Stony Brook University

Stony Brook University professor Christopher Gobler discusses the quality of local bodies of water at a press conference Sept. 12. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

There’s still something in the water — and it’s not a good kind of something.

Scientists from the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences released an annual report highlighting the concern over the prolonged existence of toxic algae blooms, and a deficiency of oxygen in Long Island waters caused high levels of nitrogen.

Stony Brook Professor Christopher Gobler and several members of the advocacy collective Long Island Clean Water Partnership, a conglomerate of several Long Island environmental groups, revealed the findings of a study done from May to August.

The Roth Pond, a Stony Brook University body of water that plays host to the annual Roth Regatta, is affected by blue-green algae. File photo from Stony Brook University

“In order to make Long Island sustainable and livable, clean water needs to be established,” said Adrienne Esposito, the executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “The challenge has been very great over the last decade … though the problem, unfortunately, is getting a bit worse. Algae blooms and the degradation of water quality across Long Island are serious threats to Long Island’s health.”

On the North Shore, there are several severe cases of hypoxia, or a depletion of dissolved oxygen in water, which is necessary for sea life to survive. Cases were found in Stony Brook Harbor, Northport Bay, Oyster Bay and Hempstead Bay. Measured on a milligram per liter of water scale,any case of hypoxia below two milligrams per liter can be harmful to fish, and almost anything else living on the bottom of the bays.

There were also periodic outbreaks of blue-green algae in Lake Ronkonkoma and Stony Brook University’s Roth Pond. This algae releases a poison harmful to humans and animals, but Gobler said students at the university shouldn’t worry, because he and other scientists at Stony Brook are constantly monitoring the water, especially before the annual Roth Regatta.

“[If nothing is done] the areas could expand — it could get more intense,” Gobler said. “We use a cutoff of three milligrams per liter, which is bad, but of course you can go to zero. An area like Hempstead Harbor went to zero, [Northport and Oyster Bays] went to zero at some points in time. There’s a usual day-night cycle, so it’s at night that the levels get very, very low.”

“We have the problem growing worse, and it is going to get worse before it gets better.”

—Dick Amper

As a result of the possibility of hypoxia expanding, Gobler said he and other scientists have also been monitoring Port Jefferson Harbor and Setauket Harbor.

Though Setauket Harbor is not currently experiencing any problems with hypoxia or algae, the harbor has experienced periods of pathogens, like E. coli, some of which were born from runoff into the harbor, but others might have come from leakage of antiquated cesspools in the area, according to George Hoffman, a trustee of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, which is also a member of the Clean Water Partnership.

Next May the task force hopes to start monitoring directly inside Setauket Harbor. Runoff from lawn fertilizers can also increase the nitrogen levels in the harbor.

“If our problem isn’t hypoxia, we have a problem with pathogens,” Hoffman said in a phone interview. “Prevention is really [Dr. Gobbler’s] goal — to know what is happening and to start taking steps. I think people’s information levels [on the topic] are high in the surface waters that they live by.”

In addition to hypoxia and blue-green algae, some of the water quality problems found in the assessment were brown tides on the South Shore, rust tide in the Peconic bays and paralytic shellfish poisoning on the East End — all of which are also nitrogen level issues that can be  traced back to cesspool sewage and fertilizers.

Port Jefferson Harbor is being monitored due to the speading of hypoxia across local bodies of water. File photo by Alex Petroski

“Make no mistake about it, this is so big that even … still, we have the problem growing worse, and it is going to get worse before it gets better,” said Dick Amper, the director of The Long Island Pine Barrens Society. “What’s the solution to this problem? We have to do more.”

There have been several efforts to help curb water degradation on Long Island. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed legislation in April that put $2.5 billion toward clean water protection, improving water infrastructure and building new sewer systems in Smithtown and Kings Park, and adding a rebate program for those upgrading outdated septic systems.

Despite doing more, the repairs will take some time.

“This is going to be a long, long marathon,” said Kevin McDonald, the conservation project director at The Nature Conservancy said.

There is also worry that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — announcing the dumping of dredged materials into Long Island Sound — could compound the problem.

“We have more political funding and will try to implement solutions,” Esposito said. “The problems are getting worse, but the solutions are becoming clearer.”

Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr., Stony Brook University president, helps a student move into a residence hall Aug. 25. Photo from Stony Brook University

By Rita J. Egan

Stony Brook University has been doing its part to make campus life feel more like home for most students, by offering gender-inclusive housing.

For a decade, the option has allowed students to share a room with friends or siblings no matter what their gender, or choose housing based on the gender they identify with. The only requirements are that students have to be 18 or older and sign a contract stating they will respect everyone in their residence hall.

On Aug. 25, move-in day for freshmen and transfer students, resident assistant Derrick Wegner, who is transgender, was on hand to greet newcomers. The senior psychology major said he was happy to have the option when he came to Stony Brook. Wegner, who lives in Wurtsboro,  said college is a great opportunity for a fresh start, especially for young people looking to transition. 

