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By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

I like to play Google games, just to see how many results I can get on certain search terms. I know I’ve come up with something incredibly specific when the list is 100 or fewer.

Now, to play my game, I sometimes use quotes to increase the specificity of a particular search. For example, I might be interested in hamburgers or “hamburger helper.” The former brought up 481 million in a recent search and the latter, as you might have guessed, was much lower, at 1.3 million. Please know that the figures I am quoting are never static.

Given the highly public nature of the 45th president, Donald Trump (R), I thought I’d check to see how a man who was once a TV personality did on Google. And, from what I can tell, he is winning the search war.

The words “Donald Trump” netted 520 million results. For someone who appears to enjoy the spotlight, even when people are raging against him, that number is impressive. That’s well above the 141 million for Mickey Mouse and the 60 million for our first president, George Washington. Granted, he has been dead for almost 220 years and Mickey is an animated creature. It is, however, below the 633 million for Brexit.

OK, so let’s compare Trump to, say, the 44th president. While President Barack Obama (D) did better than Washington, he didn’t climb as high as Mickey, getting 109 million results. He was, however, twice as popular in the search engine as his immediate predecessor, President George W. Bush, whose name, complete with the “W.,” brought 54.6 million hits. Ah, but then “Dubya,” as he was called, was higher than President Bill Clinton (D), who netted only 33.8 million results.

So, what does this mean? Maybe it suggests that presidents are on a Google escalator and that the modern reality is that the internet has become the way people search for news about the men who have led our country. The 2020 winner likely stands to become an internet search winner, too.

Assuming that the Google popularity contest is relevant, what does it say about the Democratic presidential candidates? Well, a front-runner and former Vice President Joe Biden brought 107 million results. As an aside, that’s well above the 37.5 million results from the person who holds the office of vice president today, Mike Pence (R).

Back to the Democratic candidates. Elizabeth Warren stands at 47.1 million. That beats Pence, but she’s not running for vice president, at least not yet. Whoops, bad Dan. Bernie Sanders, who ran an impressive campaign in 2016, brings up 70.2 million results, which is much higher than Warren, despite her impressive political career. Kamala Harris has 18.5 million results, with others, like Cory Booker, at 5.6 million.

But, wait, is this a popularity contest? Well, yes and no, right? These candidates need sufficient visibility to attract votes. People also need to be interested in them, right? Does former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s 90.9 million results mean she’s more visible than some of the people running for president? No, it’s a reflection of her close run for the highest office in the land in 2016. That is pretty impressive for someone who wasn’t elected, but is well below singer Taylor Swift’s 415 million.

Perhaps the president in 2020, whether it be the incumbent or a challenger, will immediately see a spike in results, as people around the world type in his or her name each day to find the latest news related to the country and to his or her policies.

As an aside, I couldn’t help wondering how often the current president mocks someone or something. The term “Trump mocks” brought up 747,000 results. By comparison, “Biden mocks” only had 14,700 results. Then again, “Trump applauds” had 82,500 results, compared with “Biden applauds,” which had 3,090. No wonder Trump fatigue has set in for some people: He’s everywhere on the internet.

From left, Luisa Escobar-Hoyos, Lucia Roa and Ken Shroyer Photo by Cindy Leiton

By Daniel Dunaief

The prognosis and treatment for cancer varies, depending on the severity, stage and type of disease. With pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, the treatment options are often limited and the prognosis for most patients by the time doctors make a diagnosis is often bleak.

Researchers at the Renaissance School of Medicine’s Pathology Department at Stony Brook University have been testing for the presence of a protein called keratin 17, or K17, by staining tissue specimens or needle aspiration biopsy specimens. This measures the proportion of tumor cells that have high levels of expression.

This protein is typically active during embryological development or in stem cells, which are a type of cell that can differentiate into a wide range of other cells. It is also active in pancreatic cancer.

Ken Shroyer, department chairman; Luisa Escobar-Hoyos, assistant professor of pathology; and Lucia Roa, assistant professor of pathology recently published a paper in the journal Scientific Reports in which they documented how the level of this protein can indicate the prognosis for patients. K17 above a certain level typically suggests a worse prognosis.

The Stony Brook scientists want to understand why some pancreatic cancers are more aggressive than others, with the hope that they might be able to develop more effective ways to treat the most aggressive form of the disease.

In the recent research, the level of K17 not only indicated the prognosis for the most aggressive form of the disease, but it is also considered a “cause of making the tumors more aggressive,” Escobar-Hoyos added, which confirmed their previously published research and which unpublished data also supports.

Shroyer suggested that this research paper has been a validation of their plan to pursue the development of K17 as a way to differentiate one form of this insidious cancer from another.

