LATEST NEWS

Science in Maine
  • Maine voters overwhelmingly voted for Research and Development bonds

    The official tabulation of votes from the June 13, 2017 Special Referendum Election show that the bond issue was approved overwhemingly by Maine voters.

    The Elections Division has certified the results and Gov. Paul LePage signed the official vote proclamation.

    The certified election results show a total of 63,468 votes in favor of the bond issue, and 39,549 votes in opposition. Voters cast a total of 104,213 ballots in this single-question statewide referendum, with 1,196 blanks.

    Question 1 asked: “Do you favor a $50,000,000 bond issue to provide $45,000,000 in funds for investment in research, development and commercialization in the State to be used for infrastructure, equipment and technology upgrades that enable organizations to gain and hold market share, to increase revenues and to expand employment or preserve jobs for Maine people, to be awarded through a competitive process to Maine-based public and private entities, leveraging other funds in a one-to-one ratio and $5,000,000 in funds to create jobs and economic growth by lending to or investing in small businesses with the potential for significant growth and strong job creation?”

    The funds will support job growth in Maine’s high tech industries, creating good-paying jobs, new products and new services. Mainers will benefit from innovation in biotech, forest products, marine resources and information technologies. New construction projects will create additional jobs for building contractors, tradespeople, equipment suppliers, and professional service providers, increasing economic activity throughout the State.

    The funds will be administered by the Maine Technology Institute (MTI)www.mainetechnology.org and applicants will be selected through an independent, review process to select projects with the greatest potential for return on investment. Applicants are required to match dollar-for-dollar, the amount of the grant award -increasing private sector investments and accountability.

    The Elections Division will post the results online this week at http://maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/results/index.html.

    The legislation will become law 30 days from the date of the official proclamation (July 21, 2017).

  • Vote June 13th for bonds that will grow jobs

    Since the Baldacci administration we havn't had bond issues to fuel our innovative economy.

    Yes On Question 1: Good For Our Economy, Good For Maine

    Question 1 is a bond measure that will provide funds for $50 million for investment in research, development and commercialization in the State. The funds will support job growth in Maine’s high tech industries, creating good-paying jobs, new products and new services.  Mainers will benefit from innovation in biotech, forest products, marine resources and information technologies. 

    New construction projects will create additional jobs for building contractors, tradespeople, equipment suppliers, and professional service providers, increasing economic activity throughout the State.  

    The funds will be administered by the Maine Technology Institute (MTI)www.mainetechnology.org and applicants will be selected through an independent, review process to select projects with the greatest potential for return on investment.  Applicants are required to match dollar-for-dollar, the amount of the grant award -increasing private sector investments and accountability. 

  • An Innovator of the Year - University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center

    Dr. Habib Dagher, P.E., Executive Director of the UMaine Advanced Structures and Composites Center in a wind/wave testing facility at UMaine. The Center won a Innovator of the Year Award. The award is given to a company or organization in Maine that has accessed international markets through new and innovative processes or products. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramona du Houx

    The Maine International Trade Center (MITC) announced the winners of the 2017 International Trade and Investment Awards. The awards will be officially presented during Maine International Trade Day on May 25, at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, Maine.

    The UMaine Advanced Structures and Composites Center was at the top of the list. 

    "It's a great honor for the UMaine Advanced Structures and Composites Center to be recognized for working with more than 500 international and national companies, including more than 150 Maine companies, to develop new products, reach new markets, and expand their international reach," said Dr. Habib Dagher, P.E., Executive Director of the University of Maine's Advanced Structures and Composites Center.

    "This award truly goes to our world-leading students, faculty, and staff for their incredible work, as well as the more than 2,000 students who have worked at our lab since opening in 2000," said Dr. Habib Dagher, P.E., Executive Director of the University of Maine's Advanced Structures and Composites Center."

    Using 3-D printers, robots, and digital tools the newest state of the art lab at the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University of Maine will officially open this summer. 

    The Alfond Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory for Structural Thermoplastics is a demonstration lab that will test new ways to improve manufacturing. Thermoplastics are recyclable materials that will transform composite materials used in cars, ships, boats, and aerospace applications. Thermoplastic composites are low cost, low weight, recyclable, and corrosion resistant. 

    In partnership with industry, this facility will lead future thermoplastic composites manufacturing research and serve as a test bed for manufacturing solutions and training. This innovative new lab is part of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center that works with entities from around the world to bring advanced materials into construction.

    The Center has 180 full and part-time employees and is housed in a 100,000 ft. world-leading laboratory at the University of Maine.


  • Former CEO and Executive Director of The Silk Road Project will lead MECA

    The Maine College of Art’s (MECA) Board of Trustees has announced the appointment of Laura Freid, Ed.D., as the 18th president of the 135 year-old institution.

    Freid comes to MECA as a passionate and proven advocate for the arts and education, most recently serving in partnership with internationally acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, as CEO and Executive Director of The Silk Road Project, a global cultural arts organization based at Harvard University.

    Silkroad works to connect the world through the arts, presenting musical performances and learning programs, and fostering radical cultural collaboration around the world to lead to advancing global understanding.

    Her prior leadership experience includes serving as Executive Vice President for Public Affairs and University Relations at Brown University and Chief Communications Officer at Harvard University where she was publisher ofHarvard Magazine.

    Led by alumnus Brian Wilk ’95, incoming chair of MECA’s Board of Trustees, and Vice President at Hasbro Toys, MECA’s presidential search process officially started in August  2016, when a search committee composed of a diverse group of representatives from within the MECA community convened to discuss and understand the most essential attributes needed in the College’s next leader.

    In announcing the choice, Wilk remarked on the thorough and extensive nature of the selection process. “It was clear to the entire search committee that we needed someone who has the skills, experience, and appetite to continue building our mission of educating artists for life while expanding our reputation as an international destination for world-class arts education. After carefully considering our impressively deep pool of seasoned candidates from all over the world, our search committee unanimously agreed that Dr. Laura Freid was the right person to guide MECA through our next critical period of growth.”  


    Debbie Reed, chair of the MECA Board of Trustees, described Freid as “an exceptional leader who understands MECA’s mission and the importance of creativity.” According to Reed, “From the moment we met Laura, we were interested in learning more about her demonstrated track record of engaging multiple constituencies while serving in senior leadership roles at multiple institutions. The Board of Trustees looks forward to an exciting future under Laura’s leadership as we move the College forward.”

    “I am grateful for the dynamic leadership that has guided MECA to date and to the entire College community and the city of Portland for creating such an exciting American center for the arts, culture and entrepreneurship,” Freid said. “In times as rife with international, political, and economic tensions as we are experiencing today, I believe investing in the arts has never been more imperative. Art gives us meaning and identity, helping us reflect on and shape our lives; it is fundamental to our well-being. That is why I believe providing artists with the education they need to succeed is such a critical and vital mission.”

    Freid’s educational background is rooted in the philosophy of aesthetics and in the history of reputation in higher education. She holds a B.A. in Philosophy from Washington University, an MBA from Boston University Graduate School of Management, and an Ed.D. from University of Pennsylvania.

    Freid will take office on or before July 1st, replacing Interim President Stuart Kestenbaum, Maine’s Poet Laureate and former Director of the Haystack Mountain School of Arts. Kestenbaum stepped in to lead during a transition year after Don Tuski, Ph.D. accepted the position of President at Pacific Northwest College of the Arts in Portland, Oregon, on the heels of six years of continuous enrollment and endowment growth at MECA.

  • Let’s take up Rachel Carson’s challenge

    Human evolution shows that our emotions such as fear, anger and sadness should not rule us if we want to maintain the ties that are critical to our survival. 

    By Martha Freeman of Portland, a former Maine state planning director for eight years in the Baldacci administration and the editor of “Always, Rachel: The Letters of Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman, 1952-1964.”

    Rachel Carson was a friend of mine, although she died when I was only 11 years old.

    If you’re not a baby boomer or older, you may not know her name. You may not know that she was a best-selling author in the 1950s and 1960s, or that her work as a scientist and writer led to the nationwide banning of DDT and the beginning of the environmental movement.

    Recently, the Public Broadcasting System’s “American Experience” aired a film about Rachel Carson’s life and work. If you view it, you’ll learn that the most important revolution she engaged in involved more than stopping pollution by pesticides. She was as concerned with halting heedless interference with interrelationships in the natural world, including those among humans. She was concerned about government’s relationship with the public, businesses’ responsibility toward consumers, the contamination of human discourse by falsehood. Sound familiar from the headlines, posts and tweets of today?

    Rachel Carson came into my life when she built a summer place near my grandparents’ cottage on the Maine coast. She and my grandmother became dear friends. As a youngster, I was along for parts of their journey. As an adult, through reading the letters to each other these friends saved, Rachel Carson became closer to me.

    I saw, as she did, that the web of human relations, embedded in human nature, is as crucial to our world’s well-being as any other set of environmental links. To pollute that web is as toxic as pouring poison into a river.

    And that web is being fouled today. Self-righteousness, the outlook of might making right, grandiosity in the face of humbling challenges are ascendant. These responses took root in the soil of economic turmoil and human dislocations.

    It’s natural for people to fear unsettling change. We’re as motivated by our biology as any plant or animal experiencing a threat. Our brains wire us to feel fear, anger, and sadness as we cope. But it’s stupid, and human evolution shows this, for those emotions to rule when we’re challenged.

    Modern humans best overcome threats when deploying empathy, whether toward allies or adversaries. If you can’t put yourself in the other fellow’s shoes, you’re missing out on rational and emotional intelligence. It’s intelligence that forms coalitions in the home, at work, across all forms of human relations and leads to progress.

    Brittle and brute tactics are not a mature, or ultimately successful, response to human problems. These approaches may appear to bring success in the short term. Using them may generate feelings of slights vindicated. But in their wake, the whole of which we each are a part will eventually wither. The long term will not be healthful for our children and other living things.

    Having empathy, valuing the intricate web of human relationships, is not the stance of cowards. It’s the essence of courage. Rachel Carson faced disparagement from private enterprise, media and public officials. A gentle and petite woman, she stood with backbone against detractors, employing her most effective tools: facts, understanding, caring, calmness.

    In 1962, in one of her last public presentations before her death, Rachel Carson spoke at the Scripps College commencement. Her groundbreaking book, “Silent Spring,” had just been published. She continued its theme of environmental interdependence in her remarks, but broadened the context:

    “Your generation must face realities instead of taking refuge in ignorance and evasion of truth. Yours is a grave and a sobering responsibility, but it is also a shining opportunity. You go out into a world where mankind is challenged, as it has never been challenged before, to prove its maturity and mastery — not of nature but of itself.”

    It’s time to take up Rachel Carson’s challenge again.

    We must reward mature behavior and remove our attention from immature distractions, as mothers do when their kids are acting out. We must expand our circles of affection, as young people have done. We must prove the masters of our fear, anger and any anxious interest in belittling others.

    Humans naturally advance in community. Our sense of community evolves. As it has, life has become better for the human family. Only a short-sighted, impulsive and immature perspective seeks to break rather than strengthen our bonds.

    As Rachel Carson taught, everything in nature is interrelated and interdependent — including all of us. As we care for our environment, so must we care for all humankind. It’s a fact that we can’t escape being on this earth together.

  • Scientists call on Collins

    The Penobscot is polluted with mercury - we need the EPA

    Editorial by Dianne Kopec and Aram Calhoun,

    As the name implies, the goal of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to protect our environment, and it has worked toward that goal since it was created in 1970. That start date is important to the people and the environment of the lower Penobscot River, for in late 1967, the HoltraChem chlor-alkali plant began operating in Orrington on the banks of the river. In the first four years of the plant’s operation, waste mercury was routinely discharged into the river. Much of that mercury continues to contaminate the Penobscot.

    We ask that the community, and Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King — who will soon vote on the nominee to head the agency, Scott Pruitt — consider the value of the EPA and the critical importance of appointing a director who embraces the mission of protecting our environment.

    Senator Susan Collins – (202) 224-2523 Senator Angus King – (202) 224-5344

    We are scientists. We examined the impact of the mercury discharges into the river as part of the Penobscot River Mercury Study, an independent court-ordered study of mercury contamination of the Penobscot River from the HoltraChem plant. This work gave us first-hand knowledge of the value of the EPA and of the environmental consequences when regulations are absent or not enforced.

    One of the first actions of the EPA was a thorough revision of water pollution laws and the creation of the Clean Water Act, which was passed by Congress in 1972.

    For the first time in our history, the government began regulating pollutant discharges into surface waters. It was no longer legal for the Orrington chemical plant to dump its waste mercury into the Penobscot. Instead, HoltraChem began storing the waste mercury in landfills that greatly reduced the amount of mercury entering the river. Yet, roughly 90 percent of an estimated nine tons of mercury that was ultimately released into the Penobscot River was discharged before the EPA began regulating pollutant discharges into our rivers, streams and lakes.

    Today, the evidence of those mercury discharges can be seen in the sediment of the Penobscot River. Buried 16 inches below the surface of the sediment is a layer of extreme mercury contamination, deposited during the early years of plant operation.

    The sediment deposited after EPA was created is less contaminated.

    Yet, buried contaminants do not always remain hidden. River and slough channels can change course, releasing long-buried mercury into the surface sediment that is swept up and down the river with the tide. So in some parts of the lower Penobscot the most contaminated sediment is not buried, but near the surface, where it enters our food web and accumulates in our fish, birds and lobster.

    Now 50 years later, we have mercury concentrations in waterfowl almost four times greater than the Maine action level for mercury in muscle tissue, prompting the state’s first health advisory on the consumption of breast meat from ducks. Migratory song birds arrive in marshes along the lower Penobscot with low mercury burdens, but quickly accumulate mercury concentrations in their blood that exceed levels known to cause reproductive failure. Average mercury concentrations in lobster living near the mouth of the Penobscot River are two to three times greater than the Maine action level, and individual lobster have concentrations over six times greater.

    There is now a state ban on lobster harvesting in that area. Without EPA regulations, the river would be even more contaminated. Finally, mercury concentrations in the surface sediments of the river are seven to 10 times greater than background concentrations in rivers Down East, and we estimate it will take a minimum of 60 to 400 years, depending on the area, for the Penobscot to clean itself.

    Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general, has been nominated to head the EPA, despite the fact that he is a leading advocate against the agency. His history of suing the EPA over environmental regulations, the same regulations that now limit discharges to the Penobscot, should disqualify him from service as the agency’s director.

    This is only one example of the positive role the EPA plays in safeguarding public and environmental health. Environmental regulations save our country money, provide jobs, and ensure the health of all animals, plants and the humans who see clean air, water and soil as an American right. The EPA needs a leader who will defend that right.

    Dianne Kopec is an adjunct instructor in the department of wildlife, fisheries, and conservation biology at the University of Maine in Orono. Aram Calhoun is a professor of wetlands ecology at UMaine. Peter Santschi, a regents professor in the department of marine sciences at Texas A&M University in Galveston, and Ralph Turner, a mercury researcher at RT Geosciences Inc., also contributed to this piece.

  • UMaine's Bridge-In-A-Backpack spinoff company signs big marketing-distribution agreement with Terre Armee Internationale

    By Ramona du Houx

    Advanced Infrastructure Technologies (AIT), a University of Maine spinoff company, has signed an exclusive distribution and marketing agreement for North America with Terre Armee Group/Reinforced Earth Company (TA/RECo).

    This agreement will help UMaine’s patented composite arch bridge technology gain more markets in North America, and to expand into international markets.

    AIT is a leading producer of composite arch bridges that were first developed by the UMaine Advanced Structures and Composites Center originally known as Bridge-In-A-Backpack TM.

     “This is a tremendous step forward for our patented bridge technology and its commercialization partner AIT to sign a distribution and marketing agreement from a multibillion-dollar international construction and engineering company. AIT was able to attract the attention of such a substantial firm due to the value of the Bridge-In-A-Backpack TM technology, its continued R&D partnership with UMaine, and its efforts in securing early bridge sales within the U.S. infrastructure industry,” said Habib Dagher, executive director of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center, and the primary inventor of composite arch bridge technology.

    The Bridge-in-a-Backpack is so light grad students demostrate how easy it is to carry one of the inflatable arches, photo Ramona du Houx, 2009

    The Bridge-in-a-Backpack’s arches, made of composite materials, are inflated at the site of a bridge and then infused with resin. Once they harden, they are lowered into place and filled with concrete and the foundations are shored up. Then the arches are covered in a corrugated, composite material, dirt and sand fills in gaps, and a composite deck on top of the structure is paved.

    The Bridge-In-A-Backpack received funding from Maine state voter-approved bonds, under the Baldacci administration, as well as a host of grants from the federal government. Governor John Baldacci made sure ten percent of Maine’s bridges would be built from the technology developed at the Composite Center in a transportation bond. That enabled the first Bridge-in-a-Backpack to be constructed, and every since then attention and acclaim has been rolling in. With revolutionary examples of a light weight, more durable and flexible bridge technology here in Maine other states continue to see the advantages of using the Bridge-n-a-Backpack. 

    The innovative composite bridge system, the first to be approved in the AASHTO code, lowers construction costs, extends structural life span up to 100 years, and is a sustainable alternative to traditional construction methods.

    The technology has received major awards and recognition, including the 2015 White House Transportation Champions of Change, Most Creative Product by the American Composites Manufacturing Association, and the Charles Pankow Award for Innovation from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

    “This exclusive partnership with TA will strengthen our presence in the U.S. and Canada by leveraging their long-term and extensive market share by adding personnel resources and financial strength to AIT,” said Brit Svoboda, chair/CEO of AIT. “TA additionally offers AIT greater access to international markets through their significant global presence. We look forward to accelerating AIT’s growth through this arrangement.”

    The Terre Armee Group operates through more than 30 companies in 60 countries. The company is best known for its work in the mechanically stabilized earth (MSE) market, where it has completed over 50 million square feet of retaining walls around the world in its 45-year history.

     “Being the inventor and world leader of the MSE retaining wall market gives us a strong platform for expanding the use of new technologies,” said Roger Bloomfield, CEO of the Terre Armee Group. “In recent years, we have annually averaged a supply of over 200,000 square meters of precast concrete arches. Adding the composite arch bridge system to our portfolio is an exciting development that will fuel the growth of both Terre Armee and AIT in the coming years.”

    About Advanced Structures and Composites Center: The University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center is a world-leading, interdisciplinary center for research, education, and economic development encompassing material sciences, manufacturing, and engineering of composites and structures.

     Since 1996, the center has: financially supported more than 2,000 positions for undergraduate and graduate students; served more than 500 industrial and governmental clients, including 150 Maine companies; formed 14 spinoff companies through licensing agreements of patents or trade secrets, and received more than 40 national and international awards.

    The center has gained a national and international reputation through major research and development projects such as the VolturnUS 1:8, the first grid-connected floating offshore wind turbine in the U.S. and the first in the world made out of concrete and composite materials, the inflatable composite arch bridges Bridge-In-A-Backpack TM technology now approved in the AASHTO code, the first Modular Ballistic Protection System (MBPS) approved by the U.S. Army to protect troops in tents from blast and ballistic threats, development of coated wood technology for blast and hurricane resistant wood buildings, and the longest carbon-fiber composite vessel built for the U.S. Navy. For more information, visit composites.umaine.edu.

  • National Laboratory Officials & UMaine to Announce Innovative Partnership to Grow Maine’s Economy

    One week after the Economic Development Assessment Team released its report on how to strengthen Maine’s forest economy, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) joined officials from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center (UMaine) to start implementing its recommendations, beginning with the announcement of a partnership between ORNL and UMaine to advance innovative forest bio-based manufacturing and grow the state’s forest products sector.

    Senator King received a private briefing from officials with the Department of Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office, ORNL, and UMaine about the partnership, and then toured the Alfond Advanced Manufacturing Lab for Structural Thermoplastics.

    At the conclusion of the tour, Senator King and UMaine President Susan Hunter participated in a signing ceremony to cement the new partnership aimed at developing forest-based biomaterials for use with advanced additive manufacturing, composite materials development and manufacturing, as well as bio-refineries, bioenergy, and biofuels.

  • When seeing the rare Great Gray Owl in Maine be respectful

    Great gray owl makes rare stop in Maine

    But when a celebrity bird shows up, we go loopy. I speak from recent experience. A couple of weeks ago, a great gray owl took up temporary residence in Milford, just east of Sunkhaze Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.

    Charismatically speaking, this is the George Clooney of the bird world. If Tom Brady were a birder, he would drop whatever he was doing next weekend to go see it.

    The great gray owl is a rare visitor from the north. It is considered the tallest owl in the world, with a wingspan of up to five feet. But it’s all fluff and feathers, weighing only half as much as a snowy owl. A great horned owl could trounce it with one talon tied behind its back. Snowy owls are powerful and fast, able to chase down birds in flight. Great horned owls are even more powerful, able to carry off large prey.

    Great gray owls, on the other hand, prey almost exclusively on wimpy rodents. They can hear and pounce on small animals tunneling under two feet of snow, but their light weight and small feet prevent them from hunting anything larger. Great gray owls may appear huge, but mightiness is not their thing.

    Great gray owls are also rare. Even in their boreal forest homelands of Canada, northern Europe, and Russia, they are scarce, probably numbering fewer than 200,000 worldwide. Approximately half of those are in North America, mostly in Canada. It is the official bird of Manitoba. A small percentage breeds in northern Minnesota and mountains of the western U.S. Generally, they are content to stay home.

    Great gray owls appear in Maine only once every four years or so. Seeing one here is such a prized experience, I would shove Scarlett Johansson out of the way if she was blocking my view.

    Therein lies the problem. Celebrity birds draw a huge crowd, and this one has. There is a fine line between gathering to appreciate a bird, and crowding it to the point of killing it. But nobody can say with confidence where that line is. It has been the subject of constant debate within the birding community since the first day the owl appeared.

    Unfortunately, great gray owls are their own worst enemy. Like many birds of the far north, they are practically oblivious to people. They will perch in daylight and in plain view while watching for prey, as scores of paparazzi surround them. People do not threaten the owl directly. Rather, the risk is that having too many people around may drive away owl food. The main reason a great gray owl flies to Maine is because it couldn’t find enough food at home. It is safe to presume that an owl here is already hungry and stressed, perhaps on the verge of expiring. If crowding an owl makes it expend energy to continually change perches, or if it is constantly being provoked to look at the camera when it should be hunting, the bird can be loved to death.

    Probably that won’t happen. Some photographers actually release mice to bait rare owls into close approaches, which can result in awesome, if questionably ethical, photos. If the owl gets to eat the mouse, who’s to say the owl is worse off? There are documented cases where baiting an owl accidentally encouraged it to fly into traffic. Those cases did not end well. On the other hand, a starving owl probably stands its best chance of survival if there are witnesses around to assist in its capture and rehabilitation.

    So the best rule of thumb is to avoid changing a celebrity owl’s behavior. If anyone gets so close that the bird feels compelled to move, that’s bad. Nowadays, keeping a respectful distance is not difficult. The proliferation of big cameras and superzooms allows most photographers to get great shots without needing to crowd or distract the bird. Trying to get a selfie with a smartphone? That’s way too close, Kim Kardashian.

    Remember that too much commotion drives away prey. An owl’s hearing is tuned to the high-pitched sounds of rodents, so there may be scant effect on its ability to hear a meal over lower-pitched human noise. But shouting, conversation, guffaws, honking, and running engines can keep prey underground. In short: keep distant, keep quiet, gleefully admire, leave quickly.

    Bob Duchesne serves as vice president of Maine Audubon’s Penobscot Valley Chapter.Working at the DOC, under the Baldacci administration Bob developed the Maine Birding Trail, with information at mainebirdingtrail.com. He can be reached at duchesne@midmaine.com.

  • Impact of the Affordable Care Act in Maine and how Dirigo Health helped

    By Ramona du Houx

    Since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 thousands of Mainers have gained coverage, and hundreds of thousands more have had their coverage substantially improved.

