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UM Launches $1M Revolving Reserve to Seed Green Initiatives

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UM Launches $1M Revolving Reserve to Seed Green Initiatives

By Maya Bell
UM News

The metal hali

For the inaugural UGRR project, the metal halide lights in the Wellness Center’s main gym will be replaced with LED lights.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (May 20, 2016)—The University of Miami’s initial spend-to-save-energy idea is straightforward: Spend $30,000 to replace all the metal halide lights in the Patti and Allan Herbert Wellness Center’s basketball gym with more efficient LED lights, saving $9,000 a year in utility costs. Then, in 3½ years, when the new lights have paid for themselves, redirect the annual savings to other projects that will reduce the U’s energy costs and carbon footprint.

Proposed by Jose Varona, associate director for energy management systems, the gym light swap is the inaugural project of the University’s $1 million U Green Revolving Reserve, an innovative financing tool that a growing number of universities are using to implement energy-efficient, renewable energy and other sustainability initiatives that generate cost savings.

But what other projects the UGRR will support could depend on the ingenuity and imagination of faculty, staff, students, and the broader UM community. The UGRR is now seeking proposals for green projects on the Coral Gables and Rosenstiel School campuses that will not only pay back their respective initial investments, but eventually generate enough savings to replenish the fund and pay for other green projects. Managed by a committee representing a cross-section of the University, the UGRR also plans to fund green-oriented research that could serve as test beds for national deployment.

Brian Gitlin

Brian Gitlin

“The target projects are those that pay back within five years—something that can be done quickly, and effectively, without having to wait for the standard capital request process,” said Brian Gitlin, assistant vice president for real estate who spearheaded the creation of the UGRR after learning about the green revolving fund (GRF) concept at a conference. “We are also open to projects that could take longer, especially if there is a strong sustainability element to it.”

UM became one of more than 50 universities and colleges to establish its own GRF when it accepted the Sustainability Endowments Institute’s Billion Dollar Green Challenge. The challenge encourages nonprofit institutions to invest a collective total of $1 billion in self-managed GRFs to finance energy efficiency improvements. To join the challenge, UM committed a reserve of up to $1 million, with the goal of cutting its operating expenses and reducing its environmental impact.

The reserve also has the benefit of freeing up funds for other campus needs, engaging the entire University community in sustainability efforts, and promoting interdisciplinary collaborations to identify new projects.

“We already see examples of such collaboration and engagement between the College of Engineering and the School of Architecture, which are working on an initiative to bring microgrid capabilities to the Coral Gables campus,” Varona said. “Microgrids could be great UGRR projects because they enable facilities to operate off the main electric grid. Instead, they would be powered by battery, solar panels, or other renewable resources, which would cut costs and carbon emissions and increase our energy independence.”

As Varona notes, the need for cutting operating expenses and reducing the U’s carbon footprint is becoming increasingly critical. Over just a four-year period, the University’s operating expenses on utilities and maintenance increased by 38 percent, from $54.3 million in fiscal year 2010-11 to $74.9 million in fiscal year 2013-14.

At the same time, the world, and South Florida in particular, is becoming increasingly vulnerable to the consequences of global warming, caused primarily by the continued emission of carbon dioxide and other human-produced greenhouse gases that are trapped in the atmosphere and acidifying the oceans.

As the University’s Climate Change Special Report detailed, the rate of sea-level rise in South Florida is already outpacing world projections, nuisance flooding is increasing on Miami Beach, and other nearby cities, and the world’s only tropical coral reef off our coastline is dissolving much faster than originally predicted.

“The bottom line is, as an institution, we need to cut our operating costs and reduce our environmental impact,” Gitlin said. “So we want to hear from different people or groups across the University about ideas that can be evaluated and funded in a flexible and efficient manner to help us do that.”

The UGRR Management Committee will review and select the proposals and ideas to implement based on criteria that includes, but is not limited to, the cost of implementation, the opportunity for cost savings, the estimated payback period, and the potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and enhancing educational, research, or social benefits.

In addition to Gitlin and Varona, members of the committee are:

o   Andrea Heuson, professor of finance in the School of Business Administration

o   Antonio Nanni, professor of civil, architectural, and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering

o   Rich Jones, associate vice president for facilities design and construction

o   Aintzane Celaya, assistant vice president for budget and planning

o   James Sprinkle, executive director for facilities management

o   Teddy Lhoutellier, sustainability manager

o   Derick Sheldon, student and member of the ECO Agency-Student Government

UGRR proposals will be reviewed initially by a working group that will provide feedback and determine if the ideas are ready for consideration by the UGRR Management Committee.

To submit an idea, complete the project nomination form and submit it to greenu@miami.edu. For more information about the UGRR, view the UGRR homepage, the nomination form and the operational procedures.


