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UMaine Today Magazine


Kelly Dorgan

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One of PopSci's Brilliant 10

Popular Science magazine has tapped University of Maine Ph.D. oceanography student Kelly Dorgan in its fifth annual search for the top 10 young researchers who are emerging as leaders in their respective fields.

Citing both the creativity and reach of her work, Popular Science selected Dorgan from hundreds of candidates nominated by university department heads, editors of scientific journals and others for this year's PopSci's Brilliant 10.

Working with Professor of Marine Sciences and Oceanography Peter Jumars at UMaine's Darling Marine Center, Dorgan examines the biomechanics of marine worms and their movement through sediments. Featured in the February 2005 issue of Nature, Dorgan's research not only sheds new light on the worms' ecology and behavior, but also offers insights into the role of burrowers in the carbon cycle, and the movement of pollutants and other substances through muddy sediments.

Top Taste Treat

Blueberry yogurt covered in dark chocolate was the winning combination for the University of Maine at the Institute of Food Technologists Student Association's 2006 Product Development Competition.

YoBon Berry Bites, fruity frozen bonbons created by a student product development team — Jennifer Jordan, James Perry, Jason Bolton, Shari Baxter and Kristi Crowe — took first place. The competition included products from 23 of the nation's top food science programs.

UMaine food scientist Denise Skonberg is the team's adviser.

Since the competition, three team members graduated and are pursuing careers in food science. The remaining two — Baxter and Bolton, both graduate students in food science — hope to take YoBons to the next level.

The pair has applied for a grant from the Maine Technology Institute for funding to support further market research. They also want to develop specialized equipment in the UMaine Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition's pilot plant to manufacture the frozen confection in quantity.

Baxter and Bolton will continue to create the bonbons in small batches for further trials.

YoBons are packed with antioxidants and bone-building calcium. They also represent a potential new market for one of Maine's signature crops: the wild blueberry.

Marketing for the new product is aimed at women, offering them both the healthful effects of anthocyanins from blueberries and antioxidants from dark chocolate. The treat also is fortified with calcium and vitamin D to counter the effects of bone loss.

Roads that last longer

Maine could save up to $400,000 per mile of paved highway by increasing the permeability and improving the gradation of its roadbeds, according to two University of Maine civil engineers.

Moreover, a more permeable base would increase the life of the road, forestalling the need for a pavement overlay for 10–15 years.

On-site and in the laboratory, graduate student Michel Bouchedid and professor Dana Humphrey, working in cooperation with the Maine Department of Transportation, analyzed the permeability and gradation of subbase material on eight primary and secondary state highways, each between 8 and 12 years old. They found that improved drainage and reduced frost action resulting from permeable roadbeds could almost triple the life of highway pavements.

Their research findings were published in the Journal of the Transportation Research Board.

Lost and Found

A bottom-dwelling fish listed as endangered since 1967 has been rediscovered in the Penobscot River in Maine by University of Maine researchers — the first confirmed encounter of shortnose sturgeon there in 28 years.

The 11 fish captured were  up to 42 inches long and of breeding age. Five were im- planted with transmitters so researchers can follow their movements.

The rediscovery of the species is an important milestone in an ongoing project on the abundance and habitat of sturgeon populations in the Penobscot system. The research is being conducted by UMaine Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Michael Kinnison, graduate student Stephen Fernandes and USGS Cooperative Fish and Wild-life Research Unit scientists, with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration funding.

In the last century, much of the sturgeon's habitat was lost, and water quality problems persisted. The presence of a surviving population suggests that the Penobscot may be on the mend. The captures also point to the potential of the Penobscot River Restoration Project, which may aid struggling species.

Creativity Sparks Job Growth

New economic data from the University of Maine give hope to cities across the country trying to gain a foothold in the creative economy. The data show that cities don't need a strong initial presence in the creative economy to have job growth in later periods, says Todd Gabe, associate professor of resource economics and policy at the University of Maine.

In his analysis of census data on 200 U.S. metropolitan areas, Gabe found that the Rocky Mountain, Southeast and Southwest regions had the largest growth of creative talent between 1990 and 2000. However, U.S. employment statistics between 1999 and 2003 show that many cities in those regions saw the slowest growth of jobs in creative sectors.

