Arts & Entertainment

Mircea Cotlet. Photo courtesy of BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

An innovative scientist in the world of nanostructures, Mircea Cotlet recently scored Inventor of the Year honors from Battelle.

A principal investigator and materials scientist in the Soft and Bio Nanomaterials Group at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials at Brookhaven National Laboratory, Cotlet has conducted a wide range of research over his dozen years on Long Island.

The distinction from Battelle, which manages BNL through Brookhaven Sciences Associates, honors researchers who have made significant scientific or engineering contributions that have societal or financial impacts.

“The award recognizes [Cotlet’s] ongoing contributions to materials science at BNL, specifically his work on low-dimensional semiconductors, 1-D nanowires, and tiny 0-D nanocrystals called quantum dots,” Katy Delaney, a Battelle spokesperson, explained in an email.

Researchers who have worked with Cotlet believe he deserves the honor.

Cotlet is an “extraordinary scientist” who “stands out” for his thorough work and creative approach” said Deep Jariwala, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Systems Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. Jariwala has known Cotlet for over two years and has collaborated with him over the last year.

Cotlet has “really laid the foundational ground in understanding the rules that govern charge and energy transfer across hybrid quantum confined materials systems that comprise quantum dots, organic molecules–two-dimensional materials as well as biologically photoactive materials,” Jariwala added.

The technologies will impact the science and technologies of sensing, displays and energy harvesting in the future, Jariwala predicted.

Eric Stach, a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania who had previously worked at the CFN, said Cotlet “tries to figure out ways of putting together disparate systems at the nanoscale.”

By combining these materials, Cotlet is able to “improve the overall performance” of systems, Stach continued. “He’s trying to tune the ability of a given material system to capture light and do something with it.”

Cotlet recently partnered self-assembled two-dimensional nanoparticles, such as the one-atom-thick graphene, with light-absorbing materials like organic compounds.

The result enhances their ability to detect light, which could be valuable in medical imaging, radiation detection and surveillance applications. The mini-partnership boosted the photoresponse of graphene by up to 600 percent by changing the structure of the polymer.

Indeed, a defense contractor has shown an interest in research they could use for low light level detection applications, Cotlet said.

Like other scientists at BNL, Cotlet not only conducts his own research, but he also helps other scientists who come to the Department of Energy facility to use the equipment at the CFN, to make basic and translational science discoveries.

Cotlet patented a self-assembly process before he published it.

He is continuing conversations with a big company that is exploring the benefits of this type of approach for one of its product, while he is also working with the technology transfer office at BNL to look at the development of photodetectors for low light applications.

“Having graphene and the conductor polymer would absorb light from ultraviolet to visible light,” Cotlet said.

The physics changes from bulk to nanoparticles to nanocrystals, Cotlet said, and he engineers the smaller materials for a given function.

“We basically like to play with the interface between different types of nanomaterials,” he said. “We like to control the light-simulated process.”

Working at an energy department site, he also has experience with solar panels and with light-emitting diodes.

Jariwala described the science as extending to interfaces that also occur in nature, such as in photosynthesis and bioluminescence. “By combining techniques and materials that we have developed and looked at, we hope to answer fundamental mechanistic questions and provide insights into long-standing questions about biological energy conversion processes,” he wrote.

As far as some of the current materials he uses, Cotlet works on graphene and the transition metal dichalcogenides and he explores their potential application as quantum materials. He tries to look for emerging properties coming out of nanomaterials for various applications, but most of his efforts are in basic science.

Jariwala explained that he and Cotlet are seeking to understand the efficient transduction of energy in quantum sized systems when they are brought close to one another in an orderly fashion.

After his upbringing in Romania, where he attended college, Cotlet appreciated the opportunity to learn from one of the pioneering groups in the world in single-molecule microscopy at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium, where he studied for his doctorate.

He also did a fellowship at Harvard, where he worked on unique microscopy, and then went on to conduct postdoctoral work at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he worked on protein folding and on optimal imaging methods.

Cotlet arrived at the CFN just as the facility was going online.

“The CFN went beyond its original promise for cutting edge science,” he said. The center has been, and he continues to hope it will be, the best place he could dream of to conduct research.

