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UMaine Today Magazine


Insights-Marine worm illustration

Illustration by Carrie Graham

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Marine worm injuries

The effects of repeated injury to marine worms will be the focus of research funded by a nearly $382,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

Assistant Professor of Marine Sciences Sara Lindsay will study worms that live on the ocean bottom — from intertidal mudflats to the deep sea floor.

Marine worms play a vital role in the ecology of the ocean, influencing the cycle of nutrients between the bottom sediments and the overlying water column by processing and redistributing organic matter supplied from the column. Sediment disturbance by worms, called bioturbation, also influences competition among different species, and helps determine where larvae settle.

For several years, Lindsay has been studying worm regeneration of body parts following injury. In this study, she will investigate how injury and subsequent regeneration affects the worms' activities, such as reproduction and sediment mixing.

Her work could be particularly helpful to the fishing industry by providing information about the resiliency of the worms dug for bait. It also could aid researchers examining pollutants that end up in sediments that may then be redistributed by the worms that mix that sediment.

New potatoes

An ongoing project to produce new varieties of potatoes that can stand up to disease while giving growers in the East new marketing opportunities recently was awarded a $200,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant.

The project to conduct potato breeding and variety selection work is a collaborative effort involving scientists in Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, Virginia and North Carolina.

At the University of Maine, the study involves researchers in the Department of Plant, Soil and Environmental Sciences, the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, and the School of Biological Sciences.

The UMaine program focuses 50 percent of its effort on developing new russet potato varieties for processing and fresh market use in the East, but also looks at improving fresh market, specialty and chipping varieties of the

A new component of the project is designed to develop molecular–based tools to help select varieties with improved disease resistance, says Gregory Porter, coordinator of UMaine's Potato Breeding and Variety Development Program.

Learning physics

A collaborative effort to investigate student learning in physics and to design curricula to make it easier for students to understand the science was recently awarded a three-year, $337,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

Researchers from the University of Maine are collaborating with colleagues at Arizona State University Polytechnic and California State University–Fullerton to conduct the three-part study.

Cal State–Fullerton received an additional grant of more than $162,000, bringing the project's total funding to just under $500,000.

The goal of the project is to produce a set of student-centered curricular materials that can be used in courses to improve learning and conceptual understanding, and to serve as a model for additional research in the field of physics education.

"Our work could serve as a model for other disciplines to reform teaching in their more advanced courses," says UMaine Associate Professor of Physics John Thompson. "The interdisciplinary nature of this work — we have links to chemistry, engineering and math — may lead to more conversations between disciplines on how best to have students learn the concepts and the applications across disciplines."

Good business

An increasing number of businesses don't just want to do well, they want to do good. But wanting to be socially responsible and actually having a strategy and management tools in place to implement and track such an endeavor are two separate things.

Terry Porter, a professor in the Maine Business School, has found that many businesses intend to adopt corporate social responsibility policies; however, they vary in the degree to which these policies are prioritized. Through her research, Porter has created a menu of possible approaches for businesses to achieve CSR and sustainability goals.

"CSR represents the firm's strategic intent with regard to social and environmental initiatives, where such actions exceed what is required by law or regulation," Porter says.

The dominant approach to CSR research compares the effects of such policies on the bottom line. However, Porter goes beyond financial return by assessing the systems by which CSR goals are achieved. The result is a practical approach for managers who wish to implement an effective CSR strategy.

Porter's findings were published in a recent issue of the journal Systems Research and Behavioral Science.

Experts on Topic: Economists

In light of recent uncertainty on Wall Street — and Main Street — the economy has been on everyone's mind. But for students and professors in the University of Maine's new School of Economics, it's always a hot topic.

The school ranks among the top 37 in the world in the area of resource and environmental economics. In addition, faculty members are active in state and regional economic development efforts, and are creating a virtual conference on the subject.

The School of Economics provides research to the Maine Department of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Resources that is regularly used to set prices for Maine's dairy industry. This research and state regulatory work help preserve Maine's dairy industry, associated open space and rural communities.

