BIDDEFORD — Two Maine projects will receive research grants from the National Science Foundation totaling $2.5 million.

The University of New England in Biddeford is receiving more than $636,000 to study the best ways to engage STEM ”“ science, technology, engineering and mathematics ”“ students by using innovative research projects on the Saco River.

Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in Boothbay will receive $1.8 million to fund genetic research.

“I’m proud of the many institutions we have doing world-class research here in Maine. They’re an important part of our economy and I’m confident these investments will help build on the state’s reputation,” said U.S. Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, in a prepared statement announcing the grants. “These are fascinating projects to further our knowledge and exploration of the world around us in many ways. My congratulations to both institutions.”

The UNE project is entitled “TURBO: The Undergraduate Saco River Biodiversity Observatory ”“ A Long-Term Ecological Research-Style Research Experience to Enhance STEM Education.” The study will be under the direction of Markus Frederich.

The project is aimed at helping more students complete STEM courses of study by making them more engaging. Investigators will create project-oriented experiences in the Saco River estuary for STEM students at UNE, implementing undergraduate research projects on a number of scientific topics and an interdisciplinary conference to discuss the findings. Researchers will also examine how the hands-on curriculum affects student retention and persistence.

The Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences project will use new technologies to research secrets of life’s early evolution and genealogy. Many new genomes, encoding the blueprints for disparate organisms, will be analyzed to illuminate the genealogy of ancient microbial species, the relative timing of their origins, and the role that horizontal gene transfer among distant relatives may have played in the origin of new species.