Science & Technology

Sacre bleu! Incoming Stony Brook researcher studies mind control in ladybugs

Nolwenn M. Dheilly photo from Dheilly

Mind control may not be unique to scriptwriters, hypnotists or even, as it turns out, humans. A parasitic wasp may have teamed up with a virus to turn an unsuspecting ladybug into a meal ticket and a sentry for its developing larva.

Wasps inject their larva into a ladybug where they turn the insect’s body fat into food for their young. When the larva extracts itself from the abdomen of the ladybug and spins a cocoon in which it pupates into an adult wasp, the ladybug remains in place on top of the cocoon, deterring predators by twitching.

These parasitized ladybugs often recover from the invasion, repairing the external and neurological damage.
Nolwenn M. Dheilly, who specializes in studying host-parasite interactions and is interested in the role of associated microorganisms, discovered the presence of the virus in this convoluted story of parasite and host.

Dheilly showed that the virus is transmitted to the ladybug during parasitism and the virus copies itself in the nervous system of the ladybug, whose immune system is suppressed during the invasion.

Dheilly, who will join Stony Brook University as an assistant professor in August from her native France, is part of a six-person multidepartment hire in genomics led by Bassem Allam, a professor at Stony Brook in the School of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (SoMAS) and Jackie Collier, an associate professor at SoMAS.

“The search committee and my colleagues at SoMAS were impressed by the quality of [Dheilly’s] work and the forward thinking of her ideas,” explained Allam. She “brings state-of-the-art research tools to answer questions pertaining to the evolution of symbiotic associations.”

Lessons in middle school and high school biology classes often include a discussion of symbiotic relationships, which come in three different types: parasitism, like the wasp and the ladybug, mutualism, where both organisms benefit, and commensalism, where one benefits and the other neither benefits nor is harmed. Dheilly said the classification of symbiosis does not account for the inherent complexity in nature, where there is much more of a continuum from mutualism to parasitism.

Dheilly’s work suggests that other organisms, like the virus for the parasitic wasp, may affect the output of the infection.

“Many other parasites may use other microorganisms, including viruses, as partners,” Dheilly said. Many protozoan parasites, including human pathogens such as Plasmodium, are associated with viruses, she said. When a parasite infects its host, it can become co-infected with the virus.

“It remains to be demonstrated if these viruses are used as biological weapons,” Dheilly said.

To be sure, in the case of the wasp, the ladybug and the virus, Dheilly cautioned that other studies are necessary before completing a relationship diagram that specifies the way the virus and wasp might work together during parasitism.

“Many complementary studies are now necessary to demonstrate who between the wasp and the virus” is responsible for the particular effect on the ladybug,” she said. “We believe that the virus alone would be eliminated by the [ladybug’s] immune system and wouldn’t be able to induce the paralysis. We have no idea if the parasitoid wasp would be able to infect the [ladybug] without its associated virus.”

When Dheilly arrives on Aug. 12, she and Allam plan to work together to study disease susceptibility in oysters. They would like to study the role of mucosal secretions in early host-symbiont interactions.

Dheilly attributes some of her interest in marine science to her upbringing in Brest, Brittany, in northwestern France, which, she said, is much like Long Island. When she was young, Dheilly competed in windsurfing competitions and, later, worked for several summers as a windsurfing instructor. In her windsurfing days, Dheilly was the only girl at most competitions. Her windsurfing experience “made sure I had the right personality to be involved in an environment surrounded by men and not feeling as if I didn’t fit in.”

Dheilly explained that understanding viruses and microorganisms extends beyond the world of invertebrates.

“The co-evolution of host and parasites with microorganisms is applicable to any biological system, including humans,” she said. Even though she will focus most of her work at Stony Brook on marine organisms, she said she “would be happy to collaborate with researchers in other fields to verify my hypotheses.”

