Three interdisciplinary projects focused on meeting Maine’s needs have been awarded competitive seed grants through Walkway of the University of Maine in Portland to facilitate convergent research across the University of Maine system.

The grant program, CONVERGE Maine, brings together UMS experts interested in transdisciplinary work, developing and strengthening partnerships with other institutions and organizations within the state, and addressing a societal challenge or scientific question to which Maine faces today.

Academic and professional research staff and scientists were invited to submit proposals in late 2021. Each team agreed to attend a kick-off event to co-develop a research collaboration plan before receiving the price. Proposals that meaningfully involve community members received special consideration.

Brief summaries of funded projects follow.

Building sustainable transdisciplinary networks to support fair and equitable energy transitions

This project will establish a cross-campus network to advance research on energy transformation, with a particular focus on inclusive, equitable and just approaches to this process. Decision-making around new renewable energies provides an exemplary applied scenario for this innovative pilot work. Campus research faculty work on various aspects of renewable energy, but often lack the resources to come together in a coordinated way and, more importantly, to maintain a collaborative commitment to transdisciplinary teaching and research. This pilot initiative directly fills this gap.

UMaine collaborators include Jessica Jansujwicz, assistant research professor in the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Conservation Biology; Linda Silka, Senior Researcher at Senator George J. Mitchell’s Center for Durable Solutions; and Sandra De Urioste-Stone, associate professor in the School of Forest Resources and assistant vice president for research.

One Health Transdisciplinary Approach for Zoonotic Canid Parasites in Maine

The main objective of this transdisciplinary research is to better understand the risk of parasites for the health of wild and domestic canids, as well as for human health. To achieve this goal, researchers will quantify the prevalence and distribution of gastrointestinal parasites in wild Maine canids, assess the effects of heavy metals on parasitic infections in wild canids, examine the overlap of parasite species found in domestic dogs with those found in wild canids, and assess the potential zoonotic risk to pet owners.

UMaine collaborators include Pauline Kamath, assistant professor of animal health, and Sue Ishaq, assistant professor of animal and veterinary sciences, both in the School of Food and Agriculture; and Darren Ranco, associate professor of anthropology and chair of Native American programs. External collaborators include Michele Walsh, State Veterinarian, Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

The following University of Maine One Health National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Internship (NRT) graduate students also participate in this project: Elizabeth Pellecer Rivera, Alaina Woods and Tegwin Taylor, Ph.D. candidates in ecology and environmental sciences; and Remy Babich, Ph.D. candidate in biochemistry and biomedical sciences.

From Farm to Product: Creating Sustainable Bioplastics from Kelp

The project is exploring how to create fully vertically integrated kelp-based bioplastic production in Maine, propelling the development of the blue economy by leveraging plastics and aquaculture expertise in the region. Researchers will use the proof-of-concept results generated through this project to apply for federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants to pursue commercialization-oriented research and development.

Collaborators at the University of Southern Maine include Asheesh Lanba, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Composites Engineering Research Laboratory, and Eklou Amendah, assistant professor of marketing. Collaborator Adam St. Gelais is an Aquaculture Innovation Specialist at UMaine’s Aquaculture Research Institute. External contributors include Katie Weiler, founder and CEO of Viable Gear Company; Davis Lee, CTO of Clocktower Engineering; and Andrew Schoenberg, as Technical Advisor.

The three projects represent the first round of awards under UMaine Portland Gateway’s CONVERGE Maine program. The gateway, launched in 2021 and located in Portland, Maine, serves as a nexus to UMaine’s research, education, and outreach by acting as the gateway for scholarly engagement in southern Maine and beyond.

The Portland Gateway actively develops and encourages collaborations that address Maine’s challenges, scientific questions, and educational and business needs. The initiative’s activities focus on preparing the knowledge and innovation workforce, contributing to the advancement of society and propelling economic development.

For more information on the CONVERGE Maine Seed Grants, contact Pips Veazey; Where