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University of Maine researchers discover new uses for paper mill products

ORONO, Maine (From news reports) -- When Maine's paper industry was at its height, there were roughly 35 mills in the Pine Tree State, according to the University of Maine.

Following the September announcement of the mill in Jay closing, that leaves six mills still standing in Maine.

Now, researchers at the University of Maine are studying new applications for paper mill products. Liza White, UMaine biomedical engineering graduate student and Rumford native, grew up seeing the potential threat of closure to the mill in her hometown.

White, along with Caitlin Howell, associate professor of biomedical engineering at UMaine, is studying paper products manufactured by Sappi North America, which operates mills in Westbrook and Skowhegan.

"There's so much that the paper industry has to offer for science and biotechnology," Howell said.

A big focus of their studies is textured paper and film, which is produced at a fast rate in mass quantities.

"We looked at that and we went, 'It's great that you're making textures generally for fabrics and for fashion and things like this, but we think it could probably be used for a lot more than that,'" Howell said.

Howell said they're looking at three major applications, the first being low-cost water quality detection through textured rainbow film produced at the mill. That could help in "finding solutions for treating water and preventing potentially E. coli outbreaks when we grow crops," White said.

The other studies focused on ways to support healthcare and pharmaceutical diagnostics using paper and films to generate microdroplets.

"You can do cancer diagnostic testing with this type of method," Howell said.

Howell added the possibilities could be endless for the potential use of these materials in biomedical fields.

"It means new markets, new ways that they can grow their businesses and help people," Howell said.


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