Stony Brook University

Above, Ken Dill shows how molecules fold and bind together. Photo from SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

The raw materials were here. Somehow, billions of years ago, these materials followed patterns and repeated and revised the process, turning the parts into something more than a primordial soup.

Ken Dill, who is a distinguished professor and the director of the Laufer Center for Physical and Quantitative Biology at Stony Brook University, took a methodical approach to this fundamental development. He wanted to understand the early statistical mechanics that would allow molecules to form long chains, called polymers, which contained information worthy of being passed along. The process of forming these chains had to be self-sustaining.

After all, Dill said, many activities reach an end point. Putting salt in water, for example, creates a mixture, until it stops. Dill, however, was looking for a way to understand auto-catalytic or runaway events. Lighting a forest fire, for example, is much more self sustaining, although even it eventually stops. Life has continued for over four billion years.

On Aug. 22, Dill, Elizaveta Guseva and Ronald Zuckermann, the facility director in biological nanostructures at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, published a paper in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The researchers developed a fold and catalyze computational model that would explain how these long chains developed in a self-sustaining way, in which hydrophilic and hydrophobic polymers fold and bind together.

Random sequence chains of each type can collapse and fold into structures that expose their hydrophobic parts. Like a conga line at a wedding reception, the parts can then couple together to form longer chains.

These random chemical processes could lead to pre-proteins. Today’s proteins, Dill said, mostly fold into a very particular shape. Pre-proteins would have been looser, with more shape shifting.

The workhorses of the body, proteins perform thousands of biochemical reactions. Dill suggested that this model “rates high on the list” in terms of the findings he’s made over the course of his career.

Zuckermann described this work as significant because it lays out predictions that can be tested. It highlights the importance of chemical sequence information in polymer chains and “how certain sequences are more likely to fold into enzyme-like shapes and act as catalysts than others,” he explained in an email.

Zuckermann works with substances he figured out how to make in a lab that are called peptoids, which are non-natural polymers. These peptoids are a “good system to test the universality of [Dill’s] predictions,” he said.

The “beauty” of Dill’s work, Zuckermann suggested, is that “it should apply to most any kind of polymer system” where researchers control the monomer sequence and include hydrophobic and hydrophilic monomers in a particular order, putting Dill’s predictions to the test.

For her part, Guseva worked in Dill’s lab for her PhD thesis. She had started her research on something that was “more standard physical biology” Dill said, but it “was not turning out to be particularly interesting.”

The scientists had a discussion about trying to develop a chemical model related to the origins of life. While exciting for the scope of the question, the research could have come up empty.

“There was so much potential to fail,” Dill said. “I feel pretty uncomfortable in general about asking a graduate student to go in that direction, but she was fearless.”

Dill and Zuckermann, who have collaborated for over 25 years, are trying to move forward to the next set of questions.

Zuckermann’s efforts will focus on finding catalytic peptoid sequences, which are nonbiological polymers. He will synthesize tens of thousands of peptoid sequences and rank them on how enzyme-like they are. This, he explained, will lead to a better understanding of which monomer sequences encode for protein-like structure and function.

Zuckermann suggested that the process in this research could have the effect of transforming a soup of monomers into a soup of functional polymers. This, he said, might set the stage for the evolution of DNA and RNA.

Proteins could have been a first step towards a genetic code, although life, as currently defined, would not have blossomed until a genetic code occurred, too, Dill suggested.

The origins of DNA, however, remains an unanswered question. “We’re trying to think about where the genetic code comes from,” Dill said. “It’s not built into our model per se. Why would biology want to do a two polymer solution, which is messy and complicated and why are proteins the functional molecules? This paper doesn’t answer that question.”

Dill and Zuckermann are in the early stage of exploring that question and Dill is hopeful he can get to a new model, although he doesn’t have it yet.

Dill moved from the University of California at San Francisco to join the Laufer Center about seven years ago. He appreciates the freedom to ask “blue sky questions” that he couldn’t address as much in his previous work.

Wearing a hat from his native Oklahoma, Dill, in a photo from around 1997, tinkers with a toy boat he made with sons Tyler and Ryan. Photo by Jolanda Schreurs

A resident of Port Jefferson, Dill lives with his wife Jolanda Schreurs, who has a PhD in pharmacology. The couple has two sons, Tyler and Ryan.

Tyler graduated with a PhD from the University of California at San Diego and now works for Illumina, a company which which makes DNA sequencers. Ryan, meanwhile, is earning his PhD in chemistry from the University of Colorado and is working on lasers.

“We didn’t try to drag our sons into science,” Dill said. “With both kids, however, we had a workshop in the basement” where they often took anything that was within arm’s reach and nailed it to a board. One of the finished products was a remote-controlled and motorized boat.

As for his lab work, Dill is thrilled to have this model that he, Guseva and Zuckermann provided, while he recognizes the questions ahead. Scientists “see something puzzling and, rather than saying, ‘I need to avoid this, I don’t have an answer,’ we find it intriguing and these things lead from one step to the next. There tends to remain a huge number of super fascinating problems.”

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.

Alex Orlov on the campus of the University of Cambridge. Photo by Nathan Pitt, University of Cambridge

By Daniel Dunaief

The Ukranian-born Alex Orlov, who is an associate professor of materials science and chemical engineering at Stony Brook University, helps officials in a delicate balancing act.

Orlov, who is a member of the US-EU working group on Risk Assessment of Nanomaterials, helps measure, monitor and understand the hazards associated with nanoparticles, which regulatory bodies then compare to the benefit these particles have in consumer products.