Juergen Thieme stands near the beginning of the beamline and is pointing in the direction the light travels to the end station, where scientists conduct their experiments. Photo from BNL

He’s waited six years. He left his home country of Germany, bringing his wife and children to Long Island.

Now, months after first light and just weeks before the first experiments, Juergen Thieme is on the threshold of seeing those long-awaited returns.

A physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory and adjunct professor at Stony Brook, Thieme is responsible for one of the seven beamlines that are transitioning into operation at the newly minted National Synchrotron Light Source II. The facility allows researchers to study matter at incredibly fine resolution through X-ray imaging and high-resolution energy analysis.

“We have invested so much time and so much energy into getting this thing going,” Thieme said. “When you open the shutter and light is coming to the place where it’s supposed to be, that is fantastic.”

The beamline is already overbooked, Thieme said. Scientists have three proposal submission deadlines throughout the year. The most recent one, which ended on June 1, generated over 20 submissions, which Thieme and the beamline team read through to check their feasibility and then send out for a peer review.

The proposals include studies in biology, energy, chemistry, geosciences, condensed matter and materials science.

One of the drivers for the construction of the $912 million facility was developing a greater understanding of how batteries work and how to store energy.

“Although batteries are working very well already, there is room for improvement,” Thieme said. The importance of energy storage suggests that “even a small improvement can have a huge impact.”

Indeed, when he returns to Germany and drives through the countryside, he sees thousands of windmills creating energy. Wind speed and energy demands are not correlated, he said. “There is a need for an intermediate storage of energy.”

The NSLS-II also has the potential to improve commercial industries. Mining rare earth elements, which have a range of application including in cell phones, is a potentially environmentally hazardous process. By using the NSLS-II, scientists can see how bacteria might change oxidation states to make the materials insoluble, making them easier to obtain.

For years, Thieme was on the other side of this process, sending proposals to beamlines to use his training in X-ray physics and X-ray optics to conduct environmental science projects, including analyzing soils.

Six years ago, Qun Shen, the Experimental Facilities Division director for the NSLS-II, asked Thieme if he would consider joining BNL. The two had met when Thieme brought students to the Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago, where Shen was the head of the X-Ray Microscopy and Imaging Group.

Thieme said he presented the opportunity to his family. His three children voted with a clear yes, while his wife Kirsten was hesitant. Eventually, they decided to go.

Following that offer, Thieme looked at the future site of the facility and saw a green lawn. “I was asking myself, ‘What do I do for the next six years?’” he recalled. “I can tell you I was extremely busy.”

He said he worked on design, planning and evaluations, which included numerous calculations to decide on what to build. “One of the big aspects of constructing a facility at NSLS-II is to reach out to the broader community and try to solicit input from them and try to develop the scientific capabilities to meet their needs,” said Shen. “He has certainly done very well.”

Thieme’s beamline will accelerate the process of collecting information for scientists, Shen said. For some projects, the existing technology would take a few days to produce an image. The beamline Thieme oversees will shorten that period enough that researchers can “test out and revise their hypothesis during the process,” Shen added.

Thieme is eager not only to help other scientists unlock secrets of matter but is also hungry to return to his environmental science interests.

Thieme and Kirsten live in Sound Beach with their 16-year-old son Nils, who is in high school. Their daughters, 23-year-old Svenja, who is studying English and history, and 21-year-old Annika, who is studying to become a journalist, have returned to Germany.

Thieme is inspired by the NSLS-II. “We are building a state of the art experimental station” he said. “To be competitive with other upcoming facilities, we have always to think about how to improve the beamline that we have right now.”

Suffolk officials discuss environmental issues facing Long Island after thousands of dead fish washed ashore in Riverhead. Photo by Alex Petroski

The estimated nearly 100,000 dead bunker fish that have washed ashore in Riverhead may seem astounding, but it wasn’t all that surprising to the panel of experts brought before the Suffolk County Health Committee on Thursday.

