In Any Weather

Stephanie Abrams ’99 hasn’t taken a sick day in nearly 14 years. If she’s feeling under-the-weather, she has to put on her TV face because, for many, she is the face of the weather. Co-host of The Weather Channel’s America’s Morning Headquarters, Abrams grew up in West Palm Beach. As a child, she was both horrified and fascinated to witness how much devastation Hurricane Andrew wreaked during its 1992 onslaught of southern Florida.

Abrams, now a meteorologist, is a self-identified “science geek.” She says, “I went to space camp as a kid, and I had this great dad who was so into math and science. He had a telescope, and we watched Halley’s Comet. He took us to Yellowstone, and I was in heaven.”

“I stumbled on meteorology and fell in love. It used math and science to explain why the sky is blue and how wind and water could cause so much damage in a hurricane.”

When she began college at the University of Florida, she registered for as many science courses as she could cram into her schedule. “I took everything from geology to oceanography,” she says. “Then I stumbled on a meteorology class and fell in love. It used math and science to explain why the sky is blue and also explained how wind and water could cause so much damage in a hurricane.” As a sophomore, she knew this was the field for her and remembers calling the local meteorologist to quiz her on how to make a career out of weather. After getting her degree in geography with a minor in mathematics at UF, Abrams received a degree in meteorology from Florida State University.

Abrams is a bit like the weather herself, constantly in motion and ever-changing. She doesn’t like to sit still. During her undergraduate days, she was the president of Delta Phi Epsilon and was involved with ACCENT Speakers Bureau, homecoming, and fundraising. She commutes on a weekly basis from New York City to Atlanta, and she always makes time to give back to UF.
In 2008, Abrams delivered the commencement address for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She talked about the butterfly effect, a theory that claims small changes can have dramatic consequences, say, a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can affect a tornado in Texas. Weather. Imagine that.


To support the people, program, or research featured in this story, please visit

Zoland Geography Fund

Dean’s Fund for Excellence

Breaking the Color Barrier

Gabriella Larios ’17 enjoys putting the pieces together — literally. This aspiring lawyer discovered jigsaw puzzles for stress relief while studying for the LSAT and now regularly assembles 500-piece puzzles when she’s not leading student government or leadership training. A women’s studies and political science double major from an all-girls Catholic school in Miami, Gabriella can’t be confined to typical boxes and is proud to challenge the status quo, putting feminist theory into practice to change sociopolitical systems.

“If we don’t like something, we can do something about it.”

Gabriella helped elect the first Latina student body president of UF, serving as Chief of Staff on the first minority ticket in a formerly white- and Greek-led student government. It was not an accident; when studying under Professor Anita Anantharam, Gabriella became acquainted with transnational feminism, which emphasizes the perspectives of women of color and encourages them to seek leadership positions. In her first year, she had an internship with Women’s Fund Miami-Dade, helping coordinate grants to develop gender-specific organizations.

Although she taught herself about feminism in her teenage years, Gabriella credits her rise in academic feminism to one of her first courses, a humanities perspective on gender and sexuality taught by Professor Carolyn Kelley. “That’s where I first learned critical thinking, close readings, and how much sexism and all these norms of sexuality are perpetuated in the media,” she says.

Up next for Gabriella is law school, where she’ll prepare to go into public interest law to address the needs of the LGBTQ community, people of color, and other underrepresented groups. A summer 2016 internship with the DC-based Victory Fund, which aims to get LGBTQ people into office, affirmed her career choice. “We need more social justice-oriented lawyers in the field,” she says. So, which schools might benefit from someone with multiple internships and leadership positions under her belt? Gabriella hopes for Georgetown, Columbia, or NYU. Wherever she lands, she won’t forget about UF. “We must be mindful of the people who come after us,” she says of her groundbreaking role in UF student government. “If we don’t like something, we can do something about it.”


To support the people, program, or research featured in this story, please visit

Center For Gender, Sexualities, and Women’s Studies Research Fund

Dean’s Fund for Excellence

Delta Blues

“Burn and burial,” offers Thomas S. Bianchi, the Jon L. and Beverly A. Thompson Endowed Chair of Geological Sciences, as a central theme of his research. He’s referring to carbon cycling, especially the release of carbon into the atmosphere or its sequestration in flora in “blue carbon” areas, such as wetlands and rivers. Bianchi, sitting in front of a whiteboard with an impressive list of pending publications, talks about his slate of projects, which, like their subject matter, flow into diverse outlets. He’s working on multiple fronts to study “burn and burial” in the face of pollution, dams, and sea level rise.

“Deltas are going to be the first to be inundated by sea level rise.”

“My original focus was not in climate change,” Bianchi says. “Sometimes I wish I had more projects that didn’t connect to it in some way.” It’s a distressingly politicized topic of research (and funding, or lack thereof), although Bianchi is pleased that it’s been “an integrative force for multiple disciplines.” As a biogeochemist, he’s certainly representative of the academic portmanteaus. His passion, however evolved, is palpable as he discusses threats to the cradle of civilization: the fertile delta. “Deltas are going to be the first to be inundated by sea level rise,” says Bianchi. “Some areas are sinking due to natural subsidence and from extraction of oil and natural gas. The Mississippi Delta is experiencing this as sea levels rise while oil and gas reserves are drained.” The loss of deltas is a key topic of Bianchi’s latest book, Deltas and Humans. It’s his first publication for a lay audience and his personal contribution toward expanding the audience for climate science.