“My research, which is highlighted by the European Union Commission, demonstrated that under certain conditions, [specific] nanoparticles might not be safe,” Orlov said via Skype from Cambridge, England, where he has been a visiting professor for the past four summers. For carbon nanotubes, which are used in products ranging from sports equipment to vehicles and batteries, those conditions include exposure to humidity and sunlight.

“Instead of banning and restricting their production” they can be reformulated to make them safer, he said.

Orlov described how chemical companies are conducting research to enhance the safety of their products. Globally, nanotechnology has become a growing industry, as electronics and drug companies search for ways to benefit from different physical properties that exist on a small scale. Long Island has become a focal point for research in this arena, particularly at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials and the National Synchrotron Light Source II at Brookhaven National Laboratory.

Alex Orlov on the campus of the University of Cambridge. Photo by Nathan Pitt, University of Cambridge

Indeed, Orlov is working at the University of Cambridge to facilitate partnerships between researchers in the chemistry departments of the two universities, while benefiting from the facilities at BNL. “We exchange some new materials between Cambridge and Stony Brook,” he said. “We use BNL to test those materials.”

BNL is an “essential facility,” Orlov said, and is where the postdoctoral student in his lab and the five graduate students spend 30 to 60 percent of their time. The data he and his team collect can help reduce risks related to the release of nanomaterials and create safer products, he suggested.

“Most hazardous materials on Earth can be handled in a safe way,” Orlov said. “Most scientific progress and environmental protection can be merged together. Understanding the environmental impact of new technologies and reducing their risks to the environment should be at the core of scientific and technological progress.”

According to Orlov, the European Union spends more money on technological safety than the United States. European regulations, however, affect American companies, especially those that export products to companies in the European Union.

Orlov has studied how quickly toxic materials might be released in the environment under different conditions.

“What we do in our lab is put numbers” on the amount of a substance released, he said, which informs a more quantitative understanding of the risks posed by a product. Regulators seek a balance between scientific progress and industrial development in the face of uncertainty related to new technologies.

As policy makers consider the economics of regulations, they weigh the estimated cost against that value. For example, if the cost of implementing a water treatment measure is $3 million and the cost of a human life is $7 million, it’s more economical to create a water treatment plan.

Orlov teaches a course in environmental engineering. “These are the types of things I discuss with students,” he said. “For them, it’s eye opening. They are engineers. They don’t deal with economics.”

In his own research, Orlov recently published an article in which he analyzed the potential use of concrete to remove pollutants like sulfur dioxide from the air. While concrete is the biggest material people produce by weight and volume, most of it is wasted when a building gets demolished. “What we discovered,” said Orlov, who published his work in the Journal of Chemical Engineering, “is that if you take this concrete and expose new surfaces, it takes in pollutants again.”

Fotis Sotiropoulos, the dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at SBU, said Orlov has added to the understanding of the potential benefits of using concrete to remove pollutants.

Other researchers have worked only with carbon dioxide, and there is “incomplete and/or even nonexistent data for other pollutants,” Sotiropoulos explained in an email. Orlov’s research could be helpful for city planners especially for end-of-life building demolition, Sotiropoulous continued. Manufacturers could take concrete from an old, crushed building and pass waste through this concrete in smokestacks.

To be sure, the production of concrete itself is energy intensive and generates pollutants like carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. “It’s not the case that concrete would take as much [pollutants] out of the air as was emitted during production,” Orlov said. On balance, however, recycled concrete could prove useful not only in reducing waste but also in removing pollutants from the air.

Orlov urged an increase in the recycling of concrete, which varies in the amount that’s recycled. He has collaborated on other projects, such as using small amounts of gold to separate water, producing hydrogen that could be used in fuel cells.

“The research showed a promising way to produce clean hydrogen from water,” Sotiropoulos said.

As for his work at Cambridge, Orlov appreciates the value the scientists in the United Kingdom place on their collaboration with their Long Island partners.

“Cambridge faculty from disciplines ranging from archeology to chemistry are aware of the SBU/BNL faculty members and their research,” Orlov said. A resident of Smithtown, Orlov has been on Long Island for eight years. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking and exploring new areas. As for his work, Orlov hopes his work helps regulators make informed decisions that protect consumers while making scientific and technological advances possible.

Raising the new Stony Brook Southampton Hospital flag at the celebration to introduce Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, from left, Cary F. Staller, Esq., SUNY Board of Trustees and Stony Brook Foundation Board of Trustees; Ambassador Carl Spielvogel, SUNY Board of Trustees; L. Reuven Pasternak, MD, Chief Executive Officer, Stony Brook University Hospital, and Vice President for Health Systems, Stony Brook Medicine; Kenneth Kaushansky, MD, Senior Vice President, Health Sciences, and Dean, Stony Brook University School of Medicine; Robert S. Chaloner, Chief Administrative Officer, Stony Brook Southampton Hospital; Samuel L. Stanley Jr., MD, President, Stony Brook University; Kenneth P. LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), New York State Senator; Kenneth B. Wright, Chair, Southampton Hospital Association Board; Kathy Hochul, New York State Lieutenant Governor; Fred W. Thiele Jr. (I-Southampton), New York State Assemblyman; Fred Weinbaum, MD, Chief Medical Officer and Chief Operating Officer, Stony Brook Southampton Hospital; and Marc Cohen, SUNY Board of Trustees. Photo from SBU

By L. Reuven Pasternak, M.D.

When hospitals in the same region are able to work together, they can deliver health care to residents in ways that are complementary, efficient and effective.

