UMaine Women in Science Honored

Three University of Maine students were named winners of the 2011 Edith Patch Award at an Earth Day Reception honoring the life and legacy of the university’s first woman scientist. Vanessa Coats, Haley Viehman and Alyssa Freitag were honored for distinguished work they have done while at the University of Maine, and in recognition of their promise for future contribution to the fields of science, agriculture, engineering or environmental education. The ceremony was held April 17 at the Thomas Lynch University Club, in the Raymond Fogler Library.

The event is an annual collaboration between the Friends of Dr. Edith Marion Patch and the Friends of Fogler Library. It also includes poster presentations featuring the work of women scientists who are carrying on Patch’s legacy through their work at the university.

Coats is a third-year doctoral student in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Her research, which focuses on the symbiotic relationships between the Japanese barberry plant and other organisms, may help to provide strategies for preventing the spread of this invasive ornamental plant species.

Viehman is a master’s degree student in the School of Marine Sciences. In her work at the University of Maine, she utilizes her undergraduate training as an engineer to investigate the impact of tidal power technology on marine life, thus contributing to Maine’s leadership in economically and environmentally important research and development of renewable energy.

Freitag is an undergraduate in the School of Marine Sciences, where her research has focused on the bonnethead shark and the bacteria to which it is exposed in both wild and natural environments.

In addition to the three Edith Patch Awardees, there were four distinguished nominees honored at the reception. Casey Levasseur is a senior in the baccalaureate in Nursing program, who also serves as Cadet Battalion Commander in the University of Maine’s Army ROTC. In the words of her nominator, Levasseur “is poised to make significant contributions to improvement of human health through the application of scientific evidence in nursing care.”

Susan Priest is an undergraduate in the Ecology and Environmental Sciences program. Her research and development of a permaculture garden serves as a model for the region, and her environmental education efforts have helped make the Orono Bog Boardwalk a valued community resource.

Allison Byrd is a master’s student in the School of Biology and Ecology. Her research on the productivity of common loons provides a tool that will enable conservation biologists to understand and predict the effects of climate change on wildlife.

Rachel Palmer is a doctoral student in the Department of Molecular and Biomedical Sciences, whose toxicological research investigates the potentially harmful effects of the antibacterial agent, triclosan, which is used in many household products.

The Edith Patch Award was created in 2006 by the Friends of Dr. Edith Marion Patch. It is given annually in order touniversity. She arrived in Orono in 1903 to start the entomology department and establish its research agenda. She had to work for a year without salary, however, in order to prove that, as a woman, she was capable of doing the job. She passed the test and remained at UMaine for the rest of her professional career. She became one of the world’s leading aphid specialists, and was so respected by fellow entomologists that she was elected president of the Entomological Society of America, at a time when few women were permitted even to be members of such organizations. She also reached out to a broader audience, publishing natural history articles, stories, books, and poetry for farmers, foresters, gardeners, families, and schoolchildren. In addition, she was an early and strong advocate for ecologically-based approaches to management of insect pests and invasive plant species, delivering speeches on the topic as early as 1906, the year before Rachel Carson was born.

Contact: Mary Dickinson Bird
Chair, Friends of Dr. Edith Marion Patch or 866-2578

Contact: Gretchen Gfeller
Fogler Library Web and Public Relations Specialist or 581-1696