The postdoctoral researchers who have come through his lab have all been successful, either leading their own projects or joining commercial teams.

Up until he was 18, Cotlet wasn’t focused on science, but, rather, anticipated becoming a fighter pilot. He discovered, however, that he had a vision defect.

“All my childhood, I was set up to become a fighter pilot,” but the discovery of a condition called chromatopsy changed his plans.

A resident of Rocky Point, Cotlet lives with his wife, Ana Popovici, who is an administrative assistant at BNL, and their middle school daughter.

As for his future work, he is interested in building on the research into quantum materials.

“I’m looking forward to trying to integrate my research” into this arena, he said.

Steamed Soft-Shell Clams and Mussels in Garlic and White Wine. Stock photo

By Barbara Beltrami

We are so lucky. It’s summer and we live on Long Island and if there’s one thing we’re known for it’s our miles and miles of beaches skirting the Atlantic Ocean, the Long Island Sound and several bays in between. To spend a day “by the sea, by the beautiful sea,” to play in the sand and surf, and then to dine on its bounty is the essence of summer for us.

When we’re exhilarated and exhausted by the salt air and sunshine, nothing makes a more perfect ending to the day than tucking into a seafood dinner. Of course, it must start off with freshly shucked, ice cold clams and oysters, and if a good sea breeze is kicking up, a bowl of chunky chowder keeps everyone happy until the steamers and mussels have relinquished themselves to their garlic and wine bath.

But all these briny appetizers are just a tease leading to the main attraction: lobsters grilled to charred succulence accompanied by Long Island spuds, a bowlful of husk-wrapped corn, another bowl of tender young greens from the garden — all chased down, of course, with a Long Island chardonnay or sauvignon blanc.

Then finally, there is the moment when, content with the conviviality of the gathering, sated with the taste of the sea, we sit back, contemplate the sunset, sip a mug of good strong coffee and find room somehow, somewhere, for fresh Long Island strawberry cobbler crowned by dollops of vanilla ice cream.

Steamed Soft-Shell Clams and Mussels in Garlic and White Wine

Steamed Soft-Shell Clams and Mussels in Garlic and White Wine. Stock photo

YIELD: Makes 8 to 10 servings

INGREDIENTS:

8 dozen soft-shell clams, scrubbed

4 dozen mussels, scrubbed

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 bay leaf

6 bruised garlic cloves

1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

4 sprigs fresh thyme

1 cup dry white wine

½ pound unsalted butter, melted

DIRECTIONS:

Rinse clams and mussels under cold running water; place in large pot with two cups of water, oil, herbs and wine; steam until shells open, 6 to 8 minutes. Discard any whose shells don’t open.  With slotted spoon remove clams and mussels from broth and divide evenly among individual soup bowls; discard herbs. Strain broth through a sieve or cheesecloth and pour into individual bowls or cups. Serve clams, mussels and broth immediately with melted butter for dipping.

Clam and Garden Vegetable Chowder

YIELD: Makes 10 to 12 servings

INGREDIENTS:

2 quarts freshly shucked clams in liquor

½ pound diced bacon

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 large onions, diced

1 medium green bell pepper, diced

1 medium zucchini, diced

1 large celery rib, cleaned and diced

1 fennel bulb, cleaned and diced

4 carrots, peeled and diced

5 medium potatoes, scrubbed and diced

One 28-ounce can diced Italian plum tomatoes with their juice

1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

2 tablespoons fresh oregano

2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

Sea salt and black pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Drain and reserve liquor from clams; rinse clams in cold water, chop and set aside. Strain liquor through fine sieve or cheesecloth; set aside.

In a large pot, cook bacon pieces until crisp; remove and drain on paper towels; add olive oil to bacon fat, then onions, pepper, zucchini, celery, fennel, carrots and potatoes; stir to coat thoroughly and cook, stirring frequently until fat and oil are absorbed and vegetables have started to change color and consistency, about 5 to 8 minutes.

Add tomatoes with their juice and enough water to cover veggies; cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until veggies are tender, about one hour. Add bacon, clams and their liquid, herbs and seasoning; cook until just heated through, about 3 minutes. Serve immediately with oyster crackers.