While other cancers, such as cervical cancer, have proven quicker and easier to use K17 for its predictive power, the current work reflects the lab’s focus on pancreatic cancer. As such the research is a “great step forward to generate our first pancreatic cancer paper,” Shroyer said. His lab had previously published papers on other biomarkers in pancreatic cancer.

Escobar-Hoyos indicated that she and Shroyer anticipate that K17, which is one of a family of 54 different types of keratins in the human body, likely plays numerous roles in promoting cancer.

Indeed, K17 may promote the invasiveness of these cells, allowing them to spread from the original organ, in this case the pancreas, to other parts of the body. They are testing that concept through ongoing work in their lab.

The researchers believe that K17 may accelerate metastasis, but that line of thinking is “still at a relatively early stage,” Escobar-Hoyos said.

This protein may also change the metabolism of the cell. They believe K17 blocks the uptake of certain drugs by enhancing specific metabolic pathways. 

Additionally, K17 causes the degradation of p27, which is a tumor suppressor that controls cell division.

The researchers used two different ways to monitor the levels of protein, through mRNA analysis and through immunohistochemical localization. In the latter case, that involved staining the cells to look for the presence of the protein.

Roa, who is the first author on the paper, stained the slides and worked with Shroyer to score them.

The assistant professor, who came to Long Island with her daughter Laura who earned her bachelor’s degree and master’s in public policy at SBU, had been a pathologist and medical doctor when she lived in Colombia. She learned the IHC staining technique at Yale University just after she graduated from medical school and worked for six years as a postdoctoral fellow on several projects using IHC.

Roa is thrilled that she’s a part of a supportive team that could help develop techniques to improve patient diagnosis and care.

“We care deeply about developing a tool that will help us to treat patients and we value working together to accomplish this,” Roa explained in an email.

At this point, Shroyer and his team have identified key factors that cause K17 to be overexpressed. They are pursuing this line of research in the lab.

“We think K17 expression is dictated by something different than genetic status,” said Escobar-Hoyos. “This is speculation, but we think it might be triggered based on a patient’s immunity.”

After this study, the pathology team is looking to validate their results through different cohorts of patients. They are working with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and their scientific collaborators at Perthera Inc. to process tissue sections from these cases for K17 staining in their lab.

They are also at the early stages in the development of a collaboration with investigators at MD Anderson Cancer Center.

“If we can validate that K17 IHC testing is able to predict a response to the standard of care, then we’ll have permission to start a prospective analysis linked to a clinical trial,” Shroyer said.

Shroyer’s team is trying to understand how K17 becomes activated, what happens when they block that activation, and how it impacts the survival and tumor growth in animal models of pancreatic cancer.

In collaborations with other researchers, they are exploring how K17 impacts the therapeutic vulnerability of pancreatic cancer to over 2,000 FDA-approved compounds.

“There are a discrete list of compounds that are able to kill K17 positive cells,” Shroyer said. He is aiming to start phase 0 trials to validate the molecular model. If the data is sufficiently convincing, they can apply to the FDA to begin phase 1 trials.

He hopes this study is the first of many steps the lab will take in providing clues about how to diagnose and treat pancreatic cancer, which has been an intractable disease for researchers and doctors.

“This paper helps establish and confirm that K17 is an important and promising prognostic biomarker in pancreatic cancer,” Shroyer said. “For us, this is foundational for all the subsequent mechanistic studies that are in progress to understand how K17 drives cancer aggression.”

Stock photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

I speak with a police officer near my son’s school regularly. She steps into four lanes of frantic morning commuting traffic to allow people to maneuver into and out of a school parking lot.

She offers a pleasant, “Good morning,” to people who roll down their windows or who walk past her. As she steps carefully into a heavily trafficked street, she makes eye contact with drivers.

She waves to the waiting parents to make their turns and rejoin the flow of traffic to work or to their next morning destination. She sends them off from school with a pleasant, “Have a great day,” as they drive around her.

Recently, I pulled up to the stop sign and saw the officer holding her stomach.

“What’s happening?” I asked.

“I just can’t stop laughing,” she said. “I see the same crazies every day. I’m used to them. There’s this guy who drives a pickup truck and he cusses at me every time he passes. I’m not sure why.”

“Is that funny?” I asked.

“No, today, a woman looked right at me, clapped, gave me the thumbs up and raised her fist. She seemed so happy that I was here.”

“That’s great,” I said.

“Yeah, she made my day,” the officer said, again holding her stomach. “That was just
so funny.”

This police officer spends her day looking in car windows, hoping people stop instead of running her over or creating traffic hazards for children or their parents near schools. And yet, this driver made her happy by sharing an effusive and appreciative series of simple gestures.

