A Frost Science Visit with District 8

District 8 Team

On Monday, March 2, Frost Science hosted District 8 Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava and her staff at our new museum construction site. Guided by President & CEO Gillian Thomas, the District 8 team toured the ever-evolving facility, learning more about our museum’s mission, and ultimately, how we can further unite to serve and engage the constituents of Miami-Dade County.

To learn more about what’s going on in District 8, click here.  Stay tuned for how Frost Science will be “Out & About” in your community!

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Congratulations, Mitchell “Mitch” Less!

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Mitchell “Mitch” Less

Congratulations to longtime museum supporter and the treasurer of the Frost Science Board of Trustees, Mitchell “Mitch” Less. He was recently inducted into the 2015 Business Hall of Fame by the University of Central Florida College of Business Administration. Less, class of ’86, is a Partner in Grant Thornton LLP and was inducted on Thursday, February 26 at the 16th Annual Business Alumni Hall of Fame Banquet.

Congrats again, Mitch!

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New 2015 Business Hall of Fame Inductee: Mitchell “Mitch” Less, ’86, Partner, Grant Thornton LLP

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Curious Vault 012: Xiphactinus, Extinct Monster Fish

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Eighty million years ago, a school of scaly Gillicus darted through the prehistoric seas that surged above modern day Kansas. Most likely searching for their next meal, Gillicus were predators, but not the top of the primitive marine food chain. There were far bigger fish found in the semi-tropical waters that during the Cretaceous period split North America right up the middle, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Circle—predators such as the Xiphactinus, (zy-FAK-tin-us) a species that would have swooped in to swallow a four-foot long Gillicus whole.

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To begin to understand the Xiphactinus, it helps to know it was a fish (and fish seems like such an inadequate term for a creature that could be up to 17-feet long) that swam and battled it out with primeval sharks and mosasaurs. There is no simpler statement to inspire awe. It was effectively an enormous sea going piranha with a protrusive fangs and massive frame. Eighty million years ago the Xiphactinus cruised stealthily throughout the Western Interior Seaway, an apex predator in an unforgiving ancient sea. Imagine the fish moving, gliding, with its beastly bulldog over bite of two-inch teeth gnarled from years of prowling the teeming primordial seas. Whizzing by goes a four-foot Gillicus. The perfect meal: or so it seemed.

A Xiphactinus sits on permanent display at Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, its belly filled with the remnants of its last lunch. The Gillicus is perhaps most famous for being the fatal final meal of the Xiphactinus, and there are a few rare specimen of Xiphactinius with remnants, or in some cases, wholly preserved fossil Gillicus inside them, a-fish-within-a-fish. It would seem the Xiphactinus had a taste for Gillicus, but an often-fatal taste, as proved by the fossil record, its tail was too harsh for its stomach and internal organs.

In 1925, eons after that ill-fated feast, the Museum’s Xiphactinus was first collected. It’s emancipator from the rock was George Sternberg, a Dust Bowl fisherman, (as crazy as that sounds) and son of the great fossil finder Charles Hazelius Sternberg, who did much of his early work during a period sometimes referred to as the Bone Wars. Turn of the century Americans were quite fascinated by bones of primeval creatures; it was big business and perfect ink for the newspapermen of the day.

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Fossil Beds Where Xiphactinus Was Discovered
Cook Canyon, Gove County, Kansas
Monument Rocks in the background

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June 1925 Xiphactinus in field
The fossil was collected in three slabs. The curved tail was moved into the correct position.

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Ready to pour plaster
University Archives
Fort Hays State University
Hays, KS

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June 9, 1925 George Sternberg pouring plaster on skull
University Archives
Fort Hays State University
Hays, KS

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Sternberg Undermining Plaster Slab
University Archives
Fort Hays State University
Hays, KS

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Local Ranchers helping turn over the slab
University Archives
Fort Hays State University
Hays, KS

The Xiphactinus took a long and crazy trip to end up in the Curious Vault. Laboring in the hot Kansas sun, George Sternberg poured plaster around the bone material, safely jacketing it so it could be moved. Almost immediately, it was bought by good old Uncle Sam who then shipped it east for exhibition at Philadelphia’s Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition of 1926, a huge world’s fair in honor of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The next photographic trace we have of the framed1,200 pound fish documents it hanging in the legendary “Hall of Extinct Monsters,” certainly one of the best named exhibit halls ever, in what is today the National Museum of Natural History, a part of the Smithsonian. Here, surrounded by the epic reconstructed bones of dinosaurs, it surely inspired entire generations of angling inclined visitors.