Dr. L. Reuven Pasternak

We are celebrating a major milestone in the development of the Stony Brook Medicine health system to transform health care on the East End of Long Island. On Aug. 1, Stony Brook finalized an agreement with the 125-bed Southampton Hospital — now called Stony Brook Southampton Hospital — to join as a member of Stony Brook Medicine.

Although Stony Brook and Southampton have been providing health care services to the East End for nearly 10 years, this formal agreement will enable us to improve health care quality and access, coordinate care and improve efficiency for patients through shared resources and managing the flow of patients between the two facilities.

Patients will benefit from this relationship because it helps our hospitals match the level of care provided to the level of care needed in the facility ideally suited to a patient’s needs. It provides patients from eastern Long Island with greater access to Stony Brook Medicine’s specialists, clinical trials and advanced technology, combined with the convenience and personalized care of a community-based hospital.

In the time that it has taken to finalize our agreement, we have successfully collaborated on bringing new services to the East End, the most critical of which is the new cardiac catheterization laboratory, part of the Audrey and Martin Gruss Heart & Stroke Center, which will be the first on Long Island to open east of Route 112, and where clinical operations are scheduled to begin on Sept. 5.

An aerial view of Stony Brook Southhampton Hospital. Photo from SBU

And coming in late 2018 is the new Phillips Family Cancer Center, a facility that will be staffed by both Stony Brook-based physicians and physicians from Southampton and promises to make top-level cancer care more easily accessible to East End residents.

Stony Brook and Southampton have been working collaboratively in our hybrid operating room, which is also part of the Audrey and Martin Gruss Heart & Stroke Center. This specialty operating room, equipped with sophisticated imaging, enables Stony Brook board-certified vascular surgeons to perform minimally invasive interventions to treat abdominal aortic aneurysms, complex peripheral arterial disease, carotid disease and the entire spectrum of vascular conditions.

Additional cardiology services have been established in the East End area. Stony Brook cardiologists Travis Bench, M.D., and Dhaval Patel, M.D., have opened practices at 676 County Road 39A, Southampton, and 600 Main Street, Center Moriches, so that patients with specific types of focused cardiac issues can get care closer to home.

Another important benefit of our agreement is that we now have additional clinical training sites to support the growing class sizes of Stony Brook’s undergraduate and graduate medicine training programs, as well as health technology programs. Graduate medical education programs, including internal medicine, family medicine internship and residency programs, plus osteopathic medicine programs in surgery and transitional year resident programs are currently being offered at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital with additional rotations planned for emergency medicine medical students and residents.

Together we are taking a bold step forward for the advancement of health care as we build on our successful collaborations to better serve the needs of Long Islanders.

Dr. L. Reuven Pasternak is the CEO, Stony Brook University Hospital and vice president for health systems, Stony Brook Medicine.

Steve Kramer raising money to bring Berlinda to U.S. to undergo surgery on her two clubbed feet

By Desirée Keegan

Through the efforts of a retired physicist, an orthopedic surgeon from Stony Brook University and a dedicated Haitian who has since moved to Long Island, a 16-year-old from Haiti is on a path with more open doors than ever.

Berlinda was born with two clubbed feet, though she is motivated to better herself, with the dream of one day walking on her own two feet. Steve Kramer, a retired Brookhaven National Lab accelerator physicist met the student in Haiti through Life & Hope Haiti, a nonprofit founded by Haitian-American Lucia Anglade, who built the Eben Ezer School in her hometown of Milot, Haiti.

Berlinda practices arithmetic. Photo from Steve Kramer

“She had only been at the school for a few months and she was already learning basic arithmetic,” Kramer said of seeing Berlinda back in March, after meeting her during her introduction to the school in December. “I gave her two columns of work and she handed it back to me with a big smile and said, ‘more.’”

Berlinda has spirit, according to many who have met her, and Kramer was so moved by the story that he reached out to Dr. Wesley Carrion at Stony Brook University School of Medicine’s orthopedics department about performing surgery to fix the girl’s feet. He agreed to do it free of charge.

When he contacted Carrion, Kramer said his secretary Joan mentioned he was deployed in Afghanistan and she didn’t know when he would return. Within a day or two she called to tell him she’d heard from the doctor, who said he’d return by April. In May, the two met.

“I sent him copies of Berlinda’s X-rays and the video and he said he felt he could treat her and rotate the feet, and he would donate his time and get the equipment donated,” Kramer said. “That was a big relief. I felt it might become a reality.”

Carrion had informed Kramer that he would need to get the hospital to donate some of the costs, so Kramer reached out to the Department of Medicine’s Dr. L. Reuven Pasternak, who serves as vice president for health systems and chief executive officer of Stony Brook University Hospital.

What the external cages look like that will be used to repair Berlinda’s clubbed feet. Photo from Steve Kramer

“He said they would cover her hospital costs,” Kramer said after his meeting with Pasternak in July. “This was a bigger relief since beside rotating the club feet we need to check out the status of the hole her spinal column might still have from the spinal bifida she was diagnosed as having. Everyone told me the hole doesn’t close up on its own, but she is doing so well that it may have, but it needs to be checked and closed if it is still open.”

To help bring Berlinda to the United States, Kramer set up a GoFundMe to raise money for her flight cost and other post-operation expenses.

“The fundraising has been going slower than I had hoped, even though everyone I contact is verbally supportive,” he said. “As a physicist my human appeal needs a lot of improvement to really move people to give. But then I look at the video and see the determination she has and feel she will deal with it as she has the tragic events she has already endured and I know she will persevere and will learn to walk.”