The movements the woman made are the kinds of displays superstar athletes see every time they step on a sports field or tennis court. These expressions of appreciation, gratitude and admiration are so common that many of the players block out the sounds so they can focus on the game.

But for this officer, the show of support was a welcome sight.

A day before, a friend told me that he and his daughter pulled into a parking lot, where a parking attendant asked for $3. When he handed out the money, his daughter leaned across him and thanked the attendant.

The attendant smiled and directed them to a spot nearby.

“What are you thanking him for?” my friend asked. “What did he do?”

“He’s doing his job and I appreciate it,” his daughter said. “Why can’t you appreciate it?”

“He’s taking my money,” the friend reasoned. 

“Yes, and you’re getting a place to park,” she said.

My friend recognized the value of the words. Besides, even if it didn’t make the attendant’s day, it didn’t cost anything and it may have helped the car park collector feel like someone cared that a good job was being done.

In that same vein, I’d like to thank you for reading this column today and any other time you take the time to read it. I know you could be doing numerous other tasks and I appreciate the opportunity to share words, thoughts or experiences with you. 

I realize you don’t always agree with me. Maybe climate change isn’t top of your mind or you have perfect children who never once frustrate and amuse you, or your dog is so well trained that it never jumps up on anyone or consumes a plate full of warm cookies. But I appreciate the chance to connect with you.

Maybe today, tomorrow or next week, you can also pass along an appreciative gesture. Who knows? You might make the day of a police officer, a baker, a mail carrier or a dog walker.

Dr. Minsig Choi and Paul Bingham. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

By Daniel Dunaief

The Stony Brook Cancer Center is seeking patients with pancreatic cancer for a phase 3 drug trial of a treatment developed by a husband and wife team at SBU.

Dr. Minsig Choi. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

Led by Minsig Choi, the principal investigator of the clinical trial and a medical oncologist at Stony Brook Cancer Center’s gastroenterology team, the study is part of a multicenter effort to test whether a drug known as CPI-613, or devimistat, can extend the lives of people battling against a form of cancer that often has a survival rate of around 8 percent five years after its discovery.

Paul Bingham. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

Patients at Stony Brook will either receive the conventional treatment of FOLFIRINOX, or a combination of a FOLFIRINOX and CPI-613. An earlier study demonstrated a median survival of 20 months with the combination of the two drugs, compared with 11 months with just the standard chemotherapy.

“Pancreatic cancer is such a bad disease,” Choi said. “The overall survival is usually less than a year and life expectancy is very limited.”

Choi said the company that is developing the treatment, Rafael Pharmaceuticals, wanted Stony Brook to be a part of the larger phase 3 study because the drug was developed at the university. Indeed, Stony Brook is the only site on Long Island that is offering this treatment to patients who meet the requirements for the study.

People who have received treatment either from Stony Brook or at other facilities are ineligible to be a part of the current trial, Choi said. Additionally, patients with other conditions, such as cardiac or lung issues, would be excluded.

Additionally, the current study is only for “advanced patients with metastatic” pancreatic cancer, he said. People who have earlier forms of this cancer usually receive surgery or other therapies.

“When you’re testing new drugs, you want to start in a more advanced” clinical condition, he added.

Choi said patients who weren’t a part of the study, however, would still have other medical options.

Zuzana Zachar. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

“The clinical trial is not the only way to treat” pancreatic cancer, he said. These other treatments would include chemotherapy options, palliative care, radiation therapy and other supportive services through social workers.

Choi anticipates that the current study, which his mentor Philip A. Philip, a professor in the Department of Oncology at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit is leading, would likely provide preliminary results in the next 18 to 24 months.

If the early results prove especially effective, the drug may receive a fast-track designation at the Food and Drug Administration. That, however, depends on the response rate and the way patients tolerate the treatment.

At this point, Choi anticipates that most of the side effects will be related to the use of chemotherapy, which causes fatigue and weakness. The CPI-613, at least in preliminary studies, has been “pretty well tolerated,” although it, like other drug regimes, can cause upset stomachs, diarrhea and nausea, he said.

Doctors and researchers cautioned that cancer remains a problematic disease and that other drugs to treat forms of cancer have failed when they reach this final stage before FDA approval, in part because cancer can and often does develop ways to work around efforts to eradicate it.

Still, the FDA wouldn’t have approved the use of this drug in this trial unless the earlier studies had shown positive results. Prior to this broader clinical effort, patients who used CPI-613 in combination with FOLFIRINOX had a tumor response rate of 61 percent, compared with about half that rate without the additional treatment.

Paul Bingham, an associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at Stony Brook University, and his wife Zuzana Zachar, a research assistant professor and director of Master in Teaching Biology Program at the Institute for STEM Education at Stony Brook, originally invented and discovered the family of drugs that includes CPI-613.