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Sold To U.S. National Museum March 1926
Charles W. Gilmore
U.S. National Museum (Smithsonian) in laboratory. V 11650
Purchased with National Sesquicentennial Exposition Fund to celebrate 150th anniversary signing Declaration of Independence.
University Archives
Fort Hays State University
Hays, KS

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Philadelphia, PA display, National Sesquicentennial Exposition

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Installing Diplodocus with Xiphactinus in Background in Hall of Extinct Monsters
Smithsonian Historical Photo

In 1965 the fish was transferred to the Miami Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In 1973, Carol Richards, a museum guild member who was married to then NOAA Director Bill Richards arranged for it to be gifted to the Museum, where it has sat, fondly loved by visitors but not quite fully understood, for the last 40 years.

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Left to Right: Jennifer Schull NOAA Science Planning and Coordination, Dr. Bill Richards , NOAA Director (retired), Chuck Bonner, Paleo-Conservator, Kevin Arrow Art & Collection Manager

Much of this information came to the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science by the way of Charles Bonner and Barbara Shelton, who are two well-known and colorful Kansas dino-fish-wranglers and the cheery proprietors of Keystone Gallery in Scott City, Kansas. Chuck and Barbara form the team, under the direction of Dr. Matt Friedman of Oxford University, who are facilitating the 2015 restoration of the Xiphactinus. For a month they carefully scraped away extra plaster and paint, what must have been a “quick and dirty” preparation, most probably a rush to make the deadline for exhibition in Philadelphia.

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Strangely enough, Chuck and Barbara live only a few miles from the place Sternberg unearthed the Xiphactinus nearly 90 years ago, and where the fish itself died nearly 80 million years ago. The chalky Kansas terrain is remarkably well suited for fossilization.

After driving down from Kansas, Chuck and Barbara set up their workspace within the Museum galleries where curious visitors could see their progress. Scratching into the plaster encasement, Chuck (wearing a t-shirt with a mosasaur on it)excitedly worked the head of the beast, convinced that the jawbone could be better defined. Due to its shape, there was some disorder, but Chuck confirmed his suspicions about the jaw and each day a little more was revealed. He learned that near all the teeth were plaster replicas, but this is not unusual; erosion both exposes the fossil in the Kansas chalk but it also forces loose teeth away from the skull, scattering them to different parts of the fossil bed.

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Chuck further worked the head while Barbara diligently focused on the ribs and the Gillicus specimen within the stomach. By reading his field notes we know Sternberg thought the Xiphactinus’ ruinous meal to be four feet, yet Barbara was able to confirm it was spread closer to six-feet throughout the body cavity of the Xiphactinus. Her process also revealed some fragile bone from the plaster that was previously unseen. Delicate rib bones suffer a similar fate to the teeth; Chuck and Barbara brought plenty of miscellaneous bone-bits from the same kind of fish to patch together the skeleton. They scraped and smoothed the specimen bringing a magnificent luster to the fish previously unseen.

There are only about a half dozen Xiphactinus specimens that are known to have a fish inside of them, making this fish-within-a-fish specimen particularly rare. It is nearly complete, as many don’t endure the ravages of time, disrupted by the elements or haphazard bone collectors. The lengthy and impressive provenance—particularly the link to the Sternberg family, as well as the Smithsonian—strengthens its rarity and importance. The newly cleaned and rehabilitated Xiphactinus will make yet another move soon, and will have a prominent place in the new Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science facility on Biscayne Bay where it will be a poignant symbol of change over time and the endurance of life on Earth.

The Gillicus will be there too, immortalized through partial digestion, with perhaps the last laugh, ultimately responsible for a fascinating eighty million year journey.

Special thanks to Chuck Bonner and Barbara Shelton for the historical photographs. All other photos by Mark Diamond.

The Curious Vault is an online cabinet of curiosities featuring objects from the collection of the Miami Science Museum, presented by writer Nathaniel Sandler and Kevin Arrow, Art & Collections Manager. For more information, email karrow@miamisci.org.