By the numbers: Plant a Row

Since 1999, University of Maine Cooperative Extension has coordinated the state's Plant a Row for the Hungry project, through which home gardeners and Master Gardeners donate harvest surpluses to help those in need. The 2008 harvest season was bountiful for Maine's Plant a Row for the Hungry:

pounds of produce

pounds donated in York County — the largest of the county donations

volunteers who donated their time and/or produce

dozen ears of corn donated

food pantries, shelters and soup kitchens statewide that received produce, in addition to individual families in need

the vegetable donated most — potato

Geometry of cancer

A new form of image analysis is under development at the University of Maine to improve early detection of breast cancer.

UMaine Assistant Professor of Mathematics Andre Khalil recently received a grant of more than $73,000 from the Maine Cancer Foundation to build on initial research done by his colleagues in France — Pierre Kestener and Alain Arneodo — concerning use of wavelet-based image analysis to detect tumors.

The Two-Dimensional Wavelet-Transform Modulus Maxima method detects the difference between dense and fatty breast tissue, and reveals microcalcifications. The technology also may be able to discriminate between benign and malignant breast tumors.

Khalil will use the wavelet technology to analyze more than 3,000 images in the online Digital Database for Screening Mammography, maintained by the University of South Florida.

Based on Kestener's research, Khalil hypothesizes that the software can detect a benign tumor based on its geometry. It's believed that benign tumors are fairly typical in shape — a circle or square. It's when the tumor has a more complex fractal or branch-like structure that it is more likely to become more invasive and, thus, malignant.

"The question is, can we detect the cancer with the machine before the radiologist is able to detect it," Khalil says.

'Invisible' older men

Elderly men with chronic health conditions need more effective patient education and outreach to overcome the stigma of asking for assistance, according to researchers at the University of Maine Center on Aging.

That reluctance, which is often a pattern throughout their adult lives, puts older men at risk, including leading them to disclose symptoms only at later stages of disease. In response, healthcare and social service practitioners need to address attitudes, behaviors, beliefs and cultural barriers that stand in the way of seeking treatment or assistance.

The leading causes of death among older men — heart disease, cancer and stroke — are preventable in some cases, given timely access to quality healthcare, write Center on Aging researchers Lenard Kaye, Jennifer Crittenden and Jason Charland in the journal Generations.

Practitioners need to use targeted questions with older men whenever possible, creating the opportunity for them to disclose questions or symptoms, according to the researchers. Providers also must not underestimate the importance of any healthcare visit.

Among the intervention strategies, the researchers recommend setting goals that will allow men to feel more involved in their healthcare and to master any feelings of loss of control or helplessness associated with asking for outside help or with health decline.

Trust factors

Public trust has implications on the quality and durability of natural resource policy and management decisions, including those involving water resources. A new study by two forest resources researchers outlines five factors of trust that planners, managers, engineers, policymakers and community stakeholders involved in natural resources management should consider when seeking better ways of cooperating to produce sustainable agency-community relations.

Jessica Leahy of the University of Maine and Dorothy Anderson of North Carolina State University studied the interaction among the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and key communities in the Kaskaskia River Watershed in Illinois. In this area, corps managers met with a mix of community support and opposition when managing two reservoirs and one river navigation channel involving flood control, recreation, wildlife conservation and water quality.

The researchers found five factors of trust: general trust in the government, social trust of people, trust in technical competence, trust in the shared interests, and trust as a result of procedural justice (fair decisionmaking). For each, the researchers suggested possible planning/management action for improving relationships between communities, agencies and managers. When government is involved, increasing community familiarity with the local staff and agency can bolster trust. Social trust can be enhanced by events that broadly build a sense of community. Professional development and publicizing efforts to improve technical skills can address questions of technical competence. Education and outreach efforts focused on communicating an array of community benefits provided by management can promote shared interest and values.

UMaine Today Magazine
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