Bingham and Zachar, who are consultants to Rafael Pharmaceuticals, “provide basic scientific support” in connection with this phase 3 trial. “When the FDA asks questions, sometimes it requires us to do basic science” to offer replies, he said.

Zachar and Bingham developed this drug because they anticipated that attacking cancer cell’s metabolism could lead to an effective treatment. Cancer requires considerable energy to continue on its deadly course. This drug, which is a lipoate analog and is an enzyme cofactor in several central processes in metabolism, tricks the disease into believing that it has sufficient energy. Interrupting this energy feedback mechanism causes the cancer cell to starve to death. 

While other cells use some of the same energy feedback pathways, they don’t have the same energy demands and the introduction of the drug, which has tumor-specific effects, is rarely fatal for those cells.

The lipoate analog is a “stable version of the normally transient intermediary that lies to the regulatory systems, which causes them to shut down the metabolism of cancer cells,” Bingham said. These cells “run out of energy.”

Zachar said the process of understanding how CPI-613 could become an effective treatment occurred over the course of years and developed through an “accretion of data that starts to fill in a picture and eventually you get enough information to say that it could be” a candidate to help patients. The process is more “incremental than instantaneous.”

Bingham and Zachar are working on a series of additional research papers that reflect the way different tumors and tumor types have different sensitivities to CPI-613. They expect to publish at least one new paper this year and several more next year.

The researchers who developed this drug have had some contact with patients through the process. While they are not doctors, they are grateful that the work they’ve done has “extended and improved people’s lives,” Bingham said, and they are “grateful for that opportunity.”

Zachar added that she is “thrilled that we’ve been able to help.” She appreciates the contribution the patients make to this research because they “stepped to the line and took the risk to try this drug.”

Stock photo
Daniel Dunaief

We think we know our kids, but really the converse is true.

My son recently told me that he thinks I’m angry every time I swim laps in a pool. At first, I dismissed the observation because swimming brings me peace.

And then I thought about my junior year of high school, when I joined my one and only swim team.

I loved the water, I had a few friends on the team and I was determined to do something different when each day in school felt like a bad version of “Groundhog Day,” long before the Bill Murray film arrived in theaters.

I had several shortcomings. For starters, I didn’t know how to do a flip turn. To the experienced swimmer, that’s as laughable as asking a NASCAR driver how to change gears or a baseball player which end of the bat to hold. It’s a basic skill. I’d approach the wall, gasping for air, roll to my right and kick hard.

Most of the time, I’d slam my foot into the lane marker and, on occasion would kick the poor swimmer in lane 5. I swam in lane 6, which was where swimmers who needed life jackets trained. The best swimmers occupied lane 1. They never seemed to need a breath, had hydrodynamic bodies that made them look like torpedoes and seemed slightly bored after an exhausting practice.

Oh, and they also wore Speedo bathing suits well. For someone accustomed to the boxing trunk bathing suits that I still wear today, Speedos seemed way too small. Besides, I’m not sure the small, colorful lightweight suits allowed me to shave even a tenth of a second off my barge-floating-downstream speed.

Each practice, the coach would tell us to swim 20 laps back and forth as a warm-up. By the end of the warm-up, which I never finished, we started practice. At that point, I was leaning hard on the wall, wondering whether I should climb out of the pool and grab some French fries.

When we dove off the blocks at the start of the race, I must have entered the water at the wrong angle. My goggles scraped down my nose and landed in front of my mouth, which made it impossible to see or breathe. Flopping blindly, I’d zigzag in slow motion across the pool.

Each practice completely drained me. My exhausted arms pulled through the water, splashing where others were gliding. My legs slapped at the water, instead of serving as propellers. And yet, something about the incredible energy required to survive each practice helped me, both mentally and physically.

I’m sure I lost weight. After all, such inefficient swimming burns off considerably more calories than floating effortlessly hither and yon. More importantly, though, I worked out everything that bothered me in my head as I listened to the gurgling noises my mouth made while I wiggled back and forth. Each lap, I replayed conversations that went awry, standardized tests that were like electroshock therapy and the missed social opportunities.

Gnashing my teeth, I worked out frustrations that built up during the day or the week. The herculean effort either removed toxins or prevented them from cluttering my brain. Sitting in my room at home after practice, I felt more at peace than I had at any point during the day.

But what my son must have perceived as I do laps today are the habits I formed during that winter season. My body instantly remembers how to use swimming to release tension. He may see the residual physical manifestations of the cauldron of emotions that I carried back and forth across that icy pool. And, hey, maybe I’d look like a happier swimmer if I ever learned how to do a flip turn.

Climate activist Greta Thunberg

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Evidence of my own failure sits in plain sight on my desk. I believe in recycling, in saving the planet, in doing what’s right for me, my children and for future generations.

