Focusing on climate change
The William M. Keck Foundation will provide a $1.6 million grant to fund
continued groundbreaking scientific research in the University of
Maine's Climate Change Institute. The funds will support a project,
"Major Advances in the Field of Climate Change Reconstruction Using Ice
Cores," which will revolutionize climate science. The project will build
on UMaine's ongoing research aimed at developing a global
array of ice cores for use in studying historical climate change, in
better understanding the Earth's environment and in creating sound
hypotheses related to the planet's climate future. Professor Paul
Mayewski, director of the Climate Change Institute, is the project
Based in Los Angeles, the W. M. Keck Foundation was established in 1954
by the late W. M. Keck, founder of the Superior Oil Company. The
Foundation's grantmaking is focused primarily on pioneering efforts in
the areas of medical research, science and engineering. The Foundation
also maintains a program to support undergraduate science and humanities
education and a Southern California Grant Program that provides support
in the areas of healthcare, civic and community services, education and
the arts, with a special emphasis on children and youth.
"The William M. Keck Foundation has a 54-year history of supporting the
kinds of high-quality scientific inquiries that revolutionize the ways
in which we view the world around us," says UMaine President Robert
Kennedy. "We are honored to be associated with the Foundation and we are
most appreciative of the faith the foundation's staff and leadership
have shown in the ability of Prof. Mayewski and his colleagues to
advance scientific knowledge in this critical field of study."
Kennedy also noted that faculty researchers from several UMaine academic
areas, including Laboratory for Surface Science Technology (LASST)
director Prof. Robert Lad, will play important roles in the project.
UMaine scientists have been involved in ice core research for decades.
Their work, funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA and the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, involves the extraction
of ice from polar regions around the world. By examining the chemical
composition at intervals along the ice core, scientists can reconstruct
climate history over centuries and they can monitor current climate
conditions in critical regions. In this work, UMaine scientists have
leadership roles in collaborative projects involving researchers from
around the U.S. and countries throughout Europe, South America and Asia.
"This research is both critical and time-sensitive," Mayewski says. "In
some regions, these invaluable records are literally melting away.
Because of this generous grant from the Keck Foundation, we will be able
to accelerate this research and move toward realizing our vision of
establishing the complete and robust record necessary to gain a thorough
understanding of the Earth's climate history. Ice cores are the only
means by which we can study climate history on a meaningful scale,
looking at thousands of years of verifiable records. They are essential
to understanding the past and applying its lessons to the examination of
issues related to the contemporary environment and society's future."
Because of 30-plus years of ice core research, Mayewski notes,
scientists have a dramatically improved understanding of climate systems
and the impact of human behavior on our environment.
The Keck Foundation funding will allow the UMaine scientists to expand
their research capabilities in two specific ways:through the purchase
and adaptation of a laser ablation inductively coupled plasma
spectrometer (LA-ICP-MS), technology that allows for "rapid, continuous,
high resolution sampling of ice core chemistry," increasing the
scientists' capabilities with regard to chemical sampling and core
assessment;through the development of new ice core measuring capability
by developing prototype chemical sensors to be embedded in an ice core
drill, along with a "disposable" GPS system that will allow for on-site
sampling in hazardous environments and for monitoring changes in
Scientists in UMaine's LASST laboratory will lead the development of the
sensor technology. Some 13 UMaine academic personnel, representing CCI,
LASST and several academic departments, will participate in the project.
Unlocking disease-fighting secrets
In biomedical research, the zebrafish is used as a model organism
because it has many biological traits that mimic those of humans.
However, a greater understanding of the differences in their immunity
systems could one day lead to therapies to better fight human disease.
With a five-year, $1.4 million grant from the National Institutes of
Health, University of Maine microbiologist Carol Kim will conduct a
comparative immunology study to shed light on the distinctions that
evolved in the innate immunity systems of zebrafish and mammals, such as
mice and humans.
Her prediction is that identifying those unique disease-fighting
molecular processes in the zebrafish will provide researchers with clues
to finding similar defense mechanisms as yet unidentified in humans.
Unidentified components may be masked or maintain minor roles in the
complex structure of mammals' innate immunity. But if their
contributions to the body's immunity system were boosted, the result
could be a complementary approach to fighting infectious disease.
The research could open the possibilities for new vaccines.
"Unlocking the secrets of the innate immune response is so promising,
companies are now trying to use Toll-like receptor (TLR) signal pathways
(proteins found on the surface of certain cells) and receptors as
adjuvants for vaccines, all in an effort to achieve a more robust immune
response," says Kim, the new director of UMaine's Graduate School of
While adaptive immunity remains essential to the existences of many
species, researchers now know that the stronger the innate immune
response, the more vigorous the adapted immune response.
Experts on topic: UMaine Cooperative Extension
With many Maine residents struggling to meet their needs for heating,
transportation and food due to rising fuel prices, University of Maine
Cooperative Extension has established a
to distribute research-based information on
saving money through energy conservation and alternative energy sources.
For homeowners, the site has heating source comparisons, and information
on how to conserve energy through insulation and appliance use. For the
traveler, there is information on efficient vehicles and public
transportation, as well as cost calculators for hybrid vehicle options.
The site also includes energy-saving tips for small businesses and
farms, current research in Maine on producing energy on the farm with
biodiesel and links to information on tax incentives and energy audits.
The case of the stolen emeralds
In July, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced the
return to the Colombian government of more than 60 Precolumbian
artifacts that were seized in Florida in 2005. The recovered artifacts
that had been smuggled into the United States included more than a dozen
emerald pieces that were studied by University of Maine physicists March
18 after they were brought to campus by ICE officers to determine the
gems' trace elements.
