Science & Technology

By Lynn Johnson

From its beginnings more than a half-century ago, Stony Brook University has been characterized by innovation, energy and progress, transforming the lives of people who earn degrees, work and make groundbreaking discoveries here. Stony Brook is the largest single-site employer on Long Island, and the diversity of career opportunities available is equaled by the diversity of our employees.

New jobs are being posted daily using innovative software recently implemented on our applicant job site. These enhancements make the process of applying for jobs at Stony Brook University, Stony Brook Medicine and Long State Veterans Home quicker and easier than ever before.

Through the university’s new Talent Management System, you can create your own profile electronically on any device and then apply for multiple jobs at Stony Brook with a few quick clicks online, 24/7. At any time during the search-and-selection process, you can update your profile details, monitor your status and receive customized job alerts based on individual preferences — all while conveniently keeping track of everything in one place.

This system allows for easier access to the tremendous job diversity at Stony Brook. Long Island’s premier research university and academic medical center offers outstanding career potential in health care, research, academia, administration, public safety, food service, maintenance, construction and more. It’s an environment in which you can explore a myriad of career opportunities.

As the university expands, more opportunities for employment and career advancement are becoming available. The new Research and Development Park is home to the Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center, the Center of Excellence in Wireless and Information Technology and the Small Business Development Center. The 250,000-square-foot Medical and Research Translation (MART) building, scheduled to open in 2016, will have eight floors devoted to imaging, neurosciences and cancer research. New student housing facilities and a dining center, also slated for 2016, will make Stony Brook the largest campus-housing program in SUNY.

The sheer size of the university makes it seem like a small city in itself, with countless amenities, such as on-campus banking, eateries, childcare and transportation via the LIRR and bus services. Employees are immersed in an active, vibrant campus life. You can see world-class live performances at Staller Center, cheer the Seawolves NCAA Division I athletic teams, work out at the Walter J. Hawrys Campus Recreation Center, learn from our renowned faculty or enjoy the tranquility of the Ashley Schiff Nature Preserve.

Stony Brook also offers a rich benefits package with multiple health insurance plans, including retirement health benefits; paid holidays, vacation and sick leave; retirement and college savings plans; flexible spending plans; and employee tuition assistance benefits.

To create an account and start the search for your new career at Stony Brook, visit stonybrook.edu/jobs.

Lynn Johnson is the vice president of human resource services at Stony Brook University.

Shawn Serbin. Photo by Bethany Helzer

While judging a book by its cover may be misleading, judging a forest by looking at the top of the canopy can be informative. What’s more, that can be true even from satellite images.

An expert in a field called “remote sensing,” Shawn Serbin, an assistant scientist at Brookhaven National Laboratory, takes a close look at the spectral qualities of trees, gathering information that generates a better understanding of how an area responds to different precipitation, temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Serbin is “on the cutting edge” of this kind of analysis, said Alistair Rogers, a scientist at BNL who collaborates with and supervises Serbin. “He’s taking this to a new level.” Serbin and Rogers are a part of the BNL team working on a new, decade-long project funded by the Department of Energy called Next Generation Ecosystem Experiments — Tropics.

The multinational study will develop a forest ecosystem model that goes from the bedrock to the top of the forest canopy and aims to include soil and vegetation processes at a considerably stronger resolution than current models.

The NGEE Tropics study follows a similar decade-long, DOE-funded effort called NGEE-Arctic, which is another important biological area. Serbin is also working on that arctic study and ventured to Barrow, Alaska, last summer to collect field data.

Shawn Serbin. Photo by Bethany Helzer
Shawn Serbin. Photo by Bethany Helzer

Working with Rogers, Serbin, who joined BNL last March, said his group will try to understand the controls on tropical photosynthesis, respiration and allocation of carbon.

Serbin uses field spectrometers and a range of airborne and satellite sensors that measure nitrogen, water, pigment content and the structural compound of leaves to get at a chemical fingerprint. The spectroscopic data works on the idea that the biochemistry, shape and other properties of leaves and plant canopies determine how light energy is absorbed, transmitted and reflected. As the energies and biochemistry of leaves changes, so do their optical properties, Serbin explained.

