Suffolk University shares Down East research experience

Posted April 24, 2010, at 3:01 p.m.
Dr. Walter Johnson, chairman of the Suffolk University of Boston Physics Department, explains the internal workings of the school's wind turbine, located at the Friedman Field Station on the shore of Cobscook Bay in Edmunds. Students and staff lowered the turbine as part of an engineering and physic's course while installing a sound recorder to track the decibels of noise generated by the windmill. BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY SHARON KILEY MACK (NOTE: story being sent 4/24)
Dr. Walter Johnson, chairman of the Suffolk University of Boston Physics Department, explains the internal workings of the school's wind turbine, located at the Friedman Field Station on the shore of Cobscook Bay in Edmunds. Students and staff lowered the turbine as part of an engineering and physic's course while installing a sound recorder to track the decibels of noise generated by the windmill. BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY SHARON KILEY MACK (NOTE: story being sent 4/24)

EDMUNDS TOWNSHIP, Maine — A blue sign on Route 1 points the way to the R.S. Friedman Field Station on Cobscook Bay.

Tucked away in the coastal woods, a campus of rustic dormitories, staff housing, a dining hall and gathering place, and more than 50 acres of hiking trails provide a rural research experience for college students and university staff from around New England.

Since the station was founded in 1968 by Suffolk University of Boston, many students have studied marine biology and the life along Maine’s intertidal waters here, coming from the University of Maine, the University of New England, Wesleyan University and other Northeast colleges.

This living classroom recently has been shifting its focus, continuing with marine studies but placing a new emphasis on clean, sustainable energy.

Not only biology students, but also engineering students are spending two weeks or a month at the campus studying renewable power.

Last fall, Suffolk University constructed a 10-kilowatt wind turbine to provide energy directly to the Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. grid, and a geodesic dome heats all the hot water on the campus.

Dr. Carl L. Merrill, an associate professor of biology at Suffolk and summer director of the field station, said last week that plans are under way to install a desalinator, with hopes of removing enough salt from Cobscook Bay waters to use for washing and cooking, with an eye toward eventually producing drinking water.

“With the 20-foot drop in tides, Cobscook Bay and the field station are great locations for tidal studies,” Dr. Walter Johnson, chairman of Suffolk’s physics department, said on a recent tour of the university’s satellite campus. “But with the coastal wind and the extended sun, it is also a great place to study the dynamics of energy.”

Johnson, Merrill, two Suffolk students and others were at the station this month to check the operation of the turbine. Freshman Adam Shomer of Montreal placed an instrument along the base of the turbine.

He explained that it will graph the decibels of sound the turbine creates and can be used to determine peak sound levels. Shomer is an environmental major.

“With the graph, we will be able to study and correlate wind speed and sound,” Johnson said.

Every minute for 60 days, the recorder will store the sound information.

Dr. Igor Kreydin of Suffolk’s physics department said the university has a small wind turbine inside a laboratory. “This gives our students the chance to translate what they learn in Boston to the field operations,” Kreydin said.

The campus is a perfect summer hideaway for intensive studies outside of the classroom. It has wireless connectivity, a complete wet laboratory, an extensive library and easy access to the bay, just feet from each of the 12 dormitory cabins.

The research facility sits on Dennys Bay, across the water from Hallowell Island.

In mid-May, a University of Maine in Orono wildlife studies group of 35 people will arrive, followed two weeks later by 46 people from University of New England.

Johnson said that a Suffolk benefactor, Arthur West, found the property in the 1960s, and it was purchased by Suffolk with funds provided by Dr. Robert Friedman, who was chairman of the biology department.

“No one really knows how much money he put into the property,” Johnson said. “It started small and grew into the multibuilding facility it is today.”

Johnson said the sharing between marine biology and sustainable energy studies is to be expected.

“The energy we want to be able to produce in the future will complement and provide clean air, clean water and clean soil,” he said.

He said all of the energy investments are paying dividends, not just in saving energy costs, but in providing a working classroom for engineers and others to learn about the sustainable energy industry.

In addition, Suffolk University offers its own graduate courses at the coastal campus in field botany, marine biology and ecology.

“This is a wonderful research facility,” Johnson said.

Merrill said that possibly 20 percent of New England colleges have remote campuses, but the Suffolk field station is unique because it encompasses 50 acres on a saltwater bay.

Merrill said the students would live and work at the station from May to October in a beautiful environment.

“But it is not just for fun,” Merrill stressed. “They are really learning.”

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