In late May, the thousands of dead bunker fish, formally known as Atlantic menhaden fish, began appearing in the Peconic Estuary, an area situated between the North and South Forks of Long Island. According to a June 2 press release from the Peconic Estuary Program, the bunker fish died as a result of low dissolved oxygen in the water. This shortage of oxygen is called hypoxia.

Walter Dawydiak, director of the county’s environmental quality division, who serves on the panel, which was organized by the health committee chairman, Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport), testified that the number of dead fish was at or approaching 100,000.

“This one is bigger and worse than any,” Dawydiak said.

According to the PEP, which is part of the National Estuary Program and seeks to conserve the estuary, bunker are filter-feeding fish and an important food source for many predatory fish, including striped bass and blue fish.

Alison Branco, the program’s director, said the fish are likely being chased into shallow waters by predators, but are dying because of low dissolved oxygen levels in the waters. In addition, an algae bloom is contributing to the low levels and is fueled by excess nitrogen loading. Much of that nitrogen comes from septic systems, sewage treatment plants and fertilizer use.

“We’ve reach a point where this kind of hypoxia was run of the mill. We expect it every summer,” Branco, who also served as a panelist, said following the hearing.

While magnitude of the fish kill was astounding, the experts said they weren’t so surprised that it happened.

“I definitely thought it could happen at any time,” Christopher Gobler, a biologist at Stony Brook University, said in a one-on-one interview after the panel hearing. “There’s been an oxygen problem there all along.”

Gobler called it largest fish kill he’d seen in 20 years.

According to panel members, the worst of the fish kill occurred between May 27 and May 30.

Branco did suggest that this shocking environmental event could be turned into a positive if the right measures are taken sooner rather than later.

“It’s always shocking to see a fish kill,” she said. “As much as we don’t want to have things like that happen I think the silver lining is that it did capture the public’s attention.”

Prevention of a fish kill this large is possible, according to Branco. While preventing the harmful algal blooms is not possible, reducing the frequency and severity can be done if the amount of nitrogen in the coastal water supply is controlled.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, an environmental policy advocacy group, agreed that curtailing the amount of nitrogen in the water is the easiest and most impactful way for prevention of a fish kill of this magnitude.

“The journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step,” Esposito said in response to a question about the daunting task of fixing the Island’s sewage treatment techniques and facilities on a limited budget.

Esposito described the roughly $5 million from New York State, which was allotted to Suffolk County to deal with cleaning the coastal water supply, as seed money. Esposito and Branco both said they believe the commitment of time and money required to solve the nitrogen problem in the water supply will be vast.

“We can do this,” she said. “We have to do it. We have no choice.”

Discovering the science of wind at the Maritime Explorium. Photo by Jacqueline Grennon-Brooks

By Erin Dueñas

Calling all artisans, DIYers, amateur scientists, inventors, innovators and everyone in between: The first large-scale Makers Festival is set to debut on Long Island this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Port Jefferson Village Center and Harborfront Park.

Presented and co-sponsored by the Maritime Explorium in Port Jefferson, the Long Island Makers Festival 2015 will feature a broad range of interactive exhibits including 3D printing, robotics, green screen technology, performance art, African drummers, roller skating, organic gardening and even geologists setting off volcanoes. The Explorium will also be open; there will be a “meet the scientist” booth and a horseshoe crab walk is scheduled. According to festival event coordinator Cindy Morris, the aim of the festival is to encourage the people who are already actively “making” as well as to show the community that innovation can happen anywhere.

“The common thread of the Maker Movement is accessible innovation,” Morris said. “The reality is that people have great ideas. We want to empower the ones who are creating. We found some amazing people.”

Morris said that financial backers and high-tech equipment is no longer necessary for anyone looking to invent and create. “This is something anyone can do. You don’t need a $5,000 piece of equipment. People are doing these things in their living rooms and garages.”