Earlier this year, Professor of Physics C.T. Hess was contacted by the
State Department after a federal official found reference to a research
paper published in 1998 in the journal Archaeology. In the paper, Hess
and two coauthors - then Hudson Museum director Stephen Whittington and
gemologist James Vose of Lincoln - detailed the use of X-ray
fluorescence spectroscopy to determine the trace elements in another
Precolumbian artifact known as "the emerald man," a carved figurine that
is part of the Palmer Collection in the Hudson Museum.
After a day of testing in his lab this spring, Hess and his students -
Joshua Wright, Douglas Cahl and Anna Schliep - determined that the trace
elements in the confiscated emeralds revealed that they were mined from
one source. X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy helps researchers determine
the chemical components in samples, providing clues to geological
The research results on the now repatriated emeralds - 14 stones with
drilled holes for what was probably a necklace, and a tiny carved frog
figurine - were reported in a senior thesis in April by Joshua Wright.
Women in politics
A new initiative at the University of Maine aims to give women a bigger
slice of the political pie. Beginning next year, up to 40 college-age
women from Maine will have the opportunity to participate in MaineNEW
Leadership, a weeklong intensive residential training program targeting
the next generation of leaders.
The program began in 1991 at the Center for American Women in Politics
at Rutgers University. UMaine is the latest partner in NEW Leadership's
17-member national network.
"The idea behind the program is for college women to understand the
importance of serving in office and of civic engagement, particularly in
your community and your state," says Mary Cathcart, a former Maine
legislator who now is a senior policy associate at UMaine's Margaret
Chase Smith Policy Center.
Insight Lite: Berry good for you
Cranberries are an autumn staple, whether baked into a quick bread or
served as a sauce at the holiday table. But Vivian Wu, an assistant
professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of
Maine, knows there's more to cranberries than their sweet-tart flavor.
Here are her top five cranberry facts from her research:
Cranberries contains antioxidant compounds that reduce free-radical,
or oxidative, damage.
New research led by Wu shows cranberries may offer a strong line of
defense against food poisoning with their unique ability to reduce
the growth of salmonella and other types of harmful bacteria in food.
Cranberries are known for their unique "anti-adhesion" activity, which
protects the body from certain harmful bacteria that cause
urinary tract infections, stomach ulcers and gum disease.
Wu's research group also found that food testers accepted the flavor
of a hamburger that includes up to 5 percent cranberry extract.
One day, incorporating cranberries into food
preparation may be a natural way to minimize food contamination.
Ice age pests
Chironomids, or midge flies, begin their lives as larvae in lake
sediment. As they grow, they shed their skin four times, then pupate.
When they emerge as a swarm of adults, they mate, lay eggs and die.
The extent of their adult lives occurs within a few days, but the
lessons they can teach us about climate change endure, according to
University of Maine researcher Ann Dieffenbacher-Krall.
Dieffenbacher-Krall has spent the last several years extracting and classifying chironomid head capsules - the only part of the insect
that preserves - from cores of lake sediment in New Zealand.
"We're using them as a thermometer, basically," Dieffenbacher-Krall
says, to help determine what was going on in the Southern Hemisphere at
the end of the last ice age.
Different types of chironomids exist in different ecological conditions,
but the dominant variable is a lake's mean summer temperature.
Comparing chironomid research data with pollen-based studies of temperature change, Dieffenbacher-Krall and her Climate Change Institute
colleagues George Denton and Marcus Vandergoes have painted a more
complete picture of climate change in the late glacial period.
The findings from their research, which were recently published in
Quaternary Science Reviews, indicate stronger seasonality, which could
have broader implications for understanding the differences between
proxy records for abrupt climate change.
Ageism in the workplace
A two-year study of older employees in Maine is focusing on how they
perceive and handle harassment in the workplace.
With a $125,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, University
of Maine sociologist Amy Blackstone is surveying as many as 800 Maine
workers age 62 and older. Blackstone says she hopes to find out how stature at work affects harassment experiences, and how stature at work,
home and in the community may affect responses to those experiences.
By bringing together several areas of sociological inquiry, including
age, power, victimization and mobilization, the study is expected to
inform policymaking and employment laws by raising awareness about
situations that may create opportunities for employee harassment or
The study's findings will be used to develop a larger comparative
investigation of workplace harassment over worker life cycles.
At the University of Maine, the Hudson Museum's Maine Native American
collection includes more than 500 examples of culture - from birch bark
canoes and root clubs to beadwork and baskets of brown ash splints and
sweetgrass dating from the 1850s. Also in the collection are traditional
tools used by Maine Indian basketmakers to transform the natural
materials into functional works of art.
Now a documentary series by the Hudson Museum and the Maine Indian
Basketmakers Alliance, filmed and produced by students at ASAP, UMaine's
new media and Internet technology production lab, illustrates just how
those tools are used in the artistic tradition by contemporary artists
as a means of sustaining cultural heritage. Eleven Passamaquoddy,
Penobscot, Maliseet and Micmac artists from Bethel to Limestone, as well
as tribal elders, were interviewed.
The two-year project to document Maine Indian material culture, made
possible by a $96,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library
Services, culminated this fall. It features nine segments on
basketmaking, from the gathering and processing of the raw materials -
brown ash and sweetgrass - to the creation of the artforms. Also
featured are two birch bark artists, three carvers and a beadworker.
Once the Hudson Museum reopens next fall in the newly renovated Collins
Center for the Arts, patrons will use media stations with touch screens
to see these segments in the new Maine Indian Gallery. The documentaries
also will be available to schools over the Internet to support LD291, a
2001 state law requiring the teaching of Maine Native American history
and culture in schools.