Derrick Wegner stands in the gender-inclusive room he shares with his best friend Sydney. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Wegner said the gender-inclusive housing option at Stony Brook creates a happy and safe environment, and he feels being happy and healthy plays a big part in being a successful student.

“You’re of value, and you belong here,” he said.

This year the senior is thrilled to be sharing a dorm with his best friend Sydney Monroe Gaglio, who he met early on in college through mutual friends.

“She’s my best friend, and I’m her best friend,” he said. “Just having somebody that I know I can go home to, and [say] this happened, and she’s like ‘I’m sorry.’ She just gets it.”

Ian Rose, who majors in engineering chemistry and applied mathematics and statistics, was thrilled when he heard of the gender-inclusive option. The junior said last year he made friends with Daniel Mahoney, Brandon O’Rourke, Bianca Mugone and Brittany Voboril, and they all became great friends. They lived in the same residence hall — the males in one room on one floor and the girls in their own room on another floor. Many nights last year they would find themselves in each other’s rooms studying or talking and decided to live together.

“We’re friends just hanging out,” Rose said.

This academic year the five are living in a suite with three bedrooms and one bathroom. Rose said at first his only concern was how things would work out in the bathroom, but so far things are going smoothly.

“I just want this to show everyone that guys and girls living together isn’t weird or uncomfortable,” Rose said. “You’re living with your friends; friends are friends. It doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or girl or different skin tone. It doesn’t matter; we’re all the same.”

Ian Rose, right, and friends settle in their three-bedroom suite after a long day. Photo from Ian Rose

Catherine-Mary Rivera, director of residential programs at SBU, said the program began as a small pilot initiative at the university 10 years ago, and grew slowly through the years. In 2016, approximately 40 students took advantage of the housing option, while this year more than 200 students — out of 10,683 living on campus — chose gender-inclusive residences across the campus.

She said the university wants to ensure that all students feel safe and welcome because it’s their home, and they have received plenty of positive feedback regarding the housing.

“The fact that it has grown from 42 to 200 has shown us students feel that they have a place here, and that they don’t have to either feel not comfortable being themselves or feel that Stony Brook doesn’t have a place for them, or they have to remain quiet about who they are or how they express themselves,” Rivera said. “That freedom has come through very clearly that this is a place they can thrive and be their true selves and live with their friends.”

The housing option also allows couples to live together; however, the university does recommend romantic partners think twice before making that decision.

“We want you to branch out and build a stronger community and have healthy relationships, and it may not be best to live with your significant other at this point,” Rivera said.

In addition to gender-inclusive housing, she said SBU offers all-gender, multi-stall bathrooms throughout campus and on the main floors of residence halls, in addition to all-men and all-women restrooms. Software updates have also been made to the school’s system allowing students and faculty members to choose their preferred names and pronoun if they would prefer to be addressed by something other than their legal name. The change means that identification cards and email addresses now show the name a person uses on a regular basis instead of their legal name.

Elizabeth Boon, back row, center, with graduate students from her lab at Stony Brook University. Photo from Elizabeth Boon

By Daniel Dunaief

It was in the back of Elizabeth Boon’s mind for the last decade. How, she wondered, could the switch that is so critical to life not be there and yet still allow for normal functioning? She suspected that there had to be another switch, so the associate professor in the Department of Chemistry at Stony Brook University, spent the last five years looking for it.

Sure enough, she and graduate students including Sajjad Hossain, found it.

Bacteria, like so many other living creatures, need to have a way of detecting nitric oxide gas. At a high enough concentration, this gas can kill them and, indeed, can kill other living creatures as well, including humans.

Nitric oxide is “toxic to any organism at a high enough concentration,” Boon said. “Most organisms have ways of detecting high concentrations … to avoid toxic consequences.” Other research had found a way other bacteria detect this toxic gas through a system called H-NOX, for heme nitric oxide/ oxygen binding protein.

When bacteria live together in colonies called biofilms, many of them typically rely on a signal about the presence of nitric oxide from the H-NOX protein. And yet, some bacteria survived without this seemingly critical protein. “We and others have shown that H-NOX detection of nitric oxide allows bacteria to regulate biofilm formation,” Boon explained.

Elizabeth Boon with her family, from left, Sheridan, 3, Cannon, 7, Beckett, 1, with her husband Isaac Carrico, who is also an Associate Professor in the Chemistry Department at Stony Brook University. Photo by Alfreda James

Named the nitric oxide sensing protein, or NosP, Boon and her team discovered this alternative signaling system that has some of the same functional group as the original mechanism. When activated in one bacteria, the Pseudomonas aeruginosa, this signaling mechanism causes biofilm bacteria to react in the same way as they would when an H-NOX system was alerted, by breaking up the colony into individuals. Using a flagella, an individual bacteria can move to try to escape from an environment containing the toxic gas.

