Authors Posts by Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief


Sen. Kenneth LaValle, wearing hat, sits with Brookhaven National Laboratory beamline scientist Dieter Schneider. Looking on from left, BNL Director Doon Gibbs; vice president for development at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Charles Prizzi; NSLS-II director John Hill; and Stony Brook University associate vice president for Brookhaven affairs, Richard Reeder. Photo from Brookhaven National Laboratory

Thanks to the persistent support of state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), Brookhaven National Laboratory secured $15 million from New York State to add a state-of-the-art microscope that could contribute to advances in basic science and medicine.

The national laboratory will purchase a new cryo-electron microscope and will use the funds to create a building attached to its National Synchrotron Light Source II.

“Cryo-electron microscopy is an advanced imaging technology that will significantly accelerate scientists’ understanding of molecular structures and processes generally, including many impacts in understanding disease and in aiding drug discovery,” Doon Gibbs, the laboratory director of BNL, said in an email.

BNL will use the funds to purchase the first of what they hope will be four such new microscopes. The lab is finalizing a bid, which is due by June 30 for funds from the National Institutes of Health for three additional microscopes.

“There is an exponentially increasing demand for the type of bio-structural information that such machines provide, and so we are competing to become an East Coast based national facility to serve this rapidly growing community,” James Misewich, the associate director for energy and photon sciences at BNL said in an email.

Having a suite of microscopes would enable BNL to have a spectrum of capabilities to serve the needs of its scientists and of researchers from around the world who flock to the Upton-based lab to conduct their research.

The new facility will create jobs associated with running the cryo-EM, Misewich said. If BNL wins the NIH proposal to become a national cryo-EM facility, it would also employ additional scientists, engineers, technicians and administrators to run the user program.

Misewich said he hopes scientists at nearby Stony Brook University and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory will benefit from the opportunity to use a combination of its X-ray and electron microscope probes.

Senior members of the BNL team credit LaValle for helping to secure the funds.

“The $15 million in New York State funding is the culmination of a two-year effort led by the senator to bring a cryo-EM to Brookhaven and jump-start this important effort,” Gibbs said.

LaValle suggested that the funds were well worth the investment.

“It is critically important for government to embrace and support the work of the organizations that make life-altering discoveries and better our lives, health and environment,” LaValle said in an email. “This investment will further establish world-leading prominence in the field of medical research, and position the region for additional major investments by the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Energy.”

Misewich envisions configuring one of the microscopes to allow for electron tomography, which will generate three-dimensional images of cells.

“The approach will be complementary to the X-ray imaging work we can undertake with the NSLS-II beamlines,” Misewich said.

Gibbs explained that the cryo-EM is complementary to X-ray crystallography, which is the traditional method for determining structures, which scientists already do at BNL.

“Few prescription drugs have been approved by the [Food and Drug Administration] for use in the U.S. in the last 20 years without a crystallographic study of their structure by X-rays,” Gibbs continued.

Misewich expects the new microscope could lead to new methods of detection, diagnosis and treatment for diseases like cancer or for medical challenges like antibiotic resistance.

Combining the technological tools of the new cryo-EM with the insights from the NSLS II and the nine-year-old Center for Functional Nanomaterials will enable researchers to “provide much more rapid bio-structure determination in response to needs like the ability to rapidly characterize a virus,” Misewich said.

LaValle sited this effort as a part of his ongoing commitment to build Long Island’s new high-tech economy.

The combination of BNL, SBU and CSHL “will provide a significant boost to the competitiveness of the biosciences and biotechnology communities across Long Island,” LaValle said.

He survived all manner of close calls when he saved the world seven times but my favorite James Bond, Sir Roger Moore, succumbed to cancer earlier this week at the age of 89.

Many of my friends and contemporaries thought Sean Connery’s suave and debonair flair for the super spy with all the right moves and the smooth delivery of his “vodka martini, shaken not stirred” line was hard to top.

There was something, however, about my age when I saw the Bond films with Moore that put him at the top of my list in the 1970s and ’80s. The endless combination of gadgets and arched eyebrows made him a welcome distraction in the midst of the Cold War.

I didn’t have any particular need to delve into his psychological profile or his family history, topics the more modern films have tackled. Moore’s Bond was a man of action, staving off disaster from wealthy, eccentric and egotistical villains who often had colorful, mercenary sidekicks.

Watching Moore battle with Richard Kiel, who played the impossibly strong, metal-toothed Jaws in “The Spy Who Loved Me” and “Moonraker” was pure entertainment for me as an adolescent.

The Bond movies, which started in 1962 with “Dr. No” and are still going strong 25 films later, have had many memorable opening scenes. Told to “pull out” of his mission in Austria, Bond skis away from Russians determined to kill him, but not before shooting several of them, including the lover of someone who would later become his partner in the movie.