Mixing technology, coding and moving with kidOYO. Photo by Melora Loffreto
Mixing technology, coding and moving with kidOYO. Photo by Melora Loffreto

The Maker Movement is a mash up of lovers of art, science, technology, engineering, entrepreneurship and innovation who quite literally make things based on that love. “These are people who are inventors, artists and scientists who are doing incredible things. We believe it was time to showcase what is going on here on Long Island.” Morris said the festival will include a group of men who make holograms and students who created their own 3D printer. “We are taking concepts that feel big and powerful and making them accessible.”

Morris said that the festival motto is “Try it.” “The event is going to be very hands-on. No one could run an exhibit without it being interactive,” Morris said. “We are not just showing what was made, but we are focusing on what you can be doing.”

According to Lauren Hubbard, executive director of the Explorium, the festival will be an extension of what the Explorium does every day. A hands-on museum that features what Hubbard calls “open-ended exhibits,” the Explorium encourages visitors to build and create whatever they want. “You can do the same activity and get a different outcome every time,” Hubbard said. “There are just a million things that can be built.”

She said that the Makers Festival will offer visitors the same experience. “It’s all going to be hands-on and open ended,” Hubbard said. “We wanted to provide a venue for all Maker people to come together for a family friendly day. There’s going to be something for everyone.”

Melora Loffreto is the founder of the festival co-sponsor KidOYO, a program geared toward children ages 7 to 17 that teaches computer programming and coding. She said that Makers festivals and fairs have been popping up in small-scale locations such as schools and libraries across Long Island, but the Port Jefferson festival is the largest so far. “They take place in larger cities and there is a big one in Queens, but this is really the first to come out this way,” Loffreto said.

She described the Makers Movement as particularly important to Long Island. “Our youth is funneling off the Island. The festival is going to say that we have lots of Makers here, we have the skill set and we want to inspire people to keep the talent local.” She said the Makers Movement and the upcoming festival will help to keep skills in the United States. “We want to spur on inventors and to inspire local youth to go down a path of inventing and engineering.”

Olness remembered as brilliant scientist, education advocate

John Olness with his wife Margaret. Photo from Richard Olness

He did what he loved, and was loved for it.

John William Olness, a nuclear physicist and a Long Island resident since 1961, died on Feb. 15 at the age of 85.

Olness is survived by his wife Margaret, their sons Robert, Richard, Frederick and Christopher and their daughter Kristin.

“He was a creative parent,” son Richard said in a phone interview. “I wouldn’t trade him for the world.”

Olness was born in 1929, in Saskatchewan, Canada, while his father was teaching at a junior college. The family returned to their farm in northern Minnesota when John was young, and that is where he grew up.

Olness received a doctorate in nuclear physics from Duke University in 1957 where he met Margaret. He moved to Long Island from Dayton, Ohio, in 1961, then he began his career at Brookhaven National Laboratory in 1963 where he stayed until his retirement in 2000 after 37 years of service. John and Margaret married in 1958 and moved to Stony Brook in 1968.

John Olness poses for a photo with his family and family friends. Photo from Richard Olness
John Olness poses for a photo with his family and family friends. Photo from Richard Olness

“He got to do what he wanted,” Margaret said in a phone interview. “He was one of the lucky people who loved what he did for a living. You can’t beat that.”

“John worked with many of the visiting scientists who came to BNL to use the facilities, including Sir Denys Wilkinson (Oxford University), D. Allan Bromley (Yale and, later, science adviser to President George H.W. Bush) and future Space Shuttle astronaut Joseph Allen,” son Robert said of his father’s time at BNL, in an email.

Margaret identified her husband’s passions as physics first and music second.

In his leisure time Olness was a Little League baseball coach; and a founding member and trombone player with the Memories of Swing, a big band that performed around Long Island. He also served as a vice president of the Three Village school board in 1975-76. Kristin said that his desire to be on the school board was in large part to fight for the budgets of the music, sports and arts programs that are seemingly always the first to go when money gets thin.