“Our work is showing that spectroscopic data can detect and quantify the metabolic properties of plants and help us to understand the photosynthetic functioning of plants, remotely, with the ultimate goal to be able to monitor photosynthesis directly from space,” Serbin said.

NGEE-Tropics, which received $100 million in funding from the DOE, brings together an international team of researchers. This project appealed to Serbin when he was seeking an appointment as a postdoctoral student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “It’s one of the reasons I was happy to come to BNL,” Serbin said. “To have the opportunity to collaborate closely with so many top-notch researchers on a common goal is incredibly rare.”

The tropics study includes scientists from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge and Pacific Northwest national laboratories and also includes researchers from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, NASA and numerous groups from other countries.

In the first phase of this 10-year study, scientists will design pilot studies to couple improvements in computer modeling with observations in the tropics. These early experiments will include work in Manaus, Brazil, to see how forests react to less precipitation. In Puerto Rico, researchers will see how soil fertility impacts the regrowth of forests on abandoned agricultural land.

Serbin expects to work in all three regions. He plans to do some pilot work early on to identify how to deal with the logistics of the experiments.

“These are designed to ‘shake out the bugs’ and figure out exactly how we can do what we need to do,” he said.

Serbin lives in Sound Beach with his partner Bethany Helzer, a freelance photographer whose work includes book covers and who has been featured in Elle Girl Korea and Brava Magazine. The couple has two cats, Bear and Rocky, whom they rescued in Wisconsin. Helzer has joined Serbin on his field expeditions and has been a “trooper,” contributing to work in California in which the couple endured 130-degree heat in the Coachella Valley.

“Having her along has indeed shown that when you are in the field and focused on the work, you can miss some of the beauty that surrounds you,” Serbin said.

Serbin said the NGEE-Tropics work, which has involved regular contact through Skype, email and workshops, will offer a better understanding of a biome that is instrumental in the carbon cycle. “Our work will directly impact future global climate modeling projections,” he said.

A view of the Demerec Laboratory, slated to house a proposed Center for Therapeutics Research. The laboratory, completed in 1953, needs an upgrade. Photo from CSHL

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, a research center that has produced eight Nobel Prize winners and is stocked with first-class scientists generating reams of data every year, shared some numbers earlier this week on its economic impact on Long Island.

The facility brought in about $140 million in revenue in 2013 to Long Island from federal grants, private philanthropy, numerous scientific educational programs and the commercialization of technology its scientists have developed, according to a report, “Shaping Long Island’s Bioeconomy: The Economic Impact of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory,” compiled by Appleseed, a private consulting firm.

At the same time the lab tackles diseases like cancer, autism and Parkinson’s, and employs 1,106 people with 90 percent working full time and 987 living on Long Island.

“We are recognized as being one of the top research institutions throughout the world,” Bruce Stillman, the president and CEO of CSHL said in an interview. The economic impact may help Long Islanders become “aware that such a prestigious institution exists in their backyard.”

Stillman highlighted programs that benefit the community, including public lectures, concerts and the school of education, which includes the DNA Learning Center, a tool to build a greater understanding of genetics.
The financial benefit to the economy extends well beyond Long Island, too.

“The research we do has an enormous impact on the development by others of therapeutics and plant science in agriculture,” Stillman said.

Indeed, Pfizer recently received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for a breast cancer drug called Ibrance that is expected to produce $5 billion in annual sales by 2020. The research that helped lead to that drug was conducted at CSHL in 1994.

In its 125-year history, this is the first time the laboratory has provided a breakdown of its financial benefit.
The impetus for this report occurred a few years ago, when Stillman met with Stony Brook University President Dr. Samuel Stanley Jr. and Sam Aronson, who was then the CEO of Brookhaven National Laboratory.

“We were talking about promoting further interactions and seeking state support,” Stillman said.