Nicole Sampson, a professor of chemistry at Stony Brook University, suggested that this work was groundbreaking. While some biofilms are benign or even beneficial to humans, including a biofilm in the human gut, many of them, including those involved in hospital-borne infections, can cause illness or exacerbate diseases, particularly for people who are immunocompromised. Bacteria in biofilm are difficult to eradicate through drugs or antibiotics. When they are separated into individuals, however, they don’t have the same rigid defenses.

“They are resistant to most forms of treatment” when they are in biofilms, Boon said. “If we could get the bacteria to disperse, it’d be much easier to kill them. One of the hopes is that we could develop some sort of molecule that might loosen up the film and then we could come in with an antibiotic and kill the bacteria.”

Boon and her team published their results on the cover of the magazine ACS Infectious Disease, where they presented evidence of what they describe as a novel nitric oxide response pathway that regulates biofilm in the bacteria P. aeruginosa, which lack the H-NOX gene. The day the lab discovered this other protein, they celebrated with a trip for frozen yogurt at Sweet Frog.

In an email, Sampson said that finding the mechanism through which bacteria responds to nitric oxide “is important for developing therapies that target biofilms.”

While Boon is pleased that her lab found an alternative nitric oxide signaling system that answered a long-standing question about how some bacteria could respond to an environmental signal that suggested a threat to the biofilm, she said the answer to the question, as so many others do in the world of science, has led to numerous other questions.

For starters, the lab doesn’t yet know the structure of the NosP. “Not all proteins are immediately willing to crystallize,” Boon said. “We’re hopeful we’ll have a structure soon.” She knows it has a heme group, which includes an iron ion in the middle of an organic compound. That’s where the nitric oxide binds.

“We’d like to have the structure to piece together how that signal is relayed out to the end of the protein and how that gets transferred to other proteins that cause changes in behavior,” she said. The NosP is longer than the H-NOX protein, although they appear to have the same function.

Boon has also found that some bacteria have both the H-NOX and the NosP, which raises questions about why there might be an apparent redundancy. In organisms that have both proteins, it’s tempting to conclude that these bacteria live in a broader range of environments, which might suggest that the two systems react to the gas under different conditions. At this point, however, it’s too early to conclude that the additional sensing system developed to enable the bacteria to respond in a wider range of conditions.

Boon believes the nitric oxide system could be a master regulator of bacterial biofilms. “Detecting nitric oxide might be one of the first things that happen” to protect a bacteria, she said. The reason for that is that bacteria, like humans, use iron proteins in respiration. If those proteins are blocked by nitric oxide, any organism could suffocate.

Boon believes a multistep therapeutic approach might work down the road. She believes breaking up the biofilm would be an important first step in making the bacteria vulnerable to attack by antibiotics. She and her graduate students work with bacteria in the lab that generally only cause human disease in people who are already immunocompromised. Even so, her staff takes safety precautions, including working in a hood and wearing protective equipment.

Boon and her husband Isaac Carrico, who is an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry at Stony Brook University, have a 7-year-old son Cannon, a 3-year-old daughter Sheridan and a 1-year-old son Beckett. Boon said she and her husband are equal partners in raising their three children.

In her work, Boon is excited by the possibility of addressing new questions in this nitric oxide mechanism. “We’re trying to cover as much ground as fast as possible,” she said.

Stony Brook University's Student Activities Center

By Lu-Ann Kozlowski

Lu-Ann Kozlowski

As one of the premier research institutions in New York, Stony Brook University conducts clinical studies to advance our understanding of the prevention, diagnosis and possible roads to cures of all types of diseases. Every day, researchers at Stony Brook are going far beyond in their efforts to find answers to questions that face not only our own community but those around the globe.

At Stony Brook, major discoveries have been made that change the landscape of medicine thanks to the dedication of researchers willing to embark on new endeavors for the betterment of humankind. However, progress cannot be accomplished by a study team alone. Our research needs volunteers to help us answer the questions that advance medicine.

One of the leading reasons for the failure of a study is the lack of volunteer participation. There simply is no substitute for people willing to step up and get involved as research participants. Stony Brook understands this and has made great strides in reaching out and educating our community about this very important issue.

To educate the community about opportunities available in research and the importance of getting involved, we post on social media, attend health and wellness fairs and head a weekly informational kiosk in the lobby of our University Hospital. Stony Brook also maintains a website that assists individuals who would like to take the next step and volunteer and lists studies that are currently available.

Further, the university has hired a research subject advocate, an expert in research volunteer rights who is able to facilitate communication between patients and researchers, discuss questions or concerns with a volunteer and assist researchers in understanding and complying with the rules that ensure safe and ethical research.

In addition, Stony Brook has aligned with ResearchMatch, a national volunteer registry that connects people who want to participate in clinical studies with researchers who are seeking volunteers. This free Web-based service has one mission: to help to ensure the success of clinical research today, so that we can make a difference in the health of the future.