Olness loved baseball, tennis and basketball, and often spent hours on the phone discussing the Detroit Tigers baseball team with his father, who lived in Michigan. He also played football in high school and college, Margaret said.

Olness was a supportive father and husband, according to Margaret. Their children have gone on to enjoy rewarding careers in wide-ranging walks of life, thanks in no small part to that parental support.

Frederick is a professor and physics department chair at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas; Robert is a major in the Army Reserve, awaiting his next deployment; Kristin has just finished a year on Broadway in “Cabaret,” and was also a member of the cast in the show’s 1998 revival; Richard is an actuary for the Department of Defense; and Christopher is a professional trombonist on Broadway currently playing in “On the Town,” the hit musical comedy.

“Dad put emphasis on education, and he and Mom supported us in exploring the arts and recreational sports,” Richard said in an email. “And in the later years, he encouraged us each to find a career we would enjoy.”

A memorial service will be held for John Olness on Thursday, July 2, at Setauket Presbyterian Church.

Studying parts of dinosaur bones that are smaller than the width of a human hair, Michael D’Emic specializes in sauropods, which includes the long necked Brontosaurus. Photo from SBU

They didn’t mark the wall in crayon or pencil with a date to monitor how they grew, the way parents do in suburban homes with their children. Millions of years ago, however, dinosaurs left clues in their bones about their annual growth.

Dinosaur bones have concentric rings, which are analogous to the ones trees have in their trunks.

A diagram represents the growth rings in dinosaur bones. Image from Michael D’Emic and Scott Hartman
A diagram represents the growth rings in dinosaur bones. Image from Michael D’Emic and Scott Hartman

Michael D’Emic, a paleontologist and Research Instructor in the Department of Anatomical Sciences at Stony Brook, studied these bones and the size of these rings and concluded that dinosaurs were warm-blooded.

In a paper published in the journal Science, D’Emic demonstrates how the growth rates of these bones indicate dinosaurs were much more like birds than reptiles in their metabolism.

“This supports the idea that dinosaurs were warm-blooded,” said Holly Woodward Ballard, an Assistant Professor of Anatomy in the Center for Health Sciences at Oklahoma State University.

D’Emic re-analyzed data that appeared in a 2014 Science article, in which other scientists had suggested dinosaurs were mesothermic, which is somewhere in between cold blooded organisms, like reptiles, and warm-blooded creatures, like birds, three-toed sloths, and humans.

D’Emic was on a dinosaur dig in Wyoming when the paper came out last June. When he returned to Stony Brook in July, he took a closer look at the results. “When I read the paper, I thought they hadn’t accounted for a couple of factors that would bias the results,” he said. “I was curious how changing some of those factors” would affect the conclusions.

D’Emic studies the smallest parts of bones. Indeed, for creatures that lived millions of years ago and weighed as much as 40 tons, he looked closely at cells that were a fraction of the width of a human hair.

In his approach to the data, D’Emic adjusted for seasonal growth patterns. Typically, dinosaurs grow only half the year. In the other half, when food is scarce or the temperature drops enough, the dinosaurs would have needed that energy to survive. When he accounted for this, he said the rate of growth doubled.

Comparing his estimated growth rate for dinosaurs with the rate for mammals and reptiles of similar size suggested the dinosaurs  “fell right in line with mammals,” he said.

Michael D’Emic enjoys a Lord of the Rings moment in Beartooth, Wyoming, near an excavation site in 2010. Photo from D’Emic.
Michael D’Emic enjoys a Lord of the Rings moment in Beartooth, Wyoming, near an excavation site in 2010. Photo from D’Emic.

A dinosaur’s metabolism could affect life histories including how the dinosaurs raised their young, as well as elements to their physiology, he said. “Such a fundamental aspect of an organism has implications for the kind of animals we expect them to be,” he said.