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Museum Named National Medal for Museum and Library Service Finalist

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The National Medal for Museum and Library Service is the nation’s highest honor given to museums and libraries by the Institute of Museum and Library Services in recognition of exceptional service to the community and for making a difference in the lives of individuals, families, and communities. We are honored to share that the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science has been named as a finalist for the 2015 National Medal award.

This year’s finalists include individual public libraries, special and research libraries, a zoo, science museums, botanical gardens, and many other types of institutions that exemplify the great diversity of libraries and museums across the country.

This honor recognizes the contributions of our programs such as Upward Bound and Science Stars to South Florida. We are grateful for your support and are honored to be recognized as a 2015 finalist.

“Museums and libraries are the lifeblood of our communities, serving as trusted providers of critical resources, educational training, skills development, and civic and cultural enrichment,” said Maura Marx, acting director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services. “We salute the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science for exemplary leadership in promoting lifelong learning while engaging and inspiring the public.”

The National Medal winners will be named later this spring, and representatives from winning institutions will travel to Washington, D.C., to be honored at the National Medal award ceremony. Winning institutions also receive a visit from StoryCorps, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to recording, preserving, and sharing the stories of Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs.

In acknowledgement of the National Medal’s celebration of institutions that are committed to community service, IMLS will feature the finalists on social media platforms and provide an opportunity for you to Share Your Story on the IMLS Facebook page.

Visit the IMLS Facebook page and Share Your Story today!

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums. Our mission is to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. Our grant making, policy development, and research help libraries and museums deliver valuable services that make it possible for communities and individuals to thrive. To learn more, visit www.imls.gov and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Museum Receives In-Kind Donation from Earth Friendly Products

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In support of the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science and its many educational and innovative programs, Earth Friendly Products has presented the Museum’s current Coconut Grove location with environmentally safe cleaning products. The products include cleaners, paper towels, bathroom tissue, furniture polish, carpet shampoo and more. In addition, Earth Friendly Products will have a presence at many of the Museum’s signature annual events, including the upcoming Innovation and Engineering Weekend (Feb.19–22).

“We are thrilled to partner with the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science and their goal to provide an informal learning environment that facilitates learning opportunities for the community and families of Miami,” says Dr. Nadereh Afsharmanesh, vice president of Sustainability and Education at Earth Friendly Products. “Enriching the learning experiences that the Museum provides children will support their learning and development and lay the foundation for their future success.”

The partnership with Earth Friendly Products reflects the Museum’s mission of forward-thinking and finding solutions to improve its role in the environment and community.

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Out & About with Frost Science: Camping Under the Stars

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At the end of January, the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science was “out and about” in the City of Doral at their “Camping Under the Stars” event!  The City of Doral is located in north-central Miami-Dade County in District 12 represented by Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz.

Frozen Science—Keeping Miami Cool!

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On Friday, January 30, the Museum peered into the cosmos with educational presentations and activities that engaged all visitors in attendance at the “Camping Under the Stars” evening event.  With our public programs personnel, kids of all ages learned how to “cook-a-comet” utilizing the powers of dry ice (at –100 degrees!) along with other unique ingredients.  Then, our team’s use of liquid nitrogen froze guests in their tracks as we shattered, strengthened, and popped all sorts of daily items using its uniquely cold powers!  And that was only the beginning…

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A View to the Future

Next year our new facility will be opening in downtown Miami’s Museum Park. Until then, we have many exciting opportunities for our community members to become a part of its development.  New museum prototyping by our exhibits team was explored with children and their families, asking questions like, “if you could go on a one-way mission to space, would you?” inspiring some insightful results along the way!  Then, with our digital fly-through, everyone saw into the future of what the Museum will be presenting coming soon in 2016.

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From Earth to Sky!

Lastly, our planetarium associates brought two high-powered telescopes to the event, providing guided explorations to the greatest depths of our solar system.  Visitors learned about the chemistry of stars, the physics between planets and moons, and even about how early explorers from different cultures created constellations to navigate our planet!  With this interdisciplinary approach to education, regardless of one’s personal interests in science, there was something truly for everyone.

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Thank you to the City of Doral and event specialists Jessica Roth and Stephanie Bortz for inviting us to bring these astronomical experiences to their “Camping Under the Stars” event.