    On January 16, 2017 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released an extensive compilation of state-level data illustrating the substantial improvements in health care for all Americans over the last six years.

    The data show that the uninsured rate in Maine has fallen by 17 percent since the ACA was enacted, translating into 22,000 Mainers gaining coverage, some transfered to the ACA from the established state program, Dirigo Health Care. 

    Photo: President Barack Obama came to Maine after the ACA was enacted and praised Governor John Baldacci for his work on the creation of the Dirigo Health Care Act. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    “As our nation debates changes to the health care system, it’s important to take stock of where we are today compared to where we were before the Affordable Care Act,” said Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell. “Whether Mainers get coverage through an employer, Medicaid, the individual market, or Medicare, they have better health coverage and care today as a result of the ACA. Millions of Americans with all types of coverage have a stake in the future of health reform. We need to build on our progress and continue to improve health care access, quality, and affordability, not move our system backward.”

    Photo: Governor John Baldacci with Robin Mills talking about Dirigo Choice in 2007. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Maine was an unusual case, because the state had enacted the Dirigo Health Care Act during the Baldacci administration, and many of the ACA benefits were already apart of Dirigo. Because of Dirigo it was easier to transfer over to the ACA.

    Governor John Baldacci deserves recognition for creating a model for the ACA. Other portions of Dirigo were dismantled by Gov. Paul LePage, who succeeded Baldacci. Never-the-less Baldacci's Dirigo saved thousands of lives by giving people health insurance for the first time, by expanding preventative care, covering more young adults, by eliminating the pre-existing condition and discrimination against women in health coverage.

    Dirigo Choice, the insurance branch of Dirigo Health, insured more than 40,000 Mainers and also became a model for President Obama’s ACA. In 2010 Monique Kenyon said, "We were shocked,” when she found out her husband was suffering from cancer. “Being a middle-income family we didn’t qualify for any assistance. We couldn’t afford all the treatment without insurance, but insurance companies wouldn’t accept him because he has this preexisting condition. He’s still with us because of Dirigo Choice.”

    Signed into law in the 2003 Dirigo Health Care Reform Act was a bold step toward universal health coverage during a time when policymakers in Washington D.C. and in state houses struggled to take even small steps. A few years later Governor Romney of Massachusetts used elements of Dirigo in his health care policies.

    “In many ways, Dirigo was a pace-setter and blueprint to national reform,” said Trish Riley, former director of Maine Governor John Baldacci’s Office of Health Policy and Finance. Riley said the program saved many lives by helping thousands of uninsured gain access to medical care and enabling more than 1,000 small businesses to provide insurance for their owners and employees.

    Baldacci expanded Medicare, covering many more Mainers, but LePage has refused to accept this part of the ACA, so thousands who were on, what the state calls MaineCare were kicked off because of LePage -  too many have died.

    In 2003, Maine ranked 16th healthiest among the states; in 2010 Maine was in the top ten. In 2003, Maine ranked 19th among the states in covering the uninsured; in 2010 Maine was sixth. With Dirigo Health, Maine created an efficient public health system with eight districts that cover the entire state through Healthy Maine Partnerships. During the Baldacci administration the state reached a milestone in healthcare coverage, won awards for Dirigo and became a model for the nation. (photo below taken in 2010)

    The ACA picked up the torch and contained to save the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people in Maine.

    Highlights of theACA  data include:

    Employer Coverage: 702,000 people in Maine are covered through employer-sponsored health plans. 

    Since the ACA this group has seen:

    An end to annual and lifetime limits: Before the ACA, 431,000 Mainers with employer or individual market coverage had a lifetime limit on their insurance policy. That meant their coverage could end exactly when they needed it most. The ACA prohibits annual and lifetime limits on policies, so all Mainers with employer plans now have coverage that’s there when they need it.
    Young adults covered until age 26: An estimated 8,000 young adults in Maine have benefited from the ACA provision that allows kids to stay on their parents’ health insurance up to age 26.

    Free preventive care: Under the ACA, health plans must cover preventive services — like flu shots, cancer screenings, contraception, and mammograms – at no extra cost to consumers. This provision benefits 588,281 people in Maine, most of whom have employer coverage.

    Slower premium growth: Nationally, average family premiums for employer coverage grew 5 percent per year 2010-2016, compared with 8 percent over the previous decade. Family premiums are $3,600 lower today than if growth had matched the pre-ACA decade.


    Better value through the 80/20 rule: Because of the ACA, health insurance companies must spend at least 80 cents of each premium dollar on health care or care improvements, rather than administrative costs like salaries or marketing, or else give consumers a refund. Mainers with employer coverage have received $2,507,067 in insurance refunds since 2012.


    Medicaid: 273,160 people in Maine are covered by Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, including 115,217 children and 52,077 seniors and people with disabilities covered by both Medicaid and Medicare. The ACA expanded Medicaid eligibility and strengthened the program for those already eligible.

    40,000 Mainers could gain coverage: An estimated 40,000 Mainers could have health insurance today if Maine expanded Medicaid under the ACA. Coverage improves access to care, financial security, and health; expansion would result in an estimated 5,000 more Mainers getting all needed care, 5,700 fewer Mainers struggling to pay medical bills, and 50 avoided deaths each year.
    Thousands of Mainers with a mental illness or substance use disorder could get help: Nearly 30 percent of those who could gain coverage if more states expanded Medicaid have a mental illness or substance use disorder.


    Maine could be saving millions in uncompensated care costs: Instead of spending $40 million on uncompensated care, which increases costs for everyone, Maine could be getting $430 million in federal support to provide low-income adults with much needed care.
    Children, people with disabilities, and seniors can more easily access Medicaid coverage: The ACA streamlined Medicaid eligibility processes, eliminating hurdles so that vulnerable Mainers could more easily access and maintain coverage.


    Maine is improving health care for individuals with chronic conditions, including those with severe mental illness: The ACA established a new Medicaid flexibility that allows states to create health homes, a new care delivery model to improve care coordination and lower costs for individuals with chronic conditions, such as severe mental illness, Hepatitis C, diabetes and heart disease
    Individual market: 75,240 people in Maine have coverage through the Marketplace. Individual market coverage is dramatically better compared to before the ACA:

    No discrimination based on pre-existing conditions: Up to 590,266 people in Maine have a pre-existing health condition. Before the ACA, these Mainers could have been denied coverage or charged an exorbitant price if they needed individual market coverage. Now, health insurance companies cannot refuse coverage or charge people more because of pre-existing conditions.
    Tax credits available to help pay for coverage: Before the ACA, only those with employer coverage generally got tax benefits to help pay for health insurance. Now, 63,896 moderate- and middle-income Mainers receive tax credits averaging $342 per month to help them get covered through HealthCare.gov.

    Women pay the same as men: Before the ACA, women were often charged more than men just because of their gender. That is now illegal thanks to the ACA, protecting roughly half the people of Maine.

    Greater transparency and choice: Before the ACA, it was virtually impossible for consumers to effectively compare insurance plan prices and shop for the best value. Under the ACA, Maine has received $5 million in federal funding to provide a more transparent marketplace where consumers can easily compare plans, choosing among 25 plans on average.

    Medicare: 315,160 people in Maine are covered by Medicare. The ACA strengthened the Medicare Trust Fund, extending its life by over a decade.

    Medicare enrollees have benefited from:

    Lower costs for prescription drugs: Because the ACA is closing the prescription drug donut hole, 18,970 Maine seniors are saving $19 million on drugs in 2015, an average of $986 per beneficiary.
    Free preventive services: The ACA added coverage of an annual wellness visit and eliminated cost-sharing for recommended preventive services such as cancer screenings. In 2015, 165,892 Maine seniors, or 71 percent of all Maine seniors enrolled in Medicare Part B, took advantage of at least one free preventive service.

    Fewer hospital mistakes: The ACA introduced new incentives for hospitals to avoid preventable patient harms and avoidable readmissions. Hospital readmissions for Maine Medicare beneficiaries dropped 4 percent between 2010 and 2015, which translates into 232 times Maine Medicare beneficiaries avoided an unnecessary return to the hospital in 2015. 

    More coordinated care: The ACA encouraged groups of doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers to come together to provide coordinated high-quality care to the Medicare patients they serve. 6 Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) in Maine now offer Medicare beneficiaries the opportunity to receive higher quality, more coordinated care.

    ACA Content created by Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (ASPA)

  • Rep. Devin combats ocean acidification, addresses conference with Gov. Jerry Brown

    Rep. Mick Devin, of Newcastle, ME, joined fellow members of the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification, including California Governor Jerry Brown, at a combat acidifacation launch event in CA. 

    Maine recognized as a national leader in fighting for healthier oceans 

    By Ramona du Houx

    In December of 2016,  U.S. and global leaders launched the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification in Coronado, CA.  Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, represented Maine at the event and was a key speaker. 

    “It was an honor to show the rest of the country how Maine is a leader when it comes to addressing the quality of the water in our oceans,” said Rep. Devin. “Scientists are working around the clock because they know how many people depend on the ocean to make a living.”

    The oceans are the primary protein source for 2.6 billion people, and support $2.5 trillion of economic activity each year. Maine's lobster industry could suffer greatly from ocean acidification. Catches like this one would only be read in history books. This lobster was put back into the ocean, as it's way beyond the size fishermen can legally catch.

    Maine is seen as the leading state on the East Coast addressing ocean acidification.  Maine was the first state to establish an Ocean Acidification Commission.  As a result of the commission the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Alliance, or MOCA, was established. 

    Ocean acidification occurs when carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use and other carbon sources dissolves in the water and forms carbonic acid. Other sources of acidification include fresh water from rivers and decomposing algae feeding off nutrients in runoff. Carbonic acid dissolves the shells of shellfish.

    Maine’s major inshore shellfisheries, including clams, oysters, lobsters, shrimp and sea urchins, could see major losses if ocean acidification is left unchecked.

    At the conference, Devin addressed how state leaders are using science to establish priorities in dealing with the rising acidity of the earth’s oceans. He explained how Maine used those priorities to develop a long-term action plan.  

    He stressed the importance of addressing ocean acidification by developing plans to remediate and adapt to it. Devin said that strategy is crucial for Maine to maintain its healthy marine economy, particularly the commercial fishing and aquaculture industries, which are valued well in excess of billion dollars annually. 

    Devin finished his presentation by showing a slide of a boiled lobster dinner and repeating his trademark line about one reason the marine economy matters to so many: “People do not visit the coast of Maine to eat a chicken sandwich.” 

    The Alliance includes several state governments, governments of Canadian provinces, North American tribal governments, and countries as far away as France, Chile and Nigeria. 

    While lobsters are the iconic image of Maine, many other shell fish will be effected, like musscles, and clams. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Members have five primary goals: advancing scientific understanding of ocean acidification; taking meaningful actions to reduce causes of acidification; protect the environment and coastal communities from impacts of a changing ocean; expanding public awareness and understanding of acidification; and building sustained global support for addressing the problem.

    Devin, a marine biologist at the Darling Center in Walpole and a member of the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee, is serving his third term in the Maine House. He represents Bremen, Bristol, Damariscotta, Newcastle, part of Nobleboro, part of South Bristol, Monhegan Plantation and the unorganized territory of Louds Island.

     

  • The 128 Legislature and how to help the state out of stagnation

     By Ramona du Houx

    Members of the 128th Legislature were sworn into the Maine House of Representatives on December 7, 2016, led by Democratic Speaker of the House Sara Gideon. There are 25 new members and 52 returning representatives in the House, including 36 women.

    “Today, we start out with a Maine economy that is lagging behind New England and the rest of the country in terms of economic growth, recovery of jobs lost during the recession and wage growth,” said Gideon, D-Freeport.  “We lead New England when it comes to the number of Maine children and seniors living in poverty. Those are the facts.  And here is another fact: We have to do better. We will always work together and come to the table in search of common ground to help the 1.3 million Mainers who expect us to rise above politics.” 

    There are issues that could grow Maine’s economy, which haven’t been addressed during the LePage administration. Instead he’s focused on cutting benefits and lowering taxes for the wealthy. in his speach today to the lawmakers he talked about changing the Minimum wage referendum that passed, not about how to grow jobs.

    In a recent interview, Former Governor John Baldacci sited a study conducted by Former Governor King, which listed the top areas in need of investment that still remain areas that need funding.

    "The two leading factors in the study were the education and training of the population and the amount of Research and Development funds invested to help businesses get the latest cutting edge technologies so they can compete successfully with other businesses anyone in the world,” said Gov. Baldacci.

    Maine has suffered under LePage by the lack of Research and Development (R&D) funds that used to spur economic activity as the research, conducted at the University of Maine and other laboratories, was regularly used by start-up Maine companies, there-by growing jobs across Maine. The people have always voted overwhelmingly for R&D bonds in Maine. But LePage doesn’t believe in bond issues and has held bond funds hostage in the past.

    "We've been doing a terrible job at putting resources in Research and Development," said Gov. Baldacci, who invested dramatically in R&D during his administration. "We also need to focus on job training. We're not doing enough to match jobs to the industries established here. Our Labor Department needs to be our Human Resource Department. There are plenty of job opportunities out there that need trained workers and plenty of workers who want the opportunity to work. Our people, families, and small businesses aren't looking for a handout, but are looking for opportunities. Our responsibility is to make sure that happens throughout all of Maine."

    Baldacci started this work with Former Labor Secretary Laura Fortman, but little has been done to progress these job opportunities under the LePage administration.

    The lack of these investments, along with other LePage policies has led to stagnation in Maine.

    “Under Republican leadership, Maine has lagged behind in the national economic recovery. We work longer hours than our neighbors in any other state in New England, yet the purchasing power of our paychecks in one of the lowest in the country. Meanwhile, our governor has turned a blind eye as five of our friends, family members and neighbors die every week from the opioid epidemic. I look forward our leadership team’s work over the next few months to create good jobs and a fair economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top." 

    Members of the House include teachers, small business owners, nonprofit leaders, a former mill electrician, prominent civil rights advocates, farmers, former law enforcement officials, and veterans. 

    “I’m proud of the bipartisan work we achieved last session, particularly to improve services for veterans, but there is more work to be done,” said veteran Marine Rep. Assistant Majority Leader Jared Golden. “In the short term, our first task is to pass a balanced budget that reflects the needs of our state, but we also have to keep an eye on the future. Maine needs to create good paying jobs by investing in the infrastructure our communities need to compete. I look forward to working with my colleagues to address these and other challenges facing our state.”

  • Democrats won a battle for greater transparency for LePage's forensic facility plan

    Photo and article by Ramona du Houx

    Maine democrats won a battle for greater transparency to build a secure forensic facility next to the Riverview Psychiatric Center on November 30, 2016. 

    Democrats said the forensic unit project needs vetting by the Legislature’s appropriations and health and human services committees for a range of reasons including the financing, operations and policy matters related to who would be housed in the facility. Gov. LePage intends for the facility to be privately run, which could jeopardize the health and wellbeing of citizens if not carefully monitored. That overseeing duty needs to be clarified by the Legislature.

    “This is a fundamental change in how Maine cares for forensic patients that demands proper legislative oversight and public input.” said Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon “DHHS has never brought this proposal to the Legislature, but is essentially threatening to build the project elsewhere and at greater cost if they don't get their way. We must provide proper care to Mainers with serious mental illness, and we are committed to making this happen with the proper oversight that protects this vulnerable population.”

    The Democrats present at the Legislative Council meeting – Gideon, Speaker Mark Eves and House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe – sought to table the proposal so it could be fully vetted as soon as the 128the Legislature convenes in January.

    House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, however, forced a vote to simply approve the project. His motion failed by a vote of 3-3.

    “Let’s remember what got us here in the first place. Three years ago, the feds came in and found that Riverview patients were severely abused – sometimes even with pepper spray and Tasers,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, House chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. “As lawmakers, we have a duty to ensure the safety and well-being of the patients in the state’s care. We can’t simply hand a blank check over to the administration.”

     

  • Biotech in Maine - from printing bone and muscle to lung cancer testing

    Research and development in biotechnology is the main cause of the industry’s growth, and the latest biotech news reflects this. Inventions and innovations in 2016 span diagnostics, consumer electronics, artificial human tissue and cryopreservation.

    The latest biotechnology news demonstrates what the future of this field might hold for healthcare and beyond.

    3-D Bioprinting

    A team at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center developed an integrated tissue-organ printer able to produce human-scale tissue of any shape, according toNature Biotechnology.

    The printer improves on previous attempts by using a technique that 3-D prints tissues that includes micro-channels, which allows nutrients to penetrate the tissue. Tissues are given a water-based gel, containing the cells and encouraging them to grow, according to the BBC.

    The study found that sections of bone, muscle and cartilage all functioned normally when implanted into animals. Scientists called it a significant advance for regenerative medicine, and Martin Birchall, a surgeon at University College London, told the BBC the results were “striking.”

    “The prospect of printing human tissues and organs for implantation has been a real one for some time, but I confess I did not expect to see such rapid progress,” Birchall said, predicting that it will be less than a decade before surgeons begin trials of customized printed organs and tissues.

    Google Glass Applications

    Stanford University graduate student Catalin Voss’ Autism Glass project won the $15,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize in 2016. The competition is open to new inventions in healthcare as well as transportation, food and agriculture or consumer devices.

    The 20-year-old inventor’s project adds emotion-recognition software for Google Glass that tells a child with autism whether a person the child looks at is happy, sad or angry, Scientific American explains. Autism Glass uses a smartphone with software to analyze data from the Google Glass and provide feedback to the user. It also records video for parents to review and to help children improve their learning.

    Scientists from Brigham and Women’s Hospital announced the remote monitoring of organs-on-chips via Google Glass, according to Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News. Organs-on-chips are microchips that recapitulate the microarchitecture and functions of living organs. They are used for drug testing and development as well as studying the function of healthy or diseased organs.

    The custom Google Glass application allowed researchers to monitor and control microfluidically sustained liver and heart tissues. They were able to oversee parameters like temperature, pH and morphology of organs-on-chips. They were also able to activate valves remotely to introduce pharmaceutical compounds to organoid tissues. The technology could make applications in biomedicine and healthcare safer (such as work with viruses, radioactive compounds and highly pathogenic bacteria) and more efficient.

    Lung Cancer Testing

    A fast and accurate test is able to detect biomarkers of lung cancer in saliva, according to Medical News Today. In just 10 minutes, patients can receive a result in the comfort of a doctor’s office.

    The breakthrough comes after 10 years of research, led by oral cancer and saliva diagnostics researcher David Wong of the School of Dentistry at UCLA. The “liquid biopsy” method searches for circulating tumor DNA in bodily fluids such as saliva and blood. The saliva test detects genetic mutations in a protein called epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), which normally helps cells grow and divide. Mutations in the EGFR are associated with lung cancer.

    Trials in lung cancer patients are taking place in China, as of February 2016. Wong and his colleagues are looking at a saliva test for detecting mutations linked to cancers of the mouth and the back of the throat.

    Orchid Cryopreservation 

    A literature review from Biotechnology Advances details orchid cryopreservation efforts, focusing on recent advances in the development of orchid cryobiotechnology. This field applies a wide range of cryopreservation methods to orchid explants (cells, organs or pieces of tissue), such as the following applications.

    * Programmed freezing for pollen.

    * Encapsulation-dehydration and encapsulation-vitrification for seeds, protocorms and shoot tips.

    * Vitrification for seeds, cultured cells, shoot tips and protocorms.

    * Droplet-vitrification for shoot tips and protocorms.

    * Preculture-desiccation for shoot primordia and rhizomes.

    Successful development and application of cryobiotechnology extends to nearly 100 species and commercial hybrids of orchids. However, given the diversity of the orchid family (Orchidaceae), this covers less than 0.5 percent of the species. Further efforts are needed to safeguard genetic diversity of the socioeconomically important and culturally valuable orchid species. Orchids derived from cryogenically stored material can be propagated and later reintroduced into their native habitats.

    Orchids are used as food, flavorings, medicines, ornaments and perfumes. Recent clinical trials have proved the medicinal value of some traditional used orchid species. The presence of medicinally active chemicals such as polysaccharides and secondary metabolites including alkaloids, glycosides, phenolic compounds and many others have been also documented in orchid tissues. Orchids are most often used in the modern world as ornamentals and represent 8 percent of the global floriculture trade.

  • Equal Protection of the Laws: America’s 14th Amendment - A Maine Exhibit

    Justice?, by Ramona du Houx
     
    Maine's Equal Protection of the Laws: America’s 14th Amendment exhibit opens on Thursday, September 22nd and runs through December 22nd, 2016
     
    The exhibit will be at the Michael Klahr Center on the campus of the University of Maine at Augusta, 46 University Drive in Augusta.
    Featured are 36 works by 17 Maine artists who were inspired by the rights granted by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
    Themes depicted relate to many areas of American society covered by the amendment: including due process, liberty, gender and sexuality, race, legal protections, equality in the workplace, housing, education, law enforcement, rights of the incarcerated, tolerance, and local, state, and federal representation
    The exhibit is being hosted by the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine, in conjunction with the Harlow Gallery of the Kennebec Valley Art Association, with support from the Maine Humanities Council and associated program support by the Maine Arts Commission.
     
    The Holocaust and Human Rights Center is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or weekends and evenings by appointment or when other events are being held.
    People Power, by Ramona du Houx
     

    Participating artists are listed below alphabetically by town:

    Augusta: Anthony Austin
    Bangor: Jeanne Curran
    Biddeford: Roland Salazar
    Brunswick: Mary Becker Weiss
    Camden: Claudia Noyes Griffiths
    Falmouth: Anne Strout
    Gardiner: Allison McKeen
    Hallowell: Nancy Bixler
    Lincolnville: Petrea Noyes
    Manchester: Bruce Armstrong
    Solon: Ramona du Houx
    Tenants Harbor: Otty Merrill
    Town Unknown: Julian Johnson
    Waterville: Jen Hickey
    West Rockport: Barbra Whitten
    Wilton: Rebecca Spilecki
    Winslow: Mimi McCutcheon

    There are several events planned in association with this project, including the Pride Film Festival – a series of four free films held Friday nights in October at 7 p.m. The films this year are The Boys in the Band (10/7), Fire (10/14), Paragraph 175 (10/21), and The Danish Girl (10/28).
     
    Mike Daisey’s one man play The Trump Card had sold out runs this fall in Washington and New York and is now touring throughout the country. With special permission from the playwright, HHRC Program Director and UMA adjunct professor of drama David Greenham will read the hard-hitting and hilarious monologue on Saturday, October 22nd at 7 p.m. and Sunday, October 23rd at 2 p.m.
    The Trump Card reminds all of us of the role we have played in paving the way to create one of the most divisive presidential campaigns in recent memory. Tickets for The Trump Card are $15 and proceeds benefit HHRC’s educational outreach programs.
    As the Stage Review put it, “Daisey breaks down what makes Trump tick—and in doing so illuminates the state of our American Dream and how we’ve sold it out.” 
     
    14th Amendment by Allison McKeen 
    The HHRC is also pleased to host Everyman Repertory Theater’s production of Lanford Wilson’s Talley’s Folly November 17th, 18th and 19th. The Pulitzer Prize winning play is a love story set in Missouri in 1942 and addresses issues of prejudice and the injustices that caused many to flee Europe in the years leading up to World War II.  
    The New York Times said about the play, “It is perhaps the simplest, and the most lyrical play Wilson has written—a funny, sweet, touching and marvelously written and contrived love poem for an apple and an orange.”   Tickets go on sale September 27th.
     
    Also in November, a group of UMA drama students under the direction of adjunct drama professor Jeri Pitcher will present a reading of their work in progress called Created Equal. The project, created in partnership with the HHRC, the UMA Writing Center, and UMA students will focus on the importance of the 14th amendment today. A full performance of the piece is planned for the spring of 2017.
  • ME's proceeds from Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative’s close to $82M

    Maine makes over $2,270,635in 33rd auction

    Article by Ramona du Houx

    Maine brought in $2,265,634.20 from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), 33rd auction of carbon dioxide (CO2) allowances.