I readily agree that using one-time plastic pollutes the world and kills marine creatures. And yet, here, sitting on my desk, are two plastic water bottles from one-time-use plastics.

I will, of course, recycle them, but that’s not the point. Why can’t I walk the walk if I talk the talk? It’s not enough to believe in something or to nod in agreement as I read articles about conserving ecosystems, protecting biodiversity and reducing our — no, my — carbon footprint. I could and should do something about it. For example, I should use, clean and reuse the same cup, cutting back on waste.

I speak with people regularly about conservation when I write the Power of Three column for TBR News Media. Often, I ask in the context of their findings about climate change, the atmosphere or biodiversity, what kind of car they drive or how they live their lives. Interviewees sometimes chuckle anxiously, share their concerns about flying to research meetings, and sigh that they should do more. Well, maybe the better way to describe it is they should live differently.

We all think good thoughts, but those thoughts alone don’t change the world. The environment isn’t self-cleaning, the planet has limited space and finite resources, and we should look closely in the mirror at our own decisions and actions.

I read about 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who came to the United Nations and delivered an impassioned speech, challenging leaders to do more and to protect the world for her generation. The teen’s words spoke volumes, as she demanded accountability and passed judgment, from the younger generation on up, for the failings of all of us who haven’t heeded the warnings.

Despite her young age, she has walked the walk. She traveled by boat to the United Nations in New York aboard a zero-emission yacht because she refuses to use a mode of transportation — flying — that emits carbon dioxide. She also went to Davos, Switzerland, for 32 hours aboard a train, again limiting her contribution to fossil fuel emissions. Each of those options might not be practical for many people, but they show her commitment and passion.

We live with a predicament: We see and acknowledge what we believe are our principles, and then we take actions that at times conflict with those beliefs.

That extends beyond the world of climate change and conservation. We often have a chance to see the disconnect between what we say and what we do when our children — or someone else’s children — point them out to us. We don’t want our children texting while they’re driving and yet they sit next to us or in the backseat and see us connecting through our phones with work colleagues or with people waiting to meet us for dinner.

It is also why any kind of poll isn’t completely accurate. We might say one thing, but do the opposite for a host of reasons, including not wanting to tell a cheerful stranger on the other end of the phone what we intend to do.

We recognize the importance of supporting ideas. The challenge, however, comes when we have the chance to choose between the easier option — a plastic bottle of cold water — or the one that supports our beliefs.

When we see our failures of principle, the question is: What are we going to do about it?

Anne Churchland with former postdoctoral fellow Matt Kaufman at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. The microscope is a 2-photon microscope and is one of three techniques used to measure neural activity in the mouse brain. Photo from Margot Bennett

By Daniel Dunaief

Fidgeting, rocking and other movements may have some benefit for thinking. Yes, all those people who shouted to “sit still” may have been preventing some people from learning in their own way.

In a new experiment conducted on mice published in the journal Nature Neuroscience this week, Anne Churchland, an associate professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, linked idiosyncratic mouse movements to performance in a set of tasks that required making decisions with rewards.

“Moving when deep in thought is a natural thing to do,” Churchland said. “It deeply engages the brain in ways that were surprising to us.”

She suggested that many people believe thinking deeply requires stillness, like the statue of The Thinker created by Auguste Rodin. “Sometimes it does, but maybe not for all individuals,” adding that these movements, which don’t seem connected to the task at hand, likely provide some benefit for cognition.

“We don’t know yet for sure what purpose these movements are serving,” she said.

Margaret Churchland with the lab group at CSHL

Mammals tend to exhibit a process called “optimal motor control.” If a person is reaching out to grab a cup, she tends to move her arm in a way that is energy conserving. Indeed, extending this to her rodent study, Churchland suggests that somehow these ticks, leg kicks or other movements provide assistance to the brain.

In theory, she suggested that these movements may be a way for the brain to recruit movement-sensitive cells to participate in the process. These brain cells that react to movement may then participate in other thought processes that are unrelated or disconnected from the actions themselves.

Churchland offers an analogy to understanding the potential benefit of these extra movements in the sports world. Baseball players have a wide range of stereotyped movements when they step up to the plate to hit. They will touch their shirt, tug on their sleeves, readjust their batting gloves, lift up their helmet or any of a range of assorted physical activities that may have no specific connection to the task of hitting a baseball.

These actions likely have “nothing to do” with the objective of a baseball hitter, but they are a “fundamental part of what it means to go up to bat,” she said.

In her research, Churchland started with adult mice who were novices at the kinds of tasks she and her colleagues Simon Musall and Matt Kaufman, who are the lead authors on the paper, trained them to do. Over a period of months, the mice went from not understanding the objective of the experiment to becoming experts. The animals learned to grab a handle to start a trial or to make licking movements.