Reviewed by Leah Chiappino

Long Island beaches have become the Island’s internationally known trademark attraction. Long days surfing at Atlantic Ocean beaches, relaxing at the gentle waters of South Bay beaches coupled with gazing at what seems like meticulously painted sunsets at the rocky North Shore beaches have provided storybook summer memories for Long Islanders for generations.

Yet, how many of us have had the opportunity to understand how the beaches have come to be what they are today, and the stories of past residents and visitors who enjoyed them so long ago?

Kristen Nyitray, the director of Special Collections and University Archives, as well as a university archivist at Stony Brook University, takes readers along for the story of the history of beaches in Nassau and Suffolk counties in her book, “Long Island Beaches” or what she describes as “a facet of Long Island’s social and cultural history and lure of picturesque beaches.”

Published by Arcadia Publishing as part of its Postcard History Series, the 128-page paperback book details coastal Long Island history beginning with the Native Americans, who had respect for its beauty and used it to live off the vast resources of the coast, often engaging in whaling and fishing. Beach areas became desirable for land ownership in the 16th and 17th centuries and were an asset during the 18th century with lighthouses and stations opening up to combat shipwrecks.

Long Island beach destinations became commercialized during the mid- to late 1800s, with hotels, restaurants and attractions popping up in response to increases in transportation efficiency, even becoming a major source of illegal prohibition transfers. Environmental activism took hold by 1924 when Robert Moses worked with the New York State Council of Parks and Long Island State Park Commission to build beaches and parks throughout the island, along with bridges to link the barrier islands of Jones Beach Island and Fire Island to the South Shore coast.

Nyitray organizes her book by county, then shore and community. Black and white photographs, along with vintage postcards, gleaned from local libraries, historical societies, museums and private collections are sprinkled throughout, beautifully display the coastal culture so ingrained on the island.

Above, a real-photo postcard, c. 1907, depicts summer boarders of Pine View House in Stony Brook enjoying Sand Street Beach; right, the cover of Nyitray’s book. Images courtesy of Arcadia Publishing

It begins with a survey of Nassau County North Shore beaches, showcasing historic hotels and the wealth of those who resided on the coast. For example, Nyitray tells the story of John Pierpoint Morgan Jr., the benefactor of Morgan Memorial Park in Glen Cove in honor of his late wife. It featured seven miles of coast, and as reported by the New York Times in 1926, was one of the first breaks in elitist private estates and chances for the public to access the sound.

Nassau’s South Shore was also populated by hotels and home to the Long Beach Boardwalk and Jones Beach State Park. The Moses-led endeavor at Jones Beach was made accessible to the disabled in 1883 when Strandkorbs, rolling beach chairs, became available. Made of wicker, people were pushed along the boardwalk in them, a major stride in accessibility.

Suffolk’s central beaches consisted of Lake Ronkonkoma and Shelter Island, with the latter being home to the Prospect House Hotel, consisting of a two-story bathing pavilion and a relaxation haven for guests in what is today the Shelter Island Heights Beach Club. The North Shore beaches were home to exclusive communities such as Belle Terre and Greenport.

Albert Einstein even vacationed with his friend David Rothman in Cutchogue, after Einstein visited Mattituck to lease a home for sailing, later renting a home in Nassau Point.

Suffolk South Shore beach history consists largely of Montauk and Fire Island. Nyitray speaks of journalist Margaret Fuller, who tragically drowned with family near Point O’Woods after the ship she was sailing on, The Elizabeth, sank after hitting a sandbar. At the request of poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau traveled there to search for her, but to no avail.

These stories are just a sampling of the anecdotes that Nyitray lays out, and by the end of the book has the reader walk away with an immense sense of pride in being a Long Islander, along with better appreciation for being able to live in a place of such indisputable beauty, history and culture.

“Long Island Beaches” is available locally where books are sold and online at www.arcadiapublishing.com.

TBR CONTEST HONORS LOCAL FATHERS:

Thanks to all the children who entered Times Beacon Record News Media’s 2019 Father’s Day Contest. Congratulations to Sabine H. of East Setauket and Hannah U. of Stony Brook for being this year’s winners and receiving a family four-pack of movie tickets to the Port Jefferson Cinemas. Special thanks to P.J. Cinemas  for being this year’s sponsor and for their generous donation.