    RGGI is the first mandatory market-based program in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. RGGI is a cooperative effort among the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont to cap and reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector. 

    The program, first started in Maine when Governor John Baldacci pushed for it’s implementation and had a bill introduced. The legislation won unanimous support in Maine’s Senate and House. To date RGGI has brought in $81,837,449.15 to the state for weatherization and alternative energy projects, for businesses and homes. 

    “RGGI is working. It is helping Mainers reduce our energy bills and reduce emissions. It is a win-win and a model for the entire nation," said Former State Representative Seth Berry, who sat on Maine’s legislative committee that approved the final RGGI rules.

    States sell nearly all emission allowances through auctions and invest proceeds in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other consumer benefit programs. These programs are spurring innovation in the clean energy economy and creating green jobs in the RGGI states.

    14,911,315 CO2 allowances were sold at the auction at a clearing price of $4.54.

    The September 7th auction was the third auction of 2016, and generated $67.7 million for reinvestment in strategic programs, including energy efficiency, renewable energy, direct bill assistance, and GHG abatement programs. Cumulative proceeds from all RGGI CO2allowance auctions exceed $2.58 billion dollars.

    “This auction demonstrates RGGI’s benefits to each participating state, helping to reduce harmful emissions while generating proceeds for reinvestment. Each RGGI state directs investments according to its individual goals, and this flexibility has been key to the program’s success across a diverse region.” said Katie Dykes, Deputy Commissioner at the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors. “Another key RGGI strength is our commitment to constant improvement, as exemplified in the program review process. The RGGI states are continuing to evaluate program elements and improvements as part of the 2016 Program Review, with the goal of reaching consensus on program revisions that support each state’s unique goals and priorities.

    Governor John Baldacci led the effort in Maine to join RGGI and had a comprehensive energy plan similar to Cuomo. Baldacci's clean energy plan focused on how to get Maine off fossil fuels and bring clean energy jobs to the state. His administration created grants to help new innovations like the floating offshore wind platforms and windmills developed at the University of Maine under Dr. Habib Dagher's leadership. (photo: by Ramona du Houx. Dr. Dagher talks with Gov. John Baldacci about the next steps for wind farm implementation offshore. The prototype of the floating windfarm is the firs photo on the page)

    Nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).        

    “Independent reports have found the reinvestment of RGGI proceeds is creating jobs, reducing consumers’ utility bills, and boosting state economies while driving down carbon emissions,” said Jared Snyder, Deputy Commissioner at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Vice Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors. “Our reinvestment of RGGI proceeds is supporting Governor Cuomo’s transformational clean energy and energy efficiency goals to generate 50 percent of New York’s energy from renewable sources and reduce carbon emissions 40 percent by 2030, ushering in the low-carbon economy essential to the wellbeing of future generations.”

  • Volunteer for 33rd Annual Maine Audubon Loon Count July 16

    Volunteers Take to the Lakes for 33rd Annual Maine Audubon Loon Count

    On Saturday, July 16, Maine Audubon will conduct its 33rd annual Loon Count. Over 900 Mainers have volunteered to survey lakes and ponds across the state, collecting valuable scientific data that informs and supports conservation efforts.

    This year’s count takes place between 7:00 and 7:30 a.m. Counters are assigned areas to count from shore or by boat, and regional coordinators will compile the results and send them to Maine Audubon for analysis.

    “Loons need lakes with clean, clear water and lots of fish, so they are good indicators of lake health,” said Susan Gallo, director of the Maine Loon Project. “A lake that’s good for loons is good or all kinds of other wildlife — and good for people, too.”

    “The annual count has helped build support for laws that keep our lakes and loons healthy, including regulations around lead free tackle, shoreline development, and invasive plants. It’s also been a great way to get people outside, learning about where loons are, where they nest, and how easy it is to share a lake with a loon family,” Gallo said.

    The 2015 Loon Count enlisted 850 volunteers to survey 290 Maine lakes and ponds. Despite the challenges posed by torrential rain that day, Maine Audubon calculated the loon population in the southern half of Maine to be 2,818 adult loons and 218 chicks. While this number is down about 10% for adults compared to the 2014 estimate, the long-term trend remains positive and the 2015 number is twice what the very first estimate of 1,416 adults was in 1984. The estimate for chicks has consistently gone up and down over the last 32 years, with the 2016 estimate falling just below the 32-year average of 267.

    The loon count is the centerpiece of Maine Audubon’s Maine Loon Project. Through the project, Maine Audubon actively engages people in conservation, educates the public about loon biology and conservation, and collects the scientific data needed to advocate for legislation that benefits loons and the lakes where they live.

    Lake visitors and boaters play an important role in letting loons thrive, by keeping boat speed down and by watching loons and their chicks from a distance.

    “Loon nests are very sensitive to changes in water levels,” said Gallo. “A heavy rainstorm, or wake from a boat going too fast too close to shore, can flood their nests, and eggs literally wash away. We’re coming into the busiest time of year on lakes, so it’s important for people to give loons room and follow Maine’s headway speed law when they are within 200 feet of shore.”

    This year, loon counters and others interested in loon conservation also have the opportunity to get involved with two new projects that have developed in partnership with Maine Audubon:

    • The Signs of the Seasons phenology program is looking for volunteers to monitor loons and their chicks throughout the summer.
    • The Maine Lakes Society has created a Loon Smart Award for homeowners enrolled in their Lake Smart program.

    Visit www.maineaudubon.org/loons for more information on these opportunities and how Mainers can help loons. You may also sign up for the 2017 loon count there.

    For more information about the Maine Loon Project or volunteering, please contact Susan Gallo at (207) 781-2330, ext. 216, or sgallo@maineaudubon.org.

  • Jackson Laboratory sees benefit in raising their minimum wage to $15 an hour




     The Jackson Laboratory has announced a major adjustment in its wage scales for close to 43 percent of its workforce. Nearly 800 employees will benefit from the raise. 

    With the exception of employees in their first six months of training, the lowest wage for full-time workers will now be $15 per hour. The total increase in payroll is expected to be $3.8 million annually.

     Affected employees come from nearly 60 towns around eastern Maine and Waldo County. They are frontline staff working in animal care and positions supporting the laboratory’s research, administration and operations. The average starting salary in many of the affected jobs had been between $10 and $11 per hour.

    “Jackson Laboratory has long recognized that employees are its greatest asset and is proud to be a leader in recognizing and rewarding hourly workers,” stated Chief Operating Officer Charles Hewitt. “This increase in wage scales rewards their improved productivity and increased contribution to the laboratory’s success. It reflects the laboratory’s understanding of the importance of these roles and both the board’s and management’s on-going commitment to reward the entire laboratory workforce fairly and appropriately.”

    According to Hewitt the laboratory is hoping that the increase in its wage scales will help ensure employee retention as well as assist in attracting and hiring committed new employees as the laboratory grows and prospers. Many other facilities across the US have put this model into motion, realizing retention is a huge benefit to company growth and having a stable happy workforce increases productivity.

    The ripple effect in communities where the labs employees live will palpably help local economies. “Business are recognizing that raising wages is in fact good for business,” said the Former Bangor Mayor and current Bangor City Councilor Joe Baldacci.

    The Jackson Laboratory received many grants funded by voter-approved bonds during the Baldacci administration, which allowed the non-profit research laboratory to expand and increase their research and development. After the initial Maine grants, federal awards followed.

    This November Mainers will be given a chance to increase the state’s minimum wage. The Mainers for Fair Wages citizens’ initiative would raise Maine’s minimum wage to $9 in 2017 and then by $1 a year until it reaches $12 by 2020. After that it would increase at the same rate as the cost of living. The initiative would also incrementally raise the tipped minimum wage, until it matches the minimum wage for all other workers by 2024.

    Maine’s current minimum wage is $7.50 compared to the federal minimum wage of $7.25. Governor John E. Baldacci was the last governor to increase it.

    The Economic Policy Institute estimates that gradually increasing the wage to $12 per hour would give over 120,000 Maine workers—more than a fifth of the state’s workforce—a raise.    

    Jackson Laboratory plans to shift all of its East Coast mouse production operations to the former Lowe’s building in Ellsworth by 2018. It is expected the Ellsworth facility will employ 230 workers, and three-quarters of those will be new hires with the rest relocating from working in Bar Harbor.

  • Maine's proposed $3 Million Bond to Study Ocean Acidification still under consideration by lawmakers

    A short animation about the potential impact of ocean acidification on sea life in the Gulf of Maine. Produced with support from Maine Sea Grant, Dalhousie University, MEOPAR (Marine Environmental Observation Prediction and Response Network), NERACOOS (The Northeastern Regional Association of Coastal Ocean Observing Systems) and NECAN (Northeast Coastal Acidification Network). 

    By Ramona du Houx 

    The Maine Legislature is still considering a bond proposal aimed at addressing ocean acidification (OA) in the Gulf of Maine. LD 998, sponsored by Rep. Wayne Parry (R-Arundel) and Rep. Mick Devin (D-Newcastle), would ask voters to approve a bond to borrow $3 million to be used to collect data, monitor waterways and test ocean acidity along the Maine coast and study its impact on wildlife and commercial shellfish species. 

    “Maine faces a tremendous, fast-evolving environmental challenge,” said Sebastian Belle, executive director of the Maine Aquaculture Association and member of FocusMaine, in testimony last June. “The implications of ocean acidification are only beginning to be understood, but one thing is clear, unless we have the tools to accurately monitor ocean acidification trends, we will be unable to react in terms of management and policy decisions.”

    There is virtual consensus among scientists that about a quarter of the carbon dioxide emitted from fossil fuels and deforestation ends up in the oceans. “There is no argument about this. This is really simple high school chemistry,” said University of New Hampshire OA expert Joe Salisbury.

    As the C02 gets absorbed into the ocean it reacts with seawater to form corrosive carbonic acid, which reduces the alkalinity of the water and inhibits the formation of the molecule calcium carbonate. Maine's hallmark shellfish like clams, lobsters, mussels, shrimp, scallops, oysters and sea urchins use calcium carbonate as the building blocks to form their shells. With fewer calcium carbonate molecules, they have to spend more energy for shell production, which hinders their ability to grow. If the water gets too acidic, it can even dissolve shells. 

    This could devastate Maine's shellfish industry which is a huge part of the state's tourism industry.

    Under ordinary circumstances, the ocean can naturally buffer excess C02. But ever since the Industrial Revolution, humans have emitted so much carbon dioxide into the air and water that chemical changes are happening much faster than at any time during the past 200,000 years.

    The Gulf of Maine's uniqueness also unveils it's inherent weakness to the effects of rapid OA.

    "The northwestern Atlantic, where we live, is particularly sensitive to OA, and it could change really quickly based on water mass changes and we really need to know a lot more,” said Salisbury.

    The Gulf of Maine is particularly susceptible to acidification because it receives so much fresh water from the region’s many large rivers, as well as cold, fresh water from the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and snow and ice melt from the Arctic via the Labrador Current. While the region’s complex flow of water delivers some of the best shell fish on the planet the flow also compounds the acidifying effect because carbon dioxide is more soluble in cold water and fresh water has lower concentrations of carbonate and calcium ions. 

    If the saturation state of calcium carbonate, which is typically 2-5 in the global ocean, goes below 1.6, it can have a detrimental effect on shellfish, especially during their larval stages. 

    “Hatcheries are definitely the canaries in the coal mine,” said Bill Mook, who owns Mook Sea Farm in Walpole. “The window of conditions that are going to be sufficient for natural bivalve larvae is going to continue to close and you’re going to see less predictable recruitment. And that’s what you’re seeing in a lot of places.” 

    Mook hopes Maine law makers will be able to take a proactive approach to the problem and look at how OA impacts the entire Gulf of Maine ecosystem rather than just individual species.

    “We need to demand that the government spends more money in establishing monitoring systems and doing the thoughtful, correct research that’s going to provide businesses like mine with enough information so that we can do a little more planning and come up with strategies to cope with all of this. We can’t avert crises if we don’t know about them and information is really key to our survival.”

  • FocusMaine—aims to grow jobs and the economy using Maine’s identified strengths

    By Ramona du Houx

    More than 50 leading figures in Maine’s business, academic and political circles have become committed to ending the state’s economic stagnation. Their group, FocusMaine, aims to work with three promising industries in a concerted effort to grow 20,000 to 30,000 jobs over the next 10 years across the state.

    After FocusMaine concluded it’s first project, a $100,000 survey of Maine’s economic landscape by global research firm McKinsey & Co., the consortium announced the group’s objectives to the press.

    “We thought, ‘If we’re going to do this, let’s let the data drive the process and be the decision maker,’” said Mike Dubyak, chairman of the board of directors for WEX and its former president and CEO.

    “FocusMaine made it a core principle to identify three industries that offer the greatest potential to grow traded jobs in the state,” wrote Karen G. Mills is a senior advisor at the Harvard Business School, former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration and part of the leadership team of FocusMaine in an Op-ed in MaineBiz with Dubyak.

    The survey identified three key sectors where jobs would grow exponentially, raising incomes and the quality of life for all of Maine.

    Salmon in a DownEast hatchery. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    “Agriculture, aquaculture and biopharmaceuticals were chosen because Maine's inherent strengths in these sectors allow to us to compete nationally and even internationally in those growing markets,” wrote Mills in the MaineBiz Op-ed with Dubyak. 

    In aquaculture U.S. fish consumption has risen by 23 percent since 1990, and we import almost 90 percent of select fish products, most of which are farm raised. Maine has many small aquaculture operations; some who don’t want to get any bigger, while others do but they’ll need to build connections with businesses, gain advice and even get to know potential investors. FocusMaine could become the bridge that would connect Maine’s entrepreneurs with the expertise and people they need to know.

    The same could be said for the agriculture sector that has had an influx of young organic famers, but lack connections that could help their operations flourish. The number of farmers aged 34 and younger grew by nearly 40 percent from 2007 to 2012, during the same time there was an increase in 1,326 agricultural jobs—during the recession, while other jobs declined.

    There has been 10 percent annual growth in pharmaceutical contract research and manufacturing from 2005 to 2011 in Maine. As a strong biopharmaceutical cluster in Massachusetts continues to expand and their Boston based will need more affordable locations for manufacturing, and Maine fits the bill.

    Dubyak has been avidly working with Pierce Atwood partner Andrea Cianchette-Maker, co-chairwoman of the FocusMaine leadership team with Dubyak to develop Focus Maine, which has dozens of banks, policy-people, business and education leaders on board with the objective to grow Maine’s economy. FocusMaine’s mission is to be a catalyst to accelerate growth, helping insure that companies large and small in these three industries have the resources to grow, compete and create jobs.

    “We have to develop the high priority strategies and which of those would require or benefit from government support,” said Cianchette-Maker.

    Hence there are teams focused on political, academic and research aspects of developing the 10-year plan. Its government advisory group includes former Gov. John Baldacci and former Gov. John McKernan.

    “I'm very proud to be part of this first class team of job creators. The focus isn't trying to be everything to everybody. We’ll take a few key sectors and become the world's best in those fields — agriculture, aquaculture and the life sciences manufacturing. I believe with more jobs in these sectors it will create a picture that ties all Maine together,” said Former Governor John E. Baldacci.

    The principle leaders of FocusMaine have built smaller organizations into larger ones. Hence they are turning their skills to smaller businesses with the potential to expand. The list of over 50 leading Maine figures on FocuMaine’s website speaks volumes about the seriousness of the group.

    “What it will take is a sustained, collaborative effort, which we know is possible. It will require business leaders, government, educators, labor, foundations, entrepreneurs and many others in our community to all come to the table and work together. The result will be more good-paying jobs and greater opportunities for people all across our state,” wrote Mills in the MaineBiz Op-ed with Dubyak. 

    Before Mills worked for the Obama administration she was put in charge of Baldacci’s efforts to boost Maine’s economy by working with lawmakers, stakeholders and researchers focusing on growing cluster areas identified as having potential. She successful helped kick start the Maine Technology Institute (MTI) grant program—Cluster Initiative Program (CIP) for collaborative projects that boost Maine’s high-potential technology-intensive clusters. FocusME received a CIP grant with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.

    FocusMaine intends to concentrate on aquaculture first, funded in part through that $100,000 MTI grant. FocusMaine, has already raised about $700,000 in grants and contributions from at least 20 Maine companies and nonprofits.

    There are key reasons why FocusMaine has trade sector jobs in their sights—

    Traded sector jobs on average pay an average $50,400 annually, nearly double the average job in the state. In the trade sector, employees tend to stay longer in the company, then workers in lower paying jobs do. Good paying jobs will help keep young educated Maine workers in the state, too often they leave because of lack of employment opportunities.

    The ripple effect from a worker who spends his earnings in his community helps to support 1.6 additional local jobs. 

    “We believe that with a focused effort in these three sectors, over the next 10 years we can create an additional 8,000 to 10,000 traded jobs across the state, along with an additional 12,000 to 20,000 local jobs. That's a total of 20,000 to 30,000 jobs,” wrote Mills in the MaineBiz Op-ed with Dubyak. 

    In 1980, traded sector jobs in Maine represented 40 percent of the state's total jobs. Today, traded sector jobs account for only 27 percent of Maine's total workforce, a decline that has bought the state well below the national average of 32 percent.

    “This loss of traded sector jobs has had the duel effects of out-migration of young people seeking better jobs and declining overall income as we become more and more dependent on lower-paying local jobs. Had Maine maintained a traded sector workforce equal to the national average of 32 percent, we would have 35,000 more traded sector jobs and, because of the multiplier effects, 55,000 additional local jobs,” MaineBiz Op-ed with Dubyak.  

    Some major well known FocusMaine leaders:

    • Michael Dubyak, former WEX Inc. president and CEO (co-chair)
    • Andrea Cianchette Maker, partner at Pierce Atwood (co-chair)
    • Eleanor Baker, Baker Newman Noyes co-founder and principal
    • William Caron Jr., president of MaineHealth
    • John Fitzsimmons, former Maine Community College System president
    • Karen Mills, former U.S. Small Business Administration administrator
    • Robert Moore, president and CEO of Dead River Co.
    • William Ryan, former chairman and CEO of TD Banknorth
    • David Shaw, founder and former CEO of Idexx Laboratories Inc.

     

  • Global warming might be causing marine diseases to spread

    One well-documented example is the emergence of epizootic shell disease in American lobsters.

    Global climate change is altering the world’s oceans in many ways. Some impacts have received wide coverage, such as shrinking Arctic sea ice, rising sea levels and ocean warming. However, as the oceans warm, marine scientists are observing other forms of damage.

    My research focuses on diseases in marine ecosystems. Humans, animals and plants are all susceptible to diseases caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi. Marine diseases, however, are an emerging field.

    Infectious agents have the potential to alter ocean life in many ways. Some threaten our food security by attacking important commercial species, such assalmon. Others, such as bacteria in oysters, may directly harm human health. Still others damage valuable marine ecosystems – most notably coral reefs.

    To anticipate these potential problems, we need a better understanding of marine diseases and how climate change affects their emergence and spread.

    Warming waters promote marine diseases

    Recent studies show that for some marine species diseases are spreading and increasingClimate change may also promote the spread of infectious agents in oceans. Notably, warming water temperatures can expand these agents’ ranges and introduce diseases to areas where they were previously unknown.

    Many diseases of marine species are secondary opportunist infections that take advantage when a host organism is stressed by other conditions, such as changes in pH, salinity or temperature. A bacterium that is dormant (and therefore noninfective) at a certain temperature may thrive at a slightly higher temperature.

    One well-documented example is the emergence of epizootic shell disease (ESD) in American lobsters. This disease, thought to be caused by bacteria, is characterized by lesions that penetrate inward from a lobster’s shell surface towards the inner flesh, making infected lobsters unmarketable. ESD can also kill lobsters by making it difficult for them to shed their shells in order to grow.

    In the 1990s, following almost a decade of above-normal summer temperatures, ESD affected so many lobsters that the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission declared that the Southern New England fishery (Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island) was in collapse and recommended closing it.

    Fishery models that incorporated shell disease offered convincing evidence that ESD was a major factor in the decline of the stock. This episode underscores the importance of considering marine diseases in stock assessments and fishery management.

    Now there are concerns that ESD will continue to spread north to Maine’s $465.9 million lobster fishery. In 2015 the Gulf of Maine showed record high abundances of lobster, making it one of the most productive fisheries in the world.

    However, sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Maine have increased faster than 99 percent of the global ocean over the past decade, warming three times faster than the global average. Since temperature is a primary factor in the spread of this disease, observers fear that it could have devastating effects on Maine’s lobster fishery.

    There is also a risk that ESD could spread from American lobsters to other fisheries. Seafood wholesalers have imported live American lobsters into Europe for decades, which can result in their escape into the wild. Last summer the United Kingdom’s Marine Management Organization warned U.K. fishermen that because the European lobster shares similar habitats, food sources and diseases with the American lobster, ESD could spread between the species.

    As a doctoral student at Swansea University, U.K., I collaborated with the New England Aquarium in Boston, Massachusetts to investigate this possibility. While we found that European lobsters were more likely to develop shell disease when reared in the presence of American lobsters, on the positive side, they don’t seem to get the same shell disease as American lobsters.

    This means that European lobsters may be better equipped to deal with outbreaks of ESD. But with sea surface temperatures in U.K. coastal waters rising since the 1980s by around 0.2-0.9 degrees Celsius per decade, it is important to monitor U.K. waters for this disease.

    Tropical disease

    Now I am now studying the Panuliris argus_1 virus (PaV1) in the Caribbean spiny lobster, where the picture is more dire. Discovered around 2000, this virus is present from the Florida Keys to Venezuela. It can infect up to 60 percent of lobsters in some areas. Laboratory studies indicate that lobsters held in high-temperature seawater and exposed to PaV1 develop active and more intense infections much more quickly than those held at lower temperatures.

    Studies from 1982 to 2012 show that waters in the Caribbean are warming, with the most significant temperature increase occurring over the past 15 years – approximately the period when PaV1 appeared. If PaV1 continues to spread, it could have significant effects on the health of Caribbean reefs as a whole, as well as on the valuable Caribbean lobster fishery.

    Monitoring more diseases

    Many other species are also showing increasing effects from marine diseases. The frequency of coral diseases has increased significantly over the last 10 years, causing widespread mortality among reef-building coral, which are home to more than 25 percent of all marine fish species.

    In the Pacific, more than 20 species of sea stars were devastated by a wasting disease that ranged from Mexico all the way up to Alaska in 2013 and 2014. Research suggests that 90 percent of some populations were wiped out, and some adult populations have been reduced to a quarter of pre-outbreak numbers.

    Scientists believe the cause is a virus which becomes more active in warmer conditions. In both field surveys and laboratory experiments, starfish were found to react faster to the disease in warmer water than in cooler temperatures.

    As the oceans continue to warm, it is crucial to understand how our actions are affecting marine life. Some species will not be able to withstand the increase in temperature. The most recent U.S. National Climate Change Assessment projects that outbreaks of marine diseases are likely to increase in frequency and severity as waters warm under climate change. Researchers are working around the world to determine whether and how species will survive disease events in our increasingly altered oceans.

    Charlotte Eve Davies is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Institute of Marine Sciences and Limnology, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM)

    This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

  • Male and female brain research points to humans as being not that different

    Aymann Ismail and Jane Hu at Slate, exhibit work done by researchers at Tel-Aviv University who analyzed more than 1,400 brain specimens searching for a real difference between male and female caranial.

    The reserachers looked at gray and white matter, and patterns of brain connectivity to try to isolate patterns specific to men and women.

    Turns out we're not so different as we culturally assume.

  • Zebra fish testing at MDI makes breakthrough in cell regeneration

    The Zebra fish, a common tropical fish, may hold secrets that could help reduce the effects of heart disease, according to researchers at the MDI Biological Laboratory. Back in 2007 the people of Maine voted for bonds to spur reserach at the laboratory and MDI scientests have now taken a big step closer to discovering how the zebrafish could help humans.
    "I would hope that within 10 years or so we can get it into clinical trials to see if there is a benefit for humans," said Dr. Voot Yin, a researcher at MDI Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor.