Deciding to participate in research is an important and personal decision. If you would like to learn more about participating or want to sign up for the ResearchMatch Registry, visit Stony Brook’s Volunteering in Research website at www.research.stonybrook.edu/volunteer or contact our research subject advocate at 631-632-9036. Medical breakthroughs cannot happen without you. Together, discovery is possible.

Lu-Ann Kozlowski is a Human Research Protection Program administrator and research participant advocate at Stony Brook University.

Demonstrators, above, at the May 10 March for Humanities at Stony Brook University protested potential cuts to humanities programs. Photo by Caroline Parker

Despite protests from students and faculty members, which included a March for Humanities rally May 10, the administration of Stony Brook University has decided to move ahead with the consolidation of departments in the College of Arts and Sciences.

In a June 22 email from Sacha Kopp, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, the announcement was made the school will create a new Department of Comparative World Literature by combining the current departments of European Languages; Literatures & Cultures; Cultural Studies & Comparative Literature and Hispanic Languages & Literature.

“This newly combined department will draw upon faculty strengths in literature, culture and language across the college and reinforce Stony Brook’s position as a global institution,” he said in the email.

Kopp said undergraduate majors and minors in Spanish, French, Italian and German as well as a minor in Russian and master’s degree programs in language teaching would all be contained within the new department. The university will also continue to offer the graduate degree program in Hispanic languages and literature.

Other changes include the suspension of admissions into the undergraduate degree programs in theatre arts; comparative literature; cinema and cultural studies and into the graduate degree programs in cultural studies and comparative literature.

“While suspending admissions into programs is an extremely difficult decision, it is important to recognize that if constrained resources were spread over a growing number of programs, all of our programs would be weakened,” Kopp said. “That said we are building resources in key departments that have demonstrated academic and scholarly excellence.”

Port Jefferson resident Naomi Solo, whose husband Richard was part of the university faculty for five decades, said she was disappointed in the news, especially when it came to the suspension of admissions to the theatre arts program as she remembers the political theater of the 1960s and 70s.

“[The theatre arts program] is something that’s not a big money maker but makes a fuller university,” Solo said.

Kopp said that the university has planned no course changes for the 2017-18 academic year and students enrolled as of May 1 in the upcoming suspended programs will be able to complete their studies.

“For the fewer than 100 students who are currently enrolled in the degree programs into which new admissions are being suspended, every one of these students will have the opportunity to complete their programs, and we will honor existing commitments to graduate students for teaching assistantships,” he said.

According to a Frequently Asked Questions section created by the university on their website regarding the changes, the institution is making every effort to limit the impact to faculty and staff. The university is planning to reassign most; however, “some term appointments may not be renewed.” Administrators are also exploring other elements as part of a process to address the university’s “overarching budgetary challenges. According to the FAQ, “when put into practice we anticipate savings in excess of $1 million.”

Kopp said the changes occurred after discussions with faculty leadership, members of the university administration, the provost, the graduate school and the university senate.

Jordan Helin, a Ph.D. candidate in history and a department mobilizer in the history department for the Graduate Student Employees Union, participated in the May rally that the GSEU organized. Helin in an email said he wasn’t surprised by the announcement, and he sees no reason for the GSEU to give up on opposing the plan.

“A decision made is a decision that can be unmade,” he said. “Up until now, the administration has gotten by on waving off criticism because they are just floating ideas and nothing has been decided. Now that they have decided, they can be attacked with more specificity.”

Caroline Parker, who just completed her sophomore year and participated in the May rally, said in an email the combining of departments “flies in the face of the ‘commitment to diversity’ Stony Brook likes to uphold.”

“It’s true that these programs are small in numbers, but the critical thinking skills, cross-cultural exploration, creative expression and research taught therein are immeasurable for their far-reaching implications beyond borders and disciplines,” she said.

Parker said she is concerned about the future of the college.

“A true university cannot exist without humanities,” she said. “While people will be able to finish their degrees in the suspended programs, I fear the loss is a slippery slope and shows Stony Brook has lost sight of its mission, which will certainly affect future prospective students and the richness of our campus now.”

SBU graduate student and grand niece of world renowned anthropologist Richard Leakey, Acacia Leakey, draws a sketch of huts in the village of Ambodiaviavy, Madagascar as the children look on. Photo from Mickie Nagel

By Daniel Dunaief

 

Mickie Nagel recently returned from the island nation of Madagascar, and she’s filled with ideas, inspiration, observations and opportunities. One of the three founders of a new nongovernmental organization called BeLocal, the Laurel Hollow resident spent several weeks with Stony Brook University graduate students Leila Esmailzada and Acacia Leakey taking videos and gathering information about life in Madagascar.

The goal of the new organization is to share this footage and insight with undergraduate engineers at SBU, who might come up with innovations that could enhance the quality of life for the Malagasy people.