He escapes by skiing off a cliff, where he seems to fall for an impossibly long time, kicking off his skis and flying through the air with a red backpack that seemed irrelevant until he pulls a string and a parachute with the British flag emerges, accompanied by the blaring Bond music. Moore tugs on the strings of his parachute, as he floats toward the screen.

That’s when Carly Simon’s music takes over. I suspect we’ll hear “Nobody Does it Better” in the next week or so.

Growing up surrounded by water on Long Island, I reveled in Moore’s journey into an undersea world in a car that turned into a submarine. Moore and Barbara Bach (who played Major Anya Amasova, aka Agent XXX) battled against Karl Stromberg (acted by Curd Jürgens), whose plan involved encouraging war between the United States and Soviet Union so life could begin again in the oceans after humans destroyed themselves.

Enemies in “The Spy Who Loved Me” and for much of “Moonraker,” Moore and Kiel team up at the end of “Moonraker” after Bond convinces Jaws that the villain Hugo Drax has no need for Jaws or his bespectacled girlfriend, Dolly, in his new colony of flawless humans. When Kiel speaks at the end of the movie, saying only, “Well, here’s to us” to Dolly (played by Blanche Ravalec), his voice is almost impossibly normal and tender, adding to the ongoing tongue-in-cheek nature of these high-action films.

After Kiel died in 2014, Moore said how “totally distraught” he was at the death of “my dear friend.”

While most of us never met Moore, many fans of the franchise felt a sense of loss to hear of Moore’s death. Through his seven Bond films, Moore delivered memorable lines, often with a self-confident smirk, such as when he pushed Drax out into space, encouraging him to “take a giant step for mankind.”

While all of the seven films that starred Roger Moore weren’t equally good, there were times — especially in “The Spy Who Loved Me” — where nobody did it better.

From left, Christopher Gobler with his research team Andrew Griffith, Theresa Hattenrath-Lehmann and Yoonja Kang. Photo from SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

Christopher Gobler searches the waters around Long Island for signs of trouble, which can appear starting in April. This year, he found it, in Shinnecock Bay. Monitoring for a toxin carried by algae called Alexandrium, Gobler recently discovered levels that were three times the allowable limit from the Food and Drug Administration. His finding, along with measurements from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation of toxins in shellfish in the bay, have caused the recent closure of shellfishing in the bay for the fourth time in seven years.

While Gobler, a marine science professor at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, watches carefully for the appearance of red tides from these algae locally, he recently completed a much broader study on the spread of these toxins.

Gobler led a team that explored the effect of ocean warming on two types of algae, Alexandrium and Dinophysis. Since 1982, as the oceans have heated up, these algae have become increasingly common, particularly in the northern Atlantic and Pacific oceans, according to a study Gobler and his colleagues recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. When they become concentrated in shellfish, these algae can lead to diarrhea, paralysis and even death if people consume enough of them.

Over the course of the study, algae have begun to form “denser populations that are making shellfish toxic,” Gobler said. Temperature is one of many factors that can affect the survival, growth and range of organisms like the algae that can accumulate toxins and create human illness. “As temperatures get higher, they are becoming closer to the ideal for some species and out of the ideal for other species,” Gobler said.

The strongest effect of changing temperatures are at higher latitudes, which were, up until recently, prohibitively cold for these types of algae. The biggest changes over the course of the study came in the Bay of Fundy in Canada, in Scotland, Ireland, Scandinavia, Iceland, Greenland and Alaska. The toxic algal blooms increased in frequency between 40 and 60 degrees north latitude, according to the study. These are places where toxic algae lived but weren’t as prevalent, but the warming trend has created a more hospitable environment, Gobler said.

Raphael Kudela, a professor of ocean sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz who wasn’t involved in this research, explained that other papers have suggested a similar link between temperature and the movement of these algae. “We’ve seen the expansion of ciguatera fish poisoning, as the temperature range has moved poleward for those algae,” Kudela wrote in an email. NOAA biological oceanographer Stephanie Moore has documented an expanded window of opportunity for paralytic shellfish poisoning linked to changes in temperature, Kudela said. “While we can point to specific events, and it makes intuitive sense, the Gobler paper actually documented these trends using a long time series, which hasn’t been done before,” Kudela continued.

R. Wayne Litaker, a supervisory ecologist at NOAA’s National Ocean Service, collaborated with Gobler on the project. He said small differences in temperature are significant for the growth rate of these toxic algae. Extending this to other organisms, Litaker explained that fish are also extending their ranges amid a rise in global temperatures. “There’s been a general movement of temperate species toward the poles,” Litaker said. He’s seen tropical fish, such as butterfly fish, off the docks of North Carolina that he hadn’t seen that far north before.

