Stony Brook University

A Q&A with Michael Bernstein

Stony Brook University has been awarded more than $2 million in grants. Photo from SBU

Michael Bernstein, the new interim president of Stony Brook University, came by TBR News Media’s office for an exclusive interview where he spoke on his new role, challenges the school faces and his thoughts on the future. Here is what he had to say. 

Is there any chance you will stay in this role permanently?

This past January, I talked through with [previous SBU President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr.] about concluding my tenure as provost [at the university]. 

My partner Patty and I have made plans to go to San Diego, where we’ve had a home for 20-plus years. It’s been a prime directive to get back to San Diego. 

Michael Bernstein. Photo from SBU

Things changed, when Sam announced he would be leaving, and he asked if I’d be willing to serve in the interim [president] role if the chancellor of SUNY, Kristina Johnson, asked me to do so. 

I remember at that meeting, I was like, “I need to talk to Patty and then I’ll talk to you again.”

Patty and I talked it through and here we are. I am delighted to be in this role. As for the longer-term future, we have open minds and will take it one day at a time. 

Let’s see if I like the job and more importantly let’s see if the job likes me and we’ll go from there. 

So you don’t see yourself as a placeholder?

No, I am the interim president. My goal, my hope and my intention is to do the job — that’s what the chancellor expects from me and I think that’s what all our colleagues on campus expect of me. I’m going to do my best.

It’s true when you are serving in an interim role, you have to balance the reality of the role with the tasks that have to be done. 

There are some things an interim president might not be able to do. Some lifts might be too heavy. I’m here to serve the campus the best I can. 

What do you see as your biggest challenges?

Challenges are also opportunities. We want to maintain the trajectory that Sam established in his decade-long tenure [as president]. 

Our student success metrics have been improving in the past 10 years. Graduation rates have gone up and we want to keep that momentum.

Right now, our six-year rate is at the high mid-60th percentile. Roughly 62, 63 percent of our students have their degrees in hand within six years of their initial matriculation. The goal is to get that number up into the 70th percentile and that’s doable. It will take work, resources and determination. 

The quality of our students keeps going up. We are doing a much better job in advising, tutoring, counseling and making sure they have a clear path to graduation. 

There’s still this general anxiety over whether or not the school focuses more on STEM than the humanities and arts. What do you think should be done in those terms?

I’m certainly aware of the sentiments. We do have outstanding departments and units in STEM base fields. That’s been true probably since the day the school opened. 

It is not something we would ever ignore or look past. I actually feel the sense that we are overlooking the arts and humanities is sometimes misconstrued. We have some excellent programs — political science is a nationally ranked program, our Hispanic language and literature program is one of the best in the field, our music department competes with Julliard for MFA [master of fine arts] students.

I’ve just used those programs as an example … could we strengthen other units? Of course, when we have the ability to do so, but that’s in the sciences too. 

Is there a chance the theatre arts major will come back?  

Sure, there is a chance. There are no plans on the table today. The decision to deactivate the theatre arts major was a tough one made under stressful budgetary circumstances. 

It is always a relative judgment — do you do this before you do that. I know it is a tough conversation to have with colleagues, especially if they are in the area where you said, “No, we are not going to invest here.” 

“We are simply not the kind of university of size and resources where we can do everything at once.”

— Michael Bernstein

We are simply not the kind of university of size and resources where we can do everything at once. 

We have to make some tough choices. I always say to people, “The word’s not ‘never,’ the word is ‘not right now,’ and we’ll have to see what the future brings. 

Is there a way to bridge the gap with commuters and residents so they both feel like they are a part of the campus?

At the moment, we can’t envision a future where we have 100 percent residency for our undergraduates. It just doesn’t seem practical in terms of the site, the amenities and infrastructure. 

Also, I don’t think it is something the student community wants. We have a significant community of students who prefer to be commuters for any number of reasons. We want to make sure we are delivering an outstanding experience for both the resident and commuter students. 

That’s challenging. We do have a student affairs team that is looking at the issue of commuter students. Thinking of ways of making the experience better.

Title IX [regarding sexual harassment, discrimination in education law]?

I think SUNY as a whole and here at the Stony Brook campus is resolutely committed to robust Title IX processes and procedures. We have good leadership at the Title IX office. We are constantly trying to make sure we are doing the best we possibly can. How can procedures be improved. 

One of our biggest concerns is that the information about Title IX processes and procedures is disseminated effectively, so that everyone at the university community is aware. 

