Orono High School Students Discover Bioproduct Research



During the summer of 2007 nine students from Orono High School participated in cutting-edge research at the University of Maine thanks to the Forest Bioproducts Research Institute sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the state. Students participated in a multidisciplinary research program focused on Sustainable Forest Bioproducts. Specifically, this program was targeted at the development of new technologies for environmentally-friendly, forest-based consumer products, chemicals, and energy. Students worked with faculty in the fields of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Wood Science, Chemistry, Pulp and Paper Technology, Advanced Composite Materials, and Nanotechnology. Individual projects were diverse and included: investigation of conifer foliage for potential high value pharmaceutical components; examination of bio-treatments of corn stover for biofuels; analysis of catalysts for conversion of biomass to fuels and chemicals; production and analysis of wood/plastic composite materials; generation and characterization of cellulose nano-fibers for use in high-value materials; and investigation of protein transport across lipid bilayers.

The students worked daily with faculty, research associates, graduate students, and undergraduate research students in laboratories across campus and had the opportunity to continue their research during the academic year by signing up for a new course at Orono High School, “Orono High School – University of Maine Research Experience.” In a well attended September evening event, students presented their research to faculty, students, parents, Orono citizens, as well as Orono school faculty and school board members. The summer research changed students’ lives as well as their perspectives on scientific inquiry with at least one student (previously headed to medical school) deciding to attend UMaine and work in the bioengineering field. Based on the word of mouth excitement about last year’s program, program creator and director Dr. Barbara Cole expects at least 20 Orono high school students on campus during the summer of 2008.