Hannah U., age 5, of Stony Brook with her Super Dad, Joe

‘All About My Super Dad’

By Hannah U.

My dad’s name is Daddy.

His favorite color is indigo.

His favorite food is sushi.

His favorite activity is Codapillar.

He is my hero because he loves me.

My favorite thing to do with him is to go to Fortunato’s Bakery.

 

Sabine H., age 8, of East Setauket with her Super Dad, Reid

‘All About My Super Dad’

By Sabine H.

My dad’s name is Reid but I call him Da.

His favorite color is blue.

His favorite food is pie, ice cream and chicken parm.

His favorite activity is making things with me.

He is my hero because he takes me to carnivals.

My favorite thing to do with him is to play baseball with him!

MEET KING LEONIDAS!

If you’re looking for a new companion, consider King Leonidas, available for adoption at Smithtown Animal Shelter.

A small, 5-year-old male domestic short hair, King Leonidas came to the shelter in a group of feral kittens. He’s extremely shy but gets along with the other cats and likes eating treats. He is neutered, microchipped and up to date on his vaccines.

The Smithtown Animal Shelter is located at 410 Middle Country Road in Smithtown. For more information on adoptable cats and dogs at the shelter, call 631-360-7575.

Stock photo

By Linda Toga, Esq.

Linda Toga, Esq.

THE FACTS: I am one of four children. My siblings are Joe, Bill and Mary. My mother died last month. About 15 years ago, she went to her attorney and had a will prepared in which she named me as executor.

Rather than divide her estate equally between her four children, my mother essentially disinherited my brother Joe and divided her estate equally between me, Bill and Mary. At the time she executed her will, the reason my mother gave for her decision to leave Joe out was that he ignored her and was never around when she needed help.

About 10 years ago, Joe moved to a house within a mile of my mother’s house and started spending time with her. He has encouraged his children to visit their grandmother and my mother and Joe’s wife and children have actually vacationed together. Since he lived closer to my mother than any of her other children, Joe became the one my mother relied upon whenever she needed assistance of any kind.

Over the years, Joe and my mother developed a very special relationship. I don’t know why my mother never revised her will but I am convinced, based upon her relationship with Joe and things that she told me, that she would want him to receive a share of his estate.

THE QUESTION: As the named executor, am I able to divide my mother’s estate into four equal shares so that Joe receives one-fourth of the estate? I feel terrible leaving him out but Mary and Bill are adamant that I must follow the instructions set forth in my mother’s will. Are they correct?

THE ANSWER: Unfortunately for Joe, Bill and Mary are correct. As executor, it is your responsibility to marshal your mother’s assets and to distribute them in accordance with the terms of her will. As much as you may want to include Joe, and as convinced as you may be that that is what you mother may have wanted at the time of her death, you do not have any discretion with respect to the distribution of your mother’s assets.

If you unilaterally decide to pass part of the estate to Joe, Bill and Mary will be well within their rights to ask the court to remove you as executor. They could also ask that the judge surcharge you so that you would be personally responsible for the funds that were diverted to Joe.

The only way you can pass a share of the estate to Joe is if Bill and Mary agree that Joe should share in the estate. If everyone is in agreement, it is simply a matter of you, Bill and Mary each transferring a portion of your inheritance to Joe. If Bill and Mary do not want to share, you can always give Joe some or all of what you are entitled to under the will. As long as Bill and Mary receive what they are entitled to under the will, they will not have a basis for objecting.

It is unfortunate that your mother did not review her will and revise it once her relationship with Joe improved. If she had gone back to her attorney, it would have been relatively easy for the attorney to prepare a new will for your mother in which all of her children were named as equal beneficiaries, or to prepare a codicil to her will that would have the same end result.

It is important that people understand that estate planning is not the sort of thing that is done once and forgotten. Wills and other estate planning documents should be reviewed periodically and changed to reflect changed circumstances. If your mother had revised her will or had a new will prepared that took into consideration her improved relationship with Joe, you would not be in the position you are now of trying to make things right.