D’Emic recognizes that some paleontologists will question his conclusions about dinosaur metabolism. When looking at a broad group of paleontologists, he “still finds a pretty big spectrum of ideas” about metabolism and the “debate is probably still open.” After this recent work, D’Emic reached out to partners from around the world to explore bone growth in other groups of dinosaurs.

Ballard, who studies the growth and development of Maiasaura (duck-billed) dinosaurs from hatchling to adults primarily in Montana, supports D’Emic’s conclusions. She said his analysis will reinforce some of the hypotheses she had about dinosaur metabolism. Ballard said D’Emic was “well thought of” and has“definitely made an impact in the histological field.”

When he was in high school, D’Emic had the opportunity to join a dinosaur dig in New York, where he found a mastodon tusk. He was living in Manhattan at the time and went to Hyde Park with a summer class. After two weeks at the site with the class, he asked if he could come back, and wound up returning regularly for months, until school started.

“I didn’t want to go back to high school when September rolled around,” D’Emic recalled.

D’Emic, who recently left a dig in Utah and was on his way to join other Stony Brook researchers in Madagascar, said he still feels inspired by the opportunity to learn about dinosaurs. When he came to the University of Michigan in 2006 to start his PhD program, he planned to focus on Titanosaurs. By the time he left, the number of species of Titanosaurs scientists had discovered and categorized had doubled.

“It’s a cool time to be a paleontologist,” he said.

Above, Morgan May at the LSST site in Cerro Pachón, Chile, last month. The dryness of the site is essential for good viewing. Water vapor in the air causes stars to twinkle, or to have blurred images. Only the heartiest small cactus can survive at this elevation and in this low moisture. The LSST site is on the southern edge of the driest desert in the world, in the middle of 85,000 acres of land which is kept undeveloped to avoid light pollution for astronomy. Photo from Morgan May

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s … billions of galaxies. Impossible to see with the naked eye, only vaguely visible through good telescopes, these galaxies will come to life in a way never seen before when the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope starts providing images from its mountaintop home in Chile in 2020.

Before this technological wonder is completed, people like Morgan May, a physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory, are testing to make sure this ambitious project provides clear and accurate information.

Recently, May and his colleagues at BNL conducted two tests of the telescope.

The LSST will have 200 individual silicon sensors that are the film in the 3.2 gigapixel digital camera. The process of making the sensors is imperfect, with the sensors starting out as molten mass.

Impurities or variation in the temperature can cause imperfections that look like tree rings around a central circle, which create electric fields that can cause a distortion in the image.

“Because we are trying to measure things at a much higher level of precision, the tree rings were a source of great concern,” said May, who receives funding from the Department of Energy’s Office of Science-Cosmic Frontier Research.

They found that these radial imperfections were much smaller than in previous detectors, which was already a benefit to the project. Looking at the likely actual measurements using these sensors, May and his colleagues found that these tree rings had a small effect on the data, which was a pleasant surprise, but one that took some time to prove.

In another test, May, working with Columbia University graduate student Andrea Petri, examined whether differences in the sizes of the three billion pixels in the camera might also cause problems interpreting the information.

May and Yuki Okura, a postdoctoral fellow from Japan’s RIKEN laboratory who is stationed at the RIKEN-BNL Research Center, measured how much light each pixel picked up in the detector. While the variation was small, they weren’t sure whether it was small enough to keep from causing problems with the data.

The team simulated a night sky. Once they gathered the information they would have collected from these slight pixel differences, they compared their simulated image to their original.

Fortunately for the scientists, this effect also proved manageable and won’t create confusion.

May and Okura’s work “did have a good outcome,” said Sam Aronson, director of the RIKEN BNL Research Center. “They showed that the sensor imperfections measured on the LSST sensors will not affect LSST’s science objectives.”

While May is relieved the telescope passed these two tests, he continues to search for other potential problems with this revolutionary telescope.

“I am confident the LSST is going to be successful in its goals, but we have to work very hard to follow every possible issue and resolve it,” he said.

