Science Up Close: Predicting South Florida Flood Risk from Days to Decades

Posted on July 6th, 2016

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By: MiaSci

By Dr. Angela Colbert, Director of Science Communication

Juliet Pinto, Angela Colbert, Gillian Thomas, Ben Kirtman, & Tiffany Troxler

Juliet Pinto, Angela Colbert, Gillian Thomas, Ben Kirtman, & Tiffany Troxler

Get out your rain boots, it’s time to chat about flooding again here in South Florida. Earlier this month, our Science Up Close series, which links the public with experts to discuss current science, did just that. We invited Dr. Ben Kirtman from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science to share his knowledge and research on climate predictability on various timescales.

Ben Kirtman

Dr. Ben Kirtman

The stormy evening at the Coral Gables Museum provided the perfect setting for the discussion, as Dr. Kirtman highlighted current findings, and why it’s so difficult to address a question on many peoples’ minds: how often will my home and streets flood, and what will South Florida flooding be like in 30 or 40 years?

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The answer, of course, is complicated. South Florida flooding can come from many sources, such as changes in tides (many are familiar with king tides), rainfall amounts, sea level rise, or a combination. Predicting the frequency of these flooding events relates to the entire climate system, and there are lots of variables. Sea level rise, stemming in part from melting ice sheets, is happening globally, but the amount varies from location to location. Rainfall amounts fluctuate naturally, but on longer timescales can be affected by large climate events such as El Nino (warming of the equatorial tropical Pacific). Rainfall can also vary due to the warming global climate as well. Tides are easy to predict, but their volume may change due to some of the factors above.

Gillian Thomas & Ted Caplow

Gillian Thomas & Ted Caplow

So back to your concern about your house. Science is getting there, but still has a way to go. Dr. Kirtman presented a global climate model he helped create which is sensitive enough to see changes in the Gulf Stream—a first for global climate models. Why would this matter? Well, the current strength of the Gulf Stream, or how fast it is moving, can now be shown to impact sea level rise for South Florida. The faster it moves, the less sea level rise we have here. What it will do 100 years from now is still a tough question to answer at the moment, but Dr. Kirtman is excited about the gains in knowledge.

The guests in attendance had plenty of questions for Dr. Kirtman, and the discussion opened up to include other local experts, Dr. Tiffany Troxler from FIU’s Sea Level Solutions Center, and Dr. Juliet Pinto from FIU’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications, who has written documentaries on sea level rise in South Florida.

Gillian Thomas & Pamela Garrison

Gillian Thomas & Pamela Garrison

News from Frost Science

Posted on June 29th, 2016

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By: MiaSci

Today, Gillian Thomas, president & CEO of the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, announced she would be retiring this Friday, July 1 after leading the organization for over 13 years. She will continue with Frost Science as an advisor through the year to ensure a smooth and successful transition. We are indebted to her vision and commitment to bringing a new and unique science museum to Miami-Dade County. Her invaluable dedication will ensure that countless generations of visitors will be inspired by science, technology and innovation.

On behalf of the Frost Science Board of Trustees, we are pleased to welcome Frank Steslow, the chief operating officer of the museum for the past eight years, as president of Frost Science. With over 30 years of experience as a scientist and executive manager in science-based non-profit organizations, Steslow has overseen all operations for Frost Science, currently leading the overall project management of the new museum along with the Batchelor Environmental Center at Florida International University’s Biscayne Bay Campus in North Miami.

Thank you for your continued support of Frost Science as we near opening and remain steadfast in our commitment to bringing a remarkable resource in science and education for all the community and a signature addition to South Florida’s educational, cultural, business and civic landscape.

Photo Credit: Catalina Ayubi of People of Wynwood and Catalina Ayubi Photography

Photo Credit: Catalina Ayubi of People of Wynwood and Catalina Ayubi Photography

A note from Gillian Thomas:

I have spent an exhilarating and outstanding period of time in Miami; more than a decade to get the new museum project off the ground and now, nearing completion. From the beginning, I was excited by the unbeatable site, the opportunity to make an impact in creating a new cultural quarter in the city center and leading a museum with a renowned commitment to the community and education excellence. Miami has always been open to new ideas and creates a wonderful environment to build on the strengths of the museum and re-imagine it for future generations.

Getting the building and exhibitions designed and completed is a big job – but it’s just the start. Now is the moment to begin to focus on the programs for opening and beyond, along with the new projects that will come to fruition later. I am delighted to hand over the museum to Frank at this stage as he has the skills and expertise to lead Frost Science to success. The project already has a great team onboard and I look forward to seeing the results.