    Dr. Yin, said scientists at MDI have isolated a gene that helps to remove scar tissue from the heart, and stimulate new growth.The zebrafish shares about 70 percent of DNA with humans - and it can regenerate damaged tissue. We mortal humans cannot.

    Heart disease is a leading cause of death in the western world. Here in Maine, 20 to 25 percent of deaths are related to heart disease.

  • 27 Bigelow Laboratory students and scientists to present research at the Ocean Sciences meeting in New Orleans

    The East Boothbay campus of Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences will be quiet the week of February 21st as nearly half of its scientists travel to New Orleans to share their research findings with international colleagues at the 2016 Ocean Sciences Meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana next week.  Included in the entourage will be 11 college students who will present research findings from this past summer working under the mentorship of Bigelow Laboratory scientists.  The February 21-26 meeting, co-sponsored by the American Geophysical Union (AGU), Association of Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO), and The Oceanography Society (TOS) is expected to attract thousands of scientists from around the globe.

    “This meeting serves as a global platform for the world’s experts to share information, data, and new insights that participants take home and incorporate into their own research,” said Dr. David Fields, who leads the undergraduate research program at Bigelow Laboratory. “We are delighted to provide this opportunity for students for it will not only expand their thinking, but they will have the unique chance to present their research findings in a professional setting among leaders in ocean science research. It will be an amazing experience for them.”

    The 11 students—Francisco Spaulding Astudillo, Emma Cold, Evangeline Fachon, Andrew Goode, Jeremiah Ets-Hokin, Alicia Hoeglund, Devan Khana, Emily Lyczkowski, Julia Maine, Halley McVeigh, and Jes Waller—will be accompanied by their Bigelow Laboratory mentors.  In addition to Fields, Research Scientists Christoph Aeppli, William Balch, Pete Countway, Mike Lomas, Patricia Matrai, Nicole Poulton, Ramunas Stepanauskas, and Benjamin Twining will be attending the meeting. Postdoctoral Researchers Steven Baer, Jason Hopkins, Younjoo Lee, Daniel Ohnemus, Kerstin Suffrian, LeAnn Whitney, and Meredith White also will be presenting.  Research technician Laura Lubelczyk rounds out the Bigelow Laboratory contingent.

    “This meeting comes at a critical time for the oceans and is a superb venue for sharing what is known about what is happening in the global ocean,” said Matrai, who also served as ASLO treasurer. “It offers scientists an opportunity to share what they are learning, discuss new findings, and collectively get a better handle on the state of the ocean

    The Bigelow Laboratory cohort promises to share what they learn over the course of the meeting.  Check back at www.bigelow.orgregularly for updates or follow along at @Bigelowlab.

    Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, an independent not-for-profit research institution on the coast of Maine, conducts research ranging from microbial oceanography to large-scale ocean processes that affect the global environment. Recognized as a leader in Maine’s emerging innovation economy, the Laboratory’s research, education, and enterprise programs are spurring significant economic growth in the state.

  • Maine's natural phenomena- snowball waves

    Waves of Snowballs at Sebago lake, Maine was published to Ytube on Dec, 31, 2015 by Stone Point Studios.

    The natural phenomena is rare and only occurs when the ambient temperatures of the air and water are just right. As the waves come to shore the air is cold enough for their crests to form ice. Starting as small balls, as they continue to roll from crest to crest they turn into bigger ice balls, that rock together with an other world beat.

    Since the Ytube video has been published the weather channel and other news agencies have used it as an attraction.

  • Ocean expedition, with Maine scientist, recovers mantle rocks with signs of life

    The expedition set off from Southampton, UK, on October 26, 2015, aboard the Royal Research Vessel James Cook

    By Ramona du Houx

    An international team of scientists – recently returned from a 47-day research expedition to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean – have collected an unprecedented sequence of rock samples from the shallow mantle of the ocean crust that bear signs of life, unique carbon cycling, and ocean crust movement. 

    The expedition was led by Co-Chief Scientists Dr. Gretchen Früh-Green of Switzerland, and Dr. Beth Orcutt of Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, in Maine. The team collected these unique rock samples using seabed rock drills from Germany and the UK – the first time ever- that such technology has been utilized. These rock drills have new technologies to enable scientists to detect signs of life in the rock samples.

    "During drilling, we found evidence for hydrogen and methane in our samples, which microbes can 'eat' to grow and form new cells," explained Beth Orcutt, Co-Chief Scientist from Bigelow Laboratory, (photo). "Similar rocks and gases are found on other planets, so by studying how life exists in such harsh conditions deep below the seafloor, we inform the search for life elsewhere in the Universe."

    The expedition scientists want to determine how mantle rocks are brought to the seafloor and react with seawater – such reactions may fuel life in the absence of sunlight, which may be how life developed early in Earth’s history, or on other planets.

    The team also wanted to learn more about what happens to carbon during the reactions between the rocks and the seawater – processes that could impact on climate by sequestering carbon.

    "The rocks collected on the expedition provide unique records of deep processes that formed the Atlantis Massif. We will also gain valuable insight into how these rocks react with circulating seawater at the seafloor during a process we call serpentinization and its consequences for chemical cycles and life," stated expedition Co-Chief Scientist Gretchen Früh-Green.

    The scientists were part of the International Ocean Discovery Program Expedition 357, conducted by the European Consortium for Ocean Research Drilling, as part of the IODP. 

    The expedition set off from Southampton, UK, on October 26, 2015, aboard the Royal Research Vessel James Cook  and returned on December 11, 2015. They brought were equipped with the Rock Drill 2 from the British Geological Survey and the MeBo rock drill from MARUM in Bremen, Germany, for around-the-clock operations to collect rock cores from the Atlantis Massif, a 4,000-m tall underwater mountain along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. 

    During the past two weeks, the science party has been studying the rock samples in detail at the IODP Bremen Core Repository in Bremen, Germany. 

    The science party consisted of 31 scientists (16 female/15 male) from 13 different countries (Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, UK, USA), ranging from students to tenured professors. 

  • President Obama's full State of the Union, 2016

     PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, my fellow Americans:  

    Tonight marks the eighth year that I’ve come here to report on the State of the Union.  And for this final one, I’m going to try to make it a little shorter.  (Applause.)  I know some of you are antsy to get back to Iowa.  (Laughter.)  I've been there.  I'll be shaking hands afterwards if you want some tips.  (Laughter.) 

    And I understand that because it’s an election season, expectations for what we will achieve this year are low.  But, Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the constructive approach that you and the other leaders took at the end of last year to pass a budget and make tax cuts permanent for working families.  So I hope we can work together this year on some bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform -- (applause) -- and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse and heroin abuse.  (Applause.)  So, who knows, we might surprise the cynics again. 

    But tonight, I want to go easy on the traditional list of proposals for the year ahead.  Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty, from helping students learn to write computer code to personalizing medical treatments for patients.  And I will keep pushing for progress on the work that I believe still needs to be done.  Fixing a broken immigration system.  (Applause.)  Protecting our kids from gun violence.  (Applause.)  Equal pay for equal work.  (Applause.)  Paid leave.  (Applause.)  Raising the minimum wage. (Applause.)  All these things still matter to hardworking families.  They’re still the right thing to do.  And I won't let up until they get done.

    But for my final address to this chamber, I don’t want to just talk about next year.  I want to focus on the next five years, the next 10 years, and beyond.  I want to focus on our future.

    We live in a time of extraordinary change -- change that’s reshaping the way we live, the way we work, our planet, our place in the world.  It’s change that promises amazing medical breakthroughs, but also economic disruptions that strain working families.  It promises education for girls in the most remote villages, but also connects terrorists plotting an ocean away.  It’s change that can broaden opportunity, or widen inequality.  And whether we like it or not, the pace of this change will only accelerate.

    America has been through big changes before -- wars and depression, the influx of new immigrants, workers fighting for a fair deal, movements to expand civil rights.  Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future; who claimed we could slam the brakes on change; who promised to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control.  And each time, we overcame those fears.  We did not, in the words of Lincoln, adhere to the “dogmas of the quiet past.”  Instead we thought anew, and acted anew.  We made change work for us, always extending America’s promise outward, to the next frontier, to more people.  And because we did -- because we saw opportunity where others saw only peril -- we emerged stronger and better than before.

    What was true then can be true now.  Our unique strengths as a nation -- our optimism and work ethic, our spirit of discovery, our diversity, our commitment to rule of law -- these things give us everything we need to ensure prosperity and security for generations to come. 

    In fact, it’s in that spirit that we have made progress these past seven years.  That's how we recovered from the worst economic crisis in generations.  (Applause.)  That's how we reformed our health care system, and reinvented our energy sector.  (Applause.)  That's how we delivered more care and benefits to our troops coming home and our veterans.  (Applause.) That's how we secured the freedom in every state to marry the person we love.  (Applause.) 

    But such progress is not inevitable.  It’s the result of choices we make together.  And we face such choices right now.  Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, turning against each other as a people?  Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, in what we stand for, in the incredible things that we can do together?

    So let’s talk about the future, and four big questions that I believe we as a country have to answer -- regardless of who the next President is, or who controls the next Congress. 

    First, how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?  (Applause.) 

    Second, how do we make technology work for us, and not against us -- especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change?  (Applause.) 

    Third, how do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?  (Applause.) 

    And finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?

    Let me start with the economy, and a basic fact:  The United States of America, right now, has the strongest, most durable economy in the world.  (Applause.)  We’re in the middle of the longest streak of private sector job creation in history.  (Applause.)  More than 14 million new jobs, the strongest two years of job growth since the ‘90s, an unemployment rate cut in half.  Our auto industry just had its best year ever.  (Applause.)  That's just part of a manufacturing surge that's created nearly 900,000 new jobs in the past six years.  And we’ve done all this while cutting our deficits by almost three-quarters.  (Applause.) 

    Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction.  (Applause.)  Now, what is true -- and the reason that a lot of Americans feel anxious -- is that the economy has been changing in profound ways, changes that started long before the Great Recession hit; changes that have not let up. 

    Today, technology doesn’t just replace jobs on the assembly line, but any job where work can be automated.  Companies in a global economy can locate anywhere, and they face tougher competition.  As a result, workers have less leverage for a raise.  Companies have less loyalty to their communities.  And more and more wealth and income is concentrated at the very top.

    All these trends have squeezed workers, even when they have jobs; even when the economy is growing.  It’s made it harder for a hardworking family to pull itself out of poverty, harder for young people to start their careers, tougher for workers to retire when they want to.  And although none of these trends are unique to America, they do offend our uniquely American belief that everybody who works hard should get a fair shot.

    For the past seven years, our goal has been a growing economy that works also better for everybody.  We’ve made progress.  But we need to make more.  And despite all the political arguments that we’ve had these past few years, there are actually some areas where Americans broadly agree.

    We agree that real opportunity requires every American to get the education and training they need to land a good-paying job.  The bipartisan reform of No Child Left Behind was an important start, and together, we’ve increased early childhood education, lifted high school graduation rates to new highs, boosted graduates in fields like engineering.  In the coming years, we should build on that progress, by providing Pre-K for all and -- (applause) -- offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one.  We should recruit and support more great teachers for our kids.  (Applause.) 

    And we have to make college affordable for every American.  (Applause.)  No hardworking student should be stuck in the red.  We’ve already reduced student loan payments to 10 percent of a borrower’s income.  And that's good.  But now, we’ve actually got to cut the cost of college.  (Applause.)  Providing two years of community college at no cost for every responsible student is one of the best ways to do that, and I’m going to keep fighting to get that started this year.  (Applause.)  It's the right thing to do.  (Applause.) 

    But a great education isn’t all we need in this new economy. We also need benefits and protections that provide a basic measure of security.  It’s not too much of a stretch to say that some of the only people in America who are going to work the same job, in the same place, with a health and retirement package for 30 years are sitting in this chamber.  (Laughter.)  For everyone else, especially folks in their 40s and 50s, saving for retirement or bouncing back from job loss has gotten a lot tougher.  Americans understand that at some point in their careers, in this new economy, they may have to retool and they may have to retrain.  But they shouldn’t lose what they’ve already worked so hard to build in the process. 

    That’s why Social Security and Medicare are more important than ever.  We shouldn’t weaken them; we should strengthen them. (Applause.)  And for Americans short of retirement, basic benefits should be just as mobile as everything else is today.  That, by the way, is what the Affordable Care Act is all about.  It’s about filling the gaps in employer-based care so that when you lose a job, or you go back to school, or you strike out and launch that new business, you’ll still have coverage.  Nearly 18 million people have gained coverage so far.  (Applause.)  And in the process, health care inflation has slowed.  And our businesses have created jobs every single month since it became law.

    Now, I’m guessing we won’t agree on health care anytime soon.  (Applause.)  A little applause right there.  Laughter.)  Just a guess.  But there should be other ways parties can work together to improve economic security.  Say a hardworking American loses his job -- we shouldn’t just make sure that he can get unemployment insurance; we should make sure that program encourages him to retrain for a business that’s ready to hire him.  If that new job doesn’t pay as much, there should be a system of wage insurance in place so that he can still pay his bills.  And even if he’s going from job to job, he should still be able to save for retirement and take his savings with him.  That’s the way we make the new economy work better for everybody.

    I also know Speaker Ryan has talked about his interest in tackling poverty.  America is about giving everybody willing to work a chance, a hand up.  And I’d welcome a serious discussion about strategies we can all support, like expanding tax cuts for low-income workers who don't have children.  (Applause.)  

    But there are some areas where we just have to be honest -- it has been difficult to find agreement over the last seven years.  And a lot of them fall under the category of what role the government should play in making sure the system’s not rigged in favor of the wealthiest and biggest corporations.  (Applause.) And it's an honest disagreement, and the American people have a choice to make.

    I believe a thriving private sector is the lifeblood of our economy.  I think there are outdated regulations that need to be changed.  There is red tape that needs to be cut.  (Applause.)  There you go!  Yes!  (Applause  But after years now of record corporate profits, working families won’t get more opportunity or bigger paychecks just by letting big banks or big oil or hedge funds make their own rules at everybody else’s expense.  (Applause.)  Middle-class families are not going to feel more secure because we allowed attacks on collective bargaining to go unanswered.  Food Stamp recipients did not cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did.  (Applause.)  Immigrants aren’t the principal reason wages haven’t gone up; those decisions are made in the boardrooms that all too often put quarterly earnings over long-term returns.  It’s sure not the average family watching tonight that avoids paying taxes through offshore accounts.  (Applause.)   

    The point is, I believe that in this In new economy, workers and start-ups and small businesses need more of a voice, not less.  The rules should work for them.  (Applause.)  And I'm not alone in this.  This year I plan to lift up the many businesses who’ve figured out that doing right by their workers or their customers or their communities ends up being good for their shareholders.  (Applause.)  And I want to spread those best practices across America.  That's part of a brighter future.  (Applause.) 

    In fact, it turns out many of our best corporate citizens are also our most creative.  And this brings me to the second big question we as a country have to answer:  How do we reignite that spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges?

    Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there.  (Laughter.)  We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight.  And 12 years later, we were walking on the moon.  (Applause.)   

    Now, that spirit of discovery is in our DNA.  America is Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers and George Washington Carver.  America is Grace Hopper and Katherine Johnson and Sally Ride.  America is every immigrant and entrepreneur from Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley, racing to shape a better world.  (Applause.)  That's who we are. 

    And over the past seven years, we’ve nurtured that spirit.  We’ve protected an open Internet, and taken bold new steps to get more students and low-income Americans online.  (Applause.)  We’ve launched next-generation manufacturing hubs, and online tools that give an entrepreneur everything he or she needs to start a business in a single day.  But we can do so much more. 

    Last year, Vice President Biden said that with a new moonshot, America can cure cancer.  Last month, he worked with this Congress to give scientists at the National Institutes of Health the strongest resources that they’ve had in over a decade. (Applause.)  So tonight, I’m announcing a new national effort to get it done.  And because he’s gone to the mat for all of us on so many issues over the past 40 years, I’m putting Joe in charge of Mission Control.  (Applause.)  For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the families that we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.  (Applause.) 

    Medical research is critical.  We need the same level of commitment when it comes to developing clean energy sources.  (Applause.)  Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it.  You will be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.  (Applause.)   

    But even if -- even if the planet wasn’t at stake, even if 2014 wasn’t the warmest year on record -- until 2015 turned out to be even hotter -- why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future? (Applause.) 

    Listen, seven years ago, we made the single biggest investment in clean energy in our history.  Here are the results. In fields from Iowa to Texas, wind power is now cheaper than dirtier, conventional power.  On rooftops from Arizona to New York, solar is saving Americans tens of millions of dollars a year on their energy bills, and employs more Americans than coal -- in jobs that pay better than average.  We’re taking steps to give homeowners the freedom to generate and store their own energy -- something, by the way, that environmentalists and Tea Partiers have teamed up to support.   And meanwhile, we’ve cut our imports of foreign oil by nearly 60 percent, and cut carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth.  (Applause.)  Gas under two bucks a gallon ain’t bad, either.  (Applause.) 

    Now we’ve got to accelerate the transition away from old, dirtier energy sources.  Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future -- especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels.  We do them no favor when we don't show them where the trends are going.  That’s why I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet. And that way, we put money back into those communities, and put tens of thousands of Americans to work building a 21st century transportation system.  (Applause.) 

    Now, none of this is going to happen overnight.  And, yes, there are plenty of entrenched interests who want to protect the status quo.  But the jobs we’ll create, the money we’ll save, the planet we’ll preserve -- that is the kind of future our kids and our grandkids deserve.  And it's within our grasp. 

    Climate change is just one of many issues where our security is linked to the rest of the world.  And that’s why the third big question that we have to answer together is how to keep America safe and strong without either isolating ourselves or trying to nation-build everywhere there’s a problem.

    I told you earlier all the talk of America’s economic decline is political hot air.  Well, so is all the rhetoric you hear about our enemies getting stronger and America getting weaker.  Let me tell you something.  The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth.  Period. (Applause.)  Period.  It’s not even close.  It's not even close. (Applause.)  It's not even close.  We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined.  Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world.  (Applause.)  No nation attacks us directly, or our allies, because they know that’s the path to ruin.  Surveys show our standing around the world is higher than when I was elected to this office, and when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead -- they call us.  (Applause.)

    I mean, it's useful to level the set here, because when we don't, we don't make good decisions.    

    Now, as someone who begins every day with an intelligence briefing, I know this is a dangerous time.  But that’s not primarily because of some looming superpower out there, and certainly not because of diminished American strength.  In today’s world, we’re threatened less by evil empires and more by failing states. 

    The Middle East is going through a transformation that will play out for a generation, rooted in conflicts that date back millennia.  Economic headwinds are blowing in from a Chinese economy that is in significant transition.  Even as their economy severely contracts, Russia is pouring resources in to prop up Ukraine and Syria -- client states that they saw slipping away from their orbit.  And the international system we built after World War II is now struggling to keep pace with this new reality.

    It’s up to us, the United States of America, to help remake that system.  And to do that well it means that we’ve got to set priorities.

    Priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks.  (Applause.)  Both al Qaeda and now ISIL pose a direct threat to our people, because in today’s world, even a handful of terrorists who place no value on human life, including their own, can do a lot of damage.  They use the Internet to poison the minds of individuals inside our country.  Their actions undermine and destabilize our allies.  We have to take them out.

    But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands.  Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks, twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages -- they pose an enormous danger to civilians; they have to be stopped.  But they do not threaten our national existence.  (Applause.)  That is the story ISIL wants to tell.  That’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit.  We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, and we sure don't need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is somehow representative of one of the world’s largest religions.  (Applause.)  We just need to call them what they are -- killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed.  (Applause.)  

    And that’s exactly what we’re doing.  For more than a year, America has led a coalition of more than 60 countries to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt their plots, stop the flow of terrorist fighters, and stamp out their vicious ideology.  With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we’re taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, their weapons.  We’re training, arming, and supporting forces who are steadily reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria. 

    If this Congress is serious about winning this war, and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, authorize the use of military force against ISIL.  Take a vote.  (Applause.)  Take a vote.  But the American people should know that with or without congressional action, ISIL will learn the same lessons as terrorists before them.  If you doubt America’s commitment -- or mine -- to see that justice is done, just ask Osama bin Laden.  (Applause.)  Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken out last year, or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, who sits in a prison cell.  When you come after Americans, we go after you.  (Applause.)  And it may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limits.  (Applause.)  

    Our foreign policy hast to be focused on the threat from ISIL and al Qaeda, but it can’t stop there.  For even without ISIL, even without al Qaeda, instability will continue for decades in many parts of the world -- in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, parts of Pakistan, in parts of Central America, in Africa, and Asia.  Some of these places may become safe havens for new terrorist networks.  Others will just fall victim to ethnic conflict, or famine, feeding the next wave of refugees.  The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet-bomb civilians.  That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage.

    We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis, even if it's done with the best of intentions.  (Applause.)  That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately will weaken us.  It’s the lesson of Vietnam; it's the lesson of Iraq -- and we should have learned it by now.  (Applause.)   

    Fortunately, there is a smarter approach, a patient and disciplined strategy that uses every element of our national power.  It says America will always act, alone if necessary, to protect our people and our allies; but on issues of global concern, we will mobilize the world to work with us, and make sure other countries pull their own weight.   

    That’s our approach to conflicts like Syria, where we’re partnering with local forces and leading international efforts to help that broken society pursue a lasting peace.

    That’s why we built a global coalition, with sanctions and principled diplomacy, to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.  And as we speak, Iran has rolled back its nuclear program, shipped out its uranium stockpile, and the world has avoided another war.  (Applause.)   

    That’s how we stopped the spread of Ebola in West Africa.  (Applause.)  Our military, our doctors, our development workers -- they were heroic; they set up the platform that then allowed other countries to join in behind us and stamp out that epidemic. Hundreds of thousands, maybe a couple million lives were saved.

    That’s how we forged a Trans-Pacific Partnership to open markets, and protect workers and the environment, and advance American leadership in Asia.  It cuts 18,000 taxes on products made in America, which will then support more good jobs here in America.  With TPP, China does not set the rules in that region; we do.  You want to show our strength in this new century?  Approve this agreement.  Give us the tools to enforce it.  It's the right thing to do.  (Applause.)   

    Let me give you another example.  Fifty years of isolating Cuba had failed to promote democracy, and set us back in Latin America.  That’s why we restored diplomatic relations -- (applause) -- opened the door to travel and commerce, positioned ourselves to improve the lives of the Cuban people.  (Applause.) So if you want to consolidate our leadership and credibility in the hemisphere, recognize that the Cold War is over -- lift the embargo.  (Applause.)  

    The point is American leadership in the 21st century is not a choice between ignoring the rest of the world -- except when we kill terrorists -- or occupying and rebuilding whatever society is unraveling.  Leadership means a wise application of military power, and rallying the world behind causes that are right.  It means seeing our foreign assistance as a part of our national security, not something separate, not charity. 

    When we lead nearly 200 nations to the most ambitious agreement in history to fight climate change, yes, that helps vulnerable countries, but it also protects our kids.  When we help Ukraine defend its democracy, or Colombia resolve a decades-long war, that strengthens the international order we depend on. When we help African countries feed their people and care for the sick -- (applause) -- it's the right thing to do, and it prevents the next pandemic from reaching our shores.  Right now, we’re on track to end the scourge of HIV/AIDS.  That's within our grasp.  (Applause.)  And we have the chance to accomplish the same thing with malaria -- something I’ll be pushing this Congress to fund this year.  (Applause.) 

    That's American strength.  That's American leadership.  And that kind of leadership depends on the power of our example.  That’s why I will keep working to shut down the prison at Guantanamo.  (Applause.)  It is expensive, it is unnecessary, and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies.  (Applause.)  There’s a better way.  (Applause.)   

