A Giant Step Forward for STEM

A Giant Step Forward for STEM

UM breaks ground on Phillip and Patricia Frost Science and Engineering Building
UM breaks ground on Phillip and Patricia Frost Science and Engineering Building
by Robert C. Jones Jr.
UM News

In the two minutes it took University of Miami biomedical engineer Ashutosh Agarwal to explain his organs-on-a-chip research to a reporter, five people in the United States had suffered a heart attack. 

By the time UM organic chemist Jean-Hubert Oliver had concluded his five-minute presentation on new methods to capture energy from the sun and other sources, millions of batteries had found their way into landfills across the nation. 

But heart disease, environmental waste, and other challenges need not be the bane of the world. Scientific, technological, engineering and mathematical advances that only a few years ago were regarded as the stuff of science fiction are now making such seemingly intractable problems solvable.

Thursday, on an occasion described as “the dawn of a bold new era” for UM, the University took a giant step forward in advancing such research, breaking ground on its new Phillip and Patricia Frost Science and Engineering Building, an iconic structure that will house an intertwined network of institutes aimed at boosting STEM across its campuses.

“Today, we ignite the spark that will ensure that the light of discovery and innovation will shine at the U far into the future,” said Jeffrey Duerk, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost.

Both the facility, which UM President Julio Frenk said will “put science on display,” and the network of institutes, which are known as the Frost Institutes of Science and Engineering, are made possible by a landmark $100 million gift from the namesake UM benefactors whose legacy at the University is well known in the form of a gift that named the Frost School of Music.

Noting that the future Frost Science and Engineering Building links the Colleges of Arts and Sciences and Engineering, Duerk said it is fitting that the Frost Institute of Chemistry and Molecular Science, established last year, is the first of the individual institutes to be created. 

“Chemistry is the central science—everything in the physical, life, and applied sciences intersects with chemistry,” he said. “It touches on everything from biology to engineering, and from medicine and health sciences to oceanography.”

UM, he said, needs to act boldly if it is to be a leader in interdisciplinary STEM research and education. “The Frosts’ gift makes that possible, and the impact will be felt not only at the U but also throughout the greater South Florida community and beyond,” he explained.

The groundbreaking ceremony, held on a green space that is envisioned as a scientific quad on the Coral Gables campus and complete with an exploding mound of dirt that spewed orange and green foam, comes almost a year to the day that the Frost Museum of Science opened in downtown Miami.

In a move to enhance an existing relationship between the University and the museum (the coral reef research of UM marine biologist Andrew Baker has been featured at the museum), the University and the downtown facility will collaborate on a range of STEM education- and research-focused programs and activities, Frenk announced at the ceremony. “We want to cultivate an interest in science in the museum’s youngest visitors and, we hope, inspire many of them to pursue their educations in the STEM disciplines at UM,” he said.

UM Breaks Ground on the Phillip and Patricia Frost Science and Engineering Building

The University of Miami took a giant step forward in advancing STEM research at the U, breaking ground on its new Phillip and Patricia Frost Science and Engineering Building. Enjoy a this recap of the groundbreaking.

Aerial Shot of Frost Science Museum

Frost Museum of Science

The University of Miami will partner with the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science to develop a range of STEM education- and research-focused programming and activities, including UM and Frost Science co-branded exhibitions and public programs. The partnership provides a venue where UM researchers can share their work with the more than 1 million Frost Science museum visitors each year, greatly strengthening the infrastructure of our community’s innovation ecosystem.  
Aerial Shot of Frost Science Museum
NOAA Grant Corals

Coral Restoration Research

A unique collaboration between University of Miami biologists, NOAA, Miami Science Barge and the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science will explore coral propagation and restoration efforts necessary to help with the recovery of threatened coral special and increased resilience of coastal communities in Florida’s Miami-Dade County.
NOAA Grant Corals

Those disciplines are already thriving at UM, and Thursday about 300 invited guests got an up-close look at what’s taking place in UM’s cutting-edge labs. 

This includes the work of Agarwal, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, whose organs-on-a-chip research simulates the activities, mechanics, and physiological response of entire organs and organ systems, leading to a less time-consuming and more effective way to test new drugs. And the work of assistant professor of Chemistry Oliver, whose research in capturing energy from sources other than batteries, could lead to clothes that charge your smartphone as you walk. 

Graduate and undergraduate students are responsible for a good portion of STEM research at UM, as well. Rachel Besser, a research assistant in biomedical engineering who works in Agarwal’s lab, is collaborating with a Miller School clinician in an investigation of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, using organs-on-a-chip technology to create an out-of-body platform to study the cells of patients who have the neurological disorder. 

Crystal Nattoo, a junior majoring in electrical engineering, is helping to create sensors that can detect different concentrations of oxygen and differentiate solvents—work that has major implications for the medical field, she said. 

“For future institutes, we will continue to galvanize our scientists, researchers, and students to delve into the big problems that matter, be they in neuro-engineering, smart cities, data science, or any of the other disciplines that will shape the future of our planet and our society,” said Duerk.

Indeed, of the Frosts’ $100 million gift, $30 million is designated to the creation of at least 13 chairs in STEM fields, with $3 million set aside for graduate student support. 

The creation of the Frost Institutes, patterned after the National Institutes of Health, is the backbone of STEM@UM, one of the nine transformational initiatives to propel the University toward its greatest aspirations by its centennial in 2025, allowing for STEM growth, a stimulation of interdisciplinary research collaboration, and engagement with greater Miami as a hemispheric innovation hub. 

Richard Fain, chair of UM’s Board of Trustees, praised the Frosts for their gift. “The Frosts could support whatever causes they want,” said Fain. “But for them to support Miami and the University of Miami is truly amazing, and we’re lucky to have them.”

But Phillip Frost, a UM trustee for 35 years, deflected Fain’s praise, saying “we are all emissaries and are all visionaries.” 

Said Frost, “It’s up to us to either give what we can or convince other people to get involved in good causes.”