From the Executive Director's Desk

I’d like to recap some highlights from the High Impact Technology Exchange Conference (HI-TEC) in Orlando the last week of July. The HI-TEC conference was sponsored by 25 NSF ATE Centers of Excellence. This second, of what will be an annual event, was hosted by FLATE and SPACE TEC which are two National Science Foundation centers in Florida.

The conference offered several venues for networking and professional development. Over 70 Florida industry representatives and educators from high schools, state/community colleges, technical schools and universities attended the conference with almost 400 joining from across the country. From the “Welcome Florida Industry Panel Session” on Tuesday evening hosted by FLATE where industry brought their perspective to the audience of educators in both formal and informal venues, to the captivating keynote speakers living and working right here in Florida, FLATE and SPACE TEC worked hard to give the conference a strong Florida flavor.

Story Musgrave, astronaut, photographer, surgeon and more carried the audience into space and other amazing places with stunning photos taken by himself during his many flights and missions. Equally important, he reminded us all of the beauty and elegance of simple, functional designs in ordinary and extraordinary things. Duane DeFreese, another keynote speaker inspired and challenged us to mingle our minds with our magnificent oceans – from our beautiful coastlines to the deepest depths for explorations right here on our own planet. Both speakers inspired the audience to think outside the box, dare to dream, keep it simple, keep it clean, and keep both the past and the future in the equation of sustaining success. See you all next year at HI-TEC 2011 in San Francisco!

Please take a moment to enjoy the articles in the August edition of the Focus. Our special “making a difference” section highlights Lourdes Fleurima, FLATE Sr. Staff Assistant’s generosity and hard work to help the people of Haiti. Our hats and hearts off to her for organizing a considerable relief effort in the Tampa Bay area. Although the long-term recovery efforts from the earthquake, over six months ago, have barely begun the world’s news spot light has moved on. If you can help just let us know. Take a stab at this month’s Stem Puzzle (#10), and catch up on the status of biofuels in Florida!

Biomass Energy…what’s in it for the sunshine state?

Focus on research for alternative and renewable energy sources is at an all time high across the nation. This surge in interest coupled with rising fuel prices, concerns over depleting natural resources has created a strong market for renewable energy sources. Among other forms of alternate energy like solar, wind, or hydro power, biomass energy occupies an important role in Florida. The state is one of the few in the nation with high biomass resources. Subsequently, harnessing these resources is a key component of Florida’s energy strategy. (Source: Florida Energy Systems Consortium, FESC).

Jorge Monreal, project manager for the workforce/curriculum development component of the FESC-FLATE partnership based at Hillsborough Community College in Brandon agrees the future of the bioenergy industry, its scope and potential for growth is bright, and is a great resource for the state. Not surprisingly there are several initiatives currently underway focused on using biomass as an alternative energy source. The Bioenergy Crop Field Day hosted by the Plant Research Center at the Institute of Food & Agriculture (IFAS) at the University of Florida (UF) was one such initiative designed to showcase and create awareness about the types of research being conducted to explore alternative energy sources. Approximately 75 people from diverse backgrounds ranging from academia, industry, government agencies attended the half-day event that was held July 15 in Citrus, FL.

Central to the event was its focus on sweet sorghum as a viable bioenergy crop for Florida. Why sweet sorghum? According to a study conducted by IFAS “sweet sorghum offers high biomass and sugar yields, is relatively resource efficient, and does not compete directly with food crops.” Besides the emphasis on sorghum, there were other research-based presentations showcasing different kinds of grasses (elephant grass, energycane, miscanthus, sugarcane), and the genetic engineering/hybridization processes that are being done on them to lower sugar content and optimize ethanol production. Attendees learned about research transforming the normal garden variety sugarcane into an “energy cane” through genetic engineering. The genetically altered crop is apparently thinner, has less moisture and more cellulose that can be turned into ethanol, and is more energy efficient as well. Attendees were also taken on field tours that showed ongoing bioenergy grass crop research, they received updates on bioenergy crop breeding efforts, and reviewed most recent data from statewide plant-based, bioenergy experiments.

Indeed, the event served as an effective mechanism in showcasing new and upcoming technologies relevant to the bioenergy and alternative energy field. Given the number of farms/agro-based businesses in Florida, Monreal says there is a huge interest in farming cash crops that have alternative energy uses. “These are the people who want to be educated about the kinds of crops/plants they can grow, and learn more about the bioenergy field.” Besides the workshop’s benefits to local farmers, Monreal says the information can also be used to develop a curriculum for future energy-based camps, or can be integrated into the introduction to alternative energy course—a core component for students wishing to pursue the new alternative energy specialization—which will be offered as part of the A.S/A.A.S Engineering Technology (ET) degree and certificate programs developed by FLATE and college partners across Florida. Curriculum frameworks for the alternative energy specialization were approved by the Florida Department of Education in March 2010. Development of the first course is currently in progress, and expected to be completed by August 2010.