In one village, a man showed her a three-inch lump on his shoulder, which he got by dragging a long stick with bunches of bananas that weigh over 100 pounds along a clay footpath out of the forest. People also carry rice that weighs over 150 pounds on their heads, while many others haul buckets of water from rivers and streams to their homes while walking barefoot.

In addition to transportation, Nagel also found that villagers around Centre ValBio, a Stony Brook research station, had basic food and water needs. Over 17 years ago, another group had installed four water pumps in a village to provide access to water. Only one pump now works.

SBU graduate student Leila Esmailzada helps villagers in Ambodiaviavy, Madagascar, clean rice. The job is usually delegated to the children who pound the rice for 30 minutes. Photo by Mickie Nagel

As for food, some villagers in Madagascar spend hours preparing rice, including beating off the husks and drying the rice. They store this hard-earned food in huts that are often infiltrated with rats, who consume their rice and leave their feces, which spreads disease.

Traveling with Esmailzada and Leakey, Nagel not only helped document life in these villages but also searched for information about available resources to drive engineering innovations, while Leakey gathered information about an invasive species of guava.

“Ideally, if any projects require wood, then they should incorporate guava sticks into their design, as opposed to planks from forest trees,” explained Leakey in an email sent from Madagascar. The graduate student, who recently earned her bachelor’s degree at Stony Brook, will be recording the average thickness of the stems, the average length of a straight piece and the load capacity of the branches. Leakey plans to return from the African continent in the beginning of August.

Leakey also visited metalworkers to explore the local capacity. The raw materials come from scrap metal dealers, who often get them from old car parts.

Nagel started BeLocal with her husband Jeff Nagel and a classmate of his from their days as undergraduates at Carnegie Mellon University, Eric Bergerson. Indeed, BeLocal fulfills a long-standing goal of Jeff Nagel’s. Before freshman year in college, Nagel told Bergerson that he wanted to do something that had a positive impact on the world.

While the founders have contributed through their work, their jobs and their families, they found that partnering with Stony Brook University and Distinguished Professor Patricia Wright in Madagascar presented a chance to have a meaningful impact on life on the island nation.

Nagel, whose background is in marketing, visited Madagascar over two years ago, where she traveled for over a hundred hours on a bus through the country. “You just see people living below the poverty line and you see how that plays out in normal day-to-day activities,” she said. “You see a young mom carrying a child on her back and one on her front, with heavy produce on her head and you just think, ‘Wow, there has to be an easier way for some of this.’”

Mickie Nagel, far right, on an earlier trip to Central ValBio with her daughters Gabrielle, far left, and Lauren, center. when they first visited Centre ValBio. Photo by Heidi Hutner

When Nagel returned from her initial trip to Madagascar with her daughters Gabrielle, 18, and Lauren, 17, she and her husband thought people around the world would likely want to help but that not everyone could afford to travel that far.

Nagel recalls Bergerson, who is the director of research at the social data intelligence company Tickertags, telling her that they “don’t have to travel there. You can videotape the daily challenges and crowd source” innovations.

That’s exactly what Leakey and Esmailzada did for the last few weeks. Leakey said she is looking forward to working with senior design students as they go through their projects at Stony Brook and is eager to see how they understand the situation “through the footage and pictures we collect.”

The BeLocal approach isn’t limited to Madagascar, the BeLocal founders suggested. Indeed, given the distance to an island famous for its lemurs, animated movies and an Imax film that features primates with personality, BeLocal could have started in a Central American country like Belize.

Mickie Nagel, however, urged them to start at a location where they would immediately have the trust of local residents. That, she suggested, came from the over quarter of a century of work from Wright, an award-winning scientist who has not only helped preserve Ranomafana [National Park in Madagascar] but has also helped bring health care and education to the villages around the CVB research station. Wright and the Malagasy people have a “mutual respect for each other,” Nagel said.

“People have been exceptionally warm and welcoming,” Leakey said. Getting people accustomed to the presence of cameras hasn’t been straightforward, as people sometimes stop what they are doing, but the guides have helped make the villagers more comfortable.

Jeff Nagel, who works at a private equity firm in New York City, explained that Madagascar is the first step for BeLocal. This effort “can be expanded to other countries or other areas,” Nagel said. “It doesn’t have to be engineers and universities,” but can be instituted by creative people everywhere.

At this point, BeLocal is not looking for any additional funding but might consider expanding the effort at this time next year. Nagel said this fall, they will look for professional engineers to advise on projects. “We would like people who are interested in participating or just keeping up with developments to come and register on our website, www.BeLocalgrp.com,” she suggested.

The site, which the group is upgrading, is up and running. Bergerson explained that they have a “lot of infrastructure to build on” to create the crowd sourcing platform.

Jeff Nagel suggested that this effort is designed to use technology constructively. “Technology’s job, first and foremost, is to help humanity,” he said. “This is a chance to use it in a way that matters to people.”

