EMerge Americas: Showcasing research excellence

University of Miami researchers and students will display tech innovations during the eMerge Americas 2024 conference and expo this week.

The two-day event at the Miami Beach Convention Center also marks the 10th year of the conference. Visit Booth 525 to learn more about the innovations happening at the University.

Attendees will hear from various keynote speakers, including a UHealth - University of Miami Health System panel, " High-Touch is High-Tech in 21st Century Patient Experience ," and a Main Stage panel discussion, " Climate Challenges, Health Tech Solutions: Miami on the Front Lines ," moderated by University of Miami President Julio Frenk.

Other discussions will feature Grammy Award-winning artist and entrepreneur Armando Christian Perez, also known as Pitbull, and founder of Girls Who Code, Reshma Saujani.

Access the  full eMerge 2024 agenda  and check back throughout the event for updates from the Miami Beach Convention Center.

Wednesday, April 17

7 p.m. 

With the start of the conference just hours away, we wanted to share a couple of posts on two of the projects that will be seen at the University of Miami booth. 

Safeguarding firefighters

The dangers firefighters face while battling infernos are not always as obvious as searing heat and collapsing roofs. They also face the risk of being exposed to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, a known carcinogen to humans.  

University of Miami graduate students Chitvan Killawala and Umer Bakali, however, have developed a special sensor that helps warn firefighters when dangerous levels of the chemicals are present. 

"There’s very little solid evidence on the levels of PAHs that firefighters are exposed to, particularly inside the warm zone of an active fire scene where team staging activities occur and where firefighters aren’t suited up in personal protective gear. So, our sensors help fill a void," said Killawala, a doctoral candidate in biomedical engineering. 

PAHs, which result from burning coal, oil, gas, wood, garbage, and tobacco, can bind to or form small particles in the air. 

To test for the dangerous class of chemicals, Killawala and Bakali used small commercially available sensors that were designed to measure vinyl chloride and other chemicals, tweaking the parameters of the sensors to test for PAHs. "The PAHs interact with the sensor and cause a voltage drop, basically a dip in the way that the sensor reads. And that gives us a readout that we can compare to a baseline when there are no PAHs present," explained Bakali, a doctoral candidate in biochemistry and molecular biology at the Miller School of Medicine. 

To test the effectiveness of their sensor, the two graduate students purchased a miniature remote-controlled monster truck from a hobby store, modified its exterior, and mounted their sensor on its top. 

Then, during controlled live burns at fire-training facilities in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Pinellas counties, they drove their modified mobile rover into the warm zones of structural fires. The sensors, which render a readout in just a few seconds, recorded elevated levels of PAHs, providing evidence that firefighters would be wise to don protective gear in the warm zone as a precaution. 

The two are modifying their sensor to make it more effective and are planning further testing at fire academies located in other Florida cities.

--  Robert C. Jones Jr.

On display: Hurricane Analysis and Forecast System 

Scientists at the University of Miami Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS) worked with researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who led the development of a new, more accurate hurricane model that will be used this season by the National Hurricane Center to alert residents about emerging tropical cyclones. The Hurricane Analysis and Forecasting System (HAFS), developed with NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, can foster results that are up to 15 percent more accurate than earlier forecasting models for determining the track of a storm, as well as its intensity. 

"We always want more accurate hurricane forecasts and longer lead times to warn people to make preparations, put up shutters, or evacuate their homes," said William Ramstrom, senior software engineer at CIMAS, who has been working to develop HAFS for the past five years. "This model gives us the opportunity to have more accurate track locations, while also figuring out which storms are more likely to intensify as they approach land, and therefore are a bigger threat."

NOAA ran HAFS alongside existing models as an experiment in 2022 for the National Hurricane Center-a division of the  National Weather Service. Based on strong performance, it was made one of NOAA’s official hurricane forecast models in summer 2023. Ramstrom said the model’s strength is its higher resolution, made possible by new supercomputers that are able to forecast steering currents and humidity over a large area with points spaced 3.6 miles apart. Within a hurricane, the model can zoom in to forecast data every 1.25 miles. This was one element that Ramstrom’s team focused on as part of the HAFS. 

"It’s like when you increase the number of pixels on a camera, the pictures become sharper and look better-we are doing the same with a hurricane forecast," he said. "This will allow us to narrow the zones we think are under threat for a hurricane and may give forecasters the opportunity to move from a five-day outlook to a seven-day outlook, to give longer lead times on warnings." 

Ramstrom and his team look forward to seeing their work utilized and hope it will be able to offer better information to South Florida and all’Americans this summer. In the future, they plan to extend the model to collect data on tropical cyclones across the globe. 

"The public will be seeing these results every day during hurricane season and it’s a very direct path from the coding work that we do, to seeing that we have a reliable and accurate model being discussed on television and in social media by forecasters," Ramstrom added. "That’s really exciting work that is making an impact, especially here in Miami where we’re under the threat of hurricanes and everyone is well aware of it."

--Janette Neuwahl Tannen