This year, CSHL will bring online a preclinical experimental therapeutics facility that will build out the nonprofit group’s research capabilities.

At the same time, CSHL is awaiting word on a $25 million grant it is seeking from New York State to support a proposed Center for Therapeutics Research.

The center would cost about $75 million in total, with CSHL raising money through philanthropic donations, partnerships with industry and federal aid. The center would “fit in well with our affiliation with North Shore-LIJ [Health System],” Stillman said.

CSHL plans to create the center in the Demerec Laboratory, which was completed in 1953 and needs an upgrade. Named after Milislav Demerec, a previous director at CSHL who mass-produced penicillin that was shipped overseas to American troops during World War II, the building has been home to four Nobel Prize-winning scientists: Barbara McClintock, Alfred Hershey, Rich Roberts and Carol Greider.

The renovated lab would house a broad range of research strengths, with candidates including a number of cancer drugs that are in the early stages of clinical trials; a therapeutic effort for spinal muscular atrophy, which is the leading genetic cause of death among infants; diabetes; and obesity.

The revenue from CSHL, as well as that from BNL, SBU and North Shore-LIJ, Stillman said, all have a “huge economic benefit to the Long Island community.”

Christopher Fetsch (far left) and Anne Churchland (second from right) with a group of neuroscientists at a conference last month. Photo from Anne Churchland

When she’s having trouble understanding something she’s reading, Anne Churchland will sometimes read the text out loud. Seeing and hearing the words often helps.

An associate professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Churchland recently published research in the Journal of Neurophysiology in which she explored how people use different senses when thinking about numbers.

She asked nine participants in her study to determine whether something they saw had a larger or smaller number of flashes of light, sequences of sounds or both compared to another number.

To see whether her subjects were using just the visual or auditory stimuli, she varied the  clarity of the signal, making it harder to decide whether a flash of light or a sound counted.

The people in her study used a combination of the two signals to determine a number compared to a fixed value, rather than relying only on one type of signal. The subjects didn’t just calculate the average of sight and sound clues but took the reliability of that number into account. That suggests they thought of the numbers with each stimuli within a range of numbers, which could be higher or lower depending on other evidence.

Churchland describes this process as the probabilistic method. It would be the equivalent of finding two sources of information online about Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim across the English Channel. In the first one, someone might have posted a brief entry on his personal Web page, offering some potentially interesting information. In the second, a prize-winning biographer might have shared an extensive view of her long life. In a probabilistic strategy, people would weigh the second source more heavily.

Funded by an educational branch of the National Science Foundation, Churchland said this is the kind of study that might help teachers better understand how people’s brains represent numbers.

Young children and people with no formal math training have some ability to estimate numbers, she said. This kind of study might help educators understand how people go from an “innate to the more formalized math.”

This study might have implications for disorders in which people have unusual sensory processing. “By understanding the underlying neural circuitry” doctors can “hopefully develop more effective treatments,” Churchland said.

Churchland is generally interested in neural circuits and in putting together a combination of reliable and unreliable signals. Working with rodents, she is hoping to see a signature of those signals in neural responses.

Churchland runs a blog in which she shares developments at her lab. Last month, she attended a conference in which she and other neuroscientists had a panel discussion of correlation versus causation in experiments.

She cautioned that a correlation — the Knicks lose every time a dog tracks mud in the house — doesn’t imply causation.

The group studied a lighthearted example, viewing the relationship between chocolate consumption and the number of Nobel Prizes in various countries, with Switzerland coming out on top of both categories. “In the chocolate case, correlation does imply causation because I like to eat chocolate and was looking for excuses,” she joked.

Christopher Fetsch, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of Neuroscience at Columbia University, worked with Churchland for several months in 2010. In addition to teaching him how to do electrical microstimulation and serving as a “terrific role model,” Fetsch described Churchland as “an innovator with a high degree of technical skill and boundless energy.” Fetsch, who attended the same conference last month, lauded Churchland’s ability to bring together experts with a range of strengths.