I am very grateful to so many people who have contributed to make this happen. Frost Science is an important public-private partnership and a great example of how we can all work together to benefit all the community. I would like to express my particular thanks to our donors and the many people within Miami-Dade County and the City of Miami who have contributed to make this possible. Everyone in Miami-Dade County is supporting Frost Science through the General Obligation Bond: this is everyone’s museum. Our aim is to make South Florida a beacon for science and technology and the science museum is a key component of the educational infrastructure that will inspire so many in the years to come.

A big thank you to everyone, including the museum team and countless supporters, for all that you have done for Frost Science and for welcoming me here so warmly.

A note from Frank Steslow:

Photo Credit: Al Diaz/Miami Herald Staff

Photo Credit: Al Diaz/Miami Herald Staff

I am excited and thankful for the opportunity to lead Frost Science during this crucial phase as we near completion and opening. Under Gillian’s leadership, the museum made important strides and she has laid a strong foundation for ensured success, with a solid team and a dedication to excellence. On a personal note, her announcement is very bittersweet for me. I have been nothing but impressed with her professionalism, compassion and commitment. I hope you will join me in thanking Gillian for all she has done for this community and wishing the very best in this next stage of her life. We will continue to celebrate her many accomplishments as the museum moves forward. This is an exciting time for Frost Science and it’s an honor to be a part of an organization that is serving as a resource for all in our community and making a positive, meaningful impact in Miami-Dade County. I thank you for your continued confidence and look forward to leading Frost Science toward opening and beyond. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me directly at fsteslow@frostscience.org.

A Cultural Ecosystem: our ONSITE video looks at how Frost Science helps complete the county’s vision for downtown

Posted on June 27th, 2016

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By: MiaSci

Our ONSITE video series gives you a peek into the progress and purpose of the new Frost Science location, which is currently under construction. This month, the series features Michael Spring, director of the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs and senior advisor to the Mayor, as he tours the site and explains how Frost Science completes the county’s vision of Miami as one of the world’s preeminent cultural hubs.

Years ago, his department had a goal of centralizing all of Miami’s major cultural institutions downtown. Today, as Frost Science nears completion, it connects a beautiful constellation of cultural attractions that include PAMM, the nearby Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, and the Miami Children’s Museum on the MacArthur Causeway. Miami now has a rich and concentrated cultural ecosystem, and a place where families can learn about science at a time when science defines our lives.

Since shooting the video, we’ve reached some construction milestones: many of the galleries now have drywall up, giving us a sense of what the spaces will actually feel like, and on the Dive Level of the Living Core Aquarium, we’re finishing a cement floor with special tabletops that allow for a series of smaller aquariums to be free-standing in the middle of the space. These smaller vessels tell more detailed stories, and let you see the world within from all four sides, with close-up views of various sea grasses, fish, or other fascinating life forms.

Another area that’s coming together is the 18-foot deep Reef Fish Aquarium. Artisans are putting the final touches on the concrete surface by using molds to create organic textures and inserting 1,200 pieces of artificial coral arranged at depths and light levels that reflect how they would occur in the wild. Next to the Reef Fish Aquarium we’ve created separate aquariums for live coral, where we will display beautiful Atlantic specimens, many of which we collected from the nearby Port of Miami prior to its dredging.

The future begins here. Stay tuned for the next ONSITE!

Unlocking The Curious Vault: A scientist and an artist collaborate to create “Neural Networks”

Posted on June 15th, 2016

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By: MiaSci

Digital Animation from MRI. Image courtesy of Dr. Angela Laird, Felice Grodin, BYO-Lab

Digital animation from MRI. Image courtesy of Dr. Angela Laird, Felice Grodin, and BYO-Lab

By Nathaniel Sandler

For centuries the disciplines of science and art have occasionally intersected in the larger search for a life of meaning and the meaning of life. The team here at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science continues that discussion with the third installment of our Curious Vault Collaboration series.

The project, inspired by the collection at Frost Science, puts a local artist together with a scientist with the intention of creating a tabletop display using at least one item from the museum’s permanent collection. These main elements—a table, a collection object, an artist, and a scientist—are a framework with which we hope to guide future projects.

The program’s third installment, called “Neural Networks,” will be unveiled this coming Saturday (information below), and is the result of teamwork between cognitive neuroscientist and medical physicist from Florida International University, Dr. Angela Laird, and multimedia artist Felice Grodin. The piece is a 3D-printed brain recreated from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) slices accompanied by documents from the archive of scientist, explorer and occultist J. Manson Valentine. Valentine was an honorary curator at the museum up until the mid 1990s, and the archival documents include aged expedition maps and beautifully hand-made medical drawings, among others.

