UMaine Early College students put Belfast Bay under the microscope

Eleven students from six Maine high schools and from area homeschool programs started the summer in various Belfast Bay locations as part of an intensive three- week STEM research course offered through the University of Maine’s Early College Program. 

The students came from Belfast Area High School, Hermon High School, John Bapst High School, Lawrence High School, Maine Ocean School and Medomak Valley High School. 

“This innovative Early College Program reflects UMaine’s commitment to provide quality programs and outreach to Maine’s high school students,” says Patricia Libby, UMaine assistant dean and director of the Hutchinson Center. 

Students followed National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) laboratory methods for the analysis of the microplastics in the marine environment. They selected sampling sites, employed sampling techniques, learned new laboratory skills, solved problems, and analyzed, interpreted and presented their data, says Susan Therio, UMaine faculty member and INT 188 chemistry instructor. 

Student data revealed that microplastic strands, fibers, films, paint chips and hard plastic fragments with fibers were most prevalent in samples taken from Belfast Bay. The research generated many new scientific questions for determining concentrations, identifying chemical composition and remediation strategies. Another group of students explored the effect of microplastics on the feeding rate of blue mussels on algae. 

In a second study facilitated by UMaine faculty member and INT 188 biology instructor David Thomas, students investigated the effects of predation on juvenile clams by conducting an in- situ experiment in Belfast Bay’s high intertidal zone. Results showed that predation by milky ribbon worms and blood worms was minimal even though both were found in covered pots Students Sarah Terry and Dartagnan Gray, examine slides under microscopes at the UMaine Hutchinson Center. containing the clams. Green crabs were thought to be the main predator of clams in the open pots. 

The high school students presented the results of their research, career-planning and job- shadowing experiences in poster presentations and talks at a symposium at the UMaine Hutchinson Center. Symposium keynote speaker was Kristina Cammen, UMaine assistant professor of marine sciences and faculty associate in the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions. 

Introduction to Integrated Science and Career Exploration (INT 188) is a college-level STEM research course designed to introduce high school students to higher education, and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In the 38 hours of course and lab work, students undertake a guided research project with peers. Upon completion, students earn three UMaine college credits. They also participate in eight hours of job shadowing and career planning with local STEM-related businesses. 

Through a partnership between the Maine Department of education and the University of Maine, tuition is waived for students of Maine public and homeschools for up to 12 college college credit hours per year. 

Starting Sept. 3, 2019, the University of Maine will offer over 80 on-campus courses and over 35 online fall courses suitable for rising high school juniors and seniors. Interested students and parents are encouraged to contact Allison Small, Early College Program coordinator, 207.581.8004; for more information.