Churchland created a website, www.Anneslist.net, which is a compilation of women in neuroscience. She said it began for her own purposes, as part of an effort to find speakers for a computational and systems neuroscience meeting. The majority of professors in computational neuroscience are men, she said. “It is important to have a field that is open to all,” she said. “That way, the best scientists [can] come in and do the best work.” The list has since gone viral and people from all over the world send her emails.

A resident of the housing at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Churchland lives with her husband, Michael Brodesky, and their two children.

Churchland has collaborated with her brother Mark, an assistant professor at the Department of Neuroscience at Columbia University. Her parents, Patricia and Paul, are well-known philosophers. Her mother has appeared on “The Colbert Report.” She said her family members can all be contentious when discussing matters of the mind.

“The dinner table is lively,” she said.

Tommy the chimp looks through his cage upstate. Photo from Nonhuman Rights Project

A state judge is ordering Stony Brook University to give its two lab chimpanzees a chance at freedom.

State Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe called on the university to appear in court on May 27 and justify why it should not have to release its laboratory apes Hercules and Leo to a Florida sanctuary. The decision came 16 months after the Florida-based Nonhuman Rights Project filed a lawsuit in Suffolk County seeking to declare chimps as legal persons.

The judge ordered the school to show cause on behalf of the animals, to which SBU President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. and the university must respond with legally sufficient reasons for detaining them. The order did not necessarily declare the chimpanzees were legal persons, but did open the door for that possibility if the university does not convince the court otherwise.

“The university does not comment on the specifics of litigation, and awaits the court’s full consideration on this matter,” said Lauren Sheprow, spokeswoman for Stony Brook University.

The Nonhuman Rights Project welcomed the move in a press release issued last Monday.

“These cases are novel and this is the first time that an order to show cause has [been] issued,” the group said in a statement. “We are grateful for an opportunity to litigate the issue of the freedom of the chimpanzees, Hercules and Leo, at the ordered May hearing.”

The project had asked the court that Hercules and Leo be freed and released into the care of Save the Chimps, a Florida sanctuary in Ft. Pierce. There, they would spend the rest of their lives primarily on one of 13 artificial islands on a large lake along with 250 other chimpanzees in an environment as close to that of their natural home in Africa as can be found in North America, the group said.

The court first ordered the school to show cause and writ of habeas corpus  — a command to produce the captive person and justify their detention — but struck out the latter on April 21, one day after releasing the initial order, making it a more administrative move simply prompting the university to defend why it detains the animals.

In an earlier press release from 2013, the Nonhuman Rights Project said the chimpanzee plaintiffs are “self-aware” and “autonomous” and therefore should have the same rights as humans. The two plaintiffs, Hercules and Leo, are currently being used in a locomotion research experiment in the Department of Anatomical Sciences at Stony Brook University.

Sheprow confirmed in 2013 that researchers in the Department of Anatomical Sciences were studying the chimpanzees at the Stony Brook Division of Laboratory Animal Resources, which is accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International and overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The project’s initial lawsuit also defended another set of chimpanzees from upstate New York, Tommy and Kiko. State Supreme Court Justice W. Gerard Asher of Riverhead initially declined to sign the project’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus in 2013, which the group unsuccessfully appealed soon after.

Eric Stach, group leader of Electron Microscopy at BNL and Special Assistant for Operando Experimentation for the Energy Sciences Directorate. Photo from BNL

In a carpool, one child might be the slowest to get ready, hunting for his second sneaker, putting the finishing touches on the previous night’s homework, or taming a gravity-defying patch of hair. For that group, the slowest child is the rate-limiting step, dictating when everyone arrives at school.

Similarly, chemical reactions have a rate-limiting step, in which the slower speed of one or more reactions dictates the speed and energy needed for a reaction. Scientists use catalysts to speed up those slower steps.

In the world of energy conversion, where experts turn biomass into alcohol, knowing exactly what happens with these catalysts at the atomic level, can be critical to improving the efficiency of the process. A better and more efficient catalyst can make a reaction more efficient and profitable.

