The University of Florida is making artificial intelligence the centerpiece of major, interdisciplinary research and a transformational approach to its curriculum, thanks to funding from the Florida Legislature. The university received $130 million in 2023 to be used for strategic initiatives related to student experience, research and technology.
UF President Ben Sasse distributed more than $18.81 million of these funds to ten UF colleges that submitted proposals for interdisciplinary collaborations using AI-enhanced technologies to benefit the state, the UF campus and its students. These projects will enhance the future of Florida and the world. They also will elevate UF’s standing as a national research leader in utilizing AI for the benefit of humankind.
Towards a Health Metaverse
Funding: $2 million
Recipient: UF College of Medicine
UF’s healthcare providers are always looking to improve patient care. Changes in healthcare environment and delivery can be more easily and cost-effectively done in an Intelligent Virtual hospital, where real-time clinical data, environmental sensors, artificial intelligence, and cutting-edge technologies converge to simulate real hospital environments. Many “what if” scenarios can be thoroughly examined in simulations before they become practice in UF’s operating rooms and ICU. The virtual replicas mirror the physical environments to enable real-world decision making to optimize the patient experience. What can be learned are new options for delivery of care, better medical training, and data management. The expected returns on investment will be cost savings, improved healthcare processes and ultimately a better patient experience. As these virtual realities evolve, various medical services may be offered online, enabling patients to avoid having to travel to a brick-and-mortar facility, which can greatly enhance treatment to those with limited access to medical care.
Principle Investigator: Azra Bihorac, MD, MS, FASN, FCCM; Senior Associate Dean for Research Affairs, College of Medicine; Professor of Medicine, Surgery and Anesthesiology; Director, Intelligent Clinical Care Center
Partners: NVIDIA, UF Health, UF Research Computing
Transforming Stroke Care
Funding: $1 million
Recipient: UF’s Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute
Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death and the No. 1 cause of disability in the U.S., and it presents a growing health care challenge among Florida’s aging population. This initiative will leverage UF’s extensive resources, including the HiPerGator supercomputer and UF Health Shands Comprehensive Stroke Center, to become a leader in stroke AI research as well as potentially establishing UF as the top stroke AI research center in the country. By forming teams of UF investigators who study all aspects of stroke, from prevention to rehabilitation, and pairing them with UF’s AI experts in machine learning and data science, the result can be a multidisciplinary learning experience to benefit current clinicians and health science center students who can become the next generation of stroke researchers. This is promising news for the state, which ranks second in the country, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, in stroke mortality with more than 16,000 stroke deaths annually.
Principal investigator: Brian Hoh, MD, MBA, FACS, FAHA, FAANS, Chair of UF College of Medicine’s Lillian S. Wells Department of Neurosurgery
AI Passport for Health
Recipient: College of Medicine
AI Passport for Health is a dynamic and community-driven artificial intelligence (AI) training initiative that provides experiential AI upskilling for current and future health professionals with limited coding and math experience. With a focus on developing AI tools to address real-world medical challenges, participants will chart personalized and expert-guided learning pathways by adapting foundational AI concepts to their individual health domains. This holistic training will equip UF’s health professions to keep pace with rapid technological advancements that are impacting healthcare.
Principal Investigators: Azra Bihorac, MD, MS, FASN, FCCM; Senior Associate Dean for Research Affairs, College of Medicine; Professor of Medicine, Surgery and Anesthesiology; Director, Intelligent Clinical Care Center; Benjamin Shickel, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Nephrology
Improving Treatments for Childhood Muscular Dystrophy
Recipient: UF College of Public Health and Health Professions
The AI Applications to Pediatric Neuromedicine Initiative seeks to improve health care and clinical trials for childhood neuromuscular diseases. UF researchers will combine a massive dataset of muscle imaging data from MRIs with artificial intelligence to enhance effective treatments for muscular disorders that can contribute to lifelong disabilities. Neuromuscular diseases affect more than 1 million children and their families in the United States. The project aims to use AI for more accurate analysis of muscular dystrophy, offering potential in predicting disease progression, aiding in drug development, and assisting families in planning for future treatments and accommodations.
Principle Investigator: Krista Vandenborne, PhD, Distinguished Professor and Chair, Department of Physical Therapy
Virtual Patient Simulation and AI-Enabled Learning to Support Interprofessional Collaboration
Recipient: UF College of Dentistry
This project seeks to teach students and residents from multiple health colleges how to address healthcare needs, pharmacology, cultural sensitivity, and empathy with a virtual patient simulation using AI and Chat GPT. This is a comprehensive, coordinated approach for student/resident management and training, and underscores the necessity of communicating with all healthcare providers during patient treatment.