Following the surgery, Berlinda will be in the hospital for four months, getting her feet rotated to stretch the tendons as part of the healing process. Her legs will be in cages called external frames that will be attached by pins drilled into her leg bones. Because these create open wounds, it’s best for her to stay the hospital instead of returning to Haiti, to keep the wounds sterile. While recovering, she will continue to go through schooling, which will be one-on-one instead of in a larger classroom back in Haiti.

Without the construction of The Eben Ezer School, Berlinda’s struggles might never have come to light for Kramer. What began as a 10-child school back in 2001 has grown to population over 400, according to Anglade.

“I took the $7,000 I received from my tax return and decided I wanted to build a school in my home country — that had been my motivation,” said Anglade, who now lives in West Babylon. “I’m so blessed. I thank God for that, say thank you all the time. It’s a big school now, and we’re still helping.”

Berlinda crawls on her hands and knees because she cannot walk with her two clubbed feet. Photo from Steve Kramer

Anglade first visited Berlinda at her house, and heard from the 16-year-old how her brothers and sisters attended school, and she wished she could join them. Because the school is far from her house, she couldn’t walk there.

“I went to her house and she was quiet, said she can’t go to school,” Anglade said. “I told her I was going to help her, and I took her to the school. I pay someone to stay with her at the school. Her dream is to walk, to learn, to be someone. She wants to be happy.”

Kramer and Stony Brook University Hospital are making her dream a reality.

“Thank God for Steve — he has a good heart and I can’t do it by myself,” Anglade said. “With all my heart, I am so happy. Steve has put in a lot of effort to helping Berlinda make her dream come true.”

Kramer first visited the Eben Ezer School through Wading River’s North Shore United Methodist Church in 2015. He joined a group visiting Haiti in February, and has since visited three more times by himself and with Anglade. They are working toward improving the facilities at the school through solar power and updating the water system.

Kramer also provided economic opportunities for students and natives of the town. He cultivated a group of farmers that grow ancient Egyptian wheat, kumat, which is exported to the U.S.

Now, he’s trying to help provide a future for Berlinda.

“She’s very positive, she’s a sponge for learning,” he said. “I just want to help this Haitian girl who has had a tragic life story so far, but has kept her joy of life and has determination to improve herself.”

Sixteen-year-old Berlinda from Haiti will be receiving surgery on her two clubbed feet at Stony Brook University Hospital. Photo from Steve Kramer

Amy Miller, of Maine, who has helped Anglade since 2007, said she finds what Kramer is doing admirable.

“I met Berlinda and I really respect his desire to help her move forward,” she said. “You meet someone and they kind of capture your heart, and I think you have to follow your heart. That’s what he’s doing.”

Both said they are also moved by Anglade’s motivation.

“I am tremendously inspired by Lucia,” Miller said. “She’s a force. Lucia is a person that astounds most people that meet her — her energy and her commitment. She loves the kids and it’s wonderful to watch. The community once said she should be their mayor after she brought water to the school she also to the community. She’s quite something.”

Anglade said she’s just doing what she thinks is right, in giving back to her hometown.

“My four kids here go to school, they’re in college, they eat every day, but in Haiti, we don’t have enough to feed over 400 kids, so sometimes when we’re down there for a week or two, we can only feed them for one week,” Anglade said. “I can’t go every week, but if I could go every week, every month, I’d go, just to help them. For me to be able to go down there to help those students, my community, I’m so happy to do it. I really feel good about it.”

To donate to help get Berlinda to the United States and to receive the care and post-treatment she will need, visit www.gofundme.com/BerlindasMiracle. To find out more about Life and Hope Haiti, or to get involved, visit www.lifeandhopehaiti.org.

Tennis players participating in a mixed doubles game in 1967 including Andy Kevey, second from left, and Linwood Lee, right. Photo from Susan Falvey

By Rita J. Egan

The first tournament of the U.S. Open is scheduled for Aug. 28, but Flushing Meadows isn’t the only place in New York filled with tennis history. Since 1959, the Three Village Tennis Club on Main Street in Setauket has provided lifelong memories for its members.

Susan Falvey’s parents, Marta and Andy Kevey, were founding members of the club. She said the women would organize bake sales, fashion shows and dances to raise money, while the men helped maintain the property and the original court. In 1959, yearly dues were $15 for children, $25 for adults and $50 for families.

Marta and Andy Kevey after a tournament at the club in 1967. Photo from Ann Fossan

To her, the spot is a hidden treasure.

“The club is still very active today,” Falvey said. “It’s very simple — we don’t have a clubhouse or anything, but the courts are still in good condition.”

Falvey has fond memories playing as a child at the club and then afterwards riding bikes with friends along Main Street to go to the Jack in the Box near where the Setauket Fire Department firehouse is located today.

In an essay about the club, Andy Kevey wrote of the founding members securing a single tennis court, donated by The Setauket Neighborhood House located behind a barn.

“That old cracked asphalt court went through three metamorphosis each year: tennis court, to basketball court, to ice skating rink,” he wrote. “It had a net for tennis, two baskets for practicing shooting and 6-inch raised borders that allowed it to be flooded in the winter.”

The club hasn’t changed much through the decades, except for the number of courts and who can join. As the population in the area grew in the 1960s, the club limited its membership to residents of the Three Village Central School District.

As the club evolved, six green clay Har-Tru courts were added, and the original asphalt-based court was eventually converted to clay in the 1980s, as water doesn’t drain properly on a harder court. Once the asphalt court was converted to clay, interested players were able to join quicker. Before that, there was a five-year wait.

