An 'ACCelerated' look at research and innovation

Visitors to the School of Communication's Top Suits booth at the ACC festival will be recruited for a spacewalk outside the International Space Station.
By Maya Bell

Visitors to the School of Communication's Top Suits booth at the ACC festival will be recruited for a spacewalk outside the International Space Station.

An 'ACCelerated' look at research and innovation

By Maya Bell
During the ACC’s second festival at the Smithsonian, UM faculty and students will take visitors on a spacewalk and tours of the Everglades and a neonatal intensive care unit.

The alarm blares on the International Space Station (ISS), signaling the need for an emergency spacewalk to make a repair. But how can the astronaut summoned for the solitary task remember all the steps detailed in NASA’s technical manual?

By donning mixed-reality goggles that cast holograms with the step-by-step directions, visitors to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History this weekend will have the chance to “train” for such a mission—and they’ll be cheered on by graduate students in the University of Miami’s Interactive Media Master of Fine Arts program who developed the immersive experience for ACCelerate: ACC Smithsonian Creativity and Innovation Festival.

Returning to the Smithsonian for the second time in two years, the free, family-friendly festival organized by Virginia Tech is designed to highlight another stellar dimension of the 15 universities, including UM, that belong to the Atlantic Coast Conference, the NCAA powerhouse known for winning dozens of national championships in multiple sports. For three days beginning April 5, faculty and staff from the 15 ACC schools will take over the museum’s west wing to present 38 interactive installations and 13 performances that showcase the creativity and research occurring at the nexus of science, engineering, arts, and design at ACC institutions.

“This festival is a great opportunity to showcase UM’s outstanding research, scholarly, and creative works among our ACC peers and to the public,” said Jeffrey Duerk, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. “Our exhibits and performances from the inaugural festival were meritorious and I am confident that this year’s will be highly successful, too.”

Nominated by the schools and chosen through a peer-review process, the interactive projects include three from UM. In addition to Top Suits, the mixed-reality solution School  of Communication students designed to provide astronauts a hands-free option for working in outer space, they are: the Infant Healthcare Training Simulator, which will open a window on the simulation training that nurses receive to care for the tiniest of sick patients; and  SwampScapes, another interactive media project which will take museum visitors on a virtual 360-degree tour of the Everglades, and allow them to create their own swamp symphony.

The Frost School's American Music Ensemble will perform original songs.

As was the case during the inaugural festival in October 2017, the Frost School of Music also will be prominently featured when its American Music Ensemble, the flagship ensemble in the Bruce Hornsby Creative American Music Program, takes the stage in the history museum’s high-traffic Flag Hall on Sunday afternoon to perform 10 original songs written by some of the school’s most talented songwriters.

“They are going to make their mark. They’ve been ready for this for months,” faculty advisor Daniel Strange, visiting assistant professor in the Music Media and Industries, or M.A.D.E. program, said of the ensemble’s 11 undergraduate students. “What’s so cool about this school iswe send our students wherever there are performance opportunities, but I ever imagined there’d be one at the Smithsonian. It’s really exciting.”

The School of Nursing and Health Studies’ Susana Barroso-Fernandez agreed, saying that exhibiting at the Smithsonian “has a nice ring to it. It’s an incredible opportunity.”

Joined by a simulation nurse specialist and a simulation technician, Barroso-Fernandez, assistant professor of clinical and director of special projects at the school’s Simulation Hospital, will demonstrate how nursing students learn to care for premature babies or other newborns with serious health challenges by practicing on two life-like infant simulators that can stop breathing, change color, experience rapidly dropping heart rates, or a number of other life-threatening symptoms. (They will, however, show their true colors and wear orange and green.)

But Barroso-Fernandez said she’s equally excited about the opportunity to learn about the innovations fellow ACC schools are pursuing.

Susana Barroso
Susana Barroso and her School of Nursing and Health Studies colleagues will demonstrate infant simulators.

“Our goal is to show how we were preparing nurses, who are the most trusted profession. We’d like to keep it that way,” she said. “But it’s also a great way to network with other universities—our ACC partners. To be able to say, ‘Look what we’re doing. Look what you’re doing. Let’s join forces and create something even better.’’’

Graduate students in the School of Communication’s Interactive Media program are just as eager to demonstrate their virtual- and mixed-reality projects to the public—Top Suits for the first time.

The spacewalk training mission is a spinoff from a student challenge that NASA issued—and UM answered last year—to create a helmet-based audio and information display to help astronauts perform spacewalk tasks. For that challenge, students used Microsoft’s HoloLens, which lets users see, hear, and interact with images, such as pages of a technical manual, that can be projected and moved around in any physical space—or outer space. They shared it, though, only with NASA.

For the ACCelerate festival, associate professor Ching-Hua Chuan and assistant professor Barbara Millet assembled another team of MFA students to create an immersive Disney-like experience that, by recruiting museum visitors for an emergency spacewalk, could introduce the emerging technology to the public. After entering the Top Suits booth, visitors will be briefed by Mission Control and tasked with deactivating the blaring alarm outside the spaceship. After an introduction to the HoloLens, they’ll use a training box, designed to look like a module on the exterior of the ISS, to complete their mission.

“Exhibiting at the Smithsonian was a big draw for me,” said first-year MFA student Lorena Lopez, who spent almost four years as a designer at the Miami Children’s Museum and created the training box, aptly named U.S.S. Hurricane. “We’re going to see how fast the public can do it—many of whom may never have used mixed-reality before.”

SwampScapes, the second interactive media project, has already introduced the Everglades to audiences near and far, winning best Virtual Reality Film at the Tacoma Film Festival, and HotDocs in Canada. But now the immersive VR documentary that Kim Grinfeder, associate professor and director of the interactive media program, and past Visiting Knight Chair Liz Miller created last year to promote swamp literacy to people who have never visited one, will bring the Everglades and some of its most passionate protectors to the Smithsonian.

Betty Osceola
Viewers of the SwampScapes film will meet one of the Everglades' passionate protectors, Betty Osceola. Photo by Grant Bemis 

Wearing VR headsets, visitors to the SwampScapes booth will not only be able to choose their own path through the Everglades’ diverse ecosystems, they’ll also be able to create their own swamp symphony. Mixing her undergraduate degree in music with her interest in physical computing, MFA student Mackenzie Miller created a stunning sound booth that, embellished with real scenes from the Everglades, has nine buttons that play the natural and man-made sounds that biologists have recorded in the Everglades.

Unlike the spacewalk, there are no directions for using it.

“It’s a better approach to go in and explore,” Miller said. “You just push a button and listen. I’ve grown up in Florida my whole life but never knew what a bat sounded like. Now I know, and that’s our hope for SwampScapes—to introduce people who have never visited a swamp to its beauty, fragility, and importance.”

For more information on the ACCelerate festival, visit