Up next?  Join the Museum as we’re “out and about” with the Coral Gables Museum on Saturday, February 14.  There, we’ll be peering into Miami’s future as we help guests engineer bridges and water crafts that help build Miami as a “City of the Future” – see you there!

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NASA Innovative Advance Concepts Symposium – With an Appearance by Buzz Aldrin!

There are star sightings, and then there are STAR sightings…

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Do you recognize the hero in the blue shirt?

I recently attended a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Symposium in Cocoa Beach, near Kennedy Space Center, where I met one of only 12 people in the history of Earth to walk on the Moon, Buzz Aldrin!

The goal of NIAC is to nurture visionary ideas of innovators and entrepreneurs. It accepts proposals for support for ideas that are technically credible, but just beyond our current reality. Some may even laugh at these ideas initially – but when these ideas have a chance to be developed, those who laughed all of a sudden just may see a whole new step in science and technology being taken. This Symposium was an incredible chance for NIAC Fellows to present and share their research. What would you have said to these ideas?

Flying and maneuvering spacecraft using photonic laser thrust instead of propellant…
Using tethers to capture and “de-spin” asteroids…
Deploying a submarine into the methane lakes of Saturn’s moon Titan…

Buzz Aldrin, as well as many other esteemed researchers in the room, discussed, questioned, and applauded these and many more ideas, and on a break in the symposium schedule, incredibly, I was able to have a brief conversation with Buzz. Among other things, he talked about his ShareSpace Foundation, his thoughts on the next space missions (human versus robotic) to the Moon and Mars, and even his old friend – our very own former Museum Planetarium Director and star of the StarGazer show, Jack Horkheimer. And I, of course, told Buzz that I want to be an astronaut someday too. Remember, if there’s something to learn from NIAC, it’s to be open to seemingly crazy ideas, because they just might turn into reality.

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I’m standing in front of the real thing in Kennedy Space Center’s stunning Atlantis exhibit. How many seemingly “crazy” ideas went into making possible everything that Atlantis accomplished?

- Lindsay Bartholomew, Science Curator

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Out & About with Frost Science: Anne Kolb Nature Center

Visitors make flowers to learn about plant structures.

Visitors make flowers to learn about plant structures.

Last weekend, the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science ventured north to Broward County’s Anne Kolb Nature Center with our “Science Treehouse” family day event.

Anne Kolb Nature Center comprises a 1,500 acre coastal mangrove/wetland ecosystem in the heart of suburbia, surrounded by the Cities of Dania Beach and Hollywood. In addition to three different types of mangrove species, the park also hosts a variety of threatened and endangered animals. Guests from around the world learn about these plants and animals through a series of indoor exhibits, touch tanks, boat rides, canoe trips, and wildlife treks.

Finished flower created by a visitor.

Finished flower created by a visitor.

On Saturday, January 17, Frost Science celebrated wildlife and wild places by providing hands-on activities for local South Florida residents at the nature center. We created paper flowers that taught guests about the different parts which make up plants (i.e. the roots which carry water, the leaves that gather sunlight, etc.).  Each visitor then planted take-home garden seeds with individual soil-filled cups, learning about all the environmental factors crucial to botany-based survival. It was truly inspiring to see patrons get so excited about local ecology; many taught us some new techniques as well!

Garden cups filled with soil ready to be planted.

Garden cups filled with soil ready to be planted.

In addition to the above activities, the museum’s Museum Volunteers for the Environment (MuVE) program also joined our efforts. Anne Kolb Nature Center’s mangrove ecosystems provided the perfect foundation for MuVe to share their work with various mangrove restoration projects throughout Miami-Dade County, including their most recent successful efforts on Virginia Key. MuVE provided an interactive game that focused on wildlife ecology as well as the opportunity to place mangrove seedlings in their latest Reclamation Project eco-art installation at Anne Kolb Nature Center.

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Thank you to Park Naturalists Joanne Howe and Dustin Gerber for co-coordinating this fantastic opportunity with Frost Science to bridge in-situ and ex-situ conservation efforts across the entire South Florida region.  If you would like to learn more about Anne Kolb Nature Center and how you can volunteer to help the planet, please click here.

