic has an extraordinary history, according to Silver, a University of Maine associate professor of music who researches and performs music of the Holocaust era.

But while many popular international musicians and conductors have been associated with the orchestra, including Michael Taube, George Singer, Mark Lavri, Paul Ben-Haim and Leonard Bernstein, the founding members of the orchestra are not so well known. In addition, personal data on original members has been hard to find. Silver's research is one of the first comprehensive studies in English on the orchestra's formation.

"This is a very complex story, one which goes beyond purely academic interests because of the incredible personal stories of the musicians and the traumatic circumstances of their lives," he says.

Founded in 1936 in Tel Aviv by Polish-born Jewish violinist Bronislaw Huberman, the orchestra was designed to draw some of the best Jewish musicians away from the Nazi threat and impending Holocaust in Europe. According to Silver, it worked.

Huberman invited 75 musicians to join the orchestra in an undeveloped British-ruled territory that would become Israel in 1948. Initially it was named the Palestine Orchestra; the inaugural concert, Dec. 26, 1936 was conducted by Arturo Toscanini. Languages spoken by its members included German, Polish, Russian, Hungarian and Hebrew.


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