That’s where Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Eric Stach enters the picture. The group leader of Electron Microscopy, Stach said there are several steps that are rate-limiting in converting biomass to ethanol.

By using the electron microscope at Center for Functional Nanomaterials, Stach can get a better structural understanding of how the catalysts work and find ways to make them even more efficient.

“If you could lower the energy cost” of some of the higher-energy steps, “the overall system becomes more efficient,” Stach said.

Studying catalysts as they are reacting, rather than in a static way, provides “tremendous progress that puts BNL and the Center for Functional Nanomaterials at the center” of an important emerging ability, said Emilio Mendez, the director of CFN. Looking at individual atoms that might provide insight into ways to improve reactions in energy conversion and energy storage is an example of a real impact Stach has had, Mendez said.

Stach works in a variety of areas, including Earth-abundant solar materials, and battery electrodes, all in an effort to see the structure of materials at an atomic scale.

“I literally take pictures of other people’s materials,” Stach said, although the pictures are of electrons rather than of light.

Stach, who has been working with electron microscopes for 23 years, gathers information from the 10-foot tall microscope, which has 25 primary lenses and numerous smaller lenses that help align the material under exploration.

His work enables him to see how electrons, which are tiny, negatively charged particles, bounce or scatter as they interact with atoms. These interactions reveal the structure of the test materials. When these electrons collide with a gold atom, they bounce strongly, but when they run into a lighter hydrogen or oxygen atom, the effect is smaller.

Since Stach arrived at BNL in 2010, he and his staff have enabled the number of users of the electron microscope facility to triple, estimated Mendez.

“The program has grown because of his leadership,” Mendez said. “He was instrumental in putting the group together and in enlarging the group. Thanks to him, directly or indirectly, the program has thrived.”

Lately, working with experts at the newly-opened National Synchrotron Light Source II, Stach, among other researchers, is looking in real time at changes in the atomic structure of materials like batteries.

In February, Stach was named Special Assistant for Operando Experimentation for the Energy Sciences Directorate.

“The idea is to look at materials while they are performing,” he said. Colleagues at the NSLS-II will shoot a beam of x-rays through the battery to “see where the failure points are,” he said. At the same time, Stach and his team will confirm and explore the atomic-scale structure of materials at Electron Microscopy.

Working with batteries, solar cells, and other materials suits Stach, who said he “likes to learn new things frequently.”

Residents of Setauket, Stach and his wife Dana Adamson, who works at North Shore Montessori School, have an 11-year old daughter, Gwyneth, and a nine year-old son, Augustus. The family routinely perambulates around Melville Park with their black lab, Lola.

In his work, Stach said he often has an idea of the structure of a material when he learns about its properties or composition, even before he uses the electron microscope. “The more interesting [moments] are when you get it wrong,” he said. “That’s what indicates something fundamentally new is going on, and that’s what’s exciting.”

Emma S. Clark Memorial Library shows off its new gear. Photo from Robert Caroppoli

Setauket’s own Emma S. Clark Memorial Library made the most of $10,000 in state funding and is now celebrating a new state-of-the-art technology center.

Three new 55-inch smart televisions were only the beginning of the new technological enhancements made at the library this month, thanks to $10,000 in state funding from state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), which helped offset the cost of the refurbished center. It took a lot of work, but the library made sure to employ all the painting and wiring from in-house library employees in order to get the most out of the money.

“We are grateful to Sen. Flanagan for this generous award, which will help enhance the lives of our patrons, young and old,” said Ted Gutmann, library director. “Thanks to Sen. Flanagan and New York state, this new facility ensures that Emma Clark Library continues to offer its patrons the latest in technology, keeping it a modern library for today’s fast-paced world within its charming façade.”

Moving forward, Gutmann said the technology center will offer classes to the public on a wide variety of subjects, including those for beginners and others for more advanced learners. With this new software, the library will add to its existing selection of classes for teens by offering online video creation and editing.

Flanagan visited the library last week to meet with Gutmann and its employees to tour the new equipment and share in the success.