    And that’s why we need to reject any politics -- any politics -- that targets people because of race or religion.  (Applause.)  Let me just say this.  This is not a matter of political correctness.  This is a matter of understanding just what it is that makes us strong.  The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity, and our openness, and the way we respect every faith. 

    His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot that I'm standing on tonight that “to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.”  When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer.  That’s not telling it like it is.  It’s just wrong.  (Applause.)  It diminishes us in the eyes of the world.  It makes it harder to achieve our goals.  It betrays who we are as a country.  (Applause.) 

    “We the People.”  Our Constitution begins with those three simple words, words we’ve come to recognize mean all the people, not just some; words that insist we rise and fall together, and that's how we might perfect our Union.  And that brings me to the fourth, and maybe the most important thing that I want to say tonight.

    The future we want -- all of us want -- opportunity and security for our families, a rising standard of living, a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids -- all that is within our reach.  But it will only happen if we work together.  It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates.  It will only happen if we fix our politics.

    A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything.  This is a big country -- different regions, different attitudes, different interests.  That’s one of our strengths, too.  Our Founders distributed power between states and branches of government, and expected us to argue, just as they did, fiercely, over the size and shape of government, over commerce and foreign relations, over the meaning of liberty and the imperatives of security.

    But democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens.  It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice.  It doesn’t work if we think that our political opponents are unpatriotic or trying to weaken America.  Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise, or when even basic facts are contested, or when we listen only to those who agree with us.  Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get all the attention.  And most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest.

    Too many Americans feel that way right now.  It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency -- that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.  I have no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.

    But, my fellow Americans, this cannot be my task -- or any President’s -- alone.  There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber, good people who would like to see more cooperation, would like to see a more elevated debate in Washington, but feel trapped by the imperatives of getting elected, by the noise coming out of your base.  I know; you’ve told me.  It's the worst-kept secret in Washington.  And a lot of you aren't enjoying being trapped in that kind of rancor. 

    But that means if we want a better politics -- and I'm addressing the American people now -- if we want a better politics, it’s not enough just to change a congressman or change a senator or even change a President.  We have to change the system to reflect our better selves.  I think we've got to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around.  (Applause.)  Let a bipartisan group do it.  (Applause.) 

    We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families or hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections.  (Applause.)  And if our existing approach to campaign finance reform can’t pass muster in the courts, we need to work together to find a real solution -- because it's a problem.  And most of you don't like raising money.  I know; I've done it.  (Applause.)  We’ve got to make it easier to vote, not harder.  (Applause.)  We need to modernize it for the way we live now.  (Applause.)  This is America:  We want to make it easier for people to participate.  And over the course of this year, I intend to travel the country to push for reforms that do just that.

    But I can’t do these things on my own.  (Applause.)  Changes in our political process -- in not just who gets elected, but how they get elected -- that will only happen when the American people demand it.  It depends on you.  That’s what’s meant by a government of, by, and for the people. 

    What I’m suggesting is hard.  It’s a lot easier to be cynical; to accept that change is not possible, and politics is hopeless, and the problem is all the folks who are elected don't care, and to believe that our voices and actions don’t matter.  But if we give up now, then we forsake a better future.  Those with money and power will gain greater control over the decisions that could send a young soldier to war, or allow another economic disaster, or roll back the equal rights and voting rights that generations of Americans have fought, even died, to secure.  And then, as frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into our respective tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background.

    We can’t afford to go down that path.  It won’t deliver the economy we want.  It will not produce the security we want.  But most of all, it contradicts everything that makes us the envy of the world. 

    So, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, whether you supported my agenda or fought as hard as you could against it -- our collective futures depends on your willingness to uphold your duties as a citizen.  To vote.  To speak out.  To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us. (Applause.)  We need every American to stay active in our public life -- and not just during election time -- so that our public life reflects the goodness and the decency that I see in the American people every single day. 

    It is not easy.  Our brand of democracy is hard.  But I can promise that a little over a year from now, when I no longer hold this office, I will be right there with you as a citizen, inspired by those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness that helped America travel so far.  Voices that help us see ourselves not, first and foremost, as black or white, or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born, not as Democrat or Republican, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed.  Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word -- voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love. 

    And they’re out there, those voices.  They don’t get a lot of attention; they don't seek a lot of fanfare; but they’re busy doing the work this country needs doing.  I see them everywhere I travel in this incredible country of ours.  I see you, the American people.  And in your daily acts of citizenship, I see our future unfolding.

    I see it in the worker on the assembly line who clocked extra shifts to keep his company open, and the boss who pays him higher wages instead of laying him off. 

    I see it in the Dreamer who stays up late at night to finish her science project, and the teacher who comes in early, and maybe with some extra supplies that she bought because she knows that that young girl might someday cure a disease.

    I see it in the American who served his time, and bad mistakes as a child but now is dreaming of starting over -- and I see it in the business owner who gives him that second chance.  The protester determined to prove that justice matters -- and the young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe.  (Applause.) 

    I see it in the soldier who gives almost everything to save his brothers, the nurse who tends to him till he can run a marathon, the community that lines up to cheer him on.

    It’s the son who finds the courage to come out as who he is, and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught.  (Applause.) 

    I see it in the elderly woman who will wait in line to cast her vote as long as she has to; the new citizen who casts his vote for the first time; the volunteers at the polls who believe every vote should count -- because each of them in different ways know how much that precious right is worth.

    That's the America I know.  That’s the country we love.   Clear-eyed.  Big-hearted.  Undaunted by challenge.  Optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.  (Applause.)  That’s what makes me so hopeful about our future.  I believe in change because I believe in you, the American people.  

    And that’s why I stand here confident as I have ever been that the State of our Union is strong.  (Applause.) 

    Thank you.  God bless you.  God bless the United States of America. 

  • Maine's Dr. Sarah Parcak, winner of Ted talk $1million on Colbert show

    Sarah Helen Parcak, is an associate professor of Anthropology and director of the Laboratory for Global Observation at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She is an Americanarchaeologist, space archaeologist, and Egyptologist, who has used satellite imaging to identify potential archaeological sites around the world. Recently, the Bangor, Maine native, won the $1,000,000 Ted Talk, and will announce what she will do with the winnings next month.

  • Maine’s MTI awards more than $82,000 in grants awarded to technology companies

    Photo: MTI grants helped jump-strat the University of Maine's floating off-shore wind technologies that led to the VolturnUS, which is the nation's first offshore wind power that was generated to the grid.

    By Ramona du Houx

    Maine Technology Institute (MTI), the state-backed agency that supports technology startups, has awarded more than $82,000 in grants. During the Baldacci administration grants awarded to Maine companies under MTI increased — fueling an innovation economy and helping research and development at Maine’s research facilities. 

    The University of Maine received grants to start their ocean energy programs, which have led to the creation of various companies, including Ocean Renewable Power Company. ORPC worked with researches to refine their underwater ocean energy turbine composite design. Offshore wind power for floating wind turbine platforms at the Advanced Composite Laboratories also received initial start up grants from MTI, which later led to federal grants. Now UMaine has the most advanced ocean energy research laboratories in the Americas.

    Unfortunately, under the LePage administration there has only been one voter backed bond issue to help R&D in Maine — one. The state needs more voter-approved bonds for this research, so Maine entrepreneurs can start their innovative businesses here, and thereby improve Maine’s economic future for us all.

    "Unlike the scattershot spending of many business tax credits, MTI programs are rigorously competitive, with the awards made by boards composed of peers within the same targeted business sectors," said Seth Berry, former Maine House Majority Leader and current Vice President for Business Development at Kennebec River Biosciences. "That's why in a 2014 independent evaluation, MTI's Development Loan program was found to have an ROI (return on investment) to the taxpayer of 12.4 percent —  something any businessperson recognizes as a success. Just imagine if we could grow Maine's overall economy at that rate!"

    Kennebec River Biosciences Inc., of Richmond won a  $20,000 Business Accelerator Grant, and has matching funds of $24,560.

    All these grants need private matching funds, which are expected to total more than $101,000. These TechStart Grants are awarded to companies or entrepreneurs seeking to develop their ideas into new innovative products or services.

     The most recent recipients are:

    • Farmer Brown Organics of Presque Isle, $5,000 (match, $6,076);

    • Heatek Energy of Auburn, $2,050 (match, $5,300);

    • Limbeck Engineering of Freeport, $2,000 (match, $2,035);

    • Q-Team Inc. of Naples, $5,000 (match, $13,000).

    MTI also awarded Business Accelerator Grants to three companies. The grants are intended to help the companies enhance their competitiveness, develop products and internal business systems, and apply for federal money.

    They are:

    • Cerahelix Inc. of Orono, $15,000 (match, $16,376);

    • Kennebec River Biosciences Inc. of Richmond, $20,000 (match, $24,560);

    • Municipay of Scarborough, $28,723 (match, $28,723).

    Also, a Phase 0 Kickstarter Grant of $4,990 was awarded to Alba-Technic of Winthrop to help it seek small business research grants from the federal government. The company provided a match of $5,000.

    The next round of grant applications closes on Feb. 2, 2016.

  • Bigelow Laboratory awarded $3.1 million for student and visiting scientist residence

    By Ramona du Houx

    Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, an independent not-for-profit research institution on the coast of Maine, conducts cutting-edge research ranging from microbial oceanography to large-scale ocean processes that affect the global environment. The laboratory’s research, education, and enterprise programs are spurring significant economic growth in the state.

    As a leader in innovation people come from all over the world to connect with the laboratory. Bigelow's educational programs serve high school students from every county in Maine, undergraduate students from across the U.S., professional short course attendees, and visiting scientists from around the globe. With Bigelow's programs growing there became a need for more housing. 

    That's why on January 5, 2016, the Harold Alfond Foundation announced a $3.1 million award to Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences for construction of a 32-bed student and visiting scientist residence with four visitor’s apartments on the Laboratory’s East Boothbay Campus. 

    “We are both honored and delighted that the Harold Alfond Foundation has recognized the value of the Laboratory’s education programs by offering its generous support, making it possible for us to house students and visitors safely and comfortably on site while participating in our many educational and collaborative research programs,” said Graham Shimmield, executive director of Bigelow Laboratory. “It will allow us to expand our educational programs so more students and professionals have access to our world-class scientists.”

    An anonymous donor has matched the award, allowing the project to break ground in April 2016.  A separate endowment has been established to cover maintenance and operating costs of the new facility for 50 years.

    "This is exactly the type of project that the Harold Alfond Foundation likes to support," said Greg Powell, chairman of the Harold Alfond Foundation Board of Trustees. "Bigelow Laboratory's new residence met or exceeded all of our requirements.  The project is entrepreneurial in that it will allow the Laboratory to expand its educational offerings to not only students but to professionals, which, in turn, will help ensure economic growth for the Laboratory and the region. The project is rock solid financially and matched by a generous donor. Plus, it will be overseen by a great management team at Bigelow Laboratory, who have great vision and optimism for the state of Maine."

    The new 15,000 square-foot dormitory residence will overlook the Damariscotta River on the Laboratory’s East Boothbay campus and will be a short walk from the main Laboratory building and its shore facility. Energy efficiency, ease of maintenance, and respect for the surrounding environment embody the design.

    The ground floor will be below grade to accommodate the natural slope of the landscape, creating a courtyard surrounded by ledge or a “natural amphitheater” in the upper area. A partial green roof will help absorb rainwater, provide insulation, and help create an aesthetically pleasing natural look for the structure.

    A mixture of glass, natural wood, aluminum, and preformed concrete construction materials will promote longevity and easy maintenance, while allowing the building to blend into the wooded acreage of the waterfront site. A 75 kW array of photovoltaic cells will provide energy to meet all electric needs of the residence, including heating and ventilation. Windows, doors, and insulation will all be energy efficient and provide maximum R-value rating.

    “We are striving for a Net Zero Energy building,” added Shimmield. “Since inhabiting our energy-efficient laboratory space that opened in December 2012, we personally understand how efficient energy use and construction goes a long way toward making a building pleasant to be in, and we are sure the same will hold true for the students and guests in the new residence.” 

    The two-story structure will have 8 double bedrooms on each floor that can be flexibly arranged to accommodate guests numbering from 8 to 32. It also will provide a communal student kitchen and social area, adaptable meeting space that can serve dual functions as an auditorium or recreation area, and fitness and laundry areas.

    Two adjacent wings will contain three studio apartments with kitchen, bedroom, and bath to accommodate visiting scientists and other guests, and a two-bedroom apartment to house visitors with families.

    Scott Simons Architects of Portland, Maine designed the building. The Portland office of Consigli Construction Company, Inc. is providing construction management services.

     

  • Bigelow Laboratory's Dr. Aeppli to determine how oil spill remains six years after Deepwater Horizon

    Dr. Christoph Aeppli from Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences was awarded a grant to investigate the long-term fate and effects of petroleum released during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. For this project, which will last until the end of 2018, Aeppli teamed up with Ryan Rodgers of Florida State University and Chris Reddy of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. 

    “During oil weathering, petroleum hydrocarbons are transformed into novel compounds,” said Dr. Aeppli, Bigelow Laboratory senior research scientist.  “Not much is currently know about these oil transformation products, but there are indications that they potentially have toxic effects."

    The three researchers will determine how the oil spilled from the Macondo Well weathered in the environment by using cutting-edge analytical methods. Specifically, they will investigate, how the chemical composition of oil has been altered in the environment over the past six years, and how marine organisms may be affected by these changes. 

    “I’ll be assessing how oil weathering changes its toxicity so that we can better understand how the oil spill affected the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem. This work will help predict the fate and effect of oil, which will help inform and improve cleanup efforts in future spills,” Aeppli added.

    This award was one of 22 research projects funded for the 2016 – 2018 period by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative to individuals and teams studying the effects of oil on the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem and public health. A total of $38 million was awarded to researchers to be spent over the next three years. For his part, Aeppli will receive $600,000 over three years to conduct his research.

     “The Research Board was impressed with the quality of the 288 applications received,” said Dr. Rita Colwell, Chairman of the GoMRI Research Board. “As is our practice, all proposals underwent a rigorous merit review process like that used by the National Science Foundation. This process has served us well, as demonstrated by the impressive array of research findings published in scientific journals by those researchers GoMRI has already funded. We are gaining an important understanding of how the Gulf of Mexico functions as an ecosystem and responds to large-scale environmental stresses like that caused by the tragic Macondo wellhead blowout.”

    The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative is an independent, 10-year research program established with a $500 million commitment from BP following the Deepwater Horizon incident. Twenty experts comprise a Research Board responsible for designing research programs, making funding decisions, and providing research and budget oversight.

    Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, an independent not-for-profit research institution on the coast of Maine, conducts research ranging from microbial oceanography to large-scale ocean processes that affect the global environment. Recognized as a leader in Maine’s emerging innovation economy, the Laboratory’s research, education, and enterprise programs are spurring significant economic growth in the state.

  • Bigelow Laboratory designated safe scientific diving facility

     Certification promotes diving safety and enables reciprocity with other safe-diving institutions: Pinkham designated as Dive Safety Officer

     Science diving using self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA) requires the scientist to not only pay attention to typical safety concerns while underwater –  air pressure, depth, obstacles and other hazards, and time beneath the surface – they have added concerns like lugging equipment, taking notes, censusing moving sea creatures, and keeping track of all that is going on around them and each other at a specific site.

    SCUBA diving to conduct research is generally more challenging than diving for pleasure. 

    “AAUS requires scientific divers to have a higher level of training and proficiency than most recreational divers so that diving procedures become second-nature,” explained Senior Research Scientist and certified diver Nichole Price, who has logged more than 1000 dives below the surface. 

    To conduct scientific work while underwater requires significant preparation. Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences has recently completed a very rigorous yearlong evaluation to ensure that its scientists who dive are fully prepared to dive safely while conducting underwater research. 

    The American Academy of Underwater Sciences certified Bigelow Laboratory to conduct underwater scientific sampling and experiments. This certification currently covers six Bigelow Laboratory scientists, with more expected as the program expands. The AAUS certification also has a reciprocity condition that makes it possible for Bigelow Laboratory scientists to dive with collaborator scientists in Maine and at other currently AAUS-certified institutions across the globe.

    In addition to the Laboratory’s membership, Facility Manager Timothy Pinkham was also awarded the designation of Dive Safety Officer, which required more than 300 hours of training and additional certifications. Training allowed Pinkham, who was a standard open-water diver, to move through the ranks of an advanced open-water diver to Master Diver to Assistant Dive Instructor to Instructor, all over the course of five months. Pinkham participated in 40 dives that included deep dives (greater then 100'), night dives, dives as an instructor, safety dives, Nitrox dives, cold and warm water dives, and blue water dives As a Dive Safety Officer, Tim will oversee the scientific diving activities at Bigelow Laboratory to ensure they meet the safety the AAUS standards for safe diving.

    “This AAUS program is great for Bigelow Laboratory because it helps to make sure scientific divers remain safe, while conducting really important work in shallow coastal waters that we can’t accomplish without seeing firsthand,” said Price, who has done most of her scientific diving in the tropics, but has expanded her interests to colder Maine waters. 

    AAUS has endeavored to promote safe, effective scientific diving since 1951.  As dive technology has improved, allowing more scientists to dive deeper and longer, the necessity for proper training has subsequently increased. The AAUS designation helps to ensure divers are well trained and demonstrates the commitment of their institutions to dive safety.

    Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, an independent not-for-profit research institution on the coast of Maine, conducts research ranging from microbial oceanography to large-scale ocean processes that affect the global environment. 

  • Colby and Bigelow Laboratory combine art and science in exhibit

    A novel art, science, and educational collaboration is underway between Colby College and Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences. Six different professors in disciplines ranging from biology to the art and humanities have integrated a photographic exhibit of marine microbes, created by Bigelow Laboratory, into their curriculum this fall.

    The exhibit is on display at Colby College through December 11, and culminates in a presentation of student-inspired work that evening at 5 pm in the Wormser Room at the college.
    Among the offerings, the event is scheduled to feature a microbe-inspired dance, microbial marble sculptures, scientific discussion about the relevance of marine microbes to planetary balance, and instant DNA technology.
  • The Gulf of Maine Research Institute has received a $6.5 million NASA grant to support climate change education

    By Ramona du Houx

     The Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI), in Portland, has received a $6.5 million NASA grant to support climate change education, with an initial focus on fifth and sixth graders. This is the largest grant GMRI has ever received.

    "Weather is ever present and ever personal, and it's hard for young people to see how weather is connected to global climate trends, and, of course, our GMRI scientists are working on that every day," said Leigh Peake is GMRI's Chief Education Officer. "And so we want to connect them to those realities, give them a feel for what it really means for our climate to be changing."

    This initiative builds upon GMRI's LabVenture experience, which is free to any school anywhere in Maine and has served nearly 100,000 students over the past 10 years.  

  • Maine researchers published in Science discover increased carbon dioxide enhances plankton growth

      

    Science study reports that coccolithophores’ abundance has increased by an order of magnitude since 1960s, significantly changing the ocean’s garden.

    by Ramona du Houx

    Coccolithophores—tiny calcifying plants that are part of the foundation of the marine food web—have been increasing in relative abundance in the North Atlantic over the last 45 years, as carbon input into ocean waters has increased. Their relative abundance has increased 10 times, or by an order of magnitude, during this sampling period.

    “This provides one example on how marine communities across an entire ocean basin are responding to increasing carbon dioxide levels. Such real-life examples of the impact of increasing CO2 on marine food webs are important to point out as the world comes together in Paris next week at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change,” said Dr. William Balch, senior research scientist at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences.

    This finding was diametrically opposed to what scientists had expected since coccolithophores make their plates out of calcium carbonate, which is becoming more difficult as the ocean becomes more acidic and pH is reduced.

    “The results show both the power of long-term time-series of ocean observations for deciphering how marine microbial communities are responding to climate change and offer evidence that the ocean garden is changing,” said Dr. Balch.

    These findings were reported in the November 26th edition of Science and based on analysis of nearly a half century of data collected by the long-running Sir Alister Hardy Foundation (SAHFOS) Continuous Plankton Recorder sampling program.

    Dr. Balch, who is also a co-author of the paper, added, “We never expected to see the relative abundance of coccolithophores to increase 10 times in the North Atlantic over barely half a century. If anything, we expected that these sensitive calcifying algae would have decreased in the face of increasing ocean acidification (associated with increasing carbon dioxide entering the ocean from the burning of fossil-fuels). Instead, we see how these carbon-limited organisms appear to be using the extra carbon from CO2 to increase their relative abundance by an order of magnitude.”

    “Something strange is happening here, and it’s happening much more quickly than we thought it should,” said Anand Gnanadesikan, associate professor in the Morton K. Blaustein Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Johns Hopkins, and one of the study’s five authors.

    Gnanadesikan said the Science report certainly is good news for creatures that eat coccolithophores, but it’s not clear what those are. “What is worrisome,” he said, “is that our result points out how little we know about how complex ecosystems function.”

    Coccolithophore blooms photographed from a far. Photo Credits: Ocean Ecology Laboratory, Ocean Biology Processing Group NASA Goddard Space Center.

    The result highlights the possibility of rapid ecosystem change, suggesting that prevalent models of how these systems respond to climate change may be too conservative, he said.

    Coccolithophores are often referred to as “canaries in the coal mine.” Some of the key coccolithophore species can outcompete other classes of phytoplankton in warmer, more stratified and nutrient-poor waters (such as one might see in a warming ocean).

    Until this data proved otherwise, scientists thought that they would have more difficulties forming their calcite plates in a more acidic ocean. These results show that coccolithophores are able to use the higher concentration of carbon derived from CO2, combined with warmer temperatures, to increase their growth rate.

    When the percentage of coccolithophores in the community goes up, the relative abundance of other groups will go down. The authors found that at local scales, the relative abundance of another important algal class, diatoms, had decreased over the 45 years of sampling.

    The team’s analysis was of data taken from the North Atlantic Ocean and North Sea since the mid-1960s compiled by the Continuous Plankton Recorder survey. The CPR survey was launched by British marine biologist Sir Alister Hardy in the early 1930s. Today it is carried on by the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Sciences and is conducted by commercial ships trailing mechanical plankton-gathering gear through the water as they sail their regular routes. Dr. Willie Wilson, formerly a senior research scientist at Bigelow Laboratory, is now director of SAHFOS.

    “In the geological record, coccolithophores have been typically more abundant during Earth’s warm interglacial and high CO2 periods. The results presented here are consistent with this and may portend, like the “canary in the coal mine,” where we are headed climatologically,” said Balch.

    The lead author of the paper was Sara Rivero-Calle, a PhD candidate at John Hopkins University. In addition to Balch, her co-authors were Anand Gnanadesikan of John Hopkins, Carlos E. Del Castillo of NASA, and Seth D. Guikema of the University of Michigan.

    Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, an independent not-for-profit research institution on the coast of Maine, conducts research ranging from microbial oceanography to large-scale ocean processes that affect the global environment. Recognized as a leader in Maine’s emerging innovation economy, the Laboratory’s research, education, and technology transfer programs are spurring significant economic growth in the state.

  • Endangered Sturgeon return to Penobscot River post dam removal

    Endangered shortnose sturgeon released into the Penobscot River. Photo submitted by G. Zydlewski

    by Ramona du Houx

    Endangered shortnose sturgeon have rediscovered habitat in the Penobscot River that had been inaccessible to the species for more than 100 years prior to the removal of the Veazie Dam in 2013. The Dam's removal was the result of the dedication of many environmental organizations, including the Natural Resource Defense Council, state and local officials, native tribes and concerned citizens, over fifteen years.

    University of Maine researchers confirmed evidence that three female shortnose sturgeon were in the area between Veazie and Orono, Maine in mid-October.