Staff members of WUSB-FM Radio gather in the Media Suite in the Student Activity Center at Stony Brook University for a photo. Image courtesy of WUSB

By Norman Prusslin

Long Island radio listeners scanning the FM dial 40 years ago this coming Tuesday were surprised to hear musical stirrings on the 90.1 frequency that had previously offered static or sounds of distant stations. It was on Monday, June 27, 1977, at 5:30 p.m. that the Stony Brook University radio station joined the community of Long Island radio stations. I had the honor of coordinating the team that brought the station to the air that day and then went on to serve as the station’s general manager for 28 years.

Norman Prusslin

Looking back on that first day of broadcasting, it is fascinating to think about how much the media landscape has changed over the past 40 years.  In 1977, FM radio audience listening was just about ready to overtake the decades-old primacy of AM radio. Cable television on Long Island was in its formative years … CNN and MTV were still three and four years away, respectively. Music-oriented radio stations played vinyl on turntables while public service announcements aired on tape cartridges, and long-form public affairs programming was recorded on cassette and reel-to-reel audiotape.

How times have changed!

Through the compact disc and personal computer revolutions of the early 1980s to the web, streaming and digital download innovations of the 1990s to today’s multiple music distribution systems, WUSB has been at the forefront of marrying new technology with public service mission and responsibility.

The station was put to the test and earned its community service stripes eight months after sign on. Longtime North Shore residents will remember the crippling ice and snowstorms of February 1978. The Stony Brook campus was closed for a week. This was a time before wide cellphone use and way before the internet brought information to us, at a moment’s notice, anytime and anywhere.

WUSB was the main outlet in our area for getting critical safety information out to the community. Students and community volunteers slept in the studio to make sure the station provided a 24-hour service.

It was a crash course in local, person-to-person community radio programming. A lesson plan that has been used by the hundreds of student, staff, faculty, alumni and community volunteers who have sat in the on-air chair for 40 years.

Students covered the Shoreham nuclear power plant protests of the late 1970s live from the site. A radio play, “Shadow Over Long Island,” followed the template of “War of the Worlds” in focusing attention on the issue of nuclear power on Long Island while at the same time giving students a history lesson in producing “old time radio drama.”

WUSB received national attention (Time magazine and NBC News) when student staff produced and hosted the 1984 Alternative Presidential Convention on campus. While the two major party candidates, incumbent President Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale did not attend, over 30 “legally qualified candidates” did providing the campus and local community with a day-long “teach in” of debate, conversation and organizing.

In the music industry, the late 1970s have been recognized as the time when the influence of college radio stations to introduce new and developing genres to radio listeners took hold. In the years before music video, satellite radio, Facebook, YouTube, iTunes, Pandora and Spotify, college radio was THE broadcast outpost for new music.

WUSB was the Long Island radio home for artists of all musical stripes. The music of major label and independent artists from the worlds of rock, folk, blues, classical, hip-hop, dance, traditional and more was being heard, often for the first time, by Long Islanders over 90.1 FM.

I am perhaps most proud of the role WUSB has had in developing an active local music scene and community. From hosting the first Long Island Contemporary Music Conference in the early 1980s to developing collaborative partnerships with area nonprofit music and arts organizations and concert clubs and venues of all sizes, WUSB’s status as a key player in the Long Island music community has brought recognition and honors to the university. It is therefore no surprise that the first meetings that led to the creation of the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2003 were held on campus.

This coming week, we celebrate 40 years of 24 hours/day noncommercial radio programming created by a volunteer staff of students, faculty, alumni and community members varied in background and political persuasion and perspective. It’s a time to recognize volunteers coming together for the common mission and purpose of presenting intelligent and thought-provoking dialogue, music from all corners of the globe and campus-focused programming via live sports coverage, academic colloquia and event announcements and coverage.

Now is no time to rest on past laurels. Earlier this year, the station moved into new studios in the West Side Dining Complex and added a second broadcast signal at 107.3 FM to better increase service coverage to North Shore communities.  On June 27, 1977, at 5:30 p.m., founding members of the WUSB station staff coined the expression “….the experiment continues.”

40 years on, it still does!

Norman Prusslin is director of the media arts minor at Stony Brook University. He is WUSB-FM’s founding general manager serving in that position until 2006 and continues his association with the station as its faculty adviser.

Dr. Jennifer Arnold leads the Parade of Survivors. Photo by Cindy Swanson

By Heidi Sutton

On Sunday, June 4, hundreds of thousands of people gathered in various locations across the country for National Cancer Survivors Day, a celebration of life for anyone who has been touched by cancer. Locally, the Stony Brook Cancer Center hosted its 13th annual event, made possible by sponsorship from the Stony Brook School of Medicine and Stony Brook University.

The weather cooperated as attendees participated in a variety of outdoor activities, such as the popular dunk-a-doc, bedpan golf, chemo bag toss and face painting, as well as musical entertainment. The day culminated with the Parade of Survivors to the tune of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.”