Industrialized Construction Engineering (ICE)
Funding: $2.5 million
Recipients: UF College of Design, Construction and Planning, and the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering (HWCOE)
UF’s colleges of design, construction and planning, and engineering are partnering to make UF the premier institution for industrialized construction. Using AI tools and robotic automation, UF can address construction issues such as productivity, safety, quality, and resilience in both residential and commercial construction in a $950 billion dollar industry employing more than 10 million workers. The downside is the industry is plagued with rising costs of materials and labor shortages, making construction costly and lengthy. Blending human expertise with robotic automation can eliminate costly material waste and accelerate construction time, particularly vital in disaster-stricken communities. The collaboration also plans to use digital twin technologies where researchers can create digital representations of physical assets to determine best practices for built environments. UF also plans to establish an undergraduate degree program in industrialized construction engineering.
Principle Investigators/Contacts: Aladdin Alwisy, Assistant Professor, M.E. Rinker, Sr. School of Construction Management; Ray Issa, Professor, M.E. Rinker, Sr. School of Construction Management; Chimay Anumba, Professor and Dean, College of Design, Construction and Planning; Eric Du, Associate Professor, Engineering School of Sustainable Infrastructure and Environment (ESSIE); Kirk Hatfield, Professor and Director, ESSIE; Iris Rivero, Professor and Chair, Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering; Forrest Masters, Professor and Interim Dean, HWCOE
SALT-Math: Scalable AI-Augmented Learning by Teaching for Math Education
Recipient: College of Education
This project aims to revolutionize K-12 mathematics learning in Florida and beyond by implementing a learning-by-teaching framework that uses a large language model to improve student outcomes. This innovative AI system, integrated into the Math Nation platform, engages more than 1 million K-12 students in Florida. SALT-Math provides an interactive and enjoyable AI that motivates and engages students for deeper understanding of mathematics.
Principal Investigators: Wanli Xing, PhD, Associate Professor of Informatics for Education; Phil Poekert, PhD, Director, Lastinger Center for Learning; Zandra de Araujo, PhD, Mathematics Principal, Lastinger Center for Learning; My Thai, PhD, UF Research Foundation Professor, Department of Computer and Information Science and Engineering
Project Echo: Revolutionizing Teacher Preparation with Augmented Reality
Recipient: College of Education
Project Echo integrates augmented reality into an online early childhood education teacher certification program to address the critical teacher shortage in Florida. The investigators aim to enhance the preservice teacher experience by providing immersive training simulations in virtual environments. The outcome is a practice-based, clinically rich program that ensures quality and accessibility in teacher preparation.
Principle Investigators: Tara Mathien, EdD, Clinical Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education; Lori Dassa, EdD, Director of Clinical Experiences and Partnerships
Modernizing IFAS Extension Through AI
Funding: $2.7 million
Recipient: UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS)
Data-driven decision-making is at the core of UF IFAS and its extension offices in Florida’s 67 counties. Modernizing IFAS Extension with state-of-the-art business intelligence software will enhance farming productivity and sustainability statewide. The technology will use AI to collect, store and analyze data from Extension agents and programs. This funding will channel UF’s AI advancements to all Florida Extension areas for access to the latest agricultural insights and tools. This directly benefits farmers, agribusiness, and the broader community, strengthening the state’s economic foundation. UF students’ exposure to business intelligence platforms will enhance their learning experiences and make them more competitive in the job market.
Principal Investigator: Christian Christensen, PhD, Director and Extension Associate Scientist, IFAS
AI-Enabled Digital Imaging Platform
Recipient: UF College of Veterinary Medicine
Computerized records from more than 100,000 caseloads from UF Vet Med’s varied animal species will be used to create an AI-enabled digital imaging platform to collect, collate and analyze vet patient data. This ultimately will lead to precision medicine, particularly to enhance cancer diagnosis and treatment in companion animals. This transformative project will position UF as a national leader in cancer treatment and medical innovation. This project can have a great impact on research to improve diagnosis and care in pediatric bone cancer, as canine bone cancer is more prevalent than in humans. UF’s vet med students also will learn from analytical and diagnostic tools that have not existed until now.
Leveraging the Power of Large Language Models to Improve UF Student Experiences
Recipient: Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering
This project will help develop a large language model-based software tool to leverage the computing capabilities of HiPerGator, collecting beneficial data on student performance for instructors and administrators. Via the power of large language models, UF can better serve its students by giving them immediate, meaningful and personalized feedback to keep them engaged and actively learning. In its first pilot, more than 2,500 Students will receive timely feedback on their assignments, help in navigating course materials and guidance on all aspects of their learning.