Linda M. Toga provides personalized service and peace of mind to her clients in the areas of estate planning, estate administration, real estate, marital agreements and litigation from her East Setauket office. Visit her website at www.lmtogalaw.com or call 631-444-5605 to schedule a free consultation.

Niara Magezi and Brennan Rosenblatt were honored for their volunteerism.
Teens honored for their efforts to build a more civil society

Teen volunteers at Gurwin Jewish Nursing & Rehabilitation Center Niara Magezi (Dix Hills) of Commack High School and Brennan Rosenblatt (Melville) of Half Hollow Hills East High School were presented with the Students Building Bridges award by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Long Island (JCRC-LI) at a ceremony held at the Gurwin Center on May 9.

The award recognizes community youth for their efforts to help create a more civil society and is part of the Yom HaShoah Holocaust Remembrance Program sponsored by the JCRC-LI and Suffolk County State Senate and Assembly Delegations.

Magezi, a junior at Commack High School, has been volunteering at Gurwin for the past three years. Her time spent with the residents and assisting staff on the nursing units has given her the opportunity to learn about the many paths in health care. She is planning for a career in the medical field, specializing in dermatology. 

Rosenblatt first came to Gurwin as a high school sophomore, befriending many residents during his weekly visits, updating them on his very active life and sharing his experiences with them.  Now a graduating senior heading to Georgia Tech to study engineering this fall, he says the time spent with his Gurwin friends is as important to him as it is to them.   

This year’s Yom HaShoah Holocaust Remembrance Program featured guest speaker and Holocaust survivor Meir Usherovitz  who recounted his life as a Jewish youth in Poland during World War II and his imprisonment in several Polish concentration camps, including the notorious Auschwitz.

Several Holocaust survivors from Gurwin Jewish–Fay J. Lindner Residences assisted living community were in attendance to meet Usherovitz and to help recognize the Gurwin volunteers and other student honorees.

SBU Athletic Director Shawn Heilbron accepts the 2019 Commissioner’s Cup from America East Commisioner Amy Huchthausen. Photo from SBU

SARATOGA SPRINGS: Following a historic 2018-19 season, Stony Brook University has claimed the Stuart P. Haskell, Jr. Commissioner’s Cup for the first time in school history, the league announce at its annual awards dinner at the Saratoga Hilton on June 6. University at Albany came in second place followed by UMass Lowell in third.

The trophy was accepted by SBU Athletic Director Shawn Heilbron.

“The Cup is coming home to Long Island,” announced  Heilbron shortly after the event. “This belongs to our Stony Brook Athletics coaches, staff and — most importantly — student-athletes,” he said. Stony Brook is just the fourth America East school to win the Commissioner’s Cup. Past recipients have been the University of Albany, Boston University and the University of Delaware.

Michael Watts accepts his award for 2018-19 America East Man of the Year from Amy Hutchhausen. Photo from SBU

The Commissioner’s Cup annually recognizes the strongest athletic program in America East as determined by a scoring system that rewards a school for success both during the regular season and championship competition in the conference’s 18 sports.

At the same event, Stony Brook men’s track and field and cross-country member Michael Watts of Islip was named the 2018-19 America East Man of the Year.

Watts had a decorated career on the track and cross-country course as a Seawolf, winning two individual conference track and field titles while helping the cross-country team to two consecutive America East Championships in 2016 and 2017. The team captain also holds the program record in the 3,000 meters and garnered several All-Conference, All-IC4A and MVP honors throughout his career.

Most importantly, Watts was a leader in the community as well. On campus, he volunteered and was involved with a myriad of organizations including the Stony Brook PACK program, the Student Athlete Advisory Committee and PAWS. The Islip native also helped raise and allocate funds for numerous events and charities such as 9/11 Vets, the EJ Autism Foundation and the annual Midnight Run to help clothe the homeless.

Watts is pursuing his MBA in health care management, holding a 3.8 GPA. He received his undergraduate degree in 2018 with a 3.4 GPA in health science with a concentration in health care policy and management.

During his time at Stony Brook, Watts was put on the America East All-Academic Team, America East Commissioner’s Honor Roll, Dean’s List and America East Honor Roll. He was also a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, the Stony Brook Society of Distinguished Scholar Athletes and a recipient of the Joel Mitofsky Memorial Scholarship.