Thomas Bianchi stands on a fallen tree by Lake Alice
Lyon Duong/UF Photography

Thomas Bianchi is the Jon L. and Beverly A. Thompson Endowed Chair of Geological Sciences.

Reaching that audience is crucial to bridging the gap between the general public and scientific community, especially on a hot-button topic. Scientists can easily lose debates to those who use “grandstanding and trickery to overwhelm their opponent,” he says. He encourages his peers to train themselves to better express, to the public and the press alike, the dire problem of climate change. There’s plenty of brainpower among the many disciplines already united under the “climate change umbrella,” as he calls it. “Scientists inherited this problem from the Industrial Revolution. We’ve known it longer than the public has,” asserts Bianchi. “Now, scientists must do a better job of getting the word out.”


To support the people, program, or research featured in this story, please visit

Geology Department Fund

Dean’s Fund for Excellence

Astronomers find the first binary–binary.

Everything we know about the formation of solar systems might be wrong, say Professor of Astronomy Jian Ge and postdoc Bo Ma. They’ve discovered the first “binary–binary,” or two massive companions around one star in a close binary system — one so-called giant planet (12 times the mass of Jupiter) and one brown dwarf, or “failed star,” with 57 times the mass of Jupiter.

Astronomers believe that planets in our solar system formed from a collapsed disk-like gaseous cloud, with our largest planet, Jupiter, buffered from smaller planets by the asteroid belt.

The binary system HD 87646’s primary star is 12 percent more massive than our sun, yet is only 22 astronomical units away from another, smaller star. In addition, the giant planet and brown dwarf are orbiting the primary star at about 0.1 and 1.5 astronomical units, respectively. An astronomical unit is the mean distance between the center of the Earth and our sun — in cosmic terms, a relatively short distance. The stability of the system despite such massive bodies in close proximity raises new questions about how protoplanetary disks form.

illustration of celestial bodies

Artist’s rendering of a close binary system.

Astronomers believe that planets in our solar system formed from a collapsed disk-like gaseous cloud, with our largest planet, Jupiter, buffered from smaller planets by the asteroid belt. In HD 87646, the two giant companions have accumulated far more dust and gas than what a typical collapsed disk-like gaseous cloud can provide, so they were likely formed through another mechanism.

The system was found from the 2006 MARVELS survey by the Doppler-based W.M. Keck Exoplanet Tracker, or KeckET, which was developed by Ge’s team at the renowned Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) telescope in New Mexico. KeckET is unusual in that it can simultaneously observe many celestial bodies. “A typical [Doppler] project involves one object, one planet,” explains Ge. This discovery would not have been possible without KeckET, he says. It has taken eight years of corroboration from over 30 astronomers at seven other telescopes around the world and careful data analysis, mostly done by Ma, to confirm what Ge calls a “very bizarre” finding. Their findings appear in the November issue of Astronomical Journal.


To support the people, program, or research featured in this story, please visit

Astronomy Department Fund

Dean’s Fund for Excellence

High school students enjoy a different kind of summer camp.

Water is Florida’s largest resource. UF’s Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere, in collaboration with UF’s Center for Precollegiate Education and Training, has developed a distinctive weeklong program that teaches high schoolers Florida history and culture through the perspective of water use — or misuse. In its third year, Humanities and the Sunshine State provides an immersive, interdisciplinary experience through activities not only such as canoeing, storytelling, and crafting, but also research methods.

Sophia Acord, associate director of the Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere, and Steve Noll, master lecturer in the Department of History, have worked closely together to develop the program with representatives of various UF departments and academic centers.

“The question becomes how to protect interests … not just [for] environmentalists but business groups too.”

Students learn about the practice of oral history. One of the most profound endeavors is the visit to Rosewood, Fla. “Students were shocked that they had never heard about Rosewood,” says Acord. Noll recalls the tears of students watching the film about the 1923 massacre and visiting the well where children hid during the riots.

The summer program includes a trip to Rosewood, Fla., where students learn about the 1923 massacre of its black citizens. The photo shows an African American woman holding a painting of a small family hiding in the woods around Rosewood.

The summer program includes a trip to Rosewood, Fla., where students learn about the 1923 massacre of its black citizens. From left to right: Sherry DuPree (HSS guest instructor and historian with the Rosewood Heritage Foundation), Carolyn Cohen (local artist, historian, and author living in Levy County), the Rev. W. Hunt (Pastor of the Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in Chiefland, FL).Robert Landry

The program was initiated by the Florida Humanities Council, the state’s representative of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Florida is “ground zero” for things like “hurricanes, sea level rise, groundwater pollution, and destruction of the springs,” says Noll. Considering the primacy of Florida’s tourism industry and the springs and beaches as economic drivers of the state, the question becomes how to protect interests, which belong to “not just tree-hugging environmentalists, but business groups too,” he adds. The program draws a line from the past to the future, highlighting the connections among art, agriculture, and artifacts flowing through Florida’s waters.

Humanities and the Sunshine State is open to all high school rising juniors and seniors. Learn more.



To support the people, program, or research featured in this story, please visit

Center for Precollegiate Education and Training

Dean’s Fund for Excellence