These CSHL researchers tracked the behavior and neural activity of the mice every day.

Churchland said a few other groups have measured neural activity during learning, but that none has studied the kind of learning her lab did, which is how animals learn the structure of an environment.

The extra movements that didn’t appear to have any connection to the learned behaviors transitioned from a disorganized set of motions to an organized pattern that “probably reflected, in the animal’s mind, a fundamental part of what it means to make a decision.”

Churchland suggested that some of these conclusions may have a link to human behavior. Each animal, however, has different behaviors, so “we always need to confirm that what we learn in one species is true for another,” she wrote in an email.

Parents, teachers, coaches and guest lecturers often look at the faces of young students who are shaking their legs, rocking in their chair, twiddling their thumbs or spinning their pens between their fingers. While these actions may be distracting to others, they may also play a role in learning and cognition.

The study “suggests that allowing certain kinds of movements during learning is probably very important,” Churchland said. “When we want people to learn something, we shouldn’t force them to sit still. We should allow them to make movements they need to make which will likely help” in the learning process.

Churchland believes teachers already know that some students need to move. These educators also likely realize the tension between allowing individual students to be physically active without creating a chaotic classroom. “Most teachers are working hard to find the right balance,” she explained in an email.

She also suggested that different students may need their own level of movement to stimulate their thinking.

Some adults may have already developed ways to enhance their own thinking about decisions or problems. Indeed, people often take walks that may “finally allow those circuits you need for a decision to kick in.”

Down the road, she hopes to collaborate with other scientists who are working with nonhuman primates, such as marmosets, which are new world monkeys that live in trees and have quick, jerky movements, and macaques, which are old world monkeys and may be familiar from their island perch in an exhibit in the Central Park Zoo.

Churchland said extensions of this research could also go in numerous directions and address other questions. She is hoping to learn more about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and the brain.

“We don’t know when that strategy [of using movement to trigger or enhance thinking] interferes with the goal,” she said. “Maybe the movements are a symptom of the learner trying to engage, but not being able to do so.”

Ultimately, Churchland expects that different pathways may support different aspects of decision making, some of which can and likely are connected to movement.

Viviana Cavaliere. Photo courtesy of BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

The United States has been the site of important life events for Italian-born Viviana Cavaliere. When she was in high school, she went to Montana, where she changed her mind about her life — she had wanted to become an architect — and decided that science was her calling.

Later, when she did a summer student program at Fermilab near Chicago, she met her future husband Angelo Di Canto, who is also a physicist.

While Cavaliere has been an assistant physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory since 2017, she has been living in Switzerland, where she has been working at CERN. She is preparing for a move this month to Long Island, where she hopes to find new physics phenomena, including new particles, using the Atlas detector at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.

Viviana Cavaliere during a trip to Bhutan. Photo by Angelo Di Canto

Cavaliere will return to the United States with a vote of confidence in her potential and some financial support. The Department of Energy recently announced that she was the recipient of $2.5 million over five years as a part of the Office of Science’s Early Career Research Program.

“I am very honored,” said Cavaliere, who will use the funds to support the research of postdoctoral scientists in her lab, to buy equipment and to travel to conferences and to CERN.

At the heart of her research is a desire to search for new particles and new phenomena that might build on the Standard Model of particle physics.

Cavaliere is coordinating a group of about 400 physicists who are looking for new particles. Her role is to analyze the data from the Large Hadron Collider.

Indeed, officials at the Department of Energy said that Cavaliere was one of only three recipients in the Energy Frontier Program from a pool of 23 applicants because of her role at CERN.

The award “requires those who have shown leadership capability,” said Abid Patwa, program manager for the Energy Frontier Program and special assistant for International Programs in the DOE Office of High Energy Physics. Cavaliere has “already been participating and leading” studies.

Michael Cooke, who is a program manager in the Office of High Energy Physics in the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, said Cavaliere’s work fits the description of a “high risk and high reward” proposal that could “steer the field in new directions.”

By using new software, Cavaliere will mine data produced in a microsecond, which is 10 to the negative sixth of a second, for ways to filter specific events.

Patwa suggested that his office urges principal investigators to be as “quantitative as possible” in their work, so that they can show how their efforts will be successful.

Viviana Cavaliere during a trip to Macchu Picchu. Photo by Angelo Di Canto

Cavaliere is not only conducting scientific research but is also part of the technological innovations.

“It helps a person’s career that they understand all aspects of what is involved in running these major experiments,” Patwa said.

Collaborators are encouraged to have balanced roles in research and hardware operations or upgrade activities, Patwa explained in an email.