Next up? From coastal ecosystems and on to the cosmos, come visit Frost Science with the City of Doral at our “Camping Under the Stars” event on January 30.  See you there!

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A Cuban Research Expedition Begins

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As told by Fernando BretosCurator of Ecology and Field Conservation at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science:

Was this my 80th trip to Cuba? Or my 90th? Tough to tell after so many visits to this island located only 200 miles away from my office at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science. As a marine biologist, I have worked for 16 years to study marine and coastal resources shard between Florida and Cuba. The Gulf Stream is a fast moving oceanic current that delivers eight billion gallons of water per second from the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, up past Florida on its way to the North Atlantic. Because of this ocean highway, marine organisms such as fish and lobster larvae, coral spawn, and migratory species such as sea turtles, can hitch a free ride from places downstream such as Cuba where healthy, diverse reefs, mangroves and seagrasses abound.

Specifically, I study coral reefs and how their health is affected by human activity. I also study a population of green sea turtles that nest off the western tip of Cuba. Working in Cuba is professional but also personal. My parents left Cuba as Peter Pan migrants in 1961, settling in Miami after their adolescent years were essentially lost. By working in Cuba, I serve as the connection between my family here and there. Of course, Cuba’s stunningly beautiful coasts bring me back every time.

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My two-day trip to Havana in early January was a busy one.  I met with my colleagues at the Center for Marine Research of the University of Havana to plan a coral reef research expedition to Jardines de la Reina, the largest marine protected area in the Caribbean. Jardines de la Reina, or Gardens of the Queen, was named so by Christopher Columbus and looks the same today as it did 500 years ago. Forty miles from land and closed to commercial fishing, it remains an underwater wilderness. I was also delivering a special instrument for my research, a drill with a two-foot long cylinder to take coral samples from Cuban reefs to determine their health over time. Next month I will join other coral scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute to study Cuba’s reefs and see how well they compare to reefs in Florida.

What a time to be in Havana! Only two weeks earlier, the Obama administration had announced steps to normalize relations with the island after over 50 years of the economic embargo. Other US presidents had taken similar steps before, yet every time I spoke to Cubans on the island these openings were met with cynicism. But this time was different. Cubans from all stripes were generally excited to see that our two countries were taking steps to talk to each other. It is my hope that by expanding dialogue with Cuban marine scientists and policymakers we can learn lessons from each other and create policies that protect turtles, reefs and fish on both sides of the Florida Straits.

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Please follow Fernando starting in February as he composes an online journal of this historic research expedition. 

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Frost Science Receives Wells Fargo Clean Technology and Innovation Grant

Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science today received a philanthropic grant from the Wells Fargo Foundation as part of a $4.5 million Wells Fargo Clean Technology and Innovation program supporting technology advancements for a clean energy future.

“We are excited to be a recipient of this highly competitive Wells Fargo environmental grant program,” said Gillian Thomas, Frost Science President and CEO. “We truly appreciate being recognized and will use this grant to provide funding for advancing clean technology and STEM outreach initiatives.”

Frost Science was named as a recipient of a Wells Fargo Clean Technology and Innovation grant. The grant program began in 2012 as part of Wells Fargo’s commitment to provide $100 million to environmentally-focused nonprofits, colleges and universities by 2020. It is funded by the Wells Fargo Foundation and is strategically aligned with the company’s vision and values to foster economic development, especially in underserved communities, to accelerate the global “green” economy. The goal of the program is to inspire innovation from entrepreneurs and fund research entities working on critical environmental issues.

On October 28, 2014, Wells Fargo also launched the Innovation Incubator (IN2) program, a $10 million environmental grant for clean technology startups funded by the Wells Fargo Foundation and co-administered by the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to foster the development of early stage clean technologies for commercial buildings.

“Wells Fargo recognizes that the health of our environment is critical to fostering more sustainable communities today and for years to come,” said Ashley Grosh, head of Wells Fargo Environmental Affairs Clean Technology program. “We’re pleased to announce the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science as a recipient of Wells Fargo’s environmental grant program to help provide long-term solutions to the world’s greatest environmental challenges.”

The full list of 2014 grant recipients can be found at blog.wellsfargo.com/environment/. Details of the program and a link to the 2015 application can be found at wellsfargo.com/about/csr/ea/environmental-giving.

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