Fusheng Wang. Photo from SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

Long Island’s opioid-related use and poisoning, which nearly doubled from 2015 to 2016, was higher among lower income households in Nassau and Suffolk counties, according to a recent study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Looking at hospital codes throughout New York to gather specific data about medical problems caused by the overuse or addiction to painkillers, researchers including Fusheng Wang, an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Informatics at Stony Brook University, George Leibowitz, a professor in Stony Brook’s School of Social Welfare, and Elinor Schoenfeld, a research professor of preventive medicine at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook, explored patterns that reveal details about the epidemic on Long Island.

“We want to know what the population groups are who get addicted or get poisoned and what are the regions we have to pay a lot of attention to,” Wang said. “We try to use lots of information to support these studies.”

Data from The Journal

The Stony Brook team, which received financial support from the National Science Foundation, explored over 7 years of hospital data from 2010 to 2016 in which seven different codes — all related to opioid problems — were reported.

During those years, the rates of opioid poisoning increased by 250 percent. In their report, the scientists urged a greater understanding and intervening at the community level, focusing on those most at risk.

Indeed, the ZIP codes that showed the greatest percentage of opioid poisoning came from communities with the lowest median home value, the greatest percentage of residents who completed high school and the lowest percentage of residents who achieved education beyond college, according to the study.

In Suffolk County, specifically, the highest quartile of opioid poisoning occurred in communities with lower median income.

Patients with opioid poisoning were typically younger and more often identified themselves as white. People battling the painkilling affliction in Suffolk County were more likely to use self-pay only and less likely to use Medicare.

In Suffolk County, the patients who had opioid poisoning also were concentrated along the western section, where population densities were higher than in other regions of the county.

The Stony Brook scientists suggested that the data are consistent with information presented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has found significant increases in use by women, older adults and non-Hispanic whites.

“The observed trends are consistent with national statistics of higher opioid use among lower-income households,” the authors wrote in their study. Opioid prescribing among Medicare Part D recipients has risen 2.84 percent in the Empire State. The data on Long Island reflected the national trend among states with older residents.

“States with higher median population age consume more opioids per capita, suggesting that older adults consume more opioids,” the study suggested, citing a report last year from the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Nationally, between 21 to 29 percent of people prescribed opioids for pain misused them, according to the study, which cited other research. About 4 to 6 percent of people who misuse opioids then transition to heroin. Opioid costs, including treatment and criminal justice, have climbed to about $500 billion, up from $55.7 billion in 2007, according to a 2017 study in the journal Pain Physician.

The findings from the current study on Long Island, the authors suggest, are helping regional efforts to plan for and expand capacity to provide focused and targeted intervention where they are needed most.

Limited trained staff present challenges for the implementation of efforts like evidenced-based psychosocial programs such as the Vermont Hub and Spoke system.

The researchers suggest that the information about communities in need provides a critical first step in addressing provider shortages.

New York State cautioned that findings from this study may underreport the burden of opioid abuse and dependence, according to the study. To understand the extent of underreporting, the scientists suggest conducting similar studies in other states.

Scientists are increasingly looking to the field of informatics to analyze and interpret large data sets. The lower cost of computing, coupled with an abundance of available data, allows researchers to ask more detailed and specific questions in a shorter space of time.

Wang said this kind of information about the opioid crisis can provide those engaging in public policy with a specific understanding of the crisis. “People are not [generally] aware of the overall distribution” of opioid cases, Wang said. Each hospital only has its own data, while “we can provide a much more accurate” analysis, comparing each group.

Gathering the data from the hospitals took considerable time, he said. “We want to get information and push this to local administrations. We want to eventually support wide information for decision-making by the government.”

Wang credited his collaborators Leibowitz and Schoenfeld with making connections with local governments.

He became involved in this project because of contact he made with Stony Brook Hospital in 2016. Wang is also studying comorbidity: He’d like to know what other presenting symptoms, addictions or problems patients with opioid-related crises have when they visit the hospital. The next stage, he said, is to look at the effectiveness of different types of treatment.

A resident of Lake Grove, Wang believes he made the right decision to join Stony Brook. “I really enjoy my research here,” he said.