I’m determined ongoing in this role to supply as much support as possible to them and let them know I have my hand on their back; making sure the campus is safe, secure and welcoming to all constituents is job No. 1. 

Rumors of the possibility of more shops on campus?

We’ve always been involved in thinking through opportunities for potential partnerships or ways to improve amenities and capacity on campus. 

I have no concrete contract to pull out and say we are doing this. We are exploring things all the time. We know we have to build more dorm capacity, which means we have to bring more amenities to campus.

If we can find partnership to do that, like we did with the hotel, we would explore that. Why wouldn’t we? I don’t know if it will happen but it is something worth exploring. 

What is the status of the new MART (Medical and Research Translation) building/Children’s Hospital?   

We have been frustrated by delays, but I’m told the latest is end of October for the MART and the beginning of November for the Children’s Hospital. 

Has the problem been in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system or foundation?

In response to this question, Nicholas Scibetta, vice president for marketing and communications, stepped in:

Not foundation. It’s more quality checks and things like that. It’s been our drive on our side -— the Stony Brook side — to make sure that everything is exactly where it needs to be.

 

Santa Claus took time off from his vacation to visit pediatric patients at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital July 29.

Decked out in shorts and flip flops topped off with his signature jacket and hat, Santa stopped by the children’s rooms at the hospital delivering gifts with the help of correction officers from the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department.

For the second year in a row, Correction Officer Peter Lambert organized a toy collection to help Santa with his visit. The officer was impacted by the passing of Ryan Zinna, a child who suffered from medulloblastoma, and the toy drive was conducted in Ryan’s honor.

Patients and their siblings were excited to see Santa, and he didn’t forget the parents as those on hand received Starbucks gift cards.

Santa sat down and talked with each of the patients. Avery, 9, from Florida, who became sick while on vacation, said she would give a bigger toy she received from him to another child since she would be traveling on a plane the next day. Macklin, 11, from Wading River, was painting a model toy when Santa entered his room and told him how he wanted to be an engineer when he grows up. And 12-year-old Brady, from Aquebogue, told Santa he would be both the cops and robbers when he plays with his new toy.

Timothy Glotch. Photo from BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

Several Stony Brook University scientists are studying the health effects of lunar dust on the human body. The accompanying article describes a recent $7.5 million, five-year award that the researchers, led by Tim Glotch in the Department of Geosciences, recently won from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. See below for email exchanges with some of the other researchers.

Fifty years after astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left those fateful first footprints on the moon, a team of scientists is hoping to ensure the safety of future astronauts who remain on the moon for longer periods of time.

Led by Tim Glotch, a professor in geosciences at Stony Brook University, the research team was awarded $7.5 million in funds over five years from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The funding will begin this fall. The goal of the multinational team, which includes researchers from Brookhaven National Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center, the American Museum of Natural History, among many others, is to explore the health effects of lunar dust.

Different from the dust on Earth, which tends to be more rounded and small, where the sharp edges have been weathered away, lunar dust has jagged edges because the lack of atmosphere prevents the same erosion.

The group, whose work is called the Remote, In Situ, and Synchrotron Studies for Science and Exploration 2 (or RISE2) will determine the effects on exposure on cell death and genetic damage.

Glotch’s team will follow up on an earlier five-year effort that just concluded and will coordinate with seven research groups that received similar funding from the space agency.

Astronauts who were on the moon for a matter of hours sometimes developed a respiratory problem called lunar hay fever, which came from the introduction of these particles into their lungs. In preparing for missions to the moon, asteroids or other planets, NASA is preparing for considerably longer term voyages, which could increase the intensity and accumulation of such dust.

At the same time, NASA is working on dust mitigation strategies, which will hopefully prevent these particles from becoming a problem, Glotch explained.

Joel Hurowitz, an assistant professor in the Department of Geosciences at SBU, is leading the reactivity study. He will take simulated minerals that are common on the moon and put them in simulated lung fluids. He and the RISE2 team may be able to provide a better understanding of the risks and preclinical symptoms for astronauts.

Hurowitz is working with Hanna Nekvasil, a professor and the director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Geosciences at SBU. Nekvasil is synthesizing pure minerals in the lab, which are analogs to the materials people would encounter on the moon.

“One of the problems we counter when trying to assess the toxicity of lunar materials to astronauts is that Earth materials” don’t have the same structure or properties, explained Nekvasil in an email. “For this reason, we plan to make new materials under conditions that more closely simulate the conditions under which the materials formed at depth and were modified at the lunar surface.”