Gobler and his colleagues estimate that the need to close shellfish beds, the increase in fish kills, and the health care damage to people has exceeded a billion dollars since 1982. The largest problem for people in areas like Alaska is their lack of experience with red tides.

“Communities are being exposed to these blooms where they had not been in the past,” Gobler said. “[The blooms] can be most dangerous when they take a community by surprise.” Gobler said this happened in Alaska during the study. In the last decade, shellfish toxins that are 1,000 times more potent than cyanide caused illnesses and were suspected in two deaths in Haines, Alaska.

Litaker said he gave a talk several years ago at a conference. Gobler approached him and asked if they could work together. “One of the wonderful things about these meetings is that you see things that trigger possibilities and whole new projects are born,” Litaker said.

Litaker described Gobler as a “major player in the field” who has done “fantastic work over the years.” Litaker said he was “quite impressed with what he’s done.” Litaker explained that the climate is changing and urged fisheries and shellfish experts to prepare to respond throughout the country. “As we get warmer and more run off of nutrients, toxic cyanobacteria [algal blooms] are causing problems in all 50 states,” Litaker said.

Kudela suggested that the “new records every year for the last several years … will undoubtedly continue to impact the range, duration and toxicity of blooms.”

Locally, Gobler continues to monitor dozens of sites on Long Island, where he suggested that Alexandrium could become less prevalent with warming, while Dinophysis could become more common. Temperature and other factors favorable for algae growth have led to red tides in the past.

In oceans across the world, Kudela said the next logical step would be to explore the interaction of temperature and nutrients. “We know both are changing, and they are likely to have additive or synergistic effects, but we haven’t done the same careful study as the Gobler paper looking at how the trends are interacting,” he explained.

The best way to get to know your kids, especially if they are teenagers, is to drive them and their friends, teammates and classmates. If your daughter texts you from school and asks, “Hey, Mom and/or Dad, can one of you drive three of my friends around?” don’t hesitate.

The answer, of course, can’t be what you might think. You can’t say, “Yes! Of course, that’d be great.”

You’ve got to play it cool, because the moment she catches on to the fact that you actually have ears and are listening to the conversation in the car, you’re done.

Yes, I know the temptation, after a long day, is to pick up only the kid that you’re responsible for, the one whose clothing you washed for the 10th time this week and whose teeth are straightening because you brought her to the orthodontist for yet another visit. However, the rewards from just a tad more effort more than tip the scales in favor of the few extra miles.

The key to making this supersecret spy mission work is not to let them use their phones, to take routes where cell reception is poor or, somehow, to encourage conversation. If they’re all sitting in the back seat, texting other people or showing each other pictures on one of the social networks, then the effort, time and assault on your nose aren’t worth it.

Seriously, anyone who has driven a group of teenagers around after a two-hour practice should keep a container of something that smells more tolerable nearby. When it’s too cold to stick my head out the window or when the smell becomes overwhelming, I have become a shallow mouth breather. But, again, if the conversation goes in the right direction, it’s worth it.

Put four or five or seven, if you can fit them, kids in a car, and you might get some high entertainment. If you’re quiet enough, you might learn a few things about school or your kids.

“So, Sheila is so ridiculous,” Allison recently declared to my daughter. “She only talks about herself and her feelings. Have you ever noticed that? She turns every conversation into a story about herself. I mean, the other day, she was telling me about her brother, and her story about her brother isn’t nearly as interesting as my story.”

At that point, Allison then talked about her brother and herself for the next five minutes.

Tempted as I was to ask about the story Sheila told about her brother, so I could compare the stream of stories about Sheila’s brother to Allison’s, I knew better.

The boys also enter the realm of the car social laboratory experiment after a game or practice.

“Hey, what’d you think about the movie in French?”

Wait, they watched a movie in French? Again, you can’t ask any questions or everyone retreats to their phones or remembers that the car isn’t driving itself. You have to be inconspicuous or you will be relegated to the penalty box of listening to one-word answers from your suddenly sullen sports star.

“You did well in that presentation in English?”

A presentation? English? Quiet! Quiet! You have to breathe normally and act like you’re giving all of your attention to the road.

Once the car empties and it’s just your son or daughter, you can ask specific questions. You might want to mix up some of the details, just so it doesn’t seem like you were listening carefully.

“So, you had a presentation in history?”

“No, Dad, that was in English,” your son will correct. Then he may share details that otherwise would never have made it past a stringent teenage filter.

Student Giancarlos Llanos Romero will be joining the SBU team on a trip to Kenya this summer. Photo by Phoebe Fornof

By Daniel Dunaief

In a region known for the study of fossils left behind millions of years ago, a team of students from Stony Brook University’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences is planning to travel to Kenya this summer to learn about and try to solve the challenges of today.