“The staff and leadership of the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library has utilized this state funding to create a learning center that will enhance the lives of so many in the community. This new technology center has many different applications for young and old and is a great addition to this already impressive facility,” Flanagan said. “I am happy that we were able to work together for the benefit of the patrons.”

Among the equipment purchased as a result of the grant were three Vizio 55-inch wall-mounted smart televisions, which have the ability to mirror the display of the instructor’s machine, Apple TV and any other HDMI-capable hardware. This technology will allow participants to follow along with an instructor during any class. Each television is also equipped with a floor level HDMI port for easy access to gaming systems or other external input devices.

The Technology Center will also house 10 Dell computers with 23-inch LCD monitors, which are wall-mounted to allow for a clean appearance and functionality. These computers are designed in a way that enhances learning because they are fast, reliable and equipped with some of the latest technology available, including Intel i5 processors, 8GB of memory, and wireless keyboards and mouses, the library said.

The library also received a brand new Macbook Pro with an Intel i7 processor and 16GB of memory, which operates on Mac OSX Yosemite. The Macbook also has Microsoft Office 2014 and Final Cut Pro, which allows for video and photo editing.

All classes held in the Technology Center can be found in the printed newsletter or online at  /newsletters.

The library already offers adult classes on a broad range of topics, such as the Internet, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Facebook, Pinterest, smartphones and tablets. Children and teen programs include Minecraft and Wii U. Also offered are workshops and drop-in tech assistance for help with mobile devices in a small, personal setting.

The library even offers a Teen Tech Clinic on the first and third Tuesdays of the month, where teens volunteer to assist adults with their computers and mobile devices.

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Martian water, in a lab. Maria-Paz Zorzano, of the Centro de Astrobiologia in Madrid, Spain, recreates the conditions in which perchlorate salts would melt water during the Martian summer night. Photo from Maria-Paz Zorzano

By Daniel Dunaief

It’s not exactly an oasis filled with unexplored life in the middle of a barren dessert. Rather, it is likely a small amount of liquid water that forms during the night and evaporates during the day. What makes this water so remarkable and enticing, however, is that, while it’s in our solar system, it is far, far away: about 225 million miles.

The rover Curiosity, which landed on Mars in the summer of 2012 after a 253-day journey from Earth, has gathered weather data from the Gale Crater on the Red Planet for the last year. That data has suggested the likely presence of liquid water.

“The cool part of this is the present-day nature of it,” said Tim Glotch, an associate professor at the Department of Geosciences at Stony Brook University, who studies the role of water in shaping the surface of Mars. “It’s there right now.”

The Rover Environmental Monitoring Station  on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover includes temperature and humidity sensors mounted on the rover’s mast. Photo from Maria-Paz Zorzano
The Rover Environmental Monitoring Station on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover includes temperature and humidity sensors mounted on the rover’s mast. Photo from Maria-Paz Zorzano

The liquid water is in the form of brine, which is a mix of water and salts. The perchlorate salts on or near the surface of Mars melt the ice that forms during the cold parts of the Martian night. It’s similar, Glotch said, to the way salts melt black ice during a frigid Long Island evening.

Curiosity, which is about the size of a small car, can’t detect this liquid water because its electronics don’t operate during temperatures that plunge at night to around 100 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

The findings, which were reported last week in the journal Nature Geosciences, have competing implications. For starters, said lead author Javier Martin-Torres, who works at Lulea University of Technology in Sweden and is a part of the Spanish Research Council in Spain and a member of Curiosity’s science team, the water is in one of the least likely places on Mars.

“We see evidence of conditions for brine in the worst-case scenario on Mars,” Martin-Torres said in a Skype interview last week from Sweden. “We are in the hottest and driest place on the planet. Because we know that perchlorates are all over the planet — which we have seen from satellite images — we think there must be brine everywhere.”

Given the radiation, temperature fluctuations and other atmospheric challenges, however, the conditions for life, even microorganisms, to survive in these small droplets of water are “terrible,” Martin-Torres said.