Principal Investigator: Laura Cruz Castro, PhD, Instructional Assistant Professor, Department of Engineering Education and the Department of Computer and Information Science and Engineering
Co-Principal Investigators: Ashish Aggarwal, MS, Instructional Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering Education; Bruce Carroll, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering; Jinnie Shin, PhD, Assistant Professor of Research and Evaluation Methodology, School of Human Development and Organizational Studies in Education, College of Education; Gabriel Castelblanco, PhD, Assistant Professor, M.E. Rinker Sr. School of Construction Management; and Walter Leite, PhD, Professor, College of Education
Advancing Research Software Engineering
Funding: $2 million
Recipient: UF Information Technology
UF will soon have a software developer group to assist principal investigators and research teams, particularly in the use of HiPerGator, UF’s supercomputer. These research software engineers will be skilled at technically advanced tasks, including creating scientific software, developing complex workflows for data management, and offering guidance on research productivity to further advance UF as a research powerhouse.
UF FinTech Research Center
Recipient: Warrington College of Business to support tech centers in Tampa, Jacksonville and South Florida
UF’s proposed FinTech Research Center, housed in the Warrington College of Business, will be a central hub for conducting scientific research on FinTech and AI, facilitating industry collaborations, developing cutting-edge financial tools, and being a resource for financial policy decision-making. FinTech, short for financial technology, covers the evolving intersection of financial services and technology in streamlining, digitizing, and transforming personal and business financial services. Individuals use FinTech for personal retail banking, mobile payments, wealth management, insurance, and loans. Banks are using FinTech for back-end processes and consumer-facing conveniences, such as apps to check bank balances or electronic check deposit via a mobile device. FinTech is an important aspect in Florida with more than 120 commercial banks employing more than 370,000 financial professionals. The Center can provide much needed services in markets such as Miami, known as the “Wall Street of the South,” and Jacksonville’s investment-banking sector.
UF and Sport Collaborative
Funding: $2.5 million
Recipients: Health and Human Performance, Warrington College of Business, Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering, College of Medicine, College of Journalism and Communications
Other: University Athletic Association and the AI2 Center
This five-part project will propel UF to the global stage in sports performance and healthcare, and addresses topics ranging from athlete development to sports analytics, from video journalism to wearable sensor technology. Athletes push their bodies to the limit, and this project will allow UF researchers to capture real-time performance data and leverage AI to reduce athletic injuries and improve performance.
Gator AccelerAItor for Sports Analytics: The College of Health and Human Performance and the Warrington College of Business will partner with UF’s men’s basketball team to improve recruitment, player evaluation, scouting and game strategy through AI tools. The program will develop a master’s degree program in AI and Sports Analytics. (Note: There is a capital AI in the title)
AI-Powered Athletics: The Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering and the University Athletic Association will monitor athletes wearing sensors to analyze real-time data on the health of student athletes.
Sport and Health Leaders: A new certificate program through the College of Health and Human Performance.
Transforming Sport Science Research for EveryBody: The College of Medicine will help advance the analytic capacity of the UF Health Sport Performance Center on research and testing of able-bodied and para-athletes. AI techniques will be used to analyze biometrics, enhance performance and safety, predict sport-related injuries, and predict best medical treatment after injury. (Note: EveryBody is in italics in formal title)
Gator Nation Gameday Live: The College of Journalism and Communications will provide students an opportunity to produce a live, one-hour sports preview show like ESPN’s College GameDay Program.
Florida’s Digital Twin
Funding: $1.75 million
Recipients: College of Design, Construction and Planning; College of Medicine; UF Health; IFAS; College of Journalism and Communications; College of Public Health and Health Professions; Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering
With more than 8,000 miles of coastline and nearly 22 million residents, Florida faces mounting environmental, social, economic, and public health challenges due to climate change, rapid population growth and aging infrastructure. Making “right” decisions for the state’s most urgent needs can be easier with data- driven solutions simulated into a digital twin that replicates the state’s natural and built environments, economy, and public health systems. Focusing on Florida’s water, lands and communities, UF researchers can coordinate expertise to address the state’s challenges while also helping decision makers on how to prioritize strategic investments, management strategies and policies to gain the highest returns on investment that can impact the decades to come. The project will also solidify UF’s reputation as an international leader in Digital Twins, useful in solving urgent social and environmental concerns.