For information on the bioenergy crop field day at UF, or the ET degree energy specialization contact Jorge Monreal at For information on ongoing statewide FLATE-FESC initiatives contact Dr. Marilyn Barger at, or visit

sTEm–at-Work: Optical Systems Tech (Puzzle #10)

Yep, I did it again! No previous puzzle data analysis this time either, however, another great puzzle.

This time a technician for a laser research company is responding to a complaint that the beam is not steady. The initial thought is that the optics table is vibrating because one or more of the table’s shock absorbers is not working properly. The tech has obtained data about the table’s complete vertical displacement response to an applied test force and plotted that information.

The tech knows the following facts:

1st the plot of force applied to one of the shock absorbers of the optical bench vs. the vertical motion of the table is a hysteresis loop.

2nd, if the shock absorber is working correctly, the loop will show that the initial force is absorbed by the shock absorber and the table’s initial vertical motion is minimal.

The shock absorber is malfunctioning. (yes or no). Please submit your answers at

Making A Difference: The Haiti Earthquake Relief Effort

If “a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step” Lourdes Fleurima has already taken her first steps towards fulfilling a life-long dream to “make a difference”. Fleurima who is the senior staff assistant for FLATE at Hillsborough Community College in Brandon, and a single mother of two says she always liked to help. That she says has been her passion since she was a child. Help she did, and in a big way!

In April 2010, she single-handedly organized a food and clothes drive to help the victims of the devastating magnitude 7.0 earthquake that crippled the lives of thousands in Haiti. The incident served as an epiphany of sorts. In that, shortly after the earthquake Fleurima made a flyer requesting for donated items for the victims of the Haiti earthquake, posted them at churches, at work, local community centers, and hosted garage sales at her residence. Her efforts evoked mass response from coworkers at HCC, church members, and neighbors alike. The Publix store in her neighborhood opened a drop box where people could donate food and clothes, a doctor in Land O’Lakes, FL donated pharmaceutical/medical products, and the local U-Haul store donated boxes and tapes to ship the items to Haiti. She even received donated items from a family in Indiana! “I got a lot of help from the community, and have been inspired by their acts of generosity” Fleurima said.

Since then she has traveled to Haiti twice to distribute the donated items, and has spent a considerable amount of money, out of her own pocket, to help the people of Haiti. “This is something I wanted to do, I am committed to do and will make it happen.” Approximately 1000 individuals in Leogane, Port Au-Prince, Carrefour, Saut-d’Eau, Hinche and several towns and villages across Haiti have received clothes, food and money thus far as a result of her efforts.

Indeed, Fleurima’s desire to reach out to the “poorest of the poor” started long before the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Starting with one suitcase of goods that she bought at local outlet stores to distribute to the people in Haiti, Fleurima has reached out to the needy for the past 10 years, one step at a time. She is currently in the process of establishing her own organization, Helpland Solutions which is poised to be operational by August, 2010. The organization’s primary mission will be to give every child a better life by “helping Haiti through the goodness of the heart”. Whether it is helping two, or 20 or 2000 kids, the organization’s primary focus will be providing “a home” not a mere “shelter” for orphans and children between the ages of 1-10.

Fleurima’s vision is highly diversified. Her audacity of hope extends beyond Haiti. In the next five years she intends to expand HLS from serving 25 to 100 kids. She intends to offer vocational programs (culinary, sewing and basic computer classes) free of cost for adolescents, as well as adult literacy programs that cultivate real-life skills. She even plans to open a non-denominational church. Her long-term plan is to offer similar services to orphans and underprivileged individuals not only in Haiti, but in Africa, India, and one day throughout the world. “I know I will not have a solution for everybody, or every child, but if I can have a solution for just one child, or teach one adult to read and write I will consider HLS to have fulfilled its mission to serve the underprivileged” Fleurima said.

Despite numerous challenges that are strewn along her path, failing she says is not in her vocabulary. “I want to go all the way, but I will go in the direction where God leads me to.” For information on Fleurima’s Haiti earthquake relief effort, or to donate to Helpland Solutions contact Lourdes Fleurima, president & CEO of Helpland Solutions at