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A Glimpse At the Depth and Breadth of UNH Research

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
January 23, 2008

Sweet potatoes grown at Woodman Farm

It costs money to grow sweet potatoes for research.

Not a lot of money but some. First, you need to buy the slips, or starter plants. Then there are the markers. And knives to cut into them so you can measure the sugar. And a refractometer to do the actual measuring.

So, the $894 grant that Rebecca Grube got from the New England Vegetable and Berry Growers Association last year made a difference.

That’s just one example—and there are scores of others—of how the more than $116 million in research dollars that came into UNH during fiscal year 2006-2007 were used. Some of the research projects get more attention than others. But the importance of them all, and how they fold themselves into the university’s reputation as a leading research facility, is equal.

Of the total amount received, about $82 million came from U.S. government sponsors. The U.S. Department of Commerce, through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), accounted for nearly 52 percent of the funds.

The Atlantic Marine Aquaculture Center benefited from that money, receiving $1.97 million to support such ongoing projects as the automated fish feeding buoy now located at the offshore fish farm near the Isles of Shoals. The 80-ton feeder, which holds 20 tons of food and can feed four cages of fishat the same time, was designed at UNH.

Its remote control feature counters the problems of regular feeding created by storms or frigid temperatures when a boat and personnel can’t access the farm. Richard Langan, director of the center, calls the feeder a major step forward for offshore fish farming.

Among others, ongoing research projects at the center include the evaluation of seaweed as a replacement for fish meal in cod feed and grow-out trials of cod, halibut and haddock, where the coldwater fish are evaluated for growth performance and survival.

"With limits on what we can produce from land-based and near-shore marine aquaculture, farming in the open ocean is our best option to increase our domestic seafood supply,” Langan says. “That's why grants like this are critical if the U.S. is to realize offshore aquaculture's potential to provide a healthy and secure domestic food source for its citizens.”

At the Crimes Against Children Research Center, a recent study found that children who have been victims of a crime tend to be at risk of being re-victimized, and that there isn’t enough being done to protect them.

In a two-year study of almost 1,500 children age 2 to 17 years old, more than half suffered a second form of victimization within the year of a first crime or physical assault committed against them.

Other research areas at the center include Internet exploitation, bullying, Internet safety, and children’s exposure to violence. A study of teens revealed they are more apt to become victims of online harassment if they talk to strangers online than those who share their personal information on sites like MySpace.com or Facebook.com.

“For a topic that gets so much publicity, crimes against children have surprisingly little high quality research. Our research funding has really allowed us to expand the knowledge in this field dramatically, and produced some of the first research on topics like Internet victimization and child abduction,” says David Finkelhor, director of the
Crimes against Children Research Center.

Two years ago, the Whittemore School of Business and Economics received the largest grant in its history. It came from The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to fund the development by WSBE’s Enterprise Integration Research Center of a virtual network, linking state-based uniform commercial code databases with federally-based patent databases to perform intellectual property rights due diligence.

The need for such a network was determined after a research study was done by Enterprise Integration on copyrights, patents and trademarks rights. In most collateral situations there are tangible assets—real estate, for example. But intellectual property is different, says Enterprise Integration Research Center director A.R. “Venky” Venkatachalam, a professor of information systems and chair of the department of decision science.

The $990,000 research grant makes possible a two-year pilot program to develop a prototype Web technology-based system for perfecting security interests in intellectual property rights.

“Without the research grant, this would be a concept; an idea. It would be purely an academic exercise,” Venkatachalam says. “The whole innovation process would not have happened.”

And that could be said of all the projects. So many critical projects.

“The depth and breadth of our scholarship amazes me. UNH research is world-class,” says Taylor Eighmy, interim vice president for research. “You can find wonderful examples in the social sciences, humanities, performing arts, marine sciences, environmental sciences and in space sciences. Excellence in scholarship resides in many places around campus.”

Grube’s work with sweet potatoes is aimed at helping growers know the best varieties of the vegetable to plant; sweet potatoes aren’t typically partial to New Hampshire winters.

“It’s certainly possible to grow sweet potatoes here but there isn’t a lot of research on how to best do it or what kind will grow best in cold climates,” Grube said, adding she is also looking at how to warm up the soil earlier and whether the measures are worth the effort.

“It was delightful to get the money,” Grube said of the grant. “Last year, someone gave me the slips. This year, because of the grant, I could pay for them.”

Sarah Smith with the Cooperative Extension’s forestry program would agree that even a small research grant can make a big difference. The $17,000 she received from the New Hampshire Department of Transportation helped broaden a chainsaw training program for loggers to include municipal and state road crews. The training covers such topics as chainsaw safety, first aid and safe felling.

Educational programs for loggers have been ongoing for 15 years but last year was the first time the state asked to have workshops for highway crews.

“This is for the truck guys; the snow plow guys that grab a chainsaw when they come across a tree in the road,” Smith said. “There are hundreds of these guys scattered across the state and they all need to know how to do their jobs safely.”

Oyster shell recycling is another ongoing research project that got money in 2006. The program really is what it says it is: people donated oyster shells, leaving them in recycling bins that are currently locate at Adams Point. They are then used to help replenish the oyster shell supply needed for hatchery-reared larvae.

Oyster shell recycling bins at Adams Point in Durham

The work is being conducted under the direction of Raymond Grizzle, a zoology professor with UNH’s Jackson Estuarine Laboratory. He received $5,352 in 2006 from NOAA for the ongoing project.

At the Institute on Disability, the New England Genetics Collaborative is striving to identify the resources available to populations whose children have rare genetic conditions. An $817,613 federal grant supports the work that New England Genetics Collaborative project manager Amy Schwartz calls “a bridge between policy and practice.”

The project supports the infrastructure and policy that supports families, Schwartz says. New England Genetics Collaborative is working with every state in New England. The focus is on children from birth to 21 years of age.

“There is a disparity between resources and the population that needs them,” Schwartz says. “We’re looking at how does a child get the best care possible--where is that care and how does the family get it?”

John Moeschler, principle investigator for the New England Genetics Collaborative, adds that the goal is to do long-term follow-up on children who have been identified with genetic disorders. To do that, there has to be a means to measure healthcare improvements.

“Every newborn gets tested,” he says. “But the second step—measurement—doesn’t work as well. Before this project, children were screened, referred and resources were presented to families. But there was no follow-up.”

Which is what makes the Health Resources and Services Administration grant so crucial. The genetics field is changing and growing rapidly, Schwartz says, and UNH is trying to play a part in how the science translates to policy and systems of care.

Adds Moeschler, “The funding is essential. The work wouldn’t happen otherwise.”

For a list of fiscal year 2006-2007 research projects go to http://www.unh.edu/osr/data/fy07_data.html.

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