UM wood composites center gives lesson to key lawmaker

Posted Dec. 05, 2008, at 9:08 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — As he does with almost all the visitors to the University of Maine’s Advanced Engineered Wood Composites Center, Habib Dagher showed Rep. Josh Tardy, R-Newport, the center’s latest technology Friday afternoon.

For Dagher, that meant picking up one end of a 60-foot, 80-pound arch made of composite materials to prove the light weight of the structure.

“See,” Dagher said, holding the arch and moving it up and down. “I can lift it.”

Tardy and a group of visitors watched intently, perhaps envisioning the economic opportunity for the state of Maine in the lightweight material that could change bridge technology.

“[The university] certainly has changed a lot since I got out of here,” said Tardy, a 1990 UM graduate who is the House minority leader. “The university is an important player in economic development and finding energy independence and sustainability.”

Tardy was on campus for the Margaret Chase Smith Distinguished Policy Fellow Program, which brings elected officials and senior policymakers to the university for one-day programs through which they can learn more about UMaine, the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center and the work of UM students and professors.

Tardy, a lawyer, is about to begin his fourth term in the Maine House. He represents District 25, comprising Corinna, part of Corinth, Exeter, Newport and Plymouth.

In addition to his visit to the wood composite center, Tardy met with UM President Robert Kennedy, spoke to 49 students in a public management class, and participated in a panel discussion about the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research.

“I had great contact with the students,” Tardy said. “I think they want to know that there’s hope, and I think they just need to look around here at the university and they should have hope. There’s a lot of good things that are going on here, and as policymakers we need to be cognizant of the success and the example that UMaine has set.”

Tardy toured Colvin Hall, which houses UM’s Honors College and the Forest Bioproducts Research Initiative laboratory, before meeting with Dagher.

The group watched a short video about a wood composite center project in which engineers developed a shock-absorbent boat hull for a Boothbay company. In the center’s laboratory, Dagher showed off new bridge technology, during which he demonstrated the material’s light weight, and also pointed out composite sheet piling panels for waterfront use for which the center recently was awarded a patent.

“It’s an example of how technology can be born in a lab and make it to the real world,” said Dagher, who learned Friday afternoon that a different lightweight concrete formwork panel project on which he worked several years ago had been awarded a patent last month.

Dagher also gave a presentation touting wind power and said the new wind technology could mean a huge investment of money in Maine in the next few decades. The center, he added, can be a leader in development of wind turbines in deep sea waters.

“Our mission is to provide leadership in the state with unbiased information that is relevant to the future of the state,” Dagher said after Tardy moved on to his next event. “I can’t think of anything more important to our future than energy and our infrastructure.”

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