The university will send eight undergraduates to the Turkana Basin Institute for the engineering department’s first program in Kenya, which will run for over four weeks. In addition to classroom study, the students will seek opportunities to offer solutions to problems ranging from refrigeration, to energy production, to water purification.

The students learned about the opportunity in the spring, only a few months before they would travel to a country where the climate and standard of living for Kenyans present new challenges. “We were skeptical about how many students we would be able to get,” said Fotis Sotiropoulos, the dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, who “didn’t start marketing this” until after he took a trip to Kenya and the Turkana Basin Institute, which Stony Brook created at the direction of world-renowned anthropologist Richard Leakey.

Giancarlos Llanos Romero, who is interested in robotics and nanotechnology and is finishing his junior year, had originally planned to spend the summer seeking an internship in the Netherlands or Germany. When he learned about this opportunity, he immediately changed his focus. “I need to do this,” Romero said. “This is much more important than anything I could do in an internship.”

On first blush, the trip is anything but ideal for Romero, whose skin is sensitive to extreme heat, which he can expect to encounter in the sub-Saharan African country. He didn’t want that, however, to stop him and is planning to travel with seven other people he met for the first time last week. Romero said his immediate family, which is originally from Colombia, supported the trip.

Sotiropoulos, who is in his first year as dean, embraced the notion of connecting the engineering department with the Turkana Basin Institute. “Before I came here” said Sotiropoulos, “I felt very passionately about making sure that engineering students became familiar with the rest of the world” and that they understood global challenges, including issues like poverty and water scarcity.

Sotiropoulos met with TBI Director Lawrence Martin during one of his interviews prior to his arrival at SBU. Martin invited Sotiropoulos to visit with Richard Leakey, the founder of TBI whose family has been making scientific discoveries in Kenya for three generations.

Women and children in Kenya searching for, and drinking from, water found beneath the dry riverbed. Photo by Lynn Spinnato

This program quickly came together after those meetings. The two courses will teach students about design thinking, said Robert Kukta, the associate dean for undergraduate programs in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Stony Brook would like to help students develop “the ability to think broadly about solutions and boil it down to the essence of the problem,” Kukta said. This, he said, will all occur in the context of a different culture and local resources.

Students will start their summer experience in Nairobi and then they will travel to Princeton University’s Mpala Research Centre, Martin said. “The journey through Kenyan towns opens visitors’ eyes tremendously to how different peoples’ lives are in different parts of the world,” Martin explained by email. “The goal is not so much to contribute immediately but to understand the challenges that people face, the resources available locally and then to improve their ability to think through possible solutions.”

Once students arrive at TBI, they will have an opportunity to see fossils from many time periods, including those from late Cretaceous dinosaurs. “Every visitor I have ever taken to TBI is amazed and in awe of the abundance of fossil evidence for past life on Earth,” Martin said.

A distinguished professor in the Department of Chemistry at SBU, Benjamin Hsiao, who traveled with Sotiropoulos to Kenya in the spring, is a co-founding director of Innovative Global Energy Solutions Center. Hsiao has been developing water filtration systems through IGESC, which brings together TBI with universities, industry, international governments and foundations. He is well acquainted with the challenges the first set of students will face.

“Once we bring technologies over to Kenya, [sometimes] they do not work for reasons we have not thought of,” which include dust or a broken part for which it’s difficult to find a replacement, he said. “Those failed experiments give us tremendous insight about how to design the next-generation systems which will be much more robust and sustainable and easier to operate by local people.”

Acacia Leakey, who grew up in Kenya and is Richard Leakey’s grandniece, recently completed her senior design project as an undergraduate at Stony Brook. Her work is intended to help farmers extend the life of their tomato plants when they bring them to market.

About 32 percent of the tomatoes go to waste from the extreme heat. Acacia and her team developed a vegetable cooler that employs solar panels to reduce the temperature from 32 degrees Celsius to 15 degrees Celsius, which should extend the life of the tomatoes. Her classmates were “surprisingly supportive” of her work, she said, as some of them hadn’t considered applying their skills in a developing country.

Leakey, who will train for her master’s degree at Stony Brook this fall, will continue to provide insights into Madagascar, another developing African nation where the university has an internationally acclaimed research center. This summer, she will produce a video that will record information from villages near Centre ValBio in Madagascar, which she will bring back to Stony Brook in the hopes of encouraging others to use that information to create their own design projects next year.

As for Romero, who is raising money for the trip through a GoFundMe page, he is prepared to discover opportunities amid the challenges of his upcoming trip and is eager “to be able to actually help a community and say I left a mark.”

What keeps us young? Well, certainly eating healthy foods, exercising and sleeping are all on that list.

But there’s something else that works, too. If you can, try hanging out with a group of younger people at a party, even if the music is loud and incomprehensible.