Wayne Mercer, who joined the club in the late 1980s and has served various positions on the board, remembers due to spacing issues that affected play, court four was moved away from court three and seven away from six. Improvements were also made so the courts would drain better.

“Courts that no one wanted to play on became very playable,” he said.

Current board member Randy Conard’s mother Marion was the first president, and one of the organization’s co-founders. He said the founding of the club was a community effort, where the original board members were trying to expand the popularity of tennis in the area.

Conard said his mother, who died in 2008 at 86, played tennis for decades at the club. His mother’s involvement, he said, “was all for the love of the community and tennis.”

Conard said members would take vacations together, going to resorts and playing tennis. Through the decades, families gathered on the club grounds for barbecues and picnics.

“It was a very tight-knit community,” he said.

Joe McDonnell playing tennis on court two at the club in 1967. Photo from Joe McDonnell

Joe McDonnell moved to Setauket with his family in 1964. A preteen at the time, McDonnell said he could walk to the club by cutting through his neighbor’s backyard. He played at the Three Village Tennis Club for years and as a young man would help maintain the courts. He said his years at the club led to him teaching tennis at Harbor Hills and the Old Field Club during his time in college and graduate school, and in the late 1980s he became a member of the Three Village Tennis Club board.

“It was a club with extraordinary spirit,” McDonnell said. “Like many organizations are when they are first founded, there’s that entrepreneurial spirit.”

McDonnell said he looked up to and learned a great deal about tennis from founding member Bob Pereira, who was also his dentist.

Among the many Stony Brook University professors who were members of the club was Linwood Lee, who still teaches at the college. He said as soon as he found a home in Stony Brook he looked for a tennis club for his family to play at, and enjoyed the camaraderie at the local club.

“It’s been a wonderful place to play tennis and a wonderful place to meet friends,” Lee said.

McDonnell said the club has always helped younger players improve and employed great tennis pros. He recalled Ineke Fisher, who lived in Florida with her husband. During the summers, the couple would come to New York, and Ineke would teach at the Three Village Tennis Club while her husband taught at the Old Field Club. McDonnell said Ineke’s instructions were a mixture of technique and court etiquette.

Once a year the club holds a Wimbledon Woody social event using old wooden rackets like it used to in years past.

“It was a far more finessed game,” McDonnell said, recalling the days he used to only swing a wooden racket. “It was a slower game, but it required you to move a player around a court and not just overpower them.”

Another annual competition at the club is the mixed doubles Van Slyke Tournament. McDonnell said he still remembers Dr. Don Van Slyke, for whom the tournament was named. Van Slyke was a biochemist at Brookhaven National Laboratory, who played well into his 80s.

McDonnell moved to Maine six years ago, but said when he visits Long Island, he makes sure to stop and play at the club. He is considered an honorary member.

“This is a wonderful asset to the community,” he said. “It’s into another generation at this point, but it’s become very much established.”

Joseph and Maddie Mastriano, co-founders of Three Village Kids Lemonade Stand, held the fifth annual fundraising event at R.C. Murphy Junior High School. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Rita J. Egan

Thirteen-year-old Joseph and 17-year-old Maddie Mastriano turned lemons into lemonade and then turned a lemonade stand into an annual fundraising event that has raised thousands for Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.

The Three Village Kids Lemonade Stand event was held on the grounds of R.C. Murphy Junior High School in Stony Brook Aug. 2. What started as a simple lemonade stand in front of the Mastrianos’ home one hot day five years ago has turned into a summer event that draws hundreds from the local community to show their support.

Maddie said when she and her brother set up their first lemonade stand, neighborhood children helped them out. They sold lemonade for 50 cents, and at the end of the day, they weren’t sure how to split the few dollars they made amongst 16 kids. Their mother suggested giving the money to a charity, and they decided to donate the money to the children’s hospital since it was in the area.

Volunteers set up the lemonade stand. Photo from Three Village Kids Lemonade Stand

Through the years, the lemonade stand, formerly known as the S-Section Kids Lemonade Stand, began to draw more customers when neighbors discovered through word of mouth that the Mastrianos were donating the money. After serving nearly 500 customers last summer, the family approached the Three Village school district this year to see if the annual event could be held at one of the school’s properties, and the district agreed.

While their first lemonade stand enlisted the help of various neighborhood children, this year’s event included more than 100 volunteers from the school district.

“It’s amazing to know that all those people want to help out with this cause,” Maddie said.

Among the volunteers were the siblings’ cousins Sierra Edwards, 14, Savanna Edwards, 11, and Zoie Mastriano, 11. The girls were helping out at the T-shirt table, and they all said they were amazed at what their relatives had accomplished.

“I don’t know any young kids who have done something like this before,” Zoie said.

At press time, the Mastriano siblings raised more than $19,000 towards their 2017 goal of $20,000. In addition to local residents attending their Aug. 2 event, donations were accepted on their website, and the siblings solicited the help of sponsors. Maddie said they noticed various fundraisers that partnered with companies so she and her brother decided to approach local businesses.

Maddie said it feels good to give back. It’s something she and her brother have learned from her parents who she said are always helping out wherever they can and have been a good influence.

While the event has turned into more than selling lemonade, with corporate sponsors, the Setauket Fire Department on hand giving demonstrations, and the Ward Melville alumni band SWIM performing, the siblings said they enjoy donating their time. Maddie said they think of the children in the hospital who don’t have the chance to enjoy their summer vacation like they do. 