    Researchers had previously implanted these sturgeon with small sound-emitting devices known as acoustic tags to see if they would use the newly accessible parts of the river. Among the most primitive fish to inhabit the Penobscot, sturgeon are often called “living fossils" because they remain very similar to their earliest fossil forms. The fish can live more than 50 years and their bony-plated bodies contribute to making them unique.

    Historically, shortnose sturgeon and Atlantic sturgeon had spawning populations in the Penobscot River as far upstream as the site of the current Milford dam, and provided an important food and trade source to native peoples and early European settlers. Overharvest and loss of suitable habitat due to dams and pollution led to declines in shortnose sturgeon populations and a listing as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1967.

    Graduate student C. Johnston and Associate Professor J. Zydlewski implant a small tagging device into a shortnose sturgeon

    In 2012, Gulf of Maine populations of Atlantic sturgeon were listed as threatened under the ESA. Today, a network of sound receivers, which sit on the river bottom along the lower river from Penobscot Bay up to the Milford Dam, detect movement and location of tagged fish.

    According to Gayle Zydlewski, an associate professor in the University of Maine School of Marine Sciences, the three individual fish observed were females. These fish have since been tracked joining other individuals in an area identified as wintering habitat near Brewer, Maine. Wintering habitat in other rivers is known to be staging habitat for spawning the following spring.

    “We know that shortnose sturgeon use the Penobscot River throughout the year, and habitat models indicate suitable habitat for spawning in the area of recent detection upriver of Veazie, although actual spawning has not yet been observed,” said Zydlewski.

    Since 2006, Zydlewski has been working with Michael Kinnison, a professor in UMaine’s School of Biology and Ecology, and multiple graduate students, including Catherine Johnston, to better understand the sturgeon populations of the Penobscot River and Gulf of Maine. Johnston, who has been tagging and tracking sturgeon in the Penobscot for two years to study the implications of newly available habitat to shortnose sturgeon, discovered the detections of sturgeon upstream of the Veazie dam remnants. Each new bit of information adds to the current understanding of behavior and habitat preferences of these incredible fish.

    “We’re very excited to see sturgeon moving upstream of where the Veazie Dam once stood, and into their former habitats,“ said Kim Damon-Randall, assistant regional administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries’ Protected Resources Division. “We need to do more research to see how they're using it, but it's a tremendous step in the right direction.”

    Habitat access is essential for the recovery of these species. The removal of the Veazie Dam is only a portion of the Penobscot River Restoration Project, which, when combined with the removal of Great Works Dam in 2012, restores 100 percent of historic sturgeon habitat in the Penobscot. In addition to dam removals, construction of a nature-like fish bypass at the Howland Dam in 2015 significantly improves habitat access for the remaining nine species of sea-run fish native to the Penobscot, including Atlantic salmon and river herring.

    “Scientific research and monitoring of this monumental restoration effort has been ongoing for the past decade,” said Molly Payne Wynne, Monitoring Coordinator for the Penobscot River Restoration Trust. “The collaborative body of research on this project is among the most comprehensive when compared to other river restoration projects across the country.”

     NOAA Fisheries is an active partner and provides funding for this long-term monitoring collaboration that includes The Penobscot River Restoration Trust, The Nature Conservancy and others. These efforts are beginning to shed light on the response of the river to the restoration project. Restoration of the full assemblage of sea-run fish to the Penobscot River will revive not only native fisheries but social, cultural and economic traditions of Maine’s largest river.

  • Marine Microbiology Initiative awards grants to 100 scientists -Bigelow Laboratory gets $150,000

    Dinoflagellates are single-celled marine organisms that use two (dino) whip-like organs called flagella (flagellates) to propel themselves in water. (stock photo)

    Bigelow Laboratory is part of international effort to develop ways to model marine microbial ecology to increase understanding and predictability of ocean systems

    By Ramona du Houx

      Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences Senior Research Scientist José Antonio Fernández Robledo will spend the next year developing molecular tools to manipulate dinoflagellates to better understand their function and how they might transform themselves under varying conditions.

      Dinoflagellates are single-celled marine organisms that use two (dino) whip-like organs called flagella (flagellates) to propel themselves in water. They are distributed throughout the global ocean and are the first link in the aquatic food chain--the initial transfer of light energy to chemical energy (photosynthesis). Almost all other organisms are dependent upon this energy transfer for their subsequent existence.

      This work, being done in collaboration with Dr. Claudio H. Slamovits at Dalhousie University in Halifax Nova Scotia, is part of an $8 million Marine Microbial Initiative launched by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

      The Initiative will occur over the next two years supporting the efforts of more than 100 scientists across 33 institutions to collectively tackle the challenge of developing methods to bring experimental model systems to the ocean.

       Bigelow Laboratory was awarded $150,000 in funding.                     

      The genetic tools generatedin this effort will allow researchers to investigate the activities of microbial genes to understand how these organisms function in marine ecosystems and provide the capability to ask scientific questions inways not currently possible.

      Model systems, such as the mammalian gut bacterium Escherichia coli for microbiology and the fruit fly and zebra fish for biomedicine, have been invaluable for deciphering complex biology. For example, by studying fruit flies, scientists gain insight into the inheritance of human traits such as eye color. But in the world of marine microbial ecology, there are very few model systems and associated tools that enable scientists to deeply explore the physiology, biochemistry, and ecology of marine microbes, which are key drivers of the ocean’s elemental cycles, influence greenhouse gas levels, and support marine food webs.

      Ginger Armbrust, Ph.D., from the University of Washington explained that an important outcome would be to “expand the community of people that are working on these organisms and making big breakthroughs into how these organisms function.” She added, “New model systems will be a magnet for people from outside the field of marine microbial ecology as they will suddenly be able to work with marine microbes in ways that they are used to working with other model organisms.

    “It is great to be part of this international effort to advance understanding of the marine microbial community and how it might respond to change,” said Bigelow Laboratory scientist Fernández Robledo. Bigelow photo

      Currently, researchers have access to powerful tools in biology to help them understand the ocean, such as microscopy and DNA sequencing, but are lacking essential tools in genetics to make robust experimental model systems. Without these tools, scientists are less able to link specific genes to cell behavior or determine how microbes interact within their environment and with one another – critical information for understanding how ocean ecosystems function.

      “It is great to be part of this international effort to advance understanding of the marine microbial community and how it might respond to change,” said Bigelow Laboratory scientist Fernández Robledo. “The support from the Moore Foundation will allow us to jump start our genetic capabilities here and help contribute to global ocean understanding.”

      Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, an independent not-for-profit research institution on the coast of Maine, conducts research ranging from microbial oceanography to large-scale ocean processes that affect the global environment. Recognized as a leader in Maine’s emerging innovation economy, the Laboratory’s research, education, and technology transfer programs are spurring significant economic growth in the state.

  • Maine House Speaker Eves praises housing bond victory, urges LePage to act quickly

     Speaker of the House Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, on Tuesday night praised the passage of bond Question 2 on the statewide ballot. The bond passed with 68 percent of the vote.

    Eves led the bipartisan effort in the State Legislature to pass the $15 million bond proposal to invest in affordable and efficient housing for Maine seniors.

    “The passage of the housing bond is a huge victory for Maine seniors and the economy. It’s a win win for communities across the state,” said Eves, who sponsored the bond proposal. “The investment will help a dire need for affordable housing for Maine seniors, while also helping to create construction jobs in communities in rural and urban areas of our state. Maine voters sent a strong message tonight in support of seniors. I urge the governor to release the bond quickly and honor the will of the voters.”

    Maine has a shortage of nearly 9,000 affordable rental homes for low income older adults, and that this shortfall will grow to more than 15,000 by 2022 unless action is taken to address the problem, according to a report by independent national research firm Abt Associates.

     “With the passage of the Housing Bond, Maine can start to scale that number back through improved affordable housing measures in some of our most vulnerable communities,”said Lori Parham, AARP Maine State Director. 

    The Senior Housing Bond will enable more Mainers to age in their own homes by revitalizing communities and providing new homes for older Mainers; dedicating funds to home repair and weatherization of some existing homes; and by creating jobs in the construction industry.

    AARP Maine heard from thousands of their 230,000 members in the state regarding this issue in the weeks leading up to the election.  On October 20th, more than 4,000 AARP members participated in a live tele-town hall with Senate President Mike Thibodeau (R-Winterport) and House Speaker Mark Eves (D-North Berwick).  Participants were invited to ask questions during the town hall meeting and many callers expressed their support for the state’s investment in affordable housing.

  • Bigelow Laboratory and Colby College collaborate with Tiny Giants exhibit

    Marine microbes produce half the oxygen we breathe. They are the base of the food chain, and without them the food source for billions of people would be threatened. Microbes also offer the potential for discoveries of new pharmaceuticals, nutritional supplements and fuel sources and the potential to mitigate the effects of climate change.

    They also are stunningly beautiful.

    The invisible world of marine microbes will be revealed through a photographic art exhibit at Colby College throughout the fall semester from Sept. 17-Dec. 17.

    Eighteen large images (up to five feet by four feet) make the invisible microscopic marine organisms visible, helping to tell the stories of the critical roles these tiny creatures play in planetary health and balance.

    “Our idea behind the Tiny Giants images was to pique people’s imaginations about the invisible creatures that we study that are vital to our very existence,” said Dr. Benjamin Twining, director of research and education at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay, where the exhibit was created. “Their visual depiction provides the opportunity for people to also learn about marine microbes. We are delighted that Colby College decided to take this a step further and explore microbes from a variety of vantage points, from using them as a muse for sculptural inspiration to examining how microbial knowledge might be used to help guide policy positions.”

    Colby professors in biology, environmental science, the humanities, art, theater and dance will use the exhibit as a launching point in their fall courses as they integrate the concept of invisible marine microbes into their respective disciplines.

    “We’re excited to show the images in the Tiny Giants exhibition on campus this fall” said Colby Provost and Dean of Faculty Lori G. Kletzer. “Colby’s strategic partnership with Bigelow Laboratory provides world-class opportunities in marine science and climate science for our students—we knew that. And now the unique aesthetic for examining the natural microbial world through these photos completely reinforces the interdisciplinary approach that both our institutions value so highly.”

    The Tiny Giants exhibit will formally opened with a reception in Miller Library on Colby’s campus on Thursday, Sept. 17th.

    Photographs will be on view at three campus locations through Dec. 17: at the Miller Library, Olin Science Library and the Davis Curricular Gallery in the Colby College Museum of Art.

    Participating Colby faculty members who will incorporate Tiny Giants into semester activities include the Julian D. Taylor Associate Professor of Classics and Director of Colby’s Center for the Arts and Humanities Kerill O’Neill, Professor of Science, Technology, and Society James R. Fleming, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Denise A. Bruesewitz, Assistant Professor of Art Bradley A. Borthwick, Associate Professor of Art Tanya R. Sheehan, Associate Professor of Biology Catherine R. Bevier, and Technical Director in Theater and Dance John E. Ervin.

    The art and science educational collaboration will conclude with an event in early December that will showcase students’ work inspired by Tiny Giants.

    The exhibit is free and open to the public during library hours and when the museum is open, and it offers an unprecedented opportunity to see the invisible—and the beauty and wonder of these diminutive creatures that play such an important role in keeping the planet balanced. The photos represent the technological and scientific achievement of capturing microscopic marine microbes that are invisible to the naked eye. Scientists at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences took the photographs at three different scales, using three different types of microscopes.

    Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, an independent not-for-profit research institution on the coast of Maine, conducts research ranging from microbial oceanography to large-scale ocean processes that affect the global environment. Recognized as a leader in Maine’s emerging innovation economy, the Laboratory’s research, education, and technology transfer programs are spurring significant economic growth in the state.

  • Bigelow Laboratory scientists discover virtually unknown role of iron oxidizing bacteria in tundra with implications for climate change

    Summer research assistant Frances Iannucci takes measurements and prepares to collect samples. The mineral soils are underlain by permafrost constraining the movement of surface water that creates conditions ideal for the oxidation and reduction of iron.    Photo: Joshua Benes, University of Vermont

    Iron may play a much larger role in the biogeochemistry of the Arctic tundra than previously thought, with the potential to impact ongoing climate change. 

    Bigelow Laboratory scientists were the first to discover and report on microbial iron oxidation in the tundra and how iron-oxidizing bacteria may impact the Arctic’s response to rising temperatures. Their findings were published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

    “We discovered iron-oxidizing bacteria are common in tundra wetlands and produce copious amounts of biogenic iron oxides ... The Arctic tundra has the potential to be heavily affected by changes in climate associated with increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations and global warming,” explained Dave Emerson, lead author of the study and senior research scientist at Bigelow Laboratory. “Its permanently frozen soils – or permafrost – hold an enormous amount of organic carbon, which when released could increase greenhouse gases, including methane. An active, microbially-mediated iron cycle could serve to keep a check on methane emissions.”

     Researchers conducted their investigation on the North Slope of Alaska, near Toolik Field Station at Toolik Lake, where they sampled ten sites, nine of which contained microbial iron mats, some of these covered hundreds of square meters. In addition to possibly suppressing methane production, the presence of iron oxides may also play an important role in the phosphorus cycle.

    "These oxides are easily reduced by an anaerobic, iron-reducing bacteria that live deeper in the tundra soils. Microbial iron-reduction will outcompete the process of methanogenesis carried out by a different group of microbes responsible for methane production. The net affect would be to suppress methane production. The reduced iron that comes from iron-reduction will keep feeding iron-oxidizing bacteria. Because the permafrost layer in the tundra is often only a few tens of centimeters below the soil surface, this process limits the downward flow of anoxic iron-rich waters, and keeps everything close to the surface. This intensifies the iron cycle," said Emerson.

    Phosphorus is often an important controlling nutrient in tundra ecosystems that limits overall primary productivity and fixation of carbon dioxide. Phosphorus binds strongly to the iron oxides produced by the bacteria, and it is not known how may control its availability to plants and other microbes.

    Since this was the first discovery of iron-oxidizing bacteria in the tundra, more investigation is needed to ferret out their numbers, location, and to better determine their role in maintaining the delicate planetary balance.

    In addition to Emerson, other co-authors of the paper are: Jarrod Scott, also a Bigelow Laboratory scientist, and Joshua Benes and William B. Bowden, from the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, University of Vermont.

    The full paper can be read here: http://aem.asm.org/content/81/23/8066.full.pdf+html.

    Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, an independent not-for-profit research institution on the coast of Maine, conducts research ranging from microbial oceanography to large-scale ocean processes that affect the global environment. Recognized as a leader in Maine’s emerging innovation economy, the Laboratory’s research, education, and technology transfer programs are spurring significant economic growth in the state.

  • If waitresses earned a decent minimum wage, our dignity might get a raise

    Editorial by Annie Quandt, a server working in the Old Port and a resident of Westport Island. First appeared in the PPH

    While I’ve never had someone completely stiff me because it took them a while to get their food – the customers’ rationale in the New Jersey incident, as they noted on the receipt – I frequently find myself putting up with almost anything from customers in order to get the tips that make up half of my income.

    In Maine, 82 percent of all tipped restaurant workers are women, and any woman who has worked for tips will tell you that sexual harassment and rude comments are, sadly, just another part of the job.

    When your customers pay your wages instead of your employer, you don’t have the luxury of speaking up when you feel uncomfortable or disrespected; if rent is due that week or you have a family to feed, you just have to put up with it.

    I’ve been working at a restaurant on Commercial Street in Portland for just about a year now, and I just picked up a second serving job on Commercial Street to make ends meet. Recently, two men came in, clearly intoxicated, and sat at their table for an hour and a half trying to look up the waitresses’ skirts.

    All of the women working that night could feel these men leering and were uncomfortable and anxious the whole shift. When we complained to management, they told us to cut off their alcohol consumption – but nothing else was done.

    These types of incidents are commonplace in the restaurant industry. I have been asked out on dates, with the customer’s pen hovering over the tip line as he waited for my answer. I have been asked for my number more times than I can count. I have had customers comment on my outfit or my body while I’m working. I’ve wanted to say something, but the customer is always right … right?

    When women servers can’t defend themselves from rude behavior from customers, the entire restaurant culture begins to accept it as the norm. Even management plays a role in harassment in this industry.

    If you’re not “date ready” when you show up for your shift, in some restaurants, you’ll be told to change or unbutton your top or to put on more makeup to make yourself appealing. In my case, the managers have made it clear that the curvier girls are not allowed to wear certain clothing items, while the more slender servers can wear whatever they want to work.

    Comments like this about body types and personal style not only make us all feel watched and uncomfortable but also sometimes make it more difficult for us to do our jobs. When I’m sweeping and cleaning and doing side work in 95-degree heat, the freedom to wear a skirt versus jeans is almost a necessity.

    Complaints about sexual harassment from co-workers are rarely taken seriously in restaurants. It is always tough to report unwanted attention or harassment from co-workers or customers, but it is especially difficult if the harassment comes from management.

    Where do you turn when the person who holds power over you at your job is the one harassing you? What happens if you do make a formal complaint? The restaurant industry is a tight-knit community, and if any employer thinks you might be a hassle, they won’t hire you.

    Servers wield so little power in their positions and in their wages, and I am inclined to think that the two are inextricably linked.

    According to a Restaurant Opportunities Centers United survey, servers working in states like Maine – where there is a sub-minimum wage for tipped workers – are three times more likely to experience harassment on the job than servers who work in states where everyone makes the same minimum wage.

    This is evidence of a systemic problem – combined with the fact that, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 7 percent of American women work in restaurants but 37 percent of all EEOC sexual harassment complaints come out of this industry. We’re allowing an entire industry full of hardworking women to go to work with the presumption that they will be harassed.

    I support the 2016 “wages with dignity” referendum, which would raise the minimum to $12 by 2020 and eliminate the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers by 2024. Earning the same minimum wage as other workers would mean tipped workers wouldn’t feel like they have to ingratiate themselves with their customers regardless of their behavior.

    It would mean that management and our co-workers would have to respect us as equals (because when you are paid less, you must obviously be worth less). And it would mean a stable wage for the long winters and tough weekday shifts when servers are more willing to sacrifice dignity at work in order to make ends meet.

    I deserve dignity on the job, and one fair minimum wage would help me get it.

  • Dr. Dagher’s history of innovation, leadership and work at UMaine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center recognized by White House award



    Dr. Habib Dagher his Bridge in a Back Pack behind him at the University of Maine in 2009. photo by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramona du Houx

    In the spring of 2009 when Dr. Habib Dagher walked on the stage at the University of Maine during a presentation about bridge composite technologies he was casually carrying an oversized backpack. To most everyone’s surprise he opened the backpack and proceeded to pull out a large blue cylinder bag—and announced this was the major component that would form the skeleton of the arch of the award-winning composite bridge system, known as the “Bridge-in-a-Backpack.”

    In addition to the composite arch bridge system, Dr. Dagher’s history of innovation includes being named on 24 patents with 8 more pending.

    Finally, Dr. Dagher, on October 13, 2015, has been properly recognized for being a leader, the prime inventor of the “Bridge-in-a-Backpack,"  an inspiring innovator and mentor as he became a “2015 White House Transportation Champion of Change.”

    The White House Champions of Change Program honors Americans who are empowering and inspiring other members of their communities. At the event, honorees will have the opportunity to highlight their efforts in advancing transportation during a panel discussion. In addition, a blog post and the biography of each honoree will be featured on the White House website.

    “I’m really, really humbled,” said Dr. Dagher, founding Director of the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center. “The award really belongs to the entire center, to the entire team.”

    The Bridge-in-a-Backpack’s arches, made of composite materials, are inflated at the site of a bridge and then infused with resin. Once they harden, they are lowered into place and filled with concrete and the foundations are shored up. Then the arches are covered in a corrugated, composite material, dirt and sand fills in gaps, and a composite deck on top of the structure is paved.

    The world’s first “Bridge in a Backpack” can be seen in Pittsfield as the Neal Bridge. That 44-foot structure used 23 arches in its construction and cut down the time of erecting a bridge — which was built by UMaine students, professors, and the Maine Department of Transportation.

    Governor John Baldacci made sure ten percent of Maine’s bridges would be built from the technology developed at the Composite Center in a transportation bond. That enabled the first Bridge in a Backpack to be constructed, and every since then attention and acclaim has been rolling in. With revolutionary examples of a light weight, more durable and flexible bridge technology here in Maine other states continue to see the advantages of using the “Bridge-n-a-Backpack.” The company that manufactures the bridges is owned and operated by Mainers in Orono, near UMaine.

    Dagher has also spurred composite technologies in alternative energy systems, boat building and extra strong buildings.

    “Dr. Habib Dagher is a wonderful and talented ambassador for Maine, and UMaine. His work on the composite program is yielding gains in transportation, energy, and boat building. I am proud of what he did in Maine and how the technologies he has fostered are great examples of what Maine can do for the nation,” said Former Governor John Baldacci.

    Dr. Dagher received his award in Washington D.C. at the White House Champions of Change event as U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx recognized 11 of the nation’s top transportation innovators for their exemplary leadership in advancing transportation and leading change that benefits our nation’s transportation system.

    The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) nominated Dr. Dagher for the award.

    “From Bridge in a Backpack to the VolturnUS wind-power project, the brilliant innovations he has developed are opening many economic opportunities for the state’s future,” said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. “I’m so glad the White House is recognizing his vision, leadership, and ingenuity.  Congratulations to him and his team on this well-earned honor.”

    “Dr. Dagher has long been an innovative force in Maine, and we are delighted that his work is being recognized so prominently by the White House,” said Senators Collins and King in a joint statement. “The University of Maine continues to prove that it is a first-class research institution, and Dr. Dagher and his team at the Composites Center are exemplary of that excellence.”

    In 2014, the Composite Arch Bridge system was approved in the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) bridge code, the first FRP composite bridge system to be approved in the US bridge design code.


    Dr. Habib Dagher's Bridge in a Back Pack being displayed at the University of Maine in 2009. photo by Ramona du Houx

    The Arch Bridge System, was featured in the cover story of Plastics Engineering in May 2015. The article titled, “Reinforced Plastics Move into Non-Traditional Markets,” was written Peggy Malnati. An excerpt from the article follows:

    “With increasingly unpredictable weather, natural disasters, and civil unrest plaguing many regions, it’s increasingly important to be able to replace damaged or destroyed bridges rapidly. Even in settled areas, aging infrastructure on bridges that are over their limit and beyond their service life means local and regional governments need ways to replace bridges quickly and cost effectively, preferably with materials offering longer use life.

    “A composites-intensive bridge technology developed by University of Maine’s Advanced Structures & Composites Center and commercialized by Advanced Infrastructure Technologies (both in Orono, Maine, USA) is said to provide a better, faster way to replace a wide variety of concrete bridges, freeway underpasses/overpasses, and railroad bridges. The project began with three ambitious goals: replace concrete formwork and rebar, use efficient arched structures, and produce components at the worksite.”


    Dr. Habib Dagher speaking about his Bridge in a Back Pack at the University of Maine in 2009. photo by Ramona du Houx

    “This award honors over a decade of ground breaking research by Habib and the UMaine team and highlights the importance of our continued partnership in advancing the nation’s transportation industry,” said Brit Svoboda, Chairman and CEO of AIT.

    Composite arch bridges have been installed in 18 locations in the US. A few others have been built elsewhere, including one in Trinidad.

     When a bridge collapsed in Minneapolis in 2007 Baldacci put together a $40 million bond, from nominal fees, to repair and replace the bridges at risk in Maine. "We’re going to use the latest research and development technologies from the University of Maine in composites to be a part of the solution," said Governor Baldacci at that time. "This should help spur the growing composites industry in Maine while making our bridges safe and secure."

    It did as the bond bill established a bridge composites innovation initiative where the MDOT worked with UM to expand the use of composites technologies in bridge maintenance and capital applications. They used the technology and products to inspect and extend the life of bridges and developed delivery models that expedited the design, rehabilitation and construction of bridges.

    Under Dr. Dagher’s leadership, the UMaine Composites Center grew from an idea proposed to the National Science Foundation in 1996 to a 100,000 ft2 world leading research laboratory with 180 full and part-time employees and students, the largest STEM-based research center at a Maine university.