At a recent party, I wasn’t sure what my daughter was saying, as I watched her sing every word with her eyes wide open and her hands fluttering at her sides like a butterfly’s wings.

It’s as if both of my children have sped up the needle so fast on their speech that I suspect that what’s coming out of their mouths probably started out as distinct words at some point. I’m hoping that the message they are repeating isn’t something offensive or objectionable, like, “Environmental regulation is bad, so let’s put the fox in charge of the hens at the Environmental Protection Agency. Go fox, Go fox, Go fox.” No, wait, this isn’t about politics.

A room full of children at the party, held by a family friend, made me think a bright scientist may one day figure out how to harness that energy, store it and release it at just the right time, either when someone needed to warm a house or a heart.

The next generation seems to follow a simple formula: Why walk when you can run, skip or flip, why talk when you can shout and why stay on the ground when you can challenge gravity to hold you down?

I recognize that loud parties filled with perplexing music may not be everyone’s cup of tea. The decibel level may damage hearing aids, destabilize pacemakers, or rattle fillings or dentures.

You don’t need to attend a kids party, especially if you weren’t invited to one, to share the exuberance of youth. Have you stopped your car on the way back along familiar routes to watch a T-ball baseball game, to listen to a chorus singing music you might know, or to watch a marching band trying to master John Philip Sousa while figuring out what yard line they’re supposed to be on when they reach the high notes?

All that energy begets energy. I’ve heard people talk about how their children keep them young. Imagine multiplying that, even for a day or a few hours, by however many kids are celebrating the moment in a way that doesn’t get bogged down in blinking Blackberries, a pending deadline or a need to disappear into the immobile ether of the television.

And if you’re fortunate enough, you can engage with some of the next generation in questions they raise about the world. Many of us think we are pretty knowledgeable. That may be the case, until a child asks us a question we can’t answer. Of course, we could rush to the internet to find an answer we might soon forget, or we could try to inch our way to an answer or even revisit a question we hadn’t pondered in years.

I’m sure teachers feel the same kinds of highs and lows that appear in so many other jobs. They have to discuss the Magna Carta year after year, or explain how the change in Y over the change in X represents the slope of a line.

But, then, every once in a while, a student may ask a new question that brings the material to life and gives the teacher an opportunity to learn from the student. The best answers inevitably lead to the next best questions.

Energy, insight, curiosity and joy don’t exist solely in the world of youth, but they are often easier to spot among a group of children whose joie de vivre lifts off at a party.

Patricia Wright speaks at the Earth Optimism Summit in April. Photo by Ronda Ann Gregorio

By Daniel Dunaief

Determined to share success stories instead of doom and gloom, Nancy Knowlton, the Sant Chair of Marine Science at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, decided to change the tone of the conservation dialog.

Knowlton organized the first Earth Optimism Summit around the most recent Earth Day this April. She searched for speakers who could share their progress and blueprints for success. That included Patricia Wright, a Stony Brook University distinguished professor who has developed an impressive legacy during her 25 years in Madagascar.

Nancy Knowlton, organizer of the first Earth Optimism Summit in April. Photo by Ronda Ann Gregorio

In Madagascar, the 10th poorest country on Earth, optimism has been growing, perhaps even more rapidly than the 1,000 endemic trees that have been making a comeback in the island nation off the southeast coast of Africa. The growth of those trees has encouraged the return of animals that had retreated from an area thinned out by selective logging.

“This year, the rare and furtive bird, the scaly ground roller, came back and nested,” Wright reported. The “black and white ruffed lemur gave the area the thumbs up and reestablished territories and reproduced.”

The critically endangered golden bamboo lemur also doubled the size of its population. “The forest took 25 years to recover, but it can recover,” Wright said in her speech. Dedicated to the study of lemurs, Wright in 1991 helped create Ranomafana National Park, which is the third largest park in Madagascar. She served as a plenary speaker for a gathering that drew over 1,400 people to Washington. Scientists and policymakers held sister summits in nine other countries at the same time.

“You can’t possibly make progress in conservation if you only talk about the problems,” said Knowlton, a co-host of the summit. Knowlton knew Wright from serving on the Committee for Research and Exploration, where the two interacted six times a year. When she was putting together the list of speakers, Knowlton approached the 2014 winner of the Indianapolis Zoo Prize to see if she could share a positive message in conservation.

When Wright accepted, Knowlton was “thrilled, not only because she’s a good storyteller, but because she’s also done incredibly important work in Madagascar.” Indeed, Wright said national parks have greatly expanded from only two in the 1980s. “Now with the work of many dedicated environmentalists, including the enlightened policy of the U.S. government through USAID, we have 18 National Parks and a National Park Service to manage and protect them,” she told the session.