Still, the fact that “we see a water cycle, in the present atmosphere, is very exciting,” Martin-Torres said. “This has implications in meteorology.”

Deanne Rogers, an assistant professor in the Department of Geosciences at Stony Brook, said the likelihood of water bound to perchlorate salts directly affects her own research.

“Something I work on is sulfate minerals on Mars,” she said. “They can take on water and get rid of them easily by exchanging water vapor with the atmosphere.” She may incorporate perchlorates into future grant proposals.

Briny water, Rogers said, may also explain the dark streaks that appear on Mars at mid and low latitudes. These streaks look like running water going down a slope.

“People try to explain what these are,” she said. “It can’t be pure liquid water. It might be perchlorates taking on water vapor and producing dark streaks.”

By landing on the planet and sending readings back to researchers, Curiosity and other land-based vehicles can offer firsthand evidence of environmental conditions.

“Direct measurements are way more precise than what we can do from orbit,” Rogers said.

In the first week after the paper came out, Martin-Torres said he spent about 85 percent of his work time talking to the media, scientists or people asking questions about his studies. He has also received more than 10 times the typical number of requests from prospective Ph.D. students who would like to work in his lab while scientists from around the world have reached out to form collaborations.

Rogers explained that students might react to this kind of discovery the same way she did to other data and images from Mars in the early stages of her career.

“When Pathfinder landed in 1997, I saw the beautiful, colorful panoramas in the newspaper,” she said. “That’s when I knew what I was going to do. I hope that kids feel the same way.”

Martin-Torres, who said he has already submitted additional research proposals based on this discovery, described the current era of Mars research as the “golden age of Mars exploration.”

Geese hang out on the banks of Lake Ronkonkoma. Their waste pollutes the lake. Photo by Phil Corso

Long Island’s largest freshwater lake is not what it used to be, but North Shore lawmakers and educators are teaming up to bring it back.

Darcy Lonsdale and her students attending the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences arrived at the docks of the 243-acre Lake Ronkonkoma on Tuesday morning, equipped with various aquatic testing supplies to study marine life in the waters. Bill Pfeiffer, part of the Nesconset Fire Department’s water rescue team, helped guide the students as residents and government officials flanked the docks in talks of a Lake Ronkonkoma that once was.

Pfeiffer has been diving in and exploring around Lake Ronkonkoma for years, mapping out the bottom of the lake and chronicling the different kinds of debris on its floor, which he said includes anything from parts of old amusement park rides to pieces of docks.

Darcy Lonsdale speaks to students at Lake Ronkonkoma before they take samples. Photo by Phil Corso
Darcy Lonsdale speaks to students at Lake Ronkonkoma before they take samples. Photo by Phil Corso

“This lake needs a healthy amount of attention,” he said. “It has been appearing clearer, but [Superstorm] Sandy turned it into a brown mud hole again.”

The lake is home to various species, including largemouth bass and chain pickerel.

Members of the Lake Ronkonkoma Advisory Task Force hosted Pfeiffer and the students with hopes of gaining a deeper understanding of the waters and encouraging the four jurisdictions overseeing it — Brookhaven, Islip and Smithtown towns and Suffolk County — to form one united board to advocate for the lake.

Newly elected county Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) said the goal was to compile data that will help secure grant money, channel stormwater runoff away from the lake and garner legislative support for the lake.

“Years ago, this was a resort. There were tons of beachfronts. There were cabins and cabanas,” she said. “This is something we all could be proud of. It could be a site where people recreate.”

Looking ahead, Kennedy said she hoped a united front could attract more foot traffic and fishing to the lake. She stood along the waters on Tuesday morning and said she was anxious to see the kinds of results the Stony Brook students help to find.

“I am dying to know what the pH levels are at the bottom of the lake,” she said.

Lawmakers and Lake Ronkonkoma advocates said one of the biggest hurdles in the way of cleaner waters rested in the population of geese gaggling around the area. As more geese make their way in and around the lake, the nitrogen in their waste pollutes the water. Volunteers with the Lake Ronkonkoma civic had to sweep the length of the dock Tuesday morning, as Pfeiffer prepared for the students, in order to rid it of geese excrement.