    “In his 30 years at the University of Maine, Habib has embodied the teaching, research and community engagement efforts at the heart of Maine’s research university,” said University of Maine President Susan J. Hunter. “He is an internationally recognized leader in his field addressing the needs of Maine, and his innovation has led to structural technologies that have improved transportation infrastructure, advanced economic development and saved lives. And in all these efforts, he has engaged hundreds of students — tomorrow’s workforce — and created jobs. This national honor recognizes the achievement of hundreds of UMaine collaborators, and represents the strong partnership UMaine has with businesses and communities throughout the state.”

  • Supermoon/lunar eclipse in Maine, photos by du Houx's

    Supermoon/lunar eclipse/harvest moon in Maine, photo taken in Solon by Alex Cornell du Houx. The event only happens every 33 years. Being a supermoon made the moon 14 percent larger to the naked eye.

    Supermoon rising in Maine on the coast. Photo by Ramona du Houx

  • Keep looking up for migrating birds that stay longer in Maine

    Migration is a system of organized chaos. Sure, songbirds fly south for the winter. But they might fly north, west or east, or just fly around randomly before heading south. Eventually, most of them will end up on their normal wintering grounds, but getting there is half the fun.

    I grew up thinking that birds flew south in prearranged fashion, following the arrows drawn on maps that depicted the Atlantic Flyway, the Mississippi Flyway, the Central Flyway and the Pacific Flyway. That’s what my books told me. I suppose most birds do behave according to such models, but there are a bunch of rogues out there that make life interesting this time of year.

    In early September, our birds depart predictably, following favorable winds southbound. If our own birds wander elsewhere we wouldn’t know it — out of sight, out of mind. What we do know is that some birds departing from elsewhere end up here. By late September, anything can happen, and often does.

    Many species enter a period of post-breeding dispersal. They nest in predictable places, and when those chores are over, they wander. The best example in Bangor has been teasing birders for over a month. Great egrets nest in southern Maine. This year, a bunch of them wandered up here during post-breeding dispersal and took a liking to Essex Woods. They are so conspicuous, they can be seen from the highway by passing motorists. Eventually, they’ll fly south.

    Some birds deliberately wander. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are the only nesting hummingbirds east of the Mississippi, but some western hummingbirds wander east when they are done nesting. The rufous hummingbird, in particular, has a habit of drifting into Maine later in autumn. Although most of our hummingbirds are gone by mid-September, I always advise leaving feeders up until frost. You never know what might visit in October.

    Some birds get blown off course in bad weather, especially those that have a habit of wandering anyway. Cave swallows nest in the Caribbean, with small colonies in Florida and Texas. They are famous for wandering after breeding, and they aren’t particularly troubled when blown north. They sometimes show up along the Maine coast in October.

    Migration forces many species to fly long distances over water. They really don’t want to. It’s a big risk. But their wintering grounds are on the far side of the Caribbean and there is little choice. Songbirds from Atlantic Canada typically work their way down the coast of Nova Scotia, meandering back and forth until they get up the courage to cross the Gulf of Maine. They touch down on the first land they find, or even on boats if necessary.

    Maine islands are notorious migrant traps. King of these is Monhegan, 10 miles from the midcoast mainland. While many Maine inns are reaching the end of their peak seasons, the inns on Monhegan are typically full this time of year. Birders flock from everywhere to see what rarities have fallen out there.

    Although Monhegan is only a mile long, there are 17 miles of walking trails crisscrossing the island. However, many of the visiting birds merely forage around town where there are bushes, hedges and ornamental fruit trees. It can be possible to find 20 species of warbler in a morning. Generally, the birds are so tired and hungry that they ignore people. Close, easy views are the norm.

    However, it is the likelihood of rare birds that attracts so many birders to Monhegan in late September. Lark sparrows nest from the Great Lakes to the west coast, nowhere near Maine. A few turn up on Monhegan every autumn. Clay-colored sparrows are expanding their breeding range eastward into Maine, but only in miniscule numbers. The ones that turn up on Monhegan in autumn have likely gotten lost and wandered from the Midwest.

    Summer tanagers are a southern bird, with a nesting range north to New Jersey. Somehow, a few end up on Monhegan every autumn, and that is decidedly in the wrong direction for a bird that should be heading to the tropics.

    You’d have to go to the grasslands of central states to find a nesting dickcissel. I saw my first in Tennessee on June 26, 1999. Western kingbirds reside west of the Mississippi. Both species are infamous wanderers in the fall, and Monhegan vacuums up any bird that roams into the Atlantic.

    Don’t think of yourself as planning too late for Monhegan this year. Think of yourself as planning early for next year.

    Bob Duchesne serves as vice president of Maine Audubon’s Penobscot Valley Chapter. He developed the Maine Birding Trail, with information atmainebirdingtrail.com. He can be reached at duchesne@midmaine.com.

  • Scientists from Maine's Bigelow labs used single cell genomics to identify frozen bacteria

    Bigelow Laboratory of Maine's incoming postdoctoral researcher Stephanie A. Carr and Dr. Beth Orcutt used single cell genomics to identify an Atribacteria (uncultivated bacteria that live without oxygen) cell from frozen Antarctic deep subsurface sediment. Reported in Frontiers in Microbiology, this demonstrates the huge potential for single cell techniques to be used to help unlock a massive amount of genomic information stored in previously collected frozen sediment cores.

    The sampled sediment was collected from the Adélie Basin, Antarctica, from 97.4 meters below sea floor during Expedition 318 of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program. Originally, the sediment sample was frozen for DNA analyses, which is less than ideal for single cell sorting techniques.

    Given the amount of existing frozen sediments that have been collected for biological studies throughout the history of ocean drilling programs, the successful isolation of an Atribacteria cell from frozen sediment demonstrates how single cell techniques can potentially unlock genomic information from a huge reservoir of already collected, frozen sediments.

    This finding was also the first report of a single cell Atribacteria genome from marine sediment and highlights the potential role of Atribacteria in carbon cycling in the deep biosphere.  In non-marine Atribacteria, a partial single cell genome suggests that Atribacteria use carbon to grow and produce waste products such as acetate, ethanol, and carbon dioxide. These products may support methane-producing bacteria and help explain the frequent occurrence of Atribacteria in anoxic methane-rich sediments.

  • Annual Acadia Night Sky Festival in its Seventh Year

    August 14, 2015

    Aurora photo by Ramona du Houx

    Dark night skies lend themselves to the ultimate stargazing experience in Downeast Maine at the 7th Annual Acadia Night Sky Festival, Sept. 10-14. The festival explores and celebrates the starlit skies through education, science and art workshops, lectures and parties and is presented by Celestron.

    There will be events held throughout the duration of the festival in and around Acadia National Park. The park and Downeast Maine are home to stellar night skies, which afford viewers the opportunity to see the clearest star-filled night skies in the eastern U.S. The festival is geared towards families and astronomers alike, and is a great way for residents and visitors to celebrate and promote the protection of the night skies while enjoying nationally recognized speakers, workshops, solar viewings, hikes and more.

    The festival kicks off with a variety of events, including a presentation by keynote speaker Dr. John A. Grant, III, a geologist at the Center for Earth & Planetary Studies at the National Air and Space Museum. Grant will be presenting "Exploring Mars with the Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity Rovers." Following Grant's presentation, attendees may enjoy the "Stars Over Sand Beach" event, where attendees can gaze at Acadia's amazing night sky and learn about constellations guided by an Acadia National Park ranger.

    Other events taking place during the festival include a sip and paint event, photography classes taught in the park, star parties allowing viewers to get up-close and personal with constellations and other night sky features, and a viewing of "The Astronaut Farmer" at the Celestial Cinema in Agamont Park. There will also be book signings and a variety of children's activities.

    In addition to Grant, there will also be many nationally recognized speakers at the festival. Dan Barry, MD, PhD, is a former NASA astronaut and veteran of three space flights, four spacewalks and two trips to the international space station, as well as Alisdair Davey from the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Other can't-miss events include an under-the-stars boat cruise with Abbe Museum educator and Wabanaki storyteller George Neptune, bioluminescent night paddles in Castine, and solar viewing at The Jackson Laboratory.

    The 2015 Acadia Night Sky Festival is presented by Celestron. Additional support comes from Friends of Acadia, Bar Harbor Whale Watch, Bluenose Inn, Cape Air and Witham Family Hotels.

    For a complete listing of events happening during the 7th Annual Acadia Night Sky Festival presented by Celestron, visit www.acadianightskyfestival.org. For travel information to the area, visitwww.barharborinfo.com.

  • UMaine researchers strive to increase bee populations in Maine

    by Ramona du Houx

    A group of University of Maine researchers is working to enhance native and honey bee populations by increasing beneficial pollinator flowers across Maine’s landscape. This is not a new idea — what is new is their choice of research location. Some might describe one of their sites as trashy, but the researchers think it’s just what they need. (see previous investagetive article HERE.)

    The researchers — Alison Dibble, Lois Stack, Megan Leech, and Frank Drummond — are planting pollinator demonstration gardens at the inactive Pine Tree Landfill in Hampden and at G.W. Allen’s Blueberry farm located in Orland. Both plots will be used to educate farmers and community members about strategies that they can adopt to help keep bee communities thriving in the state.

    “This project is important because one of the many hypothesized stressors that have been implicated in bee decline, including honey bees and native bees, is not having enough floral resources, which provides the pollen and nectar essential for bees,” says Drummond, professor of insect ecology.

    Funded by the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the two-year project’s objective is to identify plantings — annuals, herbaceous perennials and woody shrubs — that are most beneficial to bees across Maine’s terrain, which is dominated by forest ecosystems that are not particularly conducive to bee life.

    By enhancing habitats to fit the needs of pollinators, the researchers are giving back to the tiny buzzing insects that provide our agricultural systems with the crucial service of pollination.

    As bees forage for food, they pollinate flowering plants by depositing pollen on the flower’s stigma, the receptive part of the plant’s female reproductive organ. The pollen will then germinate and fertilize the flower to produce fruits and seeds.

    Conservation biologists in Maine, as well as worldwide, have raised concerns about declines in bee abundance and species diversity. Due to conversion of landscape for residential and commercial uses, natural bee habitats are being eliminated, which could have serious implications to various agricultural crops in Maine, such as blueberries.

    According to David Yarbrough, professor of horticulture and a wild blueberry specialist for University of Maine Cooperative Extension, last year’s harvest of wild blueberry crops in Maine brought in a $250 million monetary return.  In 2014, Maine produced and harvested more than 104 million pounds of blueberries made possible, in part, by the free services bees provide.

    According to the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, bees provide pollination to 80 percent of all flowering plants and 75 percent of fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in the U.S. About 25,000 species of bees are known throughout the world and Maine is home to more than 270 species of native bees.

    During the demonstrations, researchers and educators will discuss plants that are best utilized by bees and will stress the need to avoid flowers and shrubs treated with systemic insecticides because they can be detrimental to bees, says Drummond.

    “It’s not just about planting flowers: it’s about planting flowers that are safe for the bees,” he says. Both sites will help researchers, farmers and educators better understand how these plots should be managed in order to be successful both agriculturally and ecologically. The first demonstration date has not been set, but the researchers are aiming to hold one in mid-August.

    Pine Tree landfill, the first site for the demonstration, is managed by Casella Waste Services, which owns more than 400 landfills in the Northeast. If all goes well, the company hopes to host more pollinator gardens on their landfills, transforming unused land into flower-filled paradises for bees.

    “I think the landfill is a great location for this project because it’s a piece of land that is not currently being used. Right now they use the methane that comes from the landfill to produce energy. So if we can use the same land for something else that is a good cause, it’s a win-win,” says Leech, a graduate student working with Drummond.

    Leech’s master’s thesis is focused on flower nutrition, specifically whether bees visit flowers with higher nutritional value more frequently. She’s also looking at other floral characteristics that would impact flower nutrition such as nectar and pollen. The idea for her thesis sprouted while working on Dibble’s bee module project, when she observed bees showing a preference for some flowers over others, and wondered if it was related to nutrition.

    The bee module — a five-year project started in 2012 — is aimed at determining which plants elicit the most bee visitations in order to create a baseline of what plants should be selected for the pollinator demonstration sites. In order to collect the data, Dibble setup 36 plots within 100-foot-by-100-foot areas on three Maine blueberry fields and at the University of Maine Rogers farm. By placing plots side-by-side, researchers were able to collect observations of bee visitations on a variety of different planting selections, which will help to better inform their recommendations to farmers.

    The data they collect, which will focus on the success of flowering plant germination and bee visitation preferences, will be looked at over the next two years to determine if the increase in floral resources was beneficial to the bee populations.

    Promoting the health of bee populations is relatively inexpensive in terms of the alternative, which is trying to pollinate plants without bees. If farmers planted pollinator plots next to their agricultural crops, they could decrease rental costs for honeybees, which are usually imported by farmers during the planting season, says Drummond.

    Drummond hopes the project will encourage nonfarmers to invest in pollinator plantings for municipalities, private homes and state agencies, so — on a landscape level — bee numbers can increase.

    “In the past, we’ve mostly been focusing on the farmers. But what makes this project more unique is that we are trying to provide outreach for the nonfarmers who can also have an impact on improving bee communities on the landscape,” says Drummond.

  • UMaine scientists help discover ocean chloride buried in sediment

    By Ramona du Houx

    University of Maine marine scientists are part of a team that discovered chloride — the most common dissolved substance in seawater — can leave the ocean by sticking to organic particles that settle out of surface water and become buried in marine sediment.

    The discovery helps explain the fate of chloride in the ocean over long time periods, including ocean salt levels throughout geological history, says Lawrence Mayer and Kathleen Thornton, researchers based at the UMaine Darling Marine Center in Walpole.

    Chloride is half of the power couple called sodium chloride, or table salt, says Mayer. Chloride affects ocean salinity, and thereby seawater density and ocean circulation.

    Until now, scientists thought chloride only left the ocean when seawater evaporated, leaving behind salt deposits. Such ancient deposits provide salt used to flavor food and melt ice on roads.

    But using high-energy X-rays produced by a particle accelerator at Brookhaven National Laboratory, the research team demonstrated that chloride bonds to carbon in marine organic matter.

    Researchers found high organochlorine concentrations in natural organic matter settled into sediment traps between 800 meters (2,624 feet) and 3,200 meters (10,498 feet) deep in the Arabian Sea.

    Alessandra Leri from Marymount Manhattan College led the team, which included other scientists from Marymount Manhattan College and Stony Brook University. The team showed that single-celled algae can make organic matter containing organochlorines.

    This chemical reaction can occur without phytoplankton, as well, Mayer says, under conditions similar to bleaching. Sunlight promotes the reaction so organochlorines likely form at the sunlit top of the ocean.

    The team concluded that transformations of marine chloride to nonvolatile organochlorine through biological and abiotic pathways represent a new oceanic sink for this element.

    The study titled, “A marine sink for chlorine in natural organic matter,” has been published in “Nature Geoscience.”

    Mayer and Thornton examine the ocean using biogeochemistry — or how organisms and materials chemically interact in Earth surface environments.

    The findings, says Mayer, pave the way to look for yet-to-be-discovered compounds and enzyme systems. Organic molecules that contain chlorine are often potent chemicals — including antibiotics, insecticides and poisons including dioxin.

    The discoveries also raise questions, he says, including: Are such compounds made on purpose or by accident in the ocean and what consequences might they have for the fate of marine organic carbon?

  • Maine's Jackson Lab to recieve $800K for research on aging

    Maine's Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor has received a $835,037 federal grant to support its continuing research on the aging process. The laboratory is reknowned for genitic reserach with mice. They also ship mice worldwide to other scientific institutions.

    This award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will support Jackson Lab's Nathan Shock Center of Excellence in the Basic Biology of Aging, which combines the practices of biology and genomics to develop a better understanding of how aging works.

    The Center is located in a building a voter-approved bond issued helped to support during the Baldacci administration. LePage has not even considered putting research and development bonds out to voters. Meanwhile Jackson Laboratory and others help strengthen Maine's economy and quality of life.

    Maine has the oldest population in America.

    "The work done by Jackson Laboratory has significantly expanded our knowledge of human genetics," Sen. Collins and Sen. King said in a joint statement. "As the baby boomer generation enters retirement, it is vital that we continue to expand our knowledge of the aging process."

  • Union solidarity at BIW in Maine

    Bath Iron Works shipbuilders took to the streets May 21st for a solidarity rally. Photo by Sarah Bigney

    By Ramona du Houx

    Bath Iron Works shipbuilders took to the streets May 21st for a solidarity rally to promote solidarity during the year before the union’s contract expires.

    “The union is behind its leadership, and the company is going to have to negotiate with us and not dictate to us," said Jay Wadleigh, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local S6. “They need to abide by the contract, stop misleading the media and just work with us so we can get the costs of these ships down. We’re the best shipbuilders in the world. We want to work. We just want to be treated with dignity and respect and be negotiated with and not dictated to.”

    BIW is known as one of the best shipbuilders in America. It's slogan is "Bath Built is Best Built."

    This is the second big march at the shipyard this year. On March 24 nearly 1,000 members of the International Association of Machinists Union Local marched to rallying support and protesting a variety of proposed BIW changes.

    Caps on defense spending have resulted in fewer Naval contracts thus spurring the BIW changes including outsourcing work and cross-training employees.

    BIW says the measures will increase the shipyard’s efficiency and keep the costs of building destroyers competitive. The shipyard insists it needs to be competitive to win two bidding contracts. But the union says there are better ways to cut costs. The stalemate has resulted in a third-party arbitration and a federal lawsuit charging BIW with violating its contract with workers.


    Bath Iron Works shipbuilders took to the streets May 21st for a solidarity rally. Photo by Sarah Bigney

  • UMaine awarded NIST grant a nearly $498,000 for advanced manufacturing technology planning

    The University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center has received a $497,965 award from the National Institutes of Standards and Technology for mapping technical manufacturing challenges in structural thermoplastic materials.

    UMaine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center, in collaboration with Celanese Corporation, Eastman Chemical Company, Polystrand and Royal TenCate, will launch CMIST — the Consortium for Manufacturing Innovation in Structural Thermoplastics. Working groups of material scientists, product developers, manufacturers and potential end users will identify, characterize and map technical challenges to the adoption of thermoplastic composite materials as substitutions in primary structural applications, allowing U.S. manufacturers to bring solutions to market first.

    Low in cost and weight, recyclable and corrosion resistant, thermoplastic composite materials are strong enough to be used as a substitute in many primary structural applications, including ones in which aluminum once replaced steel in aircraft and automobiles. Such substitution has the potential to transform manufacturing.

    Technical issues include: realizing faster manufacturing cycle times; developing fast and reliable thermoplastic joining methods; and characterizing thermoplastic composites for desired performance and economical manufacturing. The vision and applied research that results from this planning mission will help U.S. manufacturers bring their products to market faster and in advance of global competition.

    UMaine’s award is part of the $7.8 million in NIST Advanced Manufacturing Technology Planning Grants.

  • New Environment-Maine report examines climate changes through a generational perspective

    The lives and lively-hoods of Casco Bay fishermen are at risk now because of climate change. New repot brings generational perspective to the issue. Photo by Ramona du Houx

     

    By Ramona du Houx 

    Environment Maine released a report March 31st that investigates how climate change impacts five generations. The report was released on the Maine State Pier, which is under threat of flooding due to sea-level rise and more frequent severe storms. Casco Bay waters rose five inches during 2009 -2010.

    Scientists agree that the United States needs to cut pollution by at least 80 percent by 2050 to protect future generations from the worst impacts of global warming. Environment Maine urged Senators Collins and King to lead on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan (CPP) and not delay on finalizing the plan and setting it out for implementation.

    “We can no longer delay – Maine’s way of life and future generations are in danger, “ said Laura Dorle, Campaign Organizer with Environment Maine. “Together we can take action on climate change to build a stronger, healthier, and more secure future for Mainers to come.”

    The report, Dangerous Inheritance: The Hotter, More Extreme Climate that We’re Passing Down to America’s Young, examines changes in temperature, storm intensity and sea level rise through the eyes of five different generations. New Englanders of today are experiencing 28 percent more rain and snowfall than people did in the 1970s.

    The Millennial Generation entered adulthood during the hottest ten-year period in the last 100 years. Larger storms have increased 20 to 30 percent in Maine, impacting the states economy as well as individuals especially the families and businesses of Maine’s coastal communities.

    We can no longer delay – Maine’s way of life and future generations are in danger, “ said Laura Dorle, Campaign Organizer with Environment Maine. Photo at the reports release of Dorle by Alex Cornell du Houx

    The report’s multi generational perspective gives readers a deeper understanding how lives will be impacted by climate change directly and through loved ones.

    “Four years ago, I became a grandfather and last year I gained another grandson. What sort of world would these little guys be living in when they’re my age?” posed faith leader, Allen Armstrong. “Our scientists have identified the climate change impacts that will occur during the lifetimes of my grandchildren if we continue with business as usual. We cannot stand by and fail our grandchildren – we must act on climate change now, starting with the Clean Power Plan.”  

    “I don’t want to imagine a future where my daughter, Ridley’s, health is at risk and the places she holds dear are no longer what they used to be,” said City Councilor Kristen Cloutier, “As a mother, I want to ensure the best possible future for Ridley. This is why I believe we need to act on climate change now.”

    Casco Bay waters rose five inches during 2009 -2010 so Environment Maine released their report on how generations will be effected by climate changeon the state pier. Photo by Alex Cornell du Houx

    “My generation has entered a world where it has been the hottest decade in the last 100 years, Portland’s waters are already rapidly rising, and things will only get worse unless we take action now,” said Iris SanGiovanni, “Maine Students for Climate Justice urge Senator Collins and King to be leaders on the Clean Power Plan.”

    The EPA is in the process of finalizing standards to limit carbon pollution form dirty power plants. As proposed, the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) will result in the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by approximately 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 nationwide. Each state has broad flexibility to create plans to best achieve the emission reduction targets. Maine’s reduction target is 14 percent. 

    Call your members of Congress, and your local lawmakers to help hold back climate change today.

  • Maine Center for Creativity Announces Art & Science Series

    On April 2nd The Maine Center for Creativity (MCC) will kick off its Creative Toolbox programming for 2015, this year themed around the overlap of the arts and sciences, with a special event combining music, discussion and lecture. The 2015 Creative Toolbox Art & Science Series will explore the hardwired need of humans to be creative and the ways we express that creativity.

    “We’re so honored to have a world-class geneticist such as Dr. Liu, who is working right here in Maine, with us to kick off the 2015 Creative Toolbox Art & Science Series,” said Maine Center for Creativity founder and executive director, Jean Maginnis. “He will teach us through music and his deep knowledge of genetics that creativity is in our DNA.”

    The first of three 2015 Creative Toolbox Art & Science Series events scheduled this year, An Evening with Edison Liu: A Discussion on Art and Science on Thursday April 2 presents the president and CEO of The Jackson Laboratory, in a rare setting that uses piano pieces to underscore his discussion of how both art and science find comfort in patterns and define how to create something from nothing.

    “Part of our mission [at MCC] is really to advocate for this empowerment of people knowing that they’re creative,” Maginnis commented in a recent Fast Company profile.

    Liu will guide the audience through the evolutionary genetics of man as our species emerged as creative beings. Science and art co-developed in this process of human advancement as characteristics that require imagination, memory, and finally creation. Part piano recital and part lecture, this event will both entertain and enlighten, showing how creativity and innovation in art and science has impact on all our lives.

    What: The Maine Center for Creativity presents The Art and Science of Creativity: An Evening with Edison Liu

    Who: Edison T. Liu, M.D., President and CEO of The Jackson Laboratory

    When: Thursday April 2, 2015; 5:30p.m. – 7:30p.m.

    Where: Hannaford Hall, University of Southern Maine Abromson Center

    Why: Dr. Liu will track through music and lecture, the commonality between art and science and how human beings are hardwired to create.