Restoring trees to the area also offers economic opportunity, Wright said. Under the endemic trees, farmers can grow crops like vanilla, chocolate, cinnamon and wild pepper, she said. “All these products can be marketed for high prices. We will take back that land and make it productive again, doubling or tripling its value,” Wright continued.

A scientist featured in the 2014 film “Island of Lemurs: Madagascar,” Wright has engaged in a wide range of efforts on behalf of the Malagasy. Last year, she negotiated with a mayor on the island to pick up trash in exchange for the purchase of several wheelbarrows. She also helped encourage the renovation of 35 schools in communities around Ranomafana, where students learn critical thinking and molecular biology. This, Wright said, is occurring in a country where three out of five students don’t remain in school past fifth grade. “More children in this region are graduating from high school and over a handful have received university degrees,” she explained.

A health team also walks to 50 nearby villages, carrying medicines and basic health lessons. SBU brought drones last year, which can fly medicines as far as 40 miles away. Drones could monitor the outbreak of any unknown and potentially dangerous disease and can offer health care for people who live in ares that are inaccessible by road.

The financial support of the National Science Foundation helped create Centre ValBio, a field station and campus in the middle of the rainforest. The research station has modern facilities and equipment to conduct genetics and disease analyses. “We provide tools and training and even fiber-optic cable internet, the fastest in the region,” Wright said. They are expanding the research facilities this year.

Through research efforts, Wright and other scientists have also discovered two new species of lemurs and found two others that were considered extinct. Restoring the national forest not only brought back animals that had retreated into the inner part of the forest, but it also encouraged the growth of ecotourism.

In 1991, there was only one tourist hotel and now there are 32 hotels, providing facilities for the 30,000 tourists. “That can start to change an economy,” Wright suggested. “Cottage industries have developed like the woman’s weaving group and the basket weavers and blacksmiths who all make a good living from selling to tourists and researchers.”

Wright attributes these positive steps to a dedication to working with residents in the area. “We have been successful by training local residents and university students, by listening to what the communities want, rather than what we think is best,” she said.

Knowlton suggested that “you can’t helicopter conservation into a particular place. It’s got to be built from the ground up. She’s done it in Madagascar.” While these are positive steps, Wright declared this is just the beginning. “There are endless possibilities of scientific knowledge and research,” she said. “They all matter and impact our daily lives.”

As for the Earth Optimism Summit, Knowlton said this is just the beginning as well, originally thinking of organizing a second summit in 2020, but may hold the next one sooner. “We’re identifying what’s working and putting a spotlight on it,” Knowlton said. “The feedback has been extraordinarily, unbelievably positive. We’ve come to realize that people are demanding” another conference.

She appreciated Wright’s contribution to April’s conference.“By sharing her successes, Pat Wright brings home the message that if she can do it, so can we all,” Knowlton said. “The summit succeeded because Wright and over 240 other speakers made it obvious, through the successes that they shared, that solving the environmental problems we face is not out of reach.”

There’s a part of us that wants to shed the limitations of civilization. What difference do all those arbitrary lines in society make anyway?

Say, for example, we’re standing in a grocery store and the line isn’t moving quickly enough. Then again, what line could possibly move at a speed we’d find acceptable? We look at our phones to distract us. We can watch movies we’ve seen a hundred times, check our voicemail, email, messaging service and telepathic connections, if we’ve got the right app.

The phone doesn’t offer much relief, as our boss has sent us an instant message that reads, “If you don’t bring those cupcakes back within three minutes, you will be on cupcake duty for the next six months.”

It’s our fault. We saw that lane six was probably longer than lane seven, but we picked six because we saw a headline in a magazine about Julia Roberts and we wanted to read the other headlines in a magazine that was out of stock in lane seven.

Lane six is at a complete stop as the cashier waits for the override.

“Come on!” we want to scream. “We gotta deliver these cupcakes before we lose our job!”

But we don’t scream any curse words, despite an impulse that is working its way up our spinal column. Another urge hits us. We want to jump on the conveyor belt and dance to “Cotton Eye Joe,” while kicking away the other groceries. But we don’t do that, either.

We hold back because everyone has a camera, and we don’t want to be the supermarket dancer on YouTube forever.

We consider convincing ourselves that our venting might become a way to contribute to society. Maybe other people waiting in line somewhere can laugh at us, as we act out their frustration fantasies.

But, no, we’d have a hard time going to PTA meetings or running for office if our opponent could show we didn’t have the temperament to be a leader.

We keep our composure. It’s just cupcakes, right? Then again, we still have to do our work and this means we’ll be home later than we wanted and we won’t get a parking spot near the gym tonight, which means we might have to walk an extra quarter of a mile before we run 6 miles. It’s so unfair!