“This is our way of giving back,” Maddie said. “We give them one day of ours to possibly give them summers in the future.”

The Mastriano siblings receiving a proclamation from Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine and Town Clerk Donna Lent. Photo from Three Village Kids Lemonade Stand

The Mastrianos estimated that 400 people stopped by throughout the day including Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine and Town Clerk Donna Lent, presenting them with a proclamation; celebrity chef Barrett Beyer of Hell’s Kitchen, making gourmet lemonade; Mr. Met, greeting guests; and Stony Brook University men’s basketball and women’s soccer teams. Three Village Central School District Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich and board Trustee Inger Germano also stopped by.

County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who grew up in the Three Village school district, has attended the event for the last few years.

“It has been exciting to see it grow and evolve, from block to neighborhood to community event in such a short time,” Hahn said in an email. “This annual event highlights the generosity of spirit within the Three Village community and the compassion of its organizers and volunteers. It is reaffirming to see children and teenagers work so enthusiastically, and with such empathy, to try and ease the suffering of others.” 

Joan Alpers, director of Child Life Services at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, attended the event and delivered a short speech. She said the funds the children raised will go towards programs such as horticulture therapy, art therapy and music therapy for children plus relaxation sessions for stressed parents.

Alpers said she is amazed by Joseph and Maddie’s work and the community’s support of the children.

“I just think it’s really phenomenal that kids did this one year but then had the resources to do it again and to grow it each year,” Alpers said. “That takes skill, dedication and a special human spirit for a young person.” 

Maddie and Joseph’s father Joseph Mastriano, who was volunteering at the event, said he is proud of his children.

“It teaches them lessons they don’t necessarily learn in school,” the father said. “They went out on their own and solicited different businesses. I think it’s a good experience for them all around.”

Next year’s lemonade stand is scheduled for Aug. 8, 2018 at R.C. Murphy Junior High School. For more information about Three Village Kids Lemonade Stand or to donate, visit www.threevillagekidslemonadestand.com.

Above, Alesi, the skull of the new extinct ape species Nyanzapithecus alesi. Photo by Fred Spoor

By Daniel Dunaief

They were in a terrible mood. They had spent an entire day searching for clues about creatures that walked the Earth millions of years ago and had come up empty.

“We were not finding even a single bone, nothing,” recalled Isaiah Nengo, who will be an associate director of the Turkana Basin Institute and an assistant research professor at Stony Brook University this fall.

Alesi after attached sandstone rock was partially removed at the Turkana Basin Institute, near Lodwar, Kenya. Photo by Christopher Kiarie

One of the fossil hunters in the group, John Ekusi, started rolling a cigarette. Nengo told him to move away from them so that they didn’t inhale second-hand smoke. Walking ahead, Ekusi made a spectacular discovery that Nengo called a “freak of a fossil.” Ekusi pointed out a bone sticking out of the ground that looked like the femur of a large animal. When they got closer, they could see that it had brow ridges. Pushing aside dirt, they saw the outline of a primate skull.

“We knew we had found something unique and we started celebrating right there,” Nengo said. “We were dancing and high-fiving. The thrill was unimaginable.”

Nengo and his team discovered the fossil on Sept. 4, 2014, in northern Kenya. This week, a team of researchers from the United States, France and England are unveiling three years worth of research into this remarkable find in the prestigious research journal Nature.

For starters, the researchers had to confirm the date of their fossil, which was about the size of a lemon. Rutgers University geologists Craig Feibel and Sara Mana studied the matrix around the fossil and the area around it.

Akai Ekes and John Ekusi watch as Isaiah Nengo lifts the sandstone block with Alesi after six hours of excavation. Photo from ​Isaiah Nengo

“There was no doubt that [the fossil] came from this deposit and hadn’t rolled in or washed in” during some later period, explained Ellen Miller, a professor of physical anthropology at Wake Forest University.

Next, they had to figure out what kind of primate they had: It could have been an ape or a monkey. Fred Spoor, a paleontologist at University College London, did an initial CT reading using a medical scanner. He found intact molars that were characteristic of apes.

The researchers wanted to do a more thorough analysis of the three-dimensional shape of the skull, so they called Paul Tafforeau, a paleoanthropologist specialist of X-ray imaging who works as a beamline scientist at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France. Typically, such research centers require scientists to wait a year or more.

As soon as Tafforeau saw the photos, Nengo recalls, he said, “You can bring it in anytime.” Tafforeau used a technique called propagation phase contrast–X-ray synchrotron microtomography. In an email, Tafforeau described it as being close to a medical scanner, but 1,000 times more precise and sensitive.

Over the course of three or four days, Tafforeau analyzed the teeth that hadn’t erupted from this young primate, which indicated that this individual died when it was only 16 months old. The teeth also demonstrated that the toddler, whose gender is difficult to determine because of its age, belonged to a new species, called Nyanzapithecus alesi. The name Alesi comes from the Turkana word “ales,” which means ancestor.

Tafforeau said the thickness of the tooth enamel suggest a classic hominoid diet, which would be similar to that of a modern gibbon, and would consist mostly of fruits and leaves. Researchers estimate that an adult of this species would weigh about 20 pounds.

Turning their attention to the fantastic creature’s ears, the researchers found that it didn’t have a balance organ. That means it couldn’t move as rapidly through trees as a gibbon. The ears of this primate, however, did have fully developed bony ear tubes. These ear structures “absolutely confirmed that these were apes,” said Miller. “We had no specimens between 15 million and 10 million years ago.”