On the medical school side, the researchers will use human lung and brain cell cultures and mouse lung cells to see how the minerals and regolith affects cell viability and cell death, Glotch said.

Nekvasil explained that the research team will also explore the effects of the function of mitochondria, which can have acute and long-term health effects.

Stella Tsirka, a professor in pharmacological sciences at Stony Brook, is leading the cytotoxicity studies and will continue to look at what happens to the lungs and the central nervous system when they are exposed to lunar dust. “What we see is some transient increase in inflammatory markers, but, so far, we have not done chronic exposures,” Tsirka said. The new study will aim to study chronic exposure.

Bruce Demple, a professor in pharmacological sciences at the Renaissance School of Medicine at SBU, is leading the genotoxicity efforts.

In addition to the jagged pieces of lunar dust, astronauts also may deal with areas like the dark spots on the moon, or lunar mare, which has minerals with higher amounts of iron, which can lead to the production of acidity in the lungs.

Ideally, the scientists said, NASA would design airlock systems that remove the dust from spacesuits before they come into the astronaut’s living spaces. The work on RISE2 will help NASA “understand just how big a health problem these astronauts will face if such engineering controls cannot be put into place, and develop reasonable exposure limits to the dust,” Hurowitz explained in an email.

The most likely landing spot for the next exploration is the south pole, which is the largest impact basin in the solar system. That area may have clues that lead to a greater understanding of the chronology of events from the beginning of the solar system.

“I hope future missions will help answer questions about the timing and processes through which the moon formed and evolved,” Deanne Rogers, an associate professor of geosciences at SBU, explained in an email. Rogers, who also participated in the first RISE research effort and is married to Glotch, will conduct thermal infrared spectral imaging and relate the spectral variations to chemistry and mineral variations in surface materials.

Additionally, the south pole holds volatile elements, like ice deposits. Finding ice could provide other missions with resources for a future settlement on the moon. Water on the moon could provide hydration for astronauts and, when split into its elements, could create hydrogen, which could be used for fuel, and oxygen, which could create air.

In addition to working with numerous scientists, including coordinating with the other current NASA research efforts, Glotch is pleased that RISE2 continues to fund training for undergraduates and graduate students.

The current effort is also coordinating with the School of Journalism at Stony Brook. Science journalism classes will involve writing stories about the research, profiling the scientists and going into the field for two weeks.

Glotch, who thought seriously about becoming an astronaut until he was about 23 years old, explained that he is pleased that there appears to be a “real push to go back to the moon. I have hoped to see a new human mission to the moon or beyond since I was a kid.”

————————————————————————————————Q & A with Associate Professor of Geosciences Deanne Rogers:

What role will you play in this work? Is this similar to the contribution you made to the original RISE project?

My contribution is very similar to my role in in the original RISE project. I will be participating in Theme 2, conducting thermal infrared spectral imaging and relating the spectral variations to chemistry and mineral variations in surface materials. A major new component is developing rapid analysis algorithms and pipelines, and evaluating strategies for how to best organize and integrate the various data sets.

How much of your research time will you dedicate to RISE2?
About 15% of my research time. But there will be a graduate student who will be doing the heavy lifting (collecting, processing and analyzing the data, correlating the data with surface materials and chemistry, developing the processing algorithms).
Have you and Tim spent considerable time discussing RISE2 and did you go through numerous drafts of the proposal?
Yes.
Will you also be involved in working with undergraduates and graduate students, as well as journalism school students, through the RISE2 efforts?
Yes, I will be mentoring undergrads and grads and working with the journalism students.
Are you excited to be a part of efforts to ensure the safety of astronauts on future extended trips to the moon, asteroids and/or other planets?
Yes, I am honored and excited.
Is it especially exciting/ compelling to be working on a  NASA funded effort around the 50th anniversary of the first steps on the moon?
Yes!
Are there scientific questions you hope future lunar missions answer? Do you think future expeditions will help ask new research questions?
Yes. I hope future missions will help answer questions about the timing and processes through which the moon formed and evolved to its present state. I am also interested in hydrogen sources and hydrogen mobility on the moon. History shows that we always end up with new questions whenever we send a mission to answer existing questions.

Q and A with Assistant Profess or Geosciences Joel Hurowitz:

Will you be working with Hanna Nekvasil to take minerals she produced and put them in simulated lung fluid. Is that correct? Is this simulated lung fluid a novel concept or have other research efforts taken a similar approach to understanding the effect of exposure to elements or chemicals on the lungs?