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Author Dave Dircks

Dave Dircks of Stony Brook loved sharing bedtime stories with his children when they were small. But the stories his kids liked the most were the ones Dircks dreamed up himself, with zany characters and subtle lessons.

As a professional illustrator and advertiser, Dircks, 56, has spent his career painting and drawing for other people. But in April, he published his own book for children, “Astronaut Arnie.” The timing is perfect as it ties in with the upcoming 50th anniversary of the moon landing.

The story follows Arnie as he sets out to visit Mars, only to fall asleep in his spaceship. When he wakes up, he’s shocked to learn he traveled farther than he planned — a lot farther. Paired with Dircks’ vibrant and detailed illustrations, the story is both educational and entertaining.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Dircks about his latest venture.

Did you always want to be an illustrator and writer?

It developed. There were seven kids in my family growing up, and our parents were so busy caring for us that we were responsible for our own entertainment. Many of us sought our own creative outlets, and I was often in the basement building things or drawing. I seemed to excel in math, music and art, so from a very young age I made friends and impressed teachers by drawing for them. That was the thing I did really well, and it was what made me come alive. I studied at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, which honed my skills in illustration.

Did you work in the field right away?

When I graduated college, I worked as a commercial illustrator doing book covers for Scholastic and other companies, as well as magazine illustrations. When I got married, we got pregnant right away and I needed to find a way to make enough money to support my family. I went into accounting for a while and made a good living, but eventually ended up in advertising and marketing. For 24 years I’ve owned my own agency, Dircks Associates in St. James, that’s more of a creative boutique.

When did you start to think about storytelling?

When my kids were young, my wife would always read to them and encourage me to do the same. But what I preferred to do was come up with my own stories, to turn out the lights and open up their imaginations.

Is that where Astronaut Arnie came from?

At the time, he didn’t have a name, but I had a story about an astronaut that kept oversleeping on his journey to Mars. It was a way for me to teach them a bit about the solar system while still being funny and goofy, which my kids liked. Arnie has great ambition, but he’s also imperfect, and they really responded to that.

Would you say that’s the message in this book?

Sure. It’s about having flaws, but learning to make the most of it instead of getting angry or upset. It also shares some basic facts about the planets and space in a way that’s engaging.

What made you want to develop this story into a book?

My brother, Rob Dircks, has written and published his own books. I illustrated a book of his called “Release the Sloth” which did pretty well, and then a children’s book called “Alphabert! An A-B-C Bedtime Adventure.” After that, my daughter Sam reminded me of the astronaut story and encouraged me to illustrate it.  It was probably the most developed of all the stories I told my kids, and it was a favorite.

Rob ended up starting his own publishing company, called Goldfinch Publishing, and “Astronaut Arnie” was published through that.

Where did Arnie get his name?

I have a house in Vermont, and the guy who shovels the snow for me is named Arnie. He’s kind of bulky, with a big mustache and a very calm personality. He seemed to have a real peace within himself, and it inspired me. So the name and some elements of Arnie’s character come from a real person.

What’s the recommended age range for this book?

I’d say anywhere from 2 to 8 years old. I’ve enjoyed getting feedback from preschool classes. One school in Andover, Massachusetts, was read the book by their teacher, Mrs. Bagge. The students drew pictures of their favorite pages, and I sent them a video about the publishing process. It’s nice to have a little back-and-forth with my target audience.

How can we purchase your book?

“Astronaut Arnie” can be purchased at Book Revue, 313 New York Ave., Huntington, amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com.

What next for you?

My daughters have been lobbying for me to publish their second-favorite story, which is informally titled “The Princess and the White Carnation.” It’s about a princess who has no friends because her parents won’t let her leave the castle. But every morning, she wakes up to find a white carnation on the window sill. She saves them all, and then one day sneaks out with the flowers and gives them to children in the village. It should take about a year to make it into a book.

Dave Dircks is an author, illustrator and creative entrepreneur whose work has been featured in books, magazines, album art and advertising for over 30 years. In addition to commercial art, his paintings have been exhibited in New York City and his native Long Island. Visit his website at www.goldfinchpublishing.com/authors/dave-dircks.

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