Field crew of the​ Stony Brook University-affiliated​ Turkana Basin Institute​ when Alesi​ ​was discovered​ ​at​ Napudet​ in September 2014. From​ ​left, Abdala Ekuon, John Ekus​i, Isaiah Nengo,​ ​Bernard Ewoi, Akai Ekes and Cyprian Nyete.​ Photo from Isaiah​ ​​​Nengo.

Scientists generally believe apes and humans diverged in their evolution about 7 million years ago. That means this toddler ape belongs to a species that is likely a common ancestor for other apes and humans.

Anthropologist Meave Leakey, a research professor in the Department of Anthropology and the Turkana Basin Institute, suggested that this fossil “gives us a picture for the first time of what the ancestor of apes and humans looked like 13 million years ago. It also suggests,” she continued in an email, “that the nyanzapiehecines were close to the origin of all living apes and humans.”

Leakey described the fossil as one of the most complete skulls of an ape ever found anywhere and indicated it was of an age that is poorly represented in the African fossil record.

The three years between the discovery of the fossil and its unveiling to the world in the Nature article is “actually very quick,” Leakey explained. The images captured through the synchrotron provide detailed pictures of structures that would otherwise be hidden by bone.

Gathering and interpreting these images meant traveling to Grenoble, which, she explained, “takes considerable time.”

Researchers involved in this study said this is just the beginning of the work they will conduct on this rare and detailed fossil. Nengo said they had already collected two terabytes worth of data from their scans. Much of the further study of this ape will involve a closer examination of all of that data.

“A paper coming out in Nature makes it seem like the end of the process,” Miller said. “This is just the beginning.” He is intrigued to learn more about the organization of the brain.

Nengo hopes to bring together researchers for a two- or three-day workshop in September or October at Stony Brook University to tackle the next phase of analysis for Alesi.

As it turns out, September will likely become an important anniversary for Nengo, as he recalls the memory of a day three years ago that didn’t start out particularly well, but that ended with a rare and thrilling fossil find.

Nengo recalled how excited he was to return to the Turkana Basin Institute to show Richard Leakey, the founder of the site, Meave Leakey and Lawrence Martin, the director of TBI. “I had photos on my iPad and they were absolutely thrilled,” said Nengo. “Everybody was beginning the guesswork of wondering what it is.”

Local family goes from organizing basket raffles to hosting international symposium

Many battling the autoimmune disease APS Type 1 and their families, above, attended a symposium at Stony Brook University organized by Dave and Sherri Seyfert of Stony Brook. Photo from Sherri Seyfert

By Rita J. Egan

When their son Matthew, now 17, was diagnosed with Autoimmune Polyglandular Syndrome Type 1 11 years ago, Sherri and Dave Seyfert’s world was turned upside down.

The diagnosis led the Stony Brook couple to join the cause to find a cure for the rare autoimmune disease that affects 1 in 2 million people in the United States, and the results of their efforts culminated recently with the Second International Symposium on APS Type 1 at Stony Brook University July 13 through 15, an event they organized and hosted.

“Each time we have a hospitalization or emergency room visit or are in ICU, for the most part we learn something that will keep us out of there for that particular thing next time.”

—Dave Seyfert

The Seyferts with Todd and Heather Talarico of New Jersey founded the APS Type 1 Foundation with the main goal of making physicians more aware of the rare disorder. In the last decade, the families have raised $500,000 for research through fundraising events, which includes basket raffles organized by the Seyferts at the Setauket firehouse on Main Street.

The Seyferts said the basket raffles were always popular thanks to the support of local businesses and residents, and their fundraising success led to the hosting of the July symposium that gave researchers an opportunity to share information. It also provided patients and their loved ones a chance to find a much-needed support system.

Attendees traveled from all over the country as well as Ireland and South America to share their experiences. The couple said life after a diagnosis can sometimes be lonely for families.

“The symposium gave [families] the opportunity to share, to be able to provide each other with support and also listen to the researchers giving them hope that there’s a lot of research going on out there,” Sherri Seyfert said.

The Seyferts said “there are a lot of moving pieces” when it comes to APS Type 1, because the body has trouble metabolizing Vitamin D, which helps in the process of providing calcium to bones and muscles, including the heart.. A patient can experience various symptoms including cramping, bone mass problems and an irregular heart rhythm. However, a triad of disorders identifies the disease: adrenal insufficiency (Addison’s), hypoparathyroidism, and Candidiasis.

The Seyfert’s son Matthew was diagnosed when he was six years old. Photo from Sherri Seyfert

“So everybody is actually a little bit different as far as what conditions they have, even though they’ll share three things,” Dave Seyfert said. 

He said the disease overall is manageable, even though patients can develop something new every decade of their life.

“Each time we have a hospitalization or emergency room visit or are in ICU, for the most part we learn something that will keep us out of there for that particular thing next time,” the father said.

He said the couple chose the university to recognize the contributions of Stony Brook Children’s Hospital  to the community and their quick diagnosis of Matthew when he was six years old. At the time he was experiencing excessive fatigue and suffered a seizure in kindergarten. His father said it took 48 hours for the team at Stony Brook to diagnosis his son. It can sometimes take years to identify the disease in a patient.

The couple said the symposium included a section for children and teenagers to interact separately from adults. Matthew attended the event and assisted in escorting guests and served as a microphone runner during the Q&A.

Dr. Andrew Lane,  professor of clinical pediatrics in the Division of Pediatric Endocrinology at Stony Brook Medicine, and Dr. Mark Anderson, director of University of California, San Francisco’s Medical Scientist Training Program, were among the speakers at the symposium.