Neural Network

Neural Network, 2016 (detail) Courtesy of Dr. Angela Laird, Felice Grodin and BYO-Lab

Dr. Laird, who’s research lab provided the MRI images, focuses on the field of cognitive neuroscience and using MRI to map the human brain, including both its structure and function, while Grodin has a background in architecture, a discipline which brings a strong sense of mapping a space. They met several times to exchange ideas, then Grodin set about connect the discourse together in physical form. “I was interested in how to fuse the actual material used in Angela’s research (brain MRI’s for example) and use it towards something new,” says Grodin. “In turn, by introducing two other key participants, BYO-Lab [the designers and fabricators of the brain pieces] and the Curious Vault items belonging to Dr. J Manson Valentine, the result is seamless in its construction, but straddles both new and old technologies of representational mapping and space.”

Dr. Angela Laird

Dr. Angela Laird

Grodin notes that the title “Neural Networks” addresses the work’s “inherent dance between the biological and the technical,” adding that, “as technology develops we are able to map regions, both micro and macro, that we could not otherwise.” So, we can map a brain “not just statically but dynamically – not unlike cities or cosmic arrangements.” Another layer of the piece is that “the brain seems to be compelled to map, to order, to also structure.”

The piece took over a year from start to finish, given the manufacturing processes by BYO-Lab, which specializes in 3D fabrication utilizing digital technology. Their job was to convert the 2D MRI images from Laird’s lab to 3D cuts of Plexiglas sheets which were then laser-cut at the FIU School of Architecture. The cumulative effect is a brain that is imprinted into a solid vitrine as a negative.

Digital studies of Coronal and Sagittal cuts from MRI. Courtesy of Dr. Angela Laird, Felice Grodin and BYO-Lab.

Digital studies of Coronal and Sagittal cuts from MRI. Courtesy of Dr. Angela Laird, Felice Grodin and BYO-Lab.

The Valentine documents include an actual image of a brain, but perhaps more interestingly to the discussion of mapping, a cave diagram of an exploration he took to the Yucatan in the 1960s to a site called X-Kukican. Grodin explains that, “his freehand map of the cave shows pathways, quadrants, nodes, entries and exits. It looks like an equivalence of the brain itself.” Valentine was a gentleman explorer, constantly jaunting off to a remote locale to search for a lost civilization. Grodin says she was drawn to the “idea that one processes through the networks of the brain,” a version of the “constructed networks of an ancient civilization.” She goes on to admire the Curious Vault itself, saying that “the collection overall is an extension of this human desire to explore and network.”

Dr. Laird was inspired by the collaboration stating, “similar to artists, scientists must be creative in how they approach the problem-solving process, how they respond to challenges that inevitably arise during their work…There’s a remarkable degree of similarity in how we approach our respective work, even though the outcomes are quite different.”

Frost Science Art and Collection Manager, Kevin Arrow and artist and Adjunct Professor of Architecture at Florida International University, Felice Grodin selecting inspiration pieces for Neural Networks.

Frost Science Art and Collection Manager, Kevin Arrow and artist and Adjunct Professor of Architecture at Florida International University, Felice Grodin selecting inspiration pieces for Neural Networks.

That similarity is what the Curious Vault Collaborations is all about. Putting a scientist in a room with an artist and seeing what two skilled experts can create from the discourse. The Curious Vault team firmly believes in the benefits of this project for the community. And Grodin gave us an even more inspiring thought to takeaway from this process, claiming this kind of project is the way of the future and that “collaborative work—especially work that situates itself in technological and scientific developments, institutions, and infrastructures—is much more expansive in its reach. In a way the internet does that, but one can do it in the physical world too in the company of people, places and things.”

Please join us for the unveiling of “Neural Networks,” and a discussion on the project this Saturday June 18th at 6 p.m. at the Frost Art Museum Florida International University, 10975 SW 17th Street, Miami. The conversation will feature Bookleggers founder and writer Nathaniel Sandler; Art and Collection Manager at Frost Science, Kevin Arrow; “Neural Networks” creators, artist and adjunct professor of architecture at Florida International University, Felice Grodin; associate professor of physics at Florida International University, Dr. Angela Laird; and BYO-Lab co-founder Andrea Perelli.

To RSVP, please click here

Summer Solstice

Posted on June 15th, 2016

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By: MiaSci

By Dr. Jorge Perez-Gallego, Curator of Astronomy and Exhibition Developer at Frost Science:

This coming Monday, June 20th, is the summer solstice. The word “solstice” comes from the Latin words sol, meaning “sun,” and sistere, meaning “to stand still.” On the date of the summer solstice each year, the Sun reaches its highest position, as seen from the Earth, and the day has the longest period of daylight.