Cavaliere was at CERN when the elusive Higgs boson particle was discovered in 2012. The particle, which is called the “God” particle, had been proposed 48 years earlier. The Higgs boson explains why particles have mass.

“It was a very exciting day, you could feel the joy in the corridors and I believe it was one of those days where nobody could concentrate on work waiting for the official release of the news,” Cavaliere recalled. “At the time, I thought it would be great if we had more days like those, with the excitement of the discovery.”

Cooke said that extending the work from the Higgs boson could offer promising new clues about physics. He described how Cavaliere is making high precision measurements of particle interactions involving the Higgs boson. Any discrepancy between what she finds and the predictions of the Standard Model could be a hint of new particles, he explained in an email.

“Not only will her analysis advance the field by improving the search for new physics, but the new tools she creates to capture the best data from the [Large Hadron Collider] will be applicable much more broadly,” Cooke said.

Patwa, who worked at BNL as a postdoctoral research associate and then as a staff scientist from 2002 to 2012, explained that he is “encouraged by the talented researchers joining BNL as well as other DOE national laboratories and universities.” He believes the award is a testament to her past accomplishments and to her current objectives.

When she was growing up in a town near Naples in southern Italy, Cavaliere had to choose whether to attend a classical high school or a school focused on math and physics. Particularly interested in history, she decided to study at a classical school.

During her senior year of high school, she traveled on an exchange program to Montana, where she did experiments in the lab with a “very, very good teacher. I started liking science and was undecided between chemistry and physics.”

The travel experience to the Big Sky state “opened my mind, not only about what you do in the future, but also gives you a taste of a different culture.”

When she attended the Sapienza University of Rome, she had to catch up to her colleagues, most of whom had learned more math and physics than she. It took a year and a half to reach the same point, but she graduated with her class.

When she did her postdoctoral work in Chicago, she met Di Canto, who grew up about 100 kilometers away from her in Italy as well. “My mom always makes fun of me,” Cavaliere said, because she “found her husband in the United States.”

As for work, she is inspired to use the funds and the recognition from the DOE to build on her developing career.

“There’s always some hope you’ll find something new,” she said.

Above, Kevin Reed at a presentation at the Montauk Lighthouse in July. Photo from Kevin Reed

By Daniel Dunaief

Hurricane Dorian has dominated the news cycle for weeks, as its violent winds, torrential rains and storm surge caused extensive damage throughout the Bahamas and brought flooding and tornadoes to North Carolina.

For Kevin Reed, an assistant professor at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences who models extreme weather events including hurricanes, Dorian followed patterns the climate scientist anticipates will continue to develop in future years.

“Two things that are current with Dorian are consistent with what we’d expect from a changing climate,” said Reed. Dorian became a Category 5 storm, which is the strongest on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Second, the hurricane slowed down, which was also a trend that Hurricanes Harvey and Florence demonstrated.

The reason a warming climate would slow a hurricane like Dorian is that the polar regions are warming more rapidly than the tropics. That can have a “huge impact on the overall circulation” within the atmosphere, Reed said.

Indeed, what controls the speed of the jet stream, which moves hurricanes and other storm systems along over the rotating planet, is the difference in the temperature between the tropics and the poles. When the poles warm up more rapidly than the tropics, the circulation in the atmosphere can slow down and that can reduce the speed of the wind that blows the hurricane.

“Hurricanes are impacted by climate” and any change in that dynamic will have an effect on storms that can and do present a threat to the homes, businesses and lives of people in their path, Reed said.

Basic research has enhanced and improved the ability of forecasters to predict where a storm like Dorian will go, allowing meteorologists and the National Hurricane Center to provide warnings to political leaders and emergency response teams.

“Our general understanding of why storms move and go where they do has improved significantly over the last few decades,” Reed said. “Part of that can be seen in the forecast.”

Most of these forecasts are informed by numerical models. That is where Reed brings his expertise to hurricane science.

“I am a numerical modeler,” he said. “I use and help develop models to understand tropical cyclones and precipitation in general.”

Using information often taken from satellites, from in situ observations, radar along the coastlines and aircraft that fly every few hours into a storm, especially when they threaten the Caribbean or the East Coast, forecasters have had a “steady improvement in these models.”

Reed likens the process of predicting the weather or tracking a hurricane to choosing a stock. As investors and companies have become more sophisticated in the way they analyze the market or individual companies, their algorithms improve.

Investors have “added more variables” to choose companies for their investments, while forecasters have added more information from enhanced observations.

As for the ongoing coverage of hurricanes, Reed said the general population seems to have a relatively good awareness of the path and destructive power of the storms. The one area, however, that may help people focus on the potential danger from a storm comes from the way people describe these hurricanes.