Dr. Yusuf Hannun

“There is really no activity that I look forward to more every year than what we are doing here today, to celebrate you and to celebrate survivorship,” said Dr. Yusuf Hannun, director of the Stony Brook Cancer Center, to a crowd of survivors, doctors, nurses, family members and friends. “Looking around … I am really humbled to see how this event has been growing exponentially, from very modest beginnings of a handful of dedicated volunteers and determined survivors, to today with over 1,300 [attendees], 300 of them survivors,” he said.

Hannun also took the opportunity to speak about the new 245,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art Medical and Research Translation (MART) building, which served as the backdrop to the event and is scheduled to open by the end of this year. The director stated the new facility “will allow us to serve twice as many patients and their families … and allow us to continue to push back against cancer at all times. We are very excited to move into that building.”

The keynote speaker of the day was Dr. Jennifer Arnold, who is featured on TLC’s docudrama, “The Little Couple” along with her husband, Bill, who is originally from Port Jefferson Station, and their beautiful children, Will and Zoey. The show has served as an invaluable way to break down barriers and educate the public about people with disabilities.

Dr. Jennifer Arnold

Standing at just 3 feet and 2 inches, Arnold was born with a rare type of dwarfism called spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia, Strudwick type and has undergone over 30 surgeries in her lifetime. In 2013 she was diagnosed with stage 3 choriocarcinoma, a rare cancer that developed after a non-viable pregnancy. She graciously chose to share her fight with viewers of her show.

Now a three-year cancer survivor, Arnold shared her journey and personal lessons learned at Sunday’s event with a dynamic, motivational and inspirational presentation titled Surviving with Grace and received several standing ovations.

“Although I had a lot of life lessons [growing up], nothing taught me more than going through cancer,” said Arnold. “Sometimes life throws a wrench into the middle of your world and you have to be ready for that because life is short, no pun intended.”

“Going through chemotherapy changes you a lot, physically, emotionally, mentally…,” she said. After chemo, “I didn’t go back to normal, but I did go back to life. Truly it takes a village to go through your treatment and survivorship. It’s okay to accept that help.”

Arnold continued, “This is a wonderful life that we have and I am so blessed to be alive and to be able to share my story and I know that many of you in the audience feel the same way. … Whether it’s the fact that you’ve undergone treatment for cancer or whether you’ve had other obstacles in life, I hope that you too can overcome those obstacles and that you can survive with grace.”

Gabor Balazsi in his lab. Photo by Aleksandrs Nasonovs

By Daniel Dunaief

It started with a bang. When he was young and living with his parents, Gabor Balazsi’s curiosity sometimes got the better of him, at the expense of his parents’ house.

The future Henry Laufer associate professor of physical and quantitative biology at Stony Brook University was holding bare wires in his native home in Transylvania when he plugged in an appliance. The current surged through his body, preventing him from releasing the wires. Fortunately, his mother came in and “unplugged me.”

These days, Balazsi, is much more focused on the kinds of behavior that turns the instructions for a cell into something more dangerous, like cancer or a drug-resistant strain of a disease.

Balazsi recently received a $1.8 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to study how gene networks change, often to the detriment of human health, as is the case when they are active in cancer or when they are resisting treatment. The grant is called Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award.

“Cancer cells often don’t look the same in a matter of months and drug-resistant microbes may look the same in a matter of days,” Balazsi said. He would like to know “what causes them to change and how can we prevent them from changing to their advantage and our disadvantage?”

In a way, Balazsi is trying to figure out a code that is akin to the popular 1970s game Simon in which a player has to repeat a growing number of flashing lights and sounds. With each turn, the game increases the number of flashing lights and sounds, going from a single red, to red, green, yellow and green until the player can no longer recall the entire code.

He is looking for a similar key to a sequence of events that transforms a cell, except that in the cancer, there are millions of interacting lights, many of which are invisible. The cancer biologist tries to reconstruct the sequence in which some of these lights turned on by observing visible lights that are currently on.

He is exploring the “pattern that leads to the outcome” through changes of networks in yeast cells, he said. He is also hoping to explore pathogenic fungi. The pattern, he said, will change depending on the circumstances, which include the environment and initial mutations.

Scientists who have collaborated with Balazsi suggested his understanding of several scientific disciplines enables him to conduct innovative research.

“He bridges two fields, biology and biophysics, allowing him not only to describe biological processes but also to model them and make predictions that can then be tested,” Marsha Rosner, the Charles B. Huggins professor at the University of Chicago, wrote in an email.

While Balazsi doesn’t treat patients, he is focused on understanding and controlling the processes that lead a cell or group of cells to change from a uniform function and task to a heterogeneous one, where the cells may follow a different path using a previously inactive network of genes.

By understanding what causes these changes, he hopes to find ways to slow their progress or prevent the kind of deviations that lead to combinations that are destructive to humans, such as when the cellular machinery copies itself uncontrollably.