“I think that [the Seyferts] are just a fantastic example of encouraging people to believe that for whatever medical condition or other condition in the world they are interested in fixing, even small things can make a difference.”

—Dr. Andrew Lane

“I thought it was really uplifting,” Lane said. “It was really great to see all the families supporting each other. It was also great for the physicians and scientists in the audience to interact, and informally and formally hear each other’s work and help recognize what areas need further work.”

Anderson, who met the Seyferts at the first symposium in Toronto, Canada in 2015, said there is hope for those diagnosed with APS Type 1. He said with stem cell transplants, the thymus, a gland that sits in front of the heart and plays a part in APS Type 1, may possibly be reprogrammed.

“That’s the type of thing that families want to know that someone is working on the problem,” Anderson said.

Lane, who was part of the team that diagnosed Matthew, said the symposium was the perfect opportunity for families to raise concerns directly to internationally recognized researchers in the field, and he is amazed that the family went from organizing basket raffles to hosting a symposium.

“I think that [the Seyferts] are just a fantastic example of encouraging people to believe that for whatever medical condition or other condition in the world they are interested in fixing, even small things can make a difference and sometimes turn into really big things,” Lane said.

Matthew was too shy to comment on the event, according to his mother, but she said the whole family was left with hope after the three-day symposium.

“People were thanking me, and my response always was it’s an honor to be able do this for everyone,” his mother said.

For more information about APS Type 1 and future events, visit www.apstype1.org.

Award winners at the Closing Night Awards reception, from left, Catherine Eaton, writer/director/actor/co-producer of ‘The Sounding’; Todd and Jedd Wider, directors of ‘To the Edge of the Sky’; Nadav Shlomo Giladi of ‘Across the Line’; Michael Ferrell, writer/director/actor/co-producer of ‘Laura Gets a Cat’; Robin Grey, producer of ‘Purple Dreams’; and Pavels Gumennikovs of ‘Just, Go!’ Photo by Nick A. Koridis for the SB Film Festival

The 22nd annual Stony Brook Film Festival, presented by Island Federal Credit Union, wrapped up with a Closing Night Awards Reception on July 29. The evening recognized the outstanding new independent films screened at the festival, which was held at Staller Center for the Arts at Stony Brook University from July 20 to 29. John Anderson, film critic and master of ceremonies, and a longtime MC for the awards reception, announced the winners.

The event attracted the largest attendance ever this year. Filmmaker participation also broke records with directors from Armenia, Bulgaria, England, France, Germany, Israel, Latvia, Netherlands, Spain and USA representing their films at the screenings. In addition, films from Finland, Iran, Italy, Norway and Sweden were in the mix.

From left, John Anderson, film critic and MC for the awards reception; Karoline Herfurth, writer/director/actress; and Alan Inkles, director of the Stony Brook Film Festival attend the Stony Brook Film Festival’s Closing Night’s U.S. Premiere of ‘Text for You.’ Photo by Nick A. Koridis for the SB Film Festival

“It truly was a magical year where almost every filmmaker attended their screenings to represent their films and host Q&As,” said Alan Inkles, founder and director of the Stony Brook Film Festival, adding, “As for the films we showed, the audience scores were the best in our 22 years. Great films, great guests and packed houses nightly. It’s what I envisioned for Stony Brook when we started this festival and it was certainly achieved this year.”

Two of the filmmakers whose film won an award at the festival grew up in the Three Village area. The Wider brothers’ documentary followed four families as they fought the FDA to gain access to a lifesaving drug to help their sons, all coping with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The world premiere of Todd and Jedd Wider’s documentary “To the Edge of the Sky” was awarded the Audience Choice Award for Best Feature along with “Fanny’s Journey,” which tied with an identical high score.

“The Stony Brook Film Festival is an incredibly well curated and intelligent film festival. It celebrates independent film from around the world and gives its audience a chance to discover great films and interact with filmmakers,” noted Todd Wider. “Supremely well run and organized, each film is shown once in a giant, state-of-the-art theater to a routinely packed crowd. This format really works well here, as the entire community focuses on one film at a time. Set in one of the most beautiful towns on Long Island and backed by a powerhouse university, the audiences are really smart and very welcoming. Don’t miss this festival [next year]. It’s a wonderful experience,” he said.

Among the many highlights of the festival was the U.S. premiere of the rock documentary, “The Second Act of Elliott Murphy.” The singer-songwriter Elliott Murphy, a Garden City native, moved to Paris after a music career with his band in the U.S. and then found new success in Europe. At the screening of his film, he hosted a Q&A and then played three of his songs from the stage.

Closing Night presented the U.S. premiere of “Text for You” (“SMS für Dich”), a romantic comedy. The writer, director and actress Karoline Herfurth came in from Germany to represent her film.

And the winners are:

2017 Jury Award — Best Feature

“The Sounding” (United States)

2017 Audience Choice — Best Feature (tie)

“Fanny’s Journey” (France)

“To the Edge of the Sky” World Premiere (United States)

2017 Special Recognition by the Jury — Spirit of Independent Filmmaking

“Laura Gets a Cat” (United States)

2017 Special Recognition by the Jury — Achievement in Social Impact

“Purple Dreams” New York Premiere (United States)

2017 Jury Award — Best Short

“Across the Line” World Premiere (Israel)

2017 Audience Choice Award — Best Short

“Just, Go!” (Latvia)

For more information about the Stony Brook Film Festival, visit www.stonybrookfilmfestival.com.

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