Yes, I will be working with Hanna.  Our plan is to produce a suite of high-fidelity lunar regolith simulant materials in her laboratory, characterize them extensively to ensure that they are a good chemical and mineralogical match to the different types of soil on the Moon, and then assess how toxic they are.  Some of those toxicity experiments will involve immersing the materials she creates in simulated lung fluid and assessing what chemical reactions take place between the solid regolith simulants and the lung fluid.  Other experiments will be done in collaboration with our partners in the Stony Brook medical school, and will involve, e.g., assessing how cells, DNA, and lung tissue react to these regolith simulants.  These experiments build on work that has been done by the previous iteration of RISE (1.0), but have the added benefit that we can apply the lessons learned for assessing toxicity from our first round of research, as well as making use of this new suite of very high-fidelity simulants.

Does this work have the potential to provide future missions with early warning signs of exposure, while also generating potential solutions to lunar dust driven lung damage?

This is a question that is probably better posed to our medical school colleagues on the team, Stella Tsirka and Bruce Demple.  They could speak in a much more informed way about what types of signals we might be able to recognize from, e.g., a blood test, that an astronaut is beginning to show signs of a toxicological response to regolith.

Ultimately, I think that the best solution to lunar dust driven lung damage is to engineer the exposure problem away – NASA needs to design airlock systems that remove regolith from spacesuits before they come into the astronaut’s living spaces.  Our work will help NASA to understand just how big a health problem these astronauts will face if such engineering controls cannot be put into place, and develop reasonable exposure limits to the dust.

Is there considerable excitement at Stony Brook about the RISE2 effort? Do you have, if you’ll pardon the pun, high hopes for the research and do you think this kind of effort will prove valuable for astronauts on future long term missions to the moon, asteroids or other planets?
Absolutely – we couldn’t be more excited about all of the new research we’ll be able to perform as part of RISE 2.0, in so many areas, including better understanding the origin of the Moon and asteroids from remote and laboratory analyses, and learning how to live safely and explore efficiently on the surfaces of these solar system bodies.
 Are there novel elements to the work you’re doing?
To me, the real novelty of our part of the RISE 2.0 research lies in the combination of really disparate areas of expertise to produce a very useful research outcome for NASA.  Our team combines the expertise of: (1) geologists who understand the conditions deep within the Moon that result in the formation of the rocks and regolith that are present there today, thus enabling us to better simulate the properties of lunar soil, (2) geochemists who understand how to execute experiments between fluids and soil materials to extract the maximum information about potentially toxic compounds that result from that interaction, and (3) medical scientists who can take the geological materials we make in our labs and apply them to relevant biological materials that are the best models to understand the toxic effect of lunar soil on astronauts.  It’s a truly cross-disciplinary approach that few other groups are taking.
Could this approach also have implications for people working in areas like coal mines or regions where particulates cause lung damage?
Yes – absolutely.  So much of the science we are performing is actually grounded (if you’llpardon the pun) in earlier work that has been done to understand diseases like coal miners lung, silicosis, and asbestosis.  We’re building on that foundation of research and taking it off-Earth to understand if astronauts have to be as worried about their lung health as someone donning a mining hat and heading underground.
Given that it’s been 47 years since the last manned trip to the moon, is it exciting to contribute to efforts that will allow for future safe and extended trips back to the moon?
Of course!  These issues really need to be sorted out if we’re going to ensure that the astronauts traveling to moons, asteroids, and other planets are safe, and I’m really happy to be a part of that effort.
Are there specific geologic questions you hope future missions to the moon answer? Will future samples lead to new questions?
I think one of the biggest questions that future missions that return samples from the Moon can address will relate to the timing of formation of the largest impact basins on the Moon and whether or not they record evidence for a cataclysmic “spike” in the rate of meteorite impacts in the early history of the inner Solar System.  So much of our current thinking about when life on Earth (or anywhere else in the inner Solar System) arose is tied to the idea that it must have happened after this cataclysmic “late heavy bombardment”, and yet, we aren’t completely sure whether this spike actually happened.  If it didn’t, it might force us to rethink what conditions were like on the surface of the Earth early in its geological history and when life could’ve first began.
How much of your time (as a percentage of your research time) will you dedicate to the RISE2 work?

It will vary from year to year.  Early on, I’ll be heavily invested in starting the program of research up, but then starting in 2021, I’ll hand off some of