As a part of the LSST Dark Energy Science Collaboration, May said his primary research goal is to answer the question, “What is dark energy?” May said he will be studying subtle features of enormous amounts of information that will become available. May will be researching a force that causes the universe to expand faster and faster, rather than contract.

Until the 1930s, everyone thought the universe was contracting. Edwin Hubble, for whom the Hubble Space Telescope is named, was the first to observe this expansion. It is as if a ball thrown in the air slows down as expected and then accelerates away from Earth, May said. One well-regarded hypothesis is that the universe is filled with something called dark energy that causes a gravitational force that repels rather than attracts.
Once the telescope goes online, the information will become widely available.

“We’re going to make our data public to the everyone in the United States,” said May. It will be possible for “children in high school or even elementary school to have their own galaxy or supernova.”

Born in Brooklyn, May lives on Long Island with his wife Dana Vermilye. The couple have a 23-year old son, Michael, who is in medical school and a daughter, Julia, who is a high school sophomore.

May sees cosmology and astrophysics as a new frontier in science. “It’s an area where great discoveries are being made,” he said. “If you are interested in science as an observer or a career, I would say [it’s] really in the forefront.”

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Doug Fearon. Photo from CSHL

Determined to help develop better treatments and, perhaps even a cure, Douglas Fearon, a medical doctor, decided to conduct research instead of turning to existing remedies. More than two decades later, Fearon joined Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and is working on ways to help bodies afflicted with cancer heal themselves.

Fearon is focusing on the battle cancer wages with the T lymphocytes cells of human immune systems. Typically, these cells recognize threats to human health and destroy them. The pancreatic cancer cells he’s studying, however, have a protective mechanism that is almost like a shield. “The cancer is killing the T cells before the T cells can kill the cancer,” said Fearon.

The T cells have a complex signaling pathway on their surface that allows them to link up with other objects to determine whether these cells are friend or foe. In pancreatic cancer, Fearon has focused on a receptor that, when attached to the deadly disease, may disarm the T cell.

Researchers had already developed a small molecule that blocks the receptor on the T lymphocytes from linking up with this protein for another disease: the human immunodeficiency virus. When Fearon applied this molecule to a mouse model of pancreatic cancer, the therapy showed promise. “Within 24 hours, T cells were infiltrating the cancer cells,” he said. “Within 48 hours, the tumors had shrunk by 15 percent. This drug overcame the means by which cancer cells were escaping.”

This month, doctors at the University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine, where Fearon worked for 20 years, plan to begin Phase I human trials of this treatment for pancreatic cancer. Later this year, doctors at the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, where Fearon has a joint appointment, will begin a similar effort.

Scientists are encouraged by the early results from Fearon’s treatment. The Lustgarten Foundation named Fearon one of three inaugural “Distinguished Scholars” last year, awarding him $5 million for his research over the next five years.

The scientific advisory board at the Foundation “expects distinguished scholars to be on the leading edge of breakthrough therapies and understanding for this disease,” said David Tuveson, a professor and director of the Lustgarten Foundation Pancreatic Cancer Center Research Laboratory at CSHL.

During the early stage trials, doctors will increase the dosage to a level HIV patients had received during early experiments with the drug, called AMD 3100 or Plerixafor.

While Fearon is cautiously optimistic about this approach, he recognizes that there are many unknowns in developing this type of therapy. For starters, even if the treatment is effective, he doesn’t know whether the cancer may recur and, if it does, whether it might adapt some way to foil the immune system’s attempt to eradicate it.

Additionally, the receptor the doctors are blocking is required for many other functions in humans and mice. In mice, for example, the receptor on the T cell has a role in the developing nervous system and it also plays a part in a process called chemotaxis, which directs the migration of a cell.

“After giving this drug to HIV patients for 10 days, there were no long-term effects,” Fearon said. Researchers and doctors don’t “know for sure if you continued blocking this receptor what the long-term effects” would be.

