On Feb. 21 in the Emera Astronomy Center, Lauren Ross, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Maine, delivered a lecture titled “Harnessing the Power of Ocean Currents,” which was the second of this semester’s Science Lecture Series.
Throughout her presentation, Ross explored fundamental questions concerning the usage of tidal power as a sustainable energy source, as well as the resulting environmental impact. Much of the information Ross presented had been gathered from her experience researching for Bertin Technologies, a French company that focuses on high-tech and industrial innovation.
“My work on tidal turbines started during my postdoc in France, where they are very actively researching and developing new tidal turbine technologies (as well as other marine renewable energy devices),” Ross said.
The area that Ross explored while in France was the Gironde estuary near the town of Bordeaux, the largest estuary in Western Europe. After gathering the requisite data, Ross concluded that the estuary would be an appropriate location for tidal turbines, and she proceeded to research how implementing the turbines would affect the local environment before the turbines were installed.
Dr. Ross explained that the greatest benefit of tidal power is its consistency: as long as the currents’ influx can cause a turbine to rotate at 1.4 meters per second, electricity will be produced.
“I think it is safe to say that Europe is making tidal power (and sustainable energy as a whole) more of a top priority than America,” Ross said. However, she did explain that there are areas with enormous tidal power potential on the American coastline, such as the nearby estuaries of Down East Maine.
While the environmental impact of these turbines is still not entirely known, Ross told the attendees that through her work with biologists and marine scientists, a more complete picture will be reached.
“There are some professors in the School of Marine Science and in the Wildlife, Fisheries and Conservation Biology Department that study how turbines affect the environment,” Ross said. “I will be working with them more and more in the coming months.”
As an Assistant Professor at UMaine, Ross has taught multiple courses in the College of Engineering at both the graduate and undergraduate level, including courses related to the topic of the lecture she gave.
“I am currently teaching one graduate course in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at UMaine, which is geared toward our students studying Coastal Engineering,” Ross said. “We have approximately 40 graduate students in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department as a whole and there are seven studying Coastal Engineering related topics.”
The Science Lecture Series at UMaine is supported through a partnership project with the Maine Science Festival and takes place on a given Thursday of each month in the Emera Astronomy Center. Alex Friess, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UMaine, is the next scheduled speaker in the series and will present his lecture “Engineering in Sports” on March 21.
Director of the Emera Astronomy Center and President of the International Planetarium Society Shawn Laatsch commented on these ongoing events.
“We do one Science Lecture per month during the academic year, so roughly four or five per semester,” Laatsch said. “This semester they are on the third Thursday of each month.”
Founded by Kate Dickerson, the Maine Science Festival, which will be held this year from March 13-17, advertises itself as a “celebration of science” and hosts more than 70 different events in Bangor for guests of all ages.
Since its creation four years ago the festival has attracted nearly 40,000 guests, and it is currently the only festival of its kind in the state of Maine.
Some of the events on this year’s billing are “Science on Tap,” an exploration of the role biology plays in brewing which will feature UMaine professors Han Tan and Kristy Townsend, and “Science Board Gaming,” a collection of educational board games that will be curated by a gaming convention crew.
The Festival’s headlining event will be a live show and accompanying Q&A from the creators of the “Science Vs” podcast in the Gracie Theatre at Husson University on March 18. Tickets to the show will cost $10 for students and $17 for all other guests.
With the exception of the live podcast, every weekend event will be entirely free to the public, courtesy of the festival’s sponsors.
More information about the Maine Science Festival, including the festival’s newsletter, can be found at www.mainesciencefestival.org. Tickets to any of the upcoming Science Lecture Series events may be purchased online at the Emera Astronomy Center’s website: http://astro.umaine.edu, over the phone by calling 207-581-1341, or in person at the Emera Astronomy Center’s box office.