Curses are echoing around our brain. We grind our teeth, tap our feet, shake our head slowly and blow our bangs off our overheated and thickly lined forehead.

We hear the words, “Come on, come on, come on,” in our head, but no one else seems to care about our agony. Oh, great, now we have to go to the bathroom, which will be difficult because as soon as we get back to the office we are serving the cupcakes at the party.

Don’t think about the need for the toilet. Oh, right, sure, that’s worked so well in the past. Why hadn’t we thought about that around, say, tax season? Sure, if you don’t think about it, taxes will just go away.

Then the curse words slipped out. We shouted them. We look around, wondering if we’ve damaged our reputation. This can be the smallest town on the planet. No one is holding a cellphone in our direction. No one seems to be waiting for us to do it again. Everyone does, however, take a step back from us.

We breathe a sigh of relief until it hits us: Two rows away is an overheated mother with three children holding onto her shopping cart. One of them — he looks like he’s about 6 years old — is staring at us without blinking. Maybe crossing that line was a mistake, as shame has replaced anger.

Escobar-Hoyos, center, holds her recent award, with Kenneth Shroyer, the chairman of the Department of Pathology at Stony Brook on the left and Steven Leach, the director of the David M. Rubenstein Center for Pancreatic Cancer Research on the right. Photo by Cindy Leiton

By Daniel Dunaief

While winter storm Niko in February closed schools and businesses and brought considerable precipitation to the region, it also coincided with great news for Luisa Escobar-Hoyos, who earned her doctorate from Stony Brook University.

Escobar-Hoyos, who is a part-time research assistant professor in the Department of Pathology at Stony Brook University and a postdoctoral fellow at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, received word that she was the sole researcher selected in the country to receive the prestigious $600,000 Pancreatic Cancer Action Network–American Association for Cancer Research Pathway to Leadership Award.

When she heard the news, Escobar-Hoyos said she was “filled with excitement.” After she spoke with her husband Nicolas Hernandez and her current mentor at MSKCC, Steven Leach, the director of the David M. Rubenstein Center for Pancreatic Cancer Research, she called her parents in her native Colombia.

Her mother, Luz Hoyos, understood her excitement not only as a parent but as a cancer researcher herself. “My interest in cancer research started because of my mom,” Escobar-Hoyos said. Observing her example and “the excitement and the impact she has on her students and young scientists working with her, I could see myself” following in her footsteps.

The researcher said her joy at winning the award has blended with “a sense of responsibility” to the growing community of patients and their families who have developed a deadly disease that is projected to become the second leading cause of cancer-related death by 2020, according to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, moving past colorectal cancer.

The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network has awarded $35 million in funding to 142 scientists across the country from 2003 to 2016, many of whom have continued to improve an understanding of this insidious form of cancer.

David Tuveson, the current director of the Cancer Center at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, received funds from PanCan to develop the first genetically engineered mouse model that mimics human disease. Jiyoung Ahn, the associate director of the NYU Cancer Institute, used the funds to discover that two species of oral bacteria are associated with an over 50 percent increased risk of pancreatic cancer.

Over the first decade since PanCan started awarding these grants, the recipients have been able to convert each dollar granted into $8.28 in further pancreatic cancer research funding.

In her research, Escobar-Hoyos suggests that alternative splicing, or splitting up messenger RNA at different locations to create different versions of the same protein, plays an important part in the start and progress of pancreatic cancer. “Her preliminary data suggest that alternative splicing could be associated with poorer survival and resistance to treatment,” Lynn Matrisian, the chief science officer at PanCan, explained in an email. “The completion of her project will enhance our understanding of this molecular modification and how it impacts pancreatic cancer cell growth, survival and the progression to more advanced stages of this disease.”

Escobar-Hoyos explained that she will evaluate how mutations in transcriptional regulators and mRNA splicing factors influence gene expression and alternative splicing of mRNAs to promote the disease and aggression of the most common form of pancreatic cancer. Later, she will evaluate how splicing regulators and alternatively spliced genes enriched in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma contribute to tumor maintenance and resistance to therapy.

Escobar-Hoyos will receive $75,000 in each of the first two years of the award to pay for a salary or a technician, during a mentored phase of the award. After those two years, she will receive $150,000 for three years, when PanCan expects her to be in an independent research position.

Escobar-Hoyos said her graduate research at Stony Brook focused on ways to understand the biological differences between patients diagnosed with the same cancer type. She helped discover the way a keratin protein called K17 entered the nucleus and brought another protein into the cytoplasm, making one type of tumor more aggressive.

While Escobar-Hoyos works full time at Memorial Sloan Kettering, she continues to play an active role in Kenneth Shroyer’s lab, where she conducted experiments for her doctorate. She is the co-director of the Pathology Translational Research Laboratory, leading studies that are focused on pancreatic cancer biomarkers. The chair in the Department of Pathology, Shroyer extended an offer for her to continue to address the research questions her work addressed after she started her postdoctoral fellowship.