Fearon and his wife Clare are renting a cottage in Lloyd Neck and have an apartment on the Upper East Side. Their daughter Elizabeth recently earned her Ph.D. in epidemiology in Cambridge, England while their son Tom, who is working toward a graduate degree in psychology, is interested in a career in counseling.

A native of Park Slope, Brooklyn who was the starting quarterback for Williams College in Massachusetts in his junior and senior years, Fearon feels it’s a “privilege to do something that may have a positive effect” on people’s lives.

Fearon is especially pleased to work at CSHL, where he said he can collaborate with colleagues who often immediately see the benefits of such a partnership. He has worked with Mikala Egeblad on intravital imaging, which is a type of microscope that allows him to look at living tissue. They are sharing the cost of buying a new instrument. Working with her “facilitated my ability to start up a project in my lab using a similar technique,” Fearon said.

A pumped-up crowd in the Centereach High School gymnasium cheered, clapped and clamored to see which of the district’s elementary schools would come out victorious at Monday night’s STEM Celebration.

The evening marked the district’s first celebration of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. Hundreds of students, parents, teachers and administrators flooded the school to see students use their skills to build paper helicopters, newspaper tables and cup towers, and compete against each other to build a spaghetti tower. In addition, students from the district’s eight elementary schools presented their LEGO engineering creations to judges.

Superintendent Ken Bossert explains the difficulties of measuring how iPads affect student achievement in Port Jefferson. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Port Jefferson schools will put more money toward using modern technology in the classroom next year.

Following a presentation from the staff technology committee at a board of education meeting Tuesday night, the trustees approved a request to spend about $17,000 on iPad tablets and Chromebook computers to assist instruction.

The district began using iPads in elementary classrooms in the 2013-14 school year on a pilot basis. After receiving a positive response to the tablets, the school board tripled the number of tablets in the current school year, to three carts of iPads for the teachers to rotate among their classrooms. The board’s approval will bring the number of carts next school year up to four, which officials said would be the program’s final expansion — moving forward, money would be spent on replacing iPads, not adding more to the supply.

According to Christine Austen, the district’s K-12 assistant principal and a technology committee member, each teacher could potentially have the iPads for five weeks of instructional use with those four carts.

The additional iPads will mean there will roughly be one for every five students, she said.

In classrooms where teachers are using the tablets, Austen said, students are more engaged and there are more opportunities for the kids to collaborate with one another, among other benefits.

Although the school board supported the iPad expansion, President Kathleen Brennan and Trustee Bob Ramus said they wanted to see more data on the technology’s effect on student performance. Ramus pointed out that the board had requested such information during previous presentations on the iPad program.

But Superintendent Ken Bossert said the matter is not so simple.

“When we talked about what a researcher would do to develop a model to measure that impact, it would be to give a class full-time use of the iPads for all initiatives and deny another class any use and then measure the achievement levels between the two. We weren’t comfortable with that model.”

He said the district would work to get more data on student performance, but there are ways to measure how much a student is learning within different educational applications on the iPads “and we saw student growth within the apps.”

There is also a staff development element — Austen said some teachers still need training to effectively use the tablets in their classrooms, as only about 69 percent of the staff is using them this year.

Another piece of the district technology program is using laptops with older students to access Google applications. Some teachers have incorporated those free applications — which are collectively known as Google Classroom and include functions like word processing, survey, slideshow and spreadsheet tools — into their lessons already.

According to the technology committee’s presentation, the Google system makes it easy to create assignments and grade them, encourages collaboration, organizes students’ class materials and reduces the use of paper. It also “provides students an opportunity to engage in an online learning environment prior to attending college.”

Austen said the district would like to start replacing “aging laptops” with Chromebooks, which run on Google software and have the applications built in. They are also less expensive than other laptops and run faster.

Roughly two-thirds of the cost for the Chromebooks, Bossert said, will be covered by state aid.