Some might think that because it is summer in the Northern hemisphere, the Earth is closest to the Sun during the summer solstice. In fact, the Earth is farther away from the Sun during this time of the year.

The Earth’s orbit around the Sun has little effect over the seasons. It is the tilt, which is angled at around 23.5 degrees—like the dome of the future Frost Planetarium—that creates seasons. Earth’s tilt does not change as the Earth orbits the Sun. What changes is the position of the hemispheres in relation to the Sun—the Northern hemisphere faces towards the Sun during the summer Solstice, thus experiencing summer.

Seasons1

Image Credit: NASA

For many bygone civilizations, the summer solstice—the longest day of the year—was endowed with great significance, and often associated with the Earth. People celebrated this special day with festivals, feasts, bonfires, and maypole dances, some of which still happen today.

Wow Factor: how we created a Community Engagement Program that makes science fun

Posted on June 15th, 2016

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By: MiaSci

 

What do you do when there’s a classroom full of eighth graders staring at you, expecting to be entertained, and your job is to talk to them about science? This scenario is just one of many that our Community Engagement Program, now in its second year of operation, takes on.

The engagement team’s job, in a nutshell, is to research, develop, and ultimately facilitate new ways to make STEM-themed subjects not only accessible, but really interesting to crowds outside the museum. That might be a class of 15 kindergarteners, an auditorium full of rowdy teens, or families at an offsite event. This kind of beyond-the-museum programming is crucial to the Frost Science mission of helping people of all backgrounds enjoy science and better understand ourselves and our world.

How does the team do it? A good example is the way they developed and built one of our most popular shows, “Magic Science,” which they’ve presented over 50 times all around Miami-Dade County since its inception in 2014.

“When I came to the museum two years ago, we already had a great onsite theater show that focused on physical reactions using liquid nitrogen,” says Daniel Mannina, our Community Engagement Manager. “So I knew that would be a great foundation from which to create a bigger, more expansive program.”

The challenge was to add more science that included chemical reactions as a counterpart.  So the community engagement team investigated what different chemical reactions children studied at school, as well as key experiments that museum guests already loved, and then devised different modules of “Magic Science” around them.  For example, they found that children were studying acids and bases, and that they loved our onsite pH-focused demos.

To up the entertainment value of “Magic Science,” Mannina and his team decided to first present their chemical reactions as “magic” tricks that the audience had to demystify by using scientific inquiry. In that way, they worked as a team to reveal the STEM-themed explanations behind what first seemed like magic.

Below are a few examples how the “Magic Science” show works.

DRY ICE: To help differentiate a physical reaction from a chemical reaction, the Frost Science team creates a fun physical reaction by dropping dry ice into water, resulting in a spooky bubbling cauldron. The water molecules stay the same, but the physical form changes in a rather bewitching way.

DRY ICE: To help differentiate a physical reaction from a chemical reaction, the Frost Science team creates a fun physical reaction by dropping dry ice into water, resulting in a spooky bubbling cauldron. The water molecules stay the same, but the physical form changes in a rather bewitching way.

pH INDICATOR TEST: To demonstrate chemical reactions, where molecular structures change, the Frost Science team starts with a lineup of cups containing clear liquid solutions of different chemicals (vinegar, baking soda, ammonia, etc.) They then add a seemingly magical liquid (a universal indicator) that turns each chemical solution a different color.

pH INDICATOR TEST: To demonstrate chemical reactions, where molecular structures change, the Frost Science team starts with a lineup of cups containing clear liquid solutions of different chemicals (vinegar, baking soda, ammonia, etc.) They then add a seemingly magical liquid (a universal indicator) that turns each chemical solution a different color.

THE FIRE RAINBOW: The finale of the show includes a fire rainbow which presents the concept of combustion through a fire demonstration. The Frost Science team uses a series of different chemical salts whose molecular composition or chemical “fingerprint” is revealed at high heat, turning their flames different colors. Lithium chloride turns red, copper chloride turns green, and so forth. This always leaves audiences cheering for science!

THE FIRE RAINBOW: The finale of the show includes a fire rainbow which presents the concept of combustion through a fire demonstration. The Frost Science team uses a series of different chemical salts whose molecular composition or chemical “fingerprint” is revealed at high heat, turning their flames different colors. Lithium chloride turns red, copper chloride turns green, and so forth. This always leaves audiences cheering for science!

So that’s the backstage story of our ever-popular “Magic Science” program. If you haven’t seen it, check-out the Out & About with Frost Science program schedule in the links below.

Special events: http://miamisci.org/www/events.php

School programs: http://www.miamisci.org/events/mobile-outreach/