“When you do research projects and you develop them from the beginning, they are like babies and you really want to see how they evolve,” Escobar-Hoyos said. Numerous projects are devoted to different aspects of K17, she said.

Shroyer said Escobar-Hoyos had already been the first author on two landmark studies related to the discovery and validation of K17 even before her work with pancreatic cancer. “She has also conducted highly significant new research” that she is currently developing “that I believe will transform the field of pancreatic cancer research,” Shroyer wrote in an email.

Shroyer hopes to recruit Escobar-Hoyos to return to Stony Brook when she completes her fellowship to a full-time position as a tenure track assistant professor. “Based on her achievements in basic research and her passion to translate her findings to improve the care of patients with pancreatic cancer, I have no doubt she is one of the most promising young pancreatic cancer research scientists of her generation,” he continued.

Yusuf Hannun, the director of the Stony Brook Cancer Center, said Escobar-Hoyos’s work provided a new and important angle with considerable promise in understanding pancreatic cancer. “She is a tremendous example of success for junior investigators,” Hannun wrote in an email.

Escobar-Hoyos said she is hoping, a year or two from now, to transition to becoming an independent scientist and principal investigator, ideally at an academic institution. “Because of my strong ties with Stony Brook and all the effort the institution is investing in pancreatic research” SBU is currently her first choice.

Escobar-Hoyos is pleased that she was able to give back to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network when she and a team of other friends and family helped raise about $4,000 as a part of a PurpleStride 5K walk in Prospect Park earlier this month.“I was paying forward what this foundation has done for me in my career,” she said.

Matrisian said dedicated scientists offer hope to patients and their families. “Researchers like Escobar-Hoyos spark scientific breakthroughs that may create treatments and ultimately, improve the lives of patients,” she suggested.

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Have you seen it? In the pace at which we live our lives, it’s possible you missed it. I was at the drugstore recently and I saw it on the side of a box. It took a moment to process. How often does a product surprise you?

It had the potential to be a “you got your chocolate in my peanut butter” moment. When I was younger, my older brother, or No. 1 son as he’s been described on these pages for decades, used to mix all kinds of foods. Perhaps it was a prelude to him becoming a scientist. He’d combine foods that would defy even the current cooking shows. To his credit, he’d choke down even the ones that were spectacular failures because he didn’t want to waste food, and because who knew at what point a displeasing food might become an acquired taste? After all, how many people remember their first sip of beer? Did it tickle their taste buds or did they want to find water or a soda to wash it down?

So, back at the drugstore, I scratched my unshaven chin — I was buying razors to remedy that problem — when the image on the side of a box diverted my attention from important thoughts: How much longer would this take? Would I meet my deadlines? Was I supposed to wash some mission-critical clothing last night for some must-win game today?

As I looked at that image, I could imagine the moment Igor came up with the idea. There he was at a barbecue. With his acquired-taste beer a few inches from his left hip, he surveyed the food on his overloaded plate. He had a thick cheeseburger on a sesame seed bun, half sour pickles, an enormous mound of sauteed onions and mushrooms, coleslaw, and several Pringles sitting next to his burger. Igor works for Pringles and he won’t attend any picnic without bringing his favorite curved chip. The burger was on its way to his mouth when he realized he was missing something. He stood up to kiss his sister-in-law, maneuvered around his nephew who was bouncing a pink ball against the steps, and he and his burger arrived safely at the condiment table. On Igor’s way back to his beer, the pink ball rolled underfoot, causing him to turn his ankle and mix up the contents of the plate.

He hobbled to his spot and surveyed the damage to his food. His ankle could wait. Igor, like my brother, pressed on. He sighed at his precious Pringles. They were broken into tiny pieces, which was no fault of the distinctive packaging, and they looked like they’d been through a battle. They were covered in ketchup. Did he dare throw out the Pringles, he wondered, as he sipped his acquired-taste beer?

No, his loyalty to a product that paid for his mortgage and his three Jeeps ran too deep to toss even a single chip. Igor found the small part of a chip not smothered in ketchup and brought it to his mouth. Aware that every eye was on him, he nodded slowly, as if the taste was something extraordinary.

“Well,” his brother said, trying to be helpful, “why not, right? We put ketchup on French fries, which are also made from potatoes, right?”

Was it a weakness or a strength on Igor’s part that made him insist this was an inevitable combination that would become a must-have item for July Fourth barbecues? I suppose it’s up to us to decide whether ketchup-flavored potato chips are the next peanut butter cup.

If they are, maybe Pringles can edit a Seinfeld clip where George Costanza double-dips his chip into a bowl of ketchup?