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UMaine Today Magazine


New nano capabilities

Five small, high-tech Maine companies
that produce miniature smart sensors
and detectors already have emerged
from LASST research. New products
are being commercialized to monitor
contaminants in our environment, assess food quality and diagnose health problems

Links Related to this Story

With passage of a jobs bond last November, the University of Maine Laboratory for Surface Science and Technology (LASST) will receive $2 million to enhance its nano-technology research and development capabilities.

The monies will be invested in state-of-the-art microfabrication and nanotechnology equipment for LASST's "clean room," advancing capabilities in such areas as semiconductors, sensors, precision manufacturing and biomedical technology.

For example, the equipment will facilitate research on biomedical microinstruments that one day could provide automated drug delivery, disease diagnostics and implantable bio-sensors.

Like the 2003 bond that allowed UMaine's Advanced Engineered Wood Composites Center to expand and subsequently land a $6.2 million U.S. Army research program, the latest LASST funding is expected to allow UMaine to continue to attract multimillion-dollar R&D grants from federal agencies, hire and train a skilled workforce in Maine, and provide resources for businesses.

Neuroscience in the K-12 classroom

Cognitive neuroscientist and clinical psychologist Herbert Weingartner will bring his extensive experience in mind/brain research to the University of Maine as the 200506 Shibles Distinguished Visiting Professor in the College of Education and Human Development.

An acclaimed researcher who has held top leadership positions at the National Institutes of Health, Weingartner will work with UMaine faculty to develop a blueprint for applying basic cognitive neuroscience knowledge to practical problems associated with development and education, and to build an interdisciplinary approach to investigating the various psychological and neuroscience bases of human intelligence.

During his UMaine visits in the next 18 months, Weingartner will work with faculty, students, educators and policymakers.

The cognitive neuroscience initiative within the College of Education and Human Development focuses on emerging brain research and its implications for teaching and learning. Employing the latest in brain imaging technology, faculty researchers and students will observe cognitive functioning and development in children and adults, and determine what adaptations need to be made in pedagogy to affect growth and development of cognitive abilities.

The initiative will feature interdisciplinary approaches among faculty in child development, education, psychology and the biological sciences.

Racing conditions

Horses have been racing on tracks for centuries, but the conditions of the surfaces they run on are still characterized in vague, qualitative terms, such as fast and hard, or wet. To improve track conditions, as well as the safety of jockeys and horses, a University of Maine mechanical engineer has prototyped a machine that can quantitatively evaluate track shear strength and stiffness.

Associate Professor Michael Peterson has developed a device that can be mounted on the back of a vehicle and taken to the track, where, based on biomechanics, it replicates the strain rate and loads applied by horse hooves to the soil. Working like a dual-axis drop hammer with a synthetic hoof attached, the machine can collect load, acceleration and velocity that are used to estimate the stiffness of each of the layers of the soil, and the shear strength of the soil.

Peterson has found that the loading and load rates that occur in the bones of the horses with each stride can be affected by the composition of the track base layers up to a foot below the surface.

The robotic system, developed in collaboration with researchers at Colorado State University, was tested at Santa Anita Park, and has been used at other tracks, including Hollywood Park, Fairplex and Del Mar.

It is now providing quantitative data from tracks around the country and is being used in conjunction with ground penetrating radar to evaluate base layer.

The goal is for the data to help maintain, control and standardize track surfaces, regardless of weather.

Helping adversaries become allies

A new research-based curriculum is designed to help middle schools change the subtle yet hurtful ways girls fight and bully one another.

"From Adversaries to Allies: A Curriculum for Change," developed by researchers and students at the University of Maine and Colby College, offers strategies for girls to relate to one another and better understand stereotypical messages that often lead to behaviors such as betrayal, exclusion, rumor mongering, teasing and harassment.

The curriculum will be piloted in 10 Maine schools, then evaluated and refined. It is available to any interested school, according to Mary Madden, an assistant research professor in the UMaine College of Education and Human Development. Madden coauthored the curriculum with Lyn Mikel Brown, professor of education and women's, gender and sexuality studies at Colby.

The curriculum is based on research by Madden and Brown, and others in the past 25 years who examined the ways adolescent girls interact and express themselves as they struggle to find a place in a culture that overvalues beauty, romance and perfection.

"Girls too often come to see themselves and each other as bodies to be looked at or as girlfriends of popular boys," say Madden and Brown.

"It's not surprising, then, that adolescent girls are most likely to compete and fight with other girls over boys, sexuality, attitude and appearance."

While the subtly of "girlfighting" is often under the radar screen of educators, the pain of targeted girls is obvious to their parents. "What girls do to one another can be awful," Madden says. "We want girls to understand how the culture sets them up to be cruel to one another through unrealistic images and expectations. This causes insecurity, which girls often divert from themselves by targeting another more vulnerable girl."