“To help the lake, relocating or terminating some of the geese might not be a bad idea,” Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said.

The students could be funneling data to the different municipalities overseeing the lake by the end of the summer.

“You want a report that will spell out how to improve the clarity of this water,” Romaine said. “The students are welcome back anytime.”

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Patricia Thompson photo from Stony Brook University

By Daniel Dunaief

Patricia Thompson gets a call from her sister Kathy Hobson when people in San Angelo, Texas — where Thompson grew up and where her sister and brother live — when someone has cancer. They want to know what Thompson thinks of their treatment.

While Thompson is not a medical doctor, she has been working as a scientist to develop ways to discriminate high-risk patient populations from low-risk patients to limit “toxic treatments in low-risk individuals” and improve the efficacy of aggressive treatment in high risk-patients. The goal, she said, is to better treat patients based on the specific pathobiology of their disease.

Thompson, who came to Stony Brook University last October as a professor of pathology and associate director of Basic Research at the Cancer Center, is pleased with the support from the university.

“There’s a real convergence of factors, including a strong commitment from the leadership, the Simons Center and the university medical school faculty and staff at Stony Brook,” she said. “We all want to see the Stony Brook Cancer Center bring prestige to our community, attract the finest talent in cancer research and clinical care and attract innovators and job builders.”

Thompson said Cancer Center Director Yusuf Hannun, Medical School Research Dean Lina Obeid, Pathology Department Chairman Ken Shroyer, and Dean of the Medical School Ken Kaushansky have all led the charge.
Shroyer is pleased Thompson joined the effort. “Bringing her here was an incredible coup,” he said. She brings “real national prominence” and led one of the “most important clinical and translational research programs in breast and colorectal cancer.”

Thompson is committed to furthering her own research studies, while balancing between critical basic science discoveries and their clinical impact.

For some scientists, she wants to assist researchers as they move from the bench to the first human study. She helps them understand who needs to be involved to advance a potential diagnostic tool or novel treatment.

Still, she endorses the benefits of basic research. “Application is always an important long-term goal, but scientific exploration for new discovery is critical to advancements,” she said. Applied and basic research are “neither mutually exclusive approaches.”

Thompson studies colorectal and breast cancer because both have an inflammatory component and an immune element. She’s exploring what is shared between these two cancers as common targets for prevention and treatment.

Colon cancer provides a window that helps scientists and doctors understand the way cancer progresses.
“Our ability to study the premalignant to malignant progression in colorectal cancer has provided important basic knowledge of how cancers develop and taught us about how cells defend against tumorigenesis and how these systems fail,” she said.

Thompson went through some formative professional and personal experiences during graduate school that shaped her career. In the mid-1990s, she was studying an autoimmune disease in which she worked on an animal model with a neuroimmunologist.

“I wanted to know that all this work I was doing with animals was contributing to the disease in humans,” she said.

Around the same time, her father, Jim Thompson, who owned and operated Angelo Tool Company, learned he had stage IV colorectal cancer. He was diagnosed in 1995, before major advances in colorectal cancer treatment. Her father received compassionate care use of a new therapy, enabling him to live for three more years, considerably longer than his initial two-month prognosis. If he had been diagnosed five years later and received a platinum-based regimen, he would have “gained even more time,” she said.

Thompson said she and her family struggle with the fact that her father showed symptoms he kept to himself, largely out of fear. If his cancer had been detected earlier, she believes it is likely he could have been cured.

She suggests people not be “afraid of a cancer diagnosis” and recommends “routine screening” and consultation with a doctor if they show symptoms.

Thompson lives in Rocky Point with her husband, Michael Hogan, who is the vice president of life sciences at Applied DNA Sciences.

As for her work, Thompson believes her research might help physicians and their patients.
Her research aims to develop “diagnostic tests that help in prognosis” while identifying “patients that may achieve more benefit from aggressive chemotherapy,” she said.

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