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Antonio Nanni Named Officer of the American Concrete Institute

By Barbara Gutierrez
UM News

Antonio Nanni

Antonio Nanni

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (May 19, 2016)– University of Miami professor Antonio Nanni, who has conducted research on concrete and advanced composites-based systems for three decades, has been named a board member of the American Concrete Institute (ACI).

“This is a privilege and an honor and a duty I intend to take very seriously,” said Nanni, chair of the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering in UM’s College of Engineering. “ACI is an incredible organization with an overarching national and international impact on the quality, safety, and sustainability of the built environment.”

Nanni currently serves as chair of the ACI Education Subcommittee of Committee 562 (ACI 562-E) and is a member of ACI’s Committee on Codes and Standards Advocacy and Outreach as well as the organization’s Educational Activities Committee. He also serves on various other committees of the ACI.

Nanni was named a Fellow of ACI in 1999. He is a recipient of ACI’s Chapter Activities Award and the Delmar L. Bloem Distinguished Service Award.

During the past 30 years, he has researched concrete and advanced composites-based systems as the principal investigator of projects sponsored by federal and state agencies and private industry. Nanni is the editor in chief of the ASCE Journal of Materials in Civil Engineering and serves on the editorial board of other technical journals. In addition to co-authoring two books, he has advised over 60 graduate students pursuing master’s and Ph.D. degrees and published 200 papers in refereed journals and more than 300 in conference proceedings.

Nanni has received several awards, including the 2015 Engineer of the Year Award, ASCE Miami-Dade Branch; 2014 IIFC Medal, International Institute for FRP in Construction; ASCE 2012 Henry L. Michel Award for Industry Advancement of Research; and the Engineering News-Record Award of Excellence in 1997 (Top 25 Newsmakers in Construction). He is a licensed professional engineer in Italy, Florida, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and Oklahoma.



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Engineers Week Explores Diversity in STEM Disciplines


Engineers Week Explores Diversity in STEM Disciplines

Hundreds of students attend a week of events to learn more about engineering and change the perception that it’s not for women or minorities.

By Barbara Gutierrez
UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (February 25, 2016) — When College of Engineering senior Kyrah Williams got up to speak during Tuesday’s A Force for Change, Diversity in STEM forum, she voiced a concern many of her fellow students have on their minds.

“When you look at me what do you see?” posed Williams, president of the University of Miami chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers, which co-sponsored the event. “My outer appearance shows that I am an African-American woman. What you cannot see are my passions and plans to become a successful engineer. Due to first impressions of me, society will label me as a minority in the workplace and in life.”

Being stereotyped and feeling isolated were two of the many issues that were brought to light during the forum, which featured UM President Julio Frenk, College of Engineering Dean Jean-Pierre Bardet, and Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Whitely.

The forum, which drew about 50 students, faculty, and staff members to the UM Faculty Club, was part of Engineers Week, an annual weeklong celebration that calls attention to the contributions engineers make to society and emphasizes the importance of learning math, science, and technical skills. Other events included a duct tape competition, a demonstration of a concrete canoe built by UM engineering students, and the “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day,” which welcomed more than 150 girls from South Florida high schools to the University to stimulate their interest in the world of engineering through lectures and activities.

“How can we foster issues of diversity in the workplace if we don’t start in our school?” Williams asked at last Tuesday’s diversity forum.

Frenk said he was pleased to join the conversation because the meeting was a confluence of two of his aspirations for the future of the University. UM strives to be an “excellent university” and thus be strong in the fields of applied sciences and engineering. A $100 million gift from longtime UM benefactors Phillip and Patricia Frost towards those academic areas makes that goal more attainable.

The president added that, as “an exemplary university,” UM has a responsibility to provide a model for the larger society through the values and behaviors it embraces. “The value of diversity is at the core of an exemplary university,” he said. “Diversity is the right thing to do because we value every life equally. Every human being deserves the same opportunity.”

Beyond diversity, Frenk said, the University has to develop a “sense of belonging” so that every individual feels like they are welcomed into the institution. “Stereotyping and assigning certain characteristics to a group of people corrodes that sense of belonging,” he said.

Reading from a letter that he co-signed with other deans from the American Society of Engineering Education, Bardet said he was committed to bringing in more Hispanics, African Americans, and Native Americans to STEM education and to the College of Engineering. As part of this commitment, Bardet said the college would create partnerships with more diverse institutions, such as Miami Dade College and Florida A&M University, with the goal of increasing underrepresented minorities at UM.

Also, the college will commit to hiring more minority faculty members. Bardet recognized Professor Vincent Omachonu, who was at the gathering and is the only African-American professor at the college, which has 57 full-time faculty members.

“The fact that we are having this conversation is a great step in a very positive direction,” Whitely said.

