Ten STEM success stories from Florida

Science is US |

With over $447 billion of economic activity, science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are responsible for 36% of Florida’s GDP. Florida also added more than 450,000 STEM jobs from 2017 to 2021—more than twice the national average. As Florida’s dynamic and diverse economy continues to produce new jobs in STEM, learn more about a few inventions from the Sunshine State below:

1. Bondo
Invented in 1955 by veteran and auto repair shop owner Robert Merton Spink in Miami, Bondo is a polyester body filler that was later acquired and trademarked by the company 3M. The putty is still used today to repair vehicles and other surfaces in homes.

2. Coppertone
Benjamin Green, a pharmacist from Miami, developed what would later become Coppertone suntan lotion. He used red veterinary petrolatum during World War II as a physical barrier to protect himself and other soldiers from sunburn. Green later added cocoa butter and coconut oil to make a lighter and more pleasant product.

3. Frozen concentrated orange juice
The technology for making frozen concentrated orange juice was invented by the Florida Department of Citrus in 1945. Compared to squeezing oranges, it was more convenient and saved time. The patent was later given to the United States government in 1948, which helped make the frozen food industry commercially viable.

4. Gatorade
In 1965, Dr. Robert Cade and his colleagues at the University of Florida invented what would later become a ubiquitous sports drink—Gatorade. Looking into how heat affected football players, the researchers found that athletes were not only sweating, but were also losing energy, strength and endurance. Gatorade’s special formula of carbohydrates and electrolytes helped players maintain fluid balance in their bodies during games, and even enhanced their performance.

5. Hurricane scale
The five-category system now used to describe hurricane strength was created by a Florida-based engineer, Herbert Saffir, in 1969. Saffir’s five descriptions of destruction, from Category 1 to Category 5, were then matched with the sustained wind speeds that would produce the corresponding damage. Saffir’s scale was later expanded by Robert Simpson, a former National Hurricane Center director, and became known as the Saffir-Simpson scale in the 1970s.

6. Nanoscale biomedical diagnostics
Shyam Mohapatra from the University of South Florida has invented many things in the field of nanoscale biomedical diagnostics and therapeutics in cancers, asthma, viral infections, traumatic brain injury. His inventions led to several customized cell-targeted nanoparticles with diverse drug payloads and a nano-HIV detection kit. He also co-founded a company which specializes in manufacturing these nanoscale products.

7. Sentricon termite colony elimination system
Entomologist Nan-Yao Su from the University of Florida invented the Sentricon termite colony elimination system. Su, along with scientists at Dow AgroSciences, developed a new approach to termite management, using a slow-acting compound called hexaflumuron. It kills termites by interfering with their molting process.

8. Technology behind LCD screens
Anyone who has ever used a smartphone, computer or television can thank Shin-Tson Wu’s contributions to liquid crystal research and his related patents for next-generation liquid crystal displays (LCDs), adaptive optics, laser beam steering, biophotonics, and new photonic materials. His most significant development to date is an integral part of high-resolution, high-contrast reflective and transflective LCDs, including direct-view, projection and wearable displays.

9. Tree T-PEE
The tree T-PEE was invented by Johnny Georges, who grew up in Winter Haven. It is a cone shaped water and nutrient containment system for trees. Made from recycled plastics, it provides water conservation and frost protection. Johnny appeared on Shark Tank with his creation in 2013 and convinced investor John Paul DeJoria, co-founder of the Paul Mitchell line of hair products, to become his business partner.

10. Vaccine for FIV
Janet Yamamoto from the University of Florida is a co-discoverer of the deadly feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and inventor of the first FIV vaccine. She is now applying her research in cats to develop a vaccine for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), using the FIV vaccine as an animal model.

Know of other Florida STEM success stories we should know about? Contact US at team@scienceisus.org.

More Insights