    How: Contact Cynthia at the Maine Center for Creativity to register: cynthia@mainecenterfocreativity.org. Tickets are $35. This event is open to the public.

    Additional events will be held in June 2015 on the Art & Science of Food and October 2015 on the Art & Science of Craft Brewing.

     

  • PUC gives in to LePage, reverses wind energy contracts

    Kibby Wind Farm, in Western Maine, opened in 2010 and has given thousands back to the communities it serves with programs and TIFF's- tax incentives.  Photo by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramona du Houx

    Top Maine lawmakers in the State House denounced the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), the state's energy regulator that is mandated not to make political decisions,  for caving to Governor Paul LePage’s demands to reopen bids on two approved wind contracts. 

    The three-member commission, which is supposed to be independent, reversed its decision in a 2-1 vote. The PUC previously approved contract terms with SunEdison and NextEra for wind projects in Hancock County and Somerset County. That approval allowed the parties to begin negotiating final contracts with Central Maine Power Co. and Emera Maine. A lot of work they never would have undertaken if they new LePage was going to pull the plug on. The contracts, which were approved two months ago, would have helped to lower electric costs for Maine consumers by $69 million and create jobs.

    “The Public Utilities Commission is meant to serve the public’s interest – not the governor’s ideology. Maine should be open for all businesses – not just the businesses the governor favors,” said House Speaker Mark Eves. “He is throwing away real energy savings and jobs that Maine needs. Just as we saw when he meddled with StatOil, he is putting hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in investment in our state at risk.”

    Newly appointed PUC Commissioner Carlie McLean - former legal counsel to LePage  - joined the Commission’s Chair and LePage appointee Mark Vannoy to reverse the decision. Commissioner David Littell voted against the re-opening the bid.

    “I’m disappointed to see Commissioner McLean overturn a decision with so little evidence and put future energy business contracts in jeopardy,” said Mark Dion, House Chair of the Legislature’s Energy Utilities and Technology Committee. “This creates an unpredictable environment for future business contracts.”

    According to a letter from LePage to the Commission obtained by MPBN,  LePage attempted to persuade the commissioners to ignore language in the law that directs them to consider new renewable energy sources.

    LePage wrote, "I request that you expand your current request for proposals to include any clean resource, including existing hydropower and nuclear, and review whether these potential contracts could have benefits for the ratepayers in Maine and our broader economy." 

    Nearly 50 individuals and businesses submitted comments warning that re-opening the bid would create economic uncertainty.

    “Shame on the PUC and Gov. LePage for once again yanking the welcome mat out from under two substantial businesses. Broken promises like these do nothing to reassure business that their capital is welcome here. In fact, decisions like these tarnish our reputation and scare off future opportunities,” said State Senator Dawn HIll.

     Statoil, which promised to invest $120 million to develop offshore wind technology in Maine took its investments overseas to Scotland, because LePage pushed through legislation that took away a contract Statoil had made with the PUC.

  • Climate scientist, Davis, uses art and music to help combat climate change

    Robert Davies (standing) and the quartet during a performance of “The Crossroads Project.” Musicians include (left to right) Robert Waters, Rebecca McFaul, Anne Francis Bayless and Bradley Ottesen. Photo: Andrew McCallister /Courtesy of The Crossroads Project

    By Ramona du Houx
    A decade ago, physicist Robert Davies became intrigued by what was going on at Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute down the road from where he was working at the University of Oxford in England. After attending seminars at the Institute he became shocked by “the broad gap between what science understands about climate change, and what the public understands.”

    To help remedy the apparent lack of communication he began giving public lectures on the impending dangers of climate change. The results weren’t what he expected. “The audiences would understand it on an intellectual level,” said Davies. “The science is pretty self-explanatory and very compelling.” They listened but that was all, and not enough for Davies who immediately became interested in finding ways to inspire people to get involved in taking action to hold back climate change.

    He turned to music and art, and started the Crossroads Project, which premiered in Utah in the fall of 2012 and has performed many times since stateside and aboard. Davis reads, while the musicians play and a slide show of art is projected behind them. Laura Kaminsky wrote music for the project. The art came from images taken by nature photographer Garth Lenz, and paintings by Rebecca Allen.

    “It’s about convincing people who already believe we have these problems to start behaving like it,” said Davies.

  • UMaine Completes 56m Wind Blade Test for International Wind Energy Company

    The University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center completed static strength testing of a 56-meter (184-foot) wind turbine blade for Gamesa, a global technological leader in the wind industry, based in Spain. The blade was manufactured in North America and delivered to the University of Maine in late August of 2014.

    In the testing, the blade was subjected to loads in four directions to prove the structure met international strength standards.

    The Gamesa blade was the largest tested to date in the UMaine Offshore Wind Laboratory. The full-service facility offers testing and material characterization services for every stage of blade development. The lab, which opened in 2011, was funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Maine Technology Asset Fund through the Maine Technology Institute, and a 2010 Maine bond.

    “We are honored to have served one of the world’s leading wind turbine manufacturers,” said Habib Dagher, director of the UMaine Composites Center. “This is the biggest structure we have tested to date, extending nearly 80 percent of the length of our blade test lab.”

    The University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center’s  9,300-square-meter, $110 million, ISO 17025-accredited laboratory has a successful history of partnering with industry, completing over 500 product development and testing projects in the past five years.

    “Our engineers, technicians and students did a great job designing, building and operating the equipment needed to safely rotate and test the 56-meter blade,” said John Arimond, the business development executive with the UMaine Composites Center. Arimond joined UMaine in 2013 after 28 years in industry, most recently serving as CTO of a New Zealand-based manufacturer of 500-kilowatt wind turbines.

    Juan Diego Díaz, marketing director for Gamesa, said his company is excited to be partnering with UMaine for blade testing. “North America was a logical place to conduct this important step in our product development, supporting our growing commercial opportunities in that region and globally. We were impressed by the testing quality, safety and attention to detail provided by the UMaine team in successfully testing our blade,” said Díaz.

    With 20 years experience and more than 30,000 megawatts installed in 46 countries, Gamesa is a global technological leader in the wind industry. The company is perennially ranked among the world’s leading wind turbine manufacturers and it has been present in the North American market for more than 10 years.



  • Invest in job creation, not LePage's cost-shift tax policy

    Editorial by Ramona du Houx

    Cutting taxes, most everyone would agree, could be a great idea. But how do you go about it without placing more burden on the middle class? Not with LePage’s plan. While LePage is trying to tackle the issue, his plan is focused on benefiting the top 2 percent. With his proposal, those earning $50,000 to $175,000 will be taxed at the highest tax rate. And those earning about $10,000 to $50,000 would pay — the same tax rate — as the top 2 percent. So a school teacher earning $26,000 will pay the same rate as a successful investment banker who would get a 2.2 percentage-point cut to his tax rate. With the elimination of the estate tax, the top 2 percent will receive a boon. LePage already cut the tax rate for the wealthiest — this is the second round — and again the middle class will carry the burden.

    And he plans to stop sending any funding to municipalities for essential services. This cost-shifting will end up, as it has been, in property tax increases. When LePage was mayor of Waterville, he ranted against any mention of cutting back the funds to cities from the state. Oh, the costs that shifting circumstances have on some politicians!

    What will hurt people on a day-to-day basis is the sales tax increase to 6.5 percent. While I love going to the movies, I do not relish paying an expanded sales tax for my ticket. To have your hair done, go to a concert or visit a museum, you’ll have to pay sales tax. Just to get the snow removed, hire an accountant or lawyer or get a tow to the mechanic will cost you that sales-tax increase.

    This tax plan is backwards. While it appears to expand tax relief for the less fortunate, those same people will have to pay for the increased sales tax, and if they own a home or business — very significantly increased property taxes, and many of their benefits will also be slashed with health-program cuts.

    Back in 2009, Governor John Baldacci and Democratic lawmakers came up with a similar plan. The big difference was that the plan did not stop revenue-sharing to cities. It did not increase property taxes, and it did not cut back on essential services. Yet, it cut taxes for all tax-paying citizens, eliminating them for the less fortunate.

    But because it raised the sales tax, Republicans went to work and flooded the airwaves with ads declaring certain services would skyrocket. So, real tax relief for all never happened, as the right-wing ad factory led the public to believe they would be paying a lot more because of sales taxes. The opposite was true.
     

    A recent analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy evaluated the local tax burden in every state. According to the study, in 2015 the poorest fifth of Americans will pay on average 10.9 percent of their income in state and local taxes; the middle fifth will pay 9.4 percent, and the top 1 percent will average 5.4 percent.

    “States and localities have regressive systems because they tend to rely more on sales and excise taxes, which are the same rate for rich and poor alike. Even property taxes, which account for much of local tax revenue, hit working- and middle-class families harder than the wealthy because their homes often represent their largest asset,” reads the report.

    This ideological battle is being waged across the nation and involves the right wing promoting the economics of austerity over investing in people and programs in innovation that can grow the economy.

    Baldacci had it right. He consolidated administrations from school districts to branches of state government. He got the prison system to work together, and stopped agencies from duplicating work, while getting bond initiatives passed that would go on to help research and development (R&D) — the type of research that led to the University of Maine’s breakthroughs in bio-fuels and composite technologies. The VolturnUS offshore floating wind turbine is the first of it’s kind in the Americas, and so is The Ocean Renewable Power Company’s tidal power generator. Both were developed at UMaine laboratories; both received state bond funding to jumpstart them. And federal grants happened directly afterwards.

    Maine’s innovative technologies began to really take off after 2007, with voter-approved bonds. The  $50 million investment became know as the Maine Technology Asset Fund and nourished growing sectors of high-wage jobs.

    The funds were rewarded on a competitive basis to university labs, businesses, and nonprofit groups with plans approved by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The recipients of the fund’s grants secured more than $80 million in matching funds. A 2011 evaluation of Maine’s R&D investments found that these 29 projects, which were granted funding by mid-2011, had directly created 289.5 jobs and preserved 303 jobs in traditionally higher-paying sectors. Nineteen of those projects had led to the creation of a new product or service.

    But the Maine Technology Asset Fund hasn’t received a new infusion of funds since 2010. A legislative committee formed in 2006 outlined an R&D strategy for the state and recommended a $50 million annual bond investment in the Maine Technology Institute.

     Community Colleges received bond funding for their expansions, which has enabled thousands to get good-paying jobs. Gov. Baldacci put in new job-training initiatives, which have worked, but as the workplace changes and new tech jobs emerge, more needs to be done.

    Cutting taxes for the top 2 percent has not yielded jobs for Maine or the nation. This sector of society already has been given many chances to prove their "trickle-down" economics. America has experienced job growth for over four years with President Barack Obama’s policies. Maine has been held back because of the trickle-down mantra LePage follows.

    At a recent press conference, Democrats said they have proposed bills for job training, workforce development, college affordability, and job creation. No doubt they will include R&D bonds in this mix.

    All lawmakers should remember we had significant job growth before the Great Recession, and that was largely due to Baldacci’s policies. The state is in need of a real R&D bond package. And interest rates are historically low with the Fed at the zero-lower bound. The ongoing ripple effect in the economy from bond investments has been proven to create new companies with new jobs.

  • New Maine Biotech company operating out of MDI Biological Laboratory

    Left to right: Chuck Donnelly, CEO; Carrie LeDuc, director of product development; Abigail Ames, director of technology; and Kat Taylor, director of sales and marketing at RockStep Solutions, Inc. Photo by MDI Biological Laboratory

    RockStep Solutions, Inc., a new biotech company, began working out the MDI Biological Laboratory in Salisbury Cove in January, 2015. Founded in October 2013, RockStep develops information management software for research laboratories.

    “The MDI Biological Laboratory is a perfect start-up environment for RockStep,” said Chuck Donnelly, the company’s CEO. “The Institution offers a world-class research environment combined with an entrepreneurial spirit, and we’ll have the added benefit of being able to interact with the MDI Biological Laboratory’s scientific staff and their extended network of scientific, clinical and business collaborators.”

    Donnelly launched RockStep with three co-founders, whom previously worked at The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor. RockStep develops laboratory management information systems designed specifically for mobile platforms, such as smartphones and tablets, to give researchers quick access to their data. The company recently received a Small Business Innovation Research grant of $224,000 from the National Institutes of Health.

    The MDI Biological Laboratory is a nonprofit, biomedical research institution with a focus on finding new ways to promote tissue repair and regenerative processes and slow or reverse degenerative changes that occur as humans age.  “We feel it’s critical to use our resources and unique environment to help early stage biotech companies grow and to launch new companies that will take our discoveries to market and solve real world problems. Bringing discovery together with business creates a dynamic research and development environment that benefits us all and will help grow and modernize Maine’s economy,” said MDI president, Kevin Strange.

    The MDI Biological Laboratory campus is already home to the Institution’s recent spinoff company, Novo Biosciences, Inc., and its new environmental data collection project, Anecdata.org. Noting their presence, Chuck Donnelly said, “The MDI Biological Laboratory is a place where entrepreneurial collaborations and synergies are really ripe for picking.”

  • Bigelow scientists to exhibit microbe art photos in Boston

     

     A photo taken by a scientist from Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences that will be exhibited in Boston

    A team of scientists from Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and the New England Aquarium will gather at the popular new District Hall, 75 Northern Ave. in Boston’s Innovation District on Thurs. Jan. 15 to celebrate the technological and scientific achievement of a gallery of photos that capture microscopic marine microbes that are invisible to the naked eye.

    Called “Tiny Giants: Marine microbes revealed on a grand scale,” the photographic art exhibit illuminates the intricate details of microscopic creatures that are vital to the oxygen we breathe, the food chain essential from fish to whales to humans, and that mitigate the damaging effects of climate change.

    The photos were taken by scientists at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Science in East Boothbay, Maine. To understand the microbes’ significance, presentations will be made by Dr. Graham Shimmield, Bigelow Laboratory’s Executive Director, and Dr. Nigella Hillgarth, the Aquarium’s CEO and President.

    Guests can share dinner and a glass of wine with Bigelow Laboratory and Aquarium scientists including: Bigelow Laboratory’s Dr. Pete Countway, a microbial ecologist, who took many of the photographs;Dr. David Emerson, an iron-oxidizing bacteria expert; Dr. Paty Matrai, an expert on atmospheric and ocean conditions in the Arctic Ocean; and Dr. Benjamin Twining, a senior research scientist and director of education and research at the Laboratory. From the Aquarium will be: Dr. Scott Kraus, vice president of research; Dr. John Mandelman, director of research and a senior scientist; Dr. Kathleen Hunt, an expert in marine wildlife stress; and Dr. Randi Rotjan, a coral reef and hermit crab researcher.

    Tickets are $50 and include exhibit admission, wine, appetizers, and dinner. Space is limited. Please RSVP online: http://bit.ly/1vSoDuA

    Or, call 207-315-2567 x112 or email Dana Wilson, dwilson@bigelow.org

  • Ramona du Houx exhibits lightgraphs at Berry’s in Waterville, Maine

     

    By Morgan Rogers

     

    The inside gallery at Berry's Stationers 153 Main St, downtown Waterville, features the artwork, Ramona du Houx, until December 30, 2014. 

    Ramona du Houx creates fine art photography that looks like watercolor paintings evoking mystery and a sense of wonder. Many find them nostalgic and some mystical.

    Ramona is currently represented by Gallery Storks of Tokyo, Japan and is also a member of the Maine Artist Collaborative where she exhibits regularly at the Constellation Gallery in Portland, Maine.

     “For me art reflects where we live in our communities, as well as where an artist is in their heart, mind and soul,” said Ramona. “In 1979 I began to paint with my camera to depict the interconnectedness of nature. I took the initial results to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where they recorded them long ago. The continuing results have been unpredictable, intriguing, and thought provoking.” 

    The watercolor technique is always a challenge.

    “I never know exactly what the results will be, that’s the exciting part of the creation,” said du Houx. “I believe every photograph has an audience, someone the work will speak to personally.”

    Berry’s show space offers local artists a friendly venue to exhibit their work and a way to continue to grow Waterville’s creative economy. With Colby College’s new museum, and Common Street Arts, Waterville is gaining attention as a place to visit for art.

    “We believe in our community and holding shows for artists can help grow the creative economy of Waterville,” said Michael, owner of Berry's Stationers.

    Dream Sail by Ramona du Houx

    Customers rely on the quality work of the Berry's Stationers art suppliers and framers. They entrust the craftspeople who work there with precious mementos to create a unique way to display it for their lifetimes.

    Berry's Stationers team matches mat colors and frames for any job they work on and they always take the time to listen to customers to ensure they get what they are looking for. Michael bought the business back in the 70’s. He’s a perfectionist in his framing craft and an avid photographer.

    "Matching up someone’s art with the right mat and frame gives me a lot of pleasure. Finding out exactly what the customer needs and then succeeding makes it so worthwhile,” said Michael. 

    While other framers have closed their doors due to big box stores and chains, The Berry's Stationers continues. The quality customer service and extra care he and his father take in framing creates prized items for many people.

    Berry's Stationers is open Monday thru Friday from 9:00am - 5:00pm. And Saturday from 9:00-3.00pm. And until Christmas they are open on Sundays.

    For more of Ramona’s photography please visit: HERE 

     

  • Maine ocean acidification commission finalizes recommendations

    The ocean off Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Changing ocean chemistry threatens marine ecosystem, economy

     By Ramona du Houx

    Maine would pursue a broad strategy to combat ocean acidification that includes greater monitoring of marine ecosystems, reductions in carbon dioxide emissions and harmful runoff, mitigation efforts for localized areas and increased public awareness under recommendations finalized by a special commission Monday.

    The Commission to Study the Effects of Coastal and Ocean Acidification on Commercially Harvested and Grown Species voted out the recommendations unanimously.

    The 16-member panel – the first-of-its-kind panel on the East Coast –  brought together fishermen, aquaculturists, scientists, legislators and representatives of the LePage Administration to review the science on ocean acidification and make recommendations on how Maine should address the threat that changing ocean chemistry poses to Maine’s marine ecosystem and economy.

    “We know that ocean acidification is a real threat to Maine’s marine environment and the thousands of jobs that rely on its health. Maine has too much at stake to simply wait on others to come up with a global solution. We must take steps at the state and local levels to protect our marine resources and our coastal economy,” said Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, the House chair of the panel and the sponsor of the legislation that created it. 

    “Ocean acidification threatens an important part of Maine’s economy and coastal communities. Maine must be a leader in addressing that, and this commission’s report has good recommendations for Maine to do so,” said Sen. Chris Johnson, D-Somerville, the co-chairman of the commission.

    The commission’s recommendations offer a comprehensive approach that fall under six goals: (1) invest in Maine’s ability to monitor and investigate the effects of ocean acidification; (2) reduce emissions of carbon dioxide; (3) reduce local land-based nutrients and organic carbon contributions to acidification; (4) increase Maine’s capacity to mitigate, remediate and adapt to the impacts of ocean acidification; (5) educate and engage stakeholders, decision-makers and the public and empower them to take action; and (6) maintain a sustainable and coordinated focus on ocean acidification. 

    Specific recommendations include the development of tools to detect the onset of acidification,  public-private partnerships to collect data on nutrient loading to coastal waters, enhanced marine vegetation in bivalve areas, the use of pulverized shells to remediate acidification in mudflats and increased capacity of aquaculture hatcheries to serve as refuges for larvae that are particularly sensitive to ocean acidification.

    The recommendations will go into a report that will be submitted to the Legislature.

    Atmospheric carbon dioxide is by far the greatest factor behind ocean acidification. Nutrient and carbon dioxide from land-based point and non-point sources, such as municipal wastewater treatment facilities, septic failures and runoff, are additional drivers of acidification for estuary and near-shore waters.

    The combination of carbon dioxide and seawater forms carbonic acid, which impact species including clams, lobster, shrimp and cold water coral.

    Ocean acidification is taking place at a rate at least 100 times faster than at any other time in the past 200,000 years, the commission noted. The cold waters of the Gulf of Maine make it more susceptible to ocean acidification than other regions in the United States. Carbon dioxide dissolves more readily in cold water, making the rate of acidification faster.

     

  • First Circuit Court determines young adults remain covered under ACA in Maine

    The state of Maine must provide Medicaid coverage to several thousand low income 19- and-20-year-old young adults according to a ruling by the First Circuit Court of Appeals. 

    "We deny the petition for review and find no constitutional violation," wrote the Court in it’s determination.

    Maine Attorney General Janet Mills agreed that the federal government's action was appropriate.

    Maine tried to drop the young adult coverage in 2012, but the federal Department of Health and Human Services disapproved. That’s when the state petitioned for review on constitutional grounds.

    The First Circuit found that a state's ability to set conditions of eligibility for participation in a federal health insurance program is "not a core sovereign state function."

    Furthermore the federal Health and Human Services Secretary said that the state was a violation of the Affordable Care Act, which requires states accepting Medicaid funds to maintain their eligibility standards for children until 2019. 

    "Maine has covered these young adults for over 20 years, and dropping the coverage now clearly violates the provisions of the AffordableCare Act," said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.  "This is good news for thousands of low-income 19- and 20-year olds who faced theloss of health care coverage." 

    Pingree wrote to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebellius in 2012 urging the rejection of the state's waiver, saying "elimination of Medicaid coverage would not only adversely affect the health and wellbeing of Maine residents and upset Maine’s local economies, it would also be in direct violation of the maintenance of effort requirement, even in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling."

  • Maine scientist Beth Orcutt to ride human submersible Alvin to the Pacific seafloor

    Orcutt joins select group to hunt for life below the seafloor

     Photo caption: Bigelow Laboratory scientist Beth Orcutt (right) will dive to the seafloor of the Pacific Ocean in the Alvin submersible, which underwent renovation in 2013. Image courtesy of M. Spear, 2007.

    Dr. Beth Orcutt is getting another chance to see life at the bottom of the ocean aboard the human submersible Alvin from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, as part of a scientific team investigating long-term observatories embedded deep below the seafloor on the Juan de Fuca Ridge in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Seattle, Washington.  Orcutt, a Senior Research Scientist at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, will be aboard the research vesselAtlantis from August 8 - August 25, and has previously ridden Alvin to the seafloor on three separate occasions.  Orcutt will be using Alvin to collect samples, to recover and deploy custom experiments, and to collect data to examine microbial life in this extreme environment.

    The Juan de Fuca Ridge is a 300-mile stretch of underwater volcanic mountain range off the coast of Washington and Oregon that was created by the separation of the Juan de Fuca and the Pacific tectonic plates.  Orcutt will be collecting samples from stations along the flank of the plate about 100 miles away from the Juan de Fuca Ridge and several hundred meters below the sea floor.

     “We are visiting observatories that were installed many years ago, some in 2004, others in the 1990s, but the most important of which were installed in 2010 through Expedition 327 of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program,” explained Orcutt. “Our experiments are designed to figure out what microbes are present and what minerals they like to eat.  What we learn will help provide a better understanding of these deep-sea ridge environments.  Ocean crust, by volume, is the largest potential habitat for life on Earth, yet we know very little about the microbes that live there.” 

    “Journeying to the bottom of the ocean is an amazing experience; it's like visiting another planet,” she added.

    The scientific team includes Orcutt and researchers from the University of California campuses in Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara, the University of Southern California, the University of Hawaii, the University of Miami, the University of Mississippi. Geoff Wheat of the University of Mississippi is head of the scientific team. The research cruise’s mission is threefold: to study how water moves in the subsurface, the general chemistry of the environment, and the microbial community in this part of the Earth’s crust. The expedition is funded by the National Science Foundation. The expedition's progress will be reported daily on Twitter at @DeepMicrobe.

    Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, an independent not-for-profit research institution on the coast of Maine, conducts research ranging from microbial oceanography to large-scale ocean processes that affect the global environment. Recognized as a leader in Maine’s emerging innovation economy, the Laboratory’s research, education, and technology transfer programs are spurring significant economic growth in the state.

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