Often, media outlets focus on the speed on the wind. While the wind can and does topple trees, causes property damage and disrupts power supplies, much of the damage comes from the storm surge. Rising water levels, however, is often the reason state and national officials encourage people to evacuate from their homes.

“Whether a storm is a Category 2 or a Category 3 doesn’t take into account the size of the storm,” Reed said. Hurricanes can range in size fairly dramatically. Hurricane Sandy was not even a hurricane when it made landfall, but it was so big and it impacted a much wider area that it had a much larger storm surge.

After a storm blows off into the ocean or dissipates, the scientific community then spends considerable time learning the lessons from the storm.

In the case of Dorian, researchers will explore why models initially predicted a landfall in Florida as a Category 4 storm. They will look at what happened to slow it down, which will inform future versions of forecasts for other storms.

In the future, Reed hopes researchers enhance their ability to represent convective processes in the models. These involve the formation of clouds and rain, especially in the context of a storm.

“That’s something that’s constantly been a difficulty,” he said. “It’s a complex process. While we have theories to understand it, we are always improving our ways to model it.”

In the next 10 years, researchers will move past the point of trying to estimate convection and will get to the point where they run models that explicitly resolve convection, which eliminates the need to estimate it.

Reed believes investing in fundamental research is “crucial. The return on investment to society and to the country is one of the best investments you can make. We have shown that through a steady improvement in the hurricane track,” which came about because of fundamental research. “The only way to continue that improvement is through basic and applied research that leads to these outcomes.”

A native of Waterford, Michigan, which is about 45 minutes away from Detroit, Reed didn’t have any firsthand experiences with hurricanes when he was growing up. Rather than watching MTV the way his friends did, he would watch hurricane updates or tropical storm updates.

A resident of Queens, Reed enjoys traveling and has a self-described “unhealthy” commitment to the University of Michigan football team. He purchases season tickets each year and takes 6 a.m. flights from LaGuardia to Michigan, where an Uber brings him to his fellow tailgaters before home games.

As for future hurricanes, Reed said the current consensus is that they will be lower in number but higher in intensity. Hurricane forecasts expect “more intense precipitation, but less frequent” storms, he said.

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Dogs are incredibly stupid. OK, now that I’ve got your attention, I realize that not all dogs lack intelligence. Lassie and Balto both saved the day.

I suspect many dogs, like mine who is now 1 year old, are only as smart as their training.

And they need something almost as often as a young child. What’s the matter, boy? You need to go out? Why are you barking, buddy? Do you see a squirrel? Is the neighbor out watering the grass again? That’s OK, you don’t need to bark at him every time he takes out the hose.

Recently, my wife made chocolate chip cookies. She says that we make them together, but my only job is to put them in the oven, wait for them to rise a bit, make sure the edges are cooked and then allow them to finish baking while they cool on the hot tray. She’s the master chef and I am the cookie flash fryer.

Anyway, the house was starting to develop that wonderful baked goods smell. My wife, son and I were eagerly awaiting the moment when I could bring the hot plate to the master bed, where we could make “mmm” noises at each other as we talked about the day and compared this batch to the ones we had a few months ago, as if we were reviewers on a cooking show.

The young dog has gotten used to the routine. He stands in the kitchen with his ears pitched forward, waiting for his best friend gravity to deliver something to him on the floor, which is, generally, his domain. He follows us back and forth to get the ingredients from the pantry and then to bring those ingredients back.

At 85 pounds, he is a large dog and his eye level has gotten closer to the mixer and the ingredients. We try to push everything to the middle of the island in the kitchen.

After doling out the hot cookies onto a plate into the shape of an edible pyramid, I left the room for a moment. When I returned, I shouted in astonishment. The dog had his front legs on the high counter and was reaching his long neck, tongue and head as far as he could. He had devoured half the plate.

After admonishing him for eating food that wasn’t his and that was dangerous, I locked him in a room without carpets and called the vet, who asked if I could give an exact number of chips he ate. Of course I couldn’t, which meant I had to bring him in, where the vet would empty the chocolate the dog had stolen.

My wife joined me for our evening adventure. After a few moments, the vet brought our surprisingly happy dog to us in a waiting room and told us he’d also eaten some plastic and a bottle cap. She allayed my embarrassment by telling me that her colleague’s dog — she’s a vet, remember — has had five operations because of the nonfood he’s swallowed that has blocked his system. Her colleague’s dog now wears a satellite dish around his head. While the reception is terrible, he doesn’t need emergency procedures anymore.

For all the frustration, the cleaning, the shedding, the wet dog smell, our dog is more than happy to have me, my family member, or the neighbor on the left with the garden hose or on the right with a howling dog, run hands through his wonderfully soft fur. He may not be the smartest or easiest dog on the block, but he is ours and we do get some perks here and there, in between rescuing half chewed flip-flops and slippers.