Insight Lite: Words of Love

In observance of Valentine's Day, we asked Burton Hatlen, director of the National Poetry Foundation at the University of Maine, to cite six of his favorite poems about love:

"Tonight I've watched / The moon and then / The Pleiades go down. / I am in bed alone."
Sappho, Fragment 52
(Complete fragment,
translated by Mary Barnard)

"Song: Sweetest Love I Do Not Go"
John Donne

"That Time of Year Thou Mayst in Me Behold"
William Shakespeare, Sonnet #73

"To His Coy Mistress"
Andrew Marvell

"Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"
William Carlos Williams

"Anniversary Poem"
George Oppen

Surveying stewardship strategies

A University of Maine cultural anthropologist is studying landowners' stewardship strategies for Maine forests in an effort to better understand management decisions.

James Acheson, professor of anthropology and marine sciences, says the timing of the forest management study is important because ownership of Maine's 17 million acres of timberlands and the entire forest products industry are changing rapidly. Maine's forest industry generates $5.6 billion in gross economic benefits.

Acheson, an expert on resource management and governance, will work with a team of interviewers to survey representatives from timber companies, pulp and paper companies, small private land- owners and forest contractors.

The study, funded by an $85,000 National Science Foundation grant, is one of the first of its kind for the nation's most heavily forested state.

Acheson's preliminary research has turned up a plethora of studies on forests and forest management practices, but little information on the attitudes of landowners, who may employ vastly different management techniques.

By asking about social, cultural, economic and political factors behind management decisions, Acheson hopes to gain better insight into conditions under which decision-makers do or do not conserve forest resources.

Gardeners behind bars

University of Maine Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners are at work in the Kennebec County Correctional Facility helping inmates learn to grow food for themselves and the hungry in the area.

It all started in 1996 when an acre was donated to the correctional facility for inmate projects. Seven years later, inmates were tilling 15 acres.

That's when correctional facilities officials sought expert assistance from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Program.

Officers John Matthews and Michael Gagnon, and Chief Deputy Randall Liberty enrolled in the 40-hour program offered by Kennebec County Extension, learning the fundamentals of plant biology, soil composition, and insect and disease control. Then they shared that expertise with the inmates involved in the garden project.

More than 150 Kennebec County inmates have participated in the farm project since its inception, with an average of 15 inmates per day traveling to the site.

This past fall, inmates harvested enough produce to save the jail $9,200. In 2004, 8,000 pounds of potatoes were donated to 10 local food pantries, shelters and soup kitchens.

Seeing the forest through the trees

A new decision-support tool developed at the University of Maine helps forest managers evaluate a complex set of variables when trying to determine how and when to best thin the spruce-fir stands of northern Maine.

ThinME is a computer program created by Department of Forest Ecosystem Science researchers Robert Seymour and Robert Wagner, and Cooperative Forestry Research Unit and United States Forest Service colleague KaDonna Randolph. Its customized ArcView GIS computer interface is capable of converting the complex, multidimensional data necessary for developing effective thinning prescriptions into an easily understood, two-dimensional graph known as a nomogram.

The computer program allows foresters to select the best thinning strategy based on a variety of biological and financial variables. The nomograms graphically illustrate a range of thinning options that meet specific criteria determined by the user, allowing forest managers to consider factors as diverse as annual growth rate, tree size and financial value when developing overall management plans.

Current forest models do not allow forest managers to view the trade-offs among important physical variables and production goals associated with commercial thinning in quite the same way.

Results from ThinME are being evaluated on a dozen study sites across Maine in what is called the Maine Commercial Thinning Research Network. Various thinning prescriptions have been applied to test plots that include the annual measurement of more than 12,000 trees.

Measurements from these plots are being used to test the predictions of ThinME and to improve the model over time.

Growing up in Maine

Hometown people and places throughout Maine were the inspiration for stories, poems and essays by 22 students from Machias to Skowhegan who wrote about what it means to grow up in Maine.

"Our Maine: The Way Life Is," a CD production of the Maine Writing Project at the University of Maine, features the students in grades 312 reading their works that reflect some of the state's themes and traditions, including memories of generations working together, the connection to land and sea, the powerful influence of nature and the importance of roots in the inevitability of change.

The 29-minute CD comes with a teacher's guide, which includes ideas and activities for creating place-based writing and production opportunities. Submissions for the CD were sought from students of the 186 Maine Writing Project teacher consultants across the state.

The Maine Writing Project, an affiliate of the National Writing Project, is dedicated to improving the teaching and learning of writing across the curriculum.


UMaine Today Magazine
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