She also agreed that recruiting minority faculty had to be a priority since many could become mentors to students. “When you have those mentors, things are easier simply because somebody else has gone down the very same path and will be with you,” Whitely said.

During the question-and-answer period, students brought up concerns about their schools – which included lack of diversity in the faculty, lack of financial resources, and lack of support from the faculty, as well as curriculums that occasionally did not directly serve their needs.

Engineering senior Natasha Koermer said some of her female peers had been told not to pursue the engineering field because “it was not for women.”

Bardet committed to hearing more about their concerns, and said he would set up focus groups as a way to address and resolve them.

The UM chapters of Minority Women in Medicine and the National Association of Black Accountants also sponsored the forum.

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Engineering Professor Walks ‘In the Company of Women’


Engineering Professor Walks ‘In the Company of Women’

By Barbara Gutierrez
UM News

Helena Solo Gabriele

Helena Solo-Gabriele

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (February 17, 2016) –Professor Helena Solo-Gabriele, a University of Miami alumna and the associate dean for research in the College of Engineering, will be honored with the “In the Company of Women” award in the category of Science and Technology for her outstanding contributions to engineering as a teacher, mentor and researcher.

Coinciding with Women’s History Month and hosted by the Miami-Dade Commission for Women, The Parks Foundation of Miami-Dade, and Miami-Dade Parks, Recreation & Open Spaces, the  annual “In the Company of  Women” awards honor outstanding women leaders in a dozen categories for their contributions to the Miami-Dade community.

An environmental engineer who has served on a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scientific panel, Solo-Gabriele has more than 16 years of research experience as a faculty member in water quality assessments and contaminant fate and transport. Her research has included the health risks associated with using chromated copper arsenate (CCA)-treated wood for marinas and decks, as well as the toxic effects of arsenic from pre-treated wood seeping through playgrounds and groundwater. She led the “Recreational Microbes” research group that evaluated the relationship between human health and the physical and microbiological characteristics of the coastal environment.

The award came as a surprise to Solo-Gabriele, who was nominated by her good friend and colleague, Ana Veiga Milton, who studied with her in high school and college.

“This award is extra special because it was done out of someone else’s true appreciation for me,” she said.

Calling Solo-Gabriele “truly remarkable,” Jean-Pierre Bardet, dean of the College of Engineering, noted her career  “has encompassed undergraduate and graduate teaching, funded research, and administrative activities in diverse interdisciplinary areas.”

The daughter of Cuban-American immigrants, Solo-Gabriele earned her B.S. and M.S. in civil engineering at the University of Miami and her Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

She is a past president of the Association of Cuban Engineers, which in collaboration with three other Florida colleges, seeks to help engineering professionals by promoting engineering education, providing networking opportunities, and most recently addressing engineering-related issues in Cuba’s future, specifically with respect to its crumbling physical infrastructure.

The awards ceremony will be held on 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 3, at the Coral Gables Country Club. For more information, visit  http://www.miamidade.gov/parks/company-of-women.asp.


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Machine Shop Turns Concepts into Reality


Machine Shop Turns Concepts into Reality

By Robert Jones Jr.
UM News
With Angel Morciego's assistance, Brigitte Morales, a Ph.D. candidate in mechanical engineering, works the vertical milling machine in the College of Engineering Prototyping Facility.

With Angel Morciego’s assistance, Brigitte Morales, a Ph.D. candidate in mechanical engineering, works the vertical milling machine in the College of Engineering Machine Shop.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (December 9, 2015) — It wasn’t as simple as flipping through the pages of a catalog and placing an order.

Much like scientist and inventor H.G. Wells in the movie The Time Machine, Lukas Jaworski had designed a first-of-its-kind device and needed to build it from scratch. So the biomedical engineering graduate student turned to the one place he knew could help—a high-tech machining facility on the first floor of the University of Miami’s McArthur Engineering Annex.

There, using Jaworski’s computer-generated schematics, technicians helped him construct the special bioreactor he designed for studying intervertebral discs that serve as shock absorbers in the human spine.

Chalk up another successful fabrication project for the College of Engineering’s 3,000-square-foot Machine Shop, where skilled machinists take the conceptual designs of UM researchers and turn them into reality.

From a phantom gauge that measures radiation, to equipment used with physical therapy patients, to a microinjection chamber for transplanting islet cells, the facility has built every kind of gadget and gizmo imaginable.

“I like to say we exist for the University community at large,” said Angel Morciego, the facility’s veteran machinist, noting that researchers from the Coral Gables, medical, and marine campuses all regularly seek the assistance of his technicians for building their inventions.

“It’s easy for researchers to conceptualize something, but can it really be built the way they want it? That’s where we come into play,” Morciego explained. “We try to make their designs functional, feasible, and user friendly. Sometimes we have to change their designs and the way they think certain things have to work. And they’re glad to accept constructive criticism.”