The New England region did not top the list in terms of growth in the number of people with creative skills during the 1990s, yet it experienced the highest rate of creative economy job growth between 1999 and 2003.

Creative occupations include those in engineering, education, science, the creative arts and entertainment.

Gifts that fill a need

‘Tis the season for giving and two of the greatest gifts are time spent helping others and material donations that improve quality of life. Lyn Dexter, assistant director of the Office of Student Employment and Volunteer Services at the University of Maine, offers some suggestions for giving to those in need:

• Don't forget older children and teens. They're hardest hit by the holidays, because most donations of toys and clothing are for youngsters under age 11.

• Remember that gift cards can help parents or teens select what's needed — and wanted — most.

• Keep the needs of an entire family in mind by buying gift cards for the purchase of groceries, electricity, heating oil and gasoline.

• When giving of your time, think outside the immediate needs of the holiday season. Relieve a respite care provider for a day, volunteer at an area soup kitchen after the holiday rush, bake cookies with a neighbor's child.

• Make a donation in the name of a loved one through an international, nonprofit organization helping those in need, such as Oxfam or Heifer International.

• Purchase goods from groups like A Greater Gift, which markets fair trade handicrafts and foods in partnership with small-scale artisans and farmers worldwide.

Grain research to help organic dairy farms

Organic milk production is one of the fastest-growing agricultural sectors in the Northeast, where there are more than 160 organic dairies.

To assist the farmers, the Maine Technology Institute (MTI) and U.S. Department of Agriculture have funded two research projects at the University of Maine focused on organic grain production. Organic grain concentrates currently cost New England's organic dairies nearly three times as much as nonorganic grains.

A $78,000 MTI cluster enhancement award, matched by an $827,000 USDA coinvestment, was made to UMaine Cooperative Extension, in collaboration with Maine Organic Milk Producers. The funds are being used to purchase equipment for testing different combinations of feed for organic dairy cattle.

The tests will enable farmers to identify the best combination that yields the greatest value in milk, while reducing the amount of high-cost imported organic grains. Testing will be conducted at the university's Witter Teaching and Research Farm, and on organic dairy farms.

In addition, Extension researcher Rick Kersbergen is leading a USDA-funded project to expand grain production and use on organic dairies in Maine and Vermont. A goal is to reduce dependence on grain from the Midwest and Canada.

Rediscovering conservation's early roots

A traditional exploration of the history of American forest conservation often begins with the philosophies and accomplishments of 19th-century literary, artistic and environmental giants like Henry David Thoreau, George Catlin, Gifford Pinot and John Muir. But such a narrow view ignores the fertile foundation established by naturalists decades earlier, according to University of Maine environmental historian Richard Judd.

In "A ‘Wonderfull Order and Ballance': Natural History and the Beginnings of Forest Conservation in America, 1730–1830," published earlier this year in the journal Environmental History, Judd traces the origins of environmental thinking among a group of scientists who studied American natural history while exploring the transappalachian frontier.

Rediscovering the early naturalists is key to better understanding the major precepts of conservationist thought in American environmental history — balance, interrelatedness, and the practical and spiritual importance of nature. Indeed, Judd says, concerns first voiced by early 19th-century environmentalists echoed to the end of the century.

Their histories document the epic of building a comprehensive natural history through first-hand observation. These naturalists also witnessed one of the greatest environmental transformations in American history, as vast tracts of the eastern forest gave way to a landscape of fields, meadows and pastures.

"It was this last point — the anxieties they expressed about America's forests — that provided a foundation for the conservationist ideas that took shape in the second half of the 19th century," says Judd.

Understanding the critical role of calpains

For more than two decades, University of Maine Professor of Biochemistry Dorothy Croall has studied calpains, a family of enzymes thought to contribute to basic cellular functions, as well as to the pathology of cancer and several neurodegenerative and muscle diseases. Calpains also play a critical role in the embryonic development of vertebrates.

Now a new project, funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, aims to develop a specialized biosensor to detect when and where calpains are active in cells or embryos. Croall and UMaine graduate student Lisa Vanhooser have generated a fluorescent probe that only recognizes active enzymes. Studies with the purified proteins aim to optimize the sensor's design using the extremely sensitive technique known as fluorescence resonance energy transfer.

If successful, scientists could gain a better understanding of the role of calpains in embryogenesis and disease.


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