Balazsi and Rosner collaborated on one paper and are continuing to work together. “Our work demonstrates one mechanism by which cells move from a homogeneous population to a more complex population that contains cells that promote cancer,” Rosner explained. “This mechanism is not based on mutations in genes, but rather on changes in the way that genes interact with each other in cells.”

On a fundamental level, Balazsi explained that researchers have developed considerable understanding, but still not enough, of what happens in normal conditions. He is seeking to discover the logic cells use to survive under stressful conditions.

Balazsi would like to determine if there is “anything we can do to decrease the tendency of cells to deviate from normality,” he said.

Balazsi welcomes this new funding, which will give him the freedom to pursue research questions at a basic level. Instead of supporting a single project, this financial support contributes to multiple projects.

The next step in funding his lab will be to approach the National Cancer Institute. Without much experience in applying for cancer grants, Balazsi plans to attend a think tank workshop in June in Seattle. Attendance at this meeting, which is hosted by Sage Bionetworks and the NCI, required an application and selection of participants.

To some degree, Balazsi may be able to relate to the heterogeneity that he hopes to study in cells. A physicist by training, Balazsi explained that he “wandered into biology.” He would like to steer away from major trends that mobilize many researchers. If many people are working on something, he does not want to be enriching big crowds but would prefer to try new things and test new ideas.

A resident of East Setauket, Balazsi lives with his wife Erika and their daughter Julianna, who is 6. Julianna is already doing some experiments at home and is exploring the yard.

When Balazsi was young, his parents tried to encourage him to become a doctor, which didn’t work because he didn’t like blood or hospitals as a child. In addition to his unexpected electric shock, Balazsi also explored how ethanol burns while flowing, which caused some additional damage to his house. “My parents,” he recalled, “weren’t happy.”

As for his work, Balazsi would like his work with these first steps, in understanding cellular processes, will have a translational element for people some time down the road.

“Whatever we do, hopefully, they can be implemented in actual cancer cells that are coming from patients one day,” he said, or they could have some relevance for people who are attempting to fight off “pathogenic microbes.”

By Yusuf A. Hannun, M.D. 

Dr. Yusuf Hannun

Because of major advances in cancer prevention, early detection and treatment, many patients with cancer are enjoying longer lives and maintaining their quality of life, as the number of cancer survivors grows.

National Cancer Survivors Day®, an annual worldwide celebration of life, is held each year on the first Sunday in June. Anyone living with a history of cancer — from the moment of diagnosis through the remainder of life — is a cancer survivor, according to the National Cancer Survivors Day Foundation. In the United States alone, there are more than 14.5 million people living with a history of cancer.

Stony Brook University Cancer Center will host its 13th Annual Cancer Survivors Day this  Sunday, June 4, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Cancer Center, located on the Stony Brook Medicine campus.

The event is a celebration for those who have survived cancer and serves as an inspiration for those who have been recently diagnosed. In addition, this event is a gathering of support for families and friends. Attendees will also have the opportunity to meet and mingle with Stony Brook Medicine physicians, nurses and support staff.

The day features inspirational speaker Jennifer Arnold, MD, MSc, FAPP, who will share her story of perseverance, resilience and strength to bring hope to others facing obstacles and difficulties. Dr. Arnold, a three-year cancer survivor, stars in TLC’s docu-drama “The Little Couple” along with her husband, Bill, and their children, Will and Zoey.

All cancer survivors are invited, whether they were treated at Stony Brook or not. In addition to Dr. Arnold’s talk, attendees can enjoy a variety of outdoor activities, such as dunk-a-doc, bedpan golf, chemo bag toss and face painting, as well as musical entertainment and light refreshments. They can also participate in the very moving Parade of Survivors. This event is free but registration is required. To register, visit cancer.stonybrookmedicine.edu/survivors2017 or call 631-444-4000.

National Cancer Survivors Day is just one of many ways Stony Brook reaches out to the community. The Cancer Center has created several initiatives and programs to help make life easier for patients with cancer, including support groups, cancer prevention screenings and the School Intervention and Re-Entry Program for pediatric patients.

As a leading provider of cancer services in Suffolk County, the Cancer Center is on the forefront of research, discovery and cancer care. In the new Kavita and Lalit Bahl Center for Metabolomics and Imaging, for instance, we are receiving international recognition for our pioneering studies in metabolism and cancer. It’s changing what is known about the role metabolism plays in cancer and brings us closer than ever before to understanding how to prevent and treat it.

And next year, Stony Brook Cancer Center will relocate to a state-of-the-art Medical and Research Translation (MART) building that will focus on cancer research and care. This 240,000-square-foot facility will allow scientists and physicians to work side by side to advance clinical cancer research and improve treatment options.

Propelled by these advances, we continue to bring comprehensive cancer resources to you in your community. Our ambitious drive to transform cancer care and research is just one more reason for hope and celebration.

Dr. Yusuf A. Hannun is the Director of Stony Brook University’s Cancer Center, 
Vice Dean for Cancer Medicine and 
Joel Strum Kenny Professor in Cancer Research

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