With vertical milling machines, drill presses, radial arm drills, computerized milling and lathe machines, and a welding and wood section, the shop can handle just about any job—a fact biomedical engineering student Jaworski was well aware of when he walked in with his bioreactor design. Because he already had some knowledge of machining, the shop’s technicians allowed him to perform some of the basic operations in building his bioreactor, but they took the lead in fabricating the more advanced parts of his device, which features a linear actuator that can apply either static or dynamic loads to intervertebral discs to simulate walking. His research could eventually help people with lower back pain, which, he said, “generally correlates with disc degeneration.”

Sometimes it’s not a new device at all that Morciego’s team has to build, but a modification of an existing piece of equipment, like the conductivity chamber Kelsey Kleinhans adapted for her research on knee meniscus tissue. Kleinhans redesigned a chamber previously used by her mentor, and last March the Machine Shop built two versions of the instrument for her—one that confines tissue, allowing Kleinhans to insert electrodes on both ends of the chamber to measure the electrical resistance across tissue, and the other into which she pours a high-glucose solution to measure how much sugar diffuses through tissue samples.

“They both work flawlessly,” said Kleinhans, noting that without the shop, her research would have stalled. “Eventually, we would like the research to move toward figuring out how osteoarthritis affects knee meniscus tissue and how it’s related to degenerative tissue versus healthy tissue.”

Within a few months of starting at the Miller School of Medicine’s Diabetes Research Institute in 2007, assistant professor Midhat Abdulreda realized that one of the existing tools the institute used for transplanting pancreatic islet cells in lab specimens needed to be improved.

“The prototype already existed, and several revisions of the prototype were built over the years at the machine shop on the medical campus,” Abdulreda explained. But that shop eventually closed down when the employee who operated it retired, leaving Abdulreda without a source to make the custom parts he needed to upgrade the device for transplanting islets.

Morciego and his team saved the day. Not long after learning about the shop, Abdulreda met with Morciego, explaining to the machinist what he needed, which was essentially for the shop to fabricate custom parts for which Abdulreda already had a blueprint. Still, Morciego went above and beyond, using computer-aided design (CAD) to not only make the slight modifications but also to improve the function of the device.

Such a close working relationship with researchers is what sets the College of Engineering’s Machine Shop apart, said Morciego. “Outside shops won’t sit and spend four hours with a researcher or grad student like we do, detailing their print and trying to understand what they’re really trying to achieve,” said Morciego. “We nurture the thought process and challenge them to think outside the box.”

Morciego, who completed a four-year apprenticeship in machining in the early 1980s, has worked at the facility since 1993. Prior to that year, students were not allowed to work in the shop.

“There was only one machinist, who produced what we call lab specimens, destructive test pieces used by students to conduct experiments,” said Morciego. “But when I came to UM we had a game plan; we wanted to create an educational environment. Much of the industry was complaining that their green graduates were book smart but couldn’t work with their hands. They could draw beautifully, but they had no idea how to build it.”

The phasing out of machine shop classes in high schools across the country probably has something to do with that, Morciego believes. But whatever the case, the industry began to look to colleges and universities to train engineering students in design fabrication. So the Machine Shop opened its doors to freshmen engineering students, providing intense training on lathe and milling machine techniques, measuring tools, and how to read and interpret prints.

On one particular day in late November, the shop was a hive of activity. Under Morciego’s guidance, a group of students took turns using a vertical milling machine to remove metal fragments from a puzzle piece that will be mounted onto a unit created by their mechanical engineering professor. Any less than the thickness of a sheet of paper, and the fixture wouldn’t work. “A plus or minus tolerance of that much can make or break a design,” Morciego told the students, holding the tips of his thumb and index finger only millimeters apart to drive home the point of just how precise they needed to be in their cutting.

In another section of the shop, mechanical and aerospace engineering majors Alex Cunnane and Colin Ruane worked on their senior design project—a metal beach chair that converts into a hammock. At a worktable, a group of freshmen started building a mousetrap car, using CDs and DVDs for the wheels. And in another area of the shop, Jeremiah Truesdell, a sophomore majoring in mechanical and aerospace engineering, worked on a rocket that he and his fellow members of the UM Hybrid Rocket Club plan to enter in a competition in North Florida next spring. “We’d like to go 3,000 feet or higher,” he said of the elevation goal for their rocket.

Morciego believes he is witnessing a change in students’ attitudes toward machining. “I’m seeing a return to basics,” he said. “Theoretical concepts on CAD is here to stay, but I’m seeing more and more students saying, ‘Hey, I want to get my hands dirty. I want to get in there and build something, whether it’s right or wrong.”

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