Five Research Teams Tackle Topics Important to Maine People


The University of Maine and Northeastern University and its Roux Institute have jointly awarded seed funding to five collaborative research teams to address topics important to the people of Maine and beyond, according to UMaine, in a press release.

Broadly, the projects include improving aquaculture vaccines, examining the link between pacifier use and sudden infant death syndrome, better understanding influenza A, creating an improved model of human- artificial intelligence in autonomous vehicles and to develop an instrument that could have broad applications for monitoring human health.

These projects are the first to be funded under a new collaborative research initiative established between the two universities. Through a rigorous review process involving peer reviewers and research leaders at each university, the five projects were selected from a pool of 21 applications, according to UMaine.

Each team received $50,000 to complete the year-long projects and will work together to pursue larger external funding programs through federal and private sponsors.

“As evidenced by the five joint research initiatives selected, faculty from both institutions are to be commended for developing high-impact projects with significant social and economic benefits for Maine and beyond,” said Kody Varahramyan, vice -president of UMaine for research and dean of the Lycée.

According to David Luzzi, senior vice provost for research and vice president at Northeastern’s Innovation Campus in Burlington, Massachusetts, “In today’s world of complex, interdisciplinary challenges, partnerships bring together researchers with complementary skills that accelerate research progress. . This program taps into the diverse and deep expertise of our institutions. In addition to funding five impactful projects in the areas of human health and sustainability, the program has resulted in many other new collaborations that will drive progress on important societal challenges for Maine and around the world.

UMaine and Northeastern began looking for ways to formalize partnerships in areas of shared expertise and importance – artificial intelligence (AI), earth and climate sciences, health and life sciences, manufacturing and marine science – after the creation of the Roux Institute at Northeastern University. announced in January 2020.

Officials signed a research agreement between the two universities in May, and a request for seed grant proposals followed in June.

The Roux Institute, in Portland, seeks to develop expertise at the intersection of humans and machines. This focus is part of the artificial intelligence initiative and other strengths of UMaine, the state research university.

“It’s part of Institut Roux’s mission to help build Maine’s technology and life sciences economy with the power of Northeastern’s research and learning enterprise,” said Michael Pollastri. , senior vice-rector of Portland and academic director of the Institut Roux. “The projects we are funding through this program highlight the exciting complementarity between the research ecosystems at the University of Maine and Northeastern University – and that kind of complementarity will quickly move us forward in our mission.”

Here are the projects and collaborating researchers:

A Novel Adjuvant for Aquaculture Vaccines Using Engineered Bacteria Targeting the STING Pathway

Viral and bacterial infectious diseases in fish represent a major economic challenge in aquaculture worldwide.

This team will test the safety and efficacy of a new, cost effective, easily deployable and highly potent ingredient to help create a stronger immune response in fish.

The collaborators are Jiahe Li, assistant professor of bioengineering at Northeastern; Deborah Bouchard, Director of the Aquaculture Research Institute (ARI) and Division Chief of the Aquatic Animal Health Laboratory of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Diagnostic Research Laboratory; Ian Bricknell, professor of aquaculture biology at UMaine; Sarah Turner, master’s candidate and scientific research specialist at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension and ARI; and Xin Sun, PhD student at Northeastern.

Whispering gallery mode resonator analysis of dermal interstitial fluid

Dermal interstitial fluid (ISF), which surrounds body tissue cells, is an alternative to blood for monitoring human health. ISF is accessible with minimal invasiveness, it contains many of the same biochemical constituents found in blood plasma, and that’s clear.

This team will seek to develop a new biofluid analysis instrument that would have unprecedented sensitivity and selectivity, and could have broad applications in healthcare and medical diagnostics.

The researchers are Rosemary Smith, professor of electrical and computer engineering at UMaine; Srinivas Tadigadapa, professor and chair of Northeastern’s electrical and computer engineering department; Caleb Berry, master’s student in chemical engineering at UMaine; and Vedant Sumaria, Ph.D. studying electrical engineering at Northeastern.

Using artificial intelligence to examine the interaction between pacifier use and sudden infant death syndrome

In 2018, around 1,300 babies under the age of one died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Although causes of death are unknown in SIDS, pacifier use has been shown to be protective in reducing SIDS.

UMaine and North East researchers will design an AI-guided monitoring platform to examine how non-nutritive sucking motions with and without a pacifier can alter babies’ respiratory rate and arousal levels during the sleep.

The collaborators are Emily Zimmerman, assistant professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Northeastern; Rebecca Schwartz-Mette, assistant professor of psychology and director of the Peer Relations Lab at UMaine; Marie Hayes, co-founder, CEO and chief strategy officer at Activas Diagnostics, LLC and retired professor of psychology at UMaine; Sarah Ostadabbas, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Northeastern; Xizofei Huang, Ph.D. studying electrical and computer engineering at Northeastern; and Matthew Rothman, Ph.D. student in clinical psychology at UMaine.

Develop an artificial intelligence-based gene network modeling approach to characterize the regulation of the innate immune response to Influenza A virus infection

The World Health Organization has estimated that up to 650,000 people die each year from respiratory illnesses associated with seasonal influenza infections.

This team will study the immune system response to influenza A virus infection and develop an AI-based automated network modeling approach to find new antiviral therapeutic targets.

The researchers are Benjamin King, assistant professor of bioinformatics at UMaine; Mingyang Lu, assistant professor of bioengineering at Northeastern; Ataur Katebi, associate researcher at the Northeast Department of Bioengineering; and Brandy-Lee Soos, Ph.D. student in molecular and biomedical sciences at UMaine.

Combining real-time deep learning and human-vehicle collaboration techniques in autonomous vehicles to help elderly and visually impaired passengers

Global investment in fully autonomous vehicles (FAVs) is expected to reach over $556 billion by 2026. FAVs have many benefits, and this project addresses their untapped societal benefit in helping older drivers and people who are blind and visually impaired (BVI).

The team will develop a new AI human-vehicle interaction model to help BVIs and seniors by ensuring they understand what the AI ​​driver is doing and that the AI ​​driver can sense, interpret and communicate with the passenger .

The collaborators are Nicholas Giudice, professor of spatial computing, and founder and chief researcher of the Virtual Environments and Multimodal Interaction (VEMI) laboratory at UMaine; Shelley Lin, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Northeastern; Richard Corey, director of the VEMI laboratory and associate professor in the School of Computing and Information Science; Mengshu Sun, Ph.D. studying electrical and computer engineering at Northeastern; and Grant Beals, multimodal engineer at VEMI Lab.

“The inclusion of students at all levels in these seed projects was of paramount importance to both institutions, and the reviewers really took that to heart during their rigorous process,” said Kim Holloway, vice-president of research development at Northeastern. “Students are the next group of research superstars, and we should do everything we can to nurture their development in these strategically important areas.”

According to Jason Charland, Senior Advisor to the President and Director of Research Development at UMaine, the next steps are to have all five project teams in place by Nov. 1 and convene a spring research summit where the teams will be able to inform the public of their work.

“Research Development Offices on both campuses will also work with and support the other 16 project teams that have submitted applications to the Joint Seed Grant Program,” Charland said. “The level of response and the quality of applications received in this first round demonstrates strong interest in collaboration between professors from both universities and we plan to host a second round of Seed Grants next summer.”

About the University of Maine:

The University of Maine, founded in Orono in 1865, is the state’s land-grant, marine-grant, and space-grant university. It is located on Marsh Island in the homeland of the Penobscot Nation. As Maine’s flagship public university, UMaine has a statewide mission of education, research and economic development, and community service. UMaine is the only public research university in the state and one of the most comprehensive institutions of higher education in the Northeast. It attracts students from all 50 states and more than 70 countries. UMaine currently has 11,561 undergraduate and graduate students who have the opportunity to engage in groundbreaking research with world-class scholars. UMaine offers more than 100 degree programs through which students can earn a master’s, doctoral, or professional science master’s degree, as well as graduate certificates. The university promotes environmental stewardship, with substantial campus-wide efforts to save energy, recycle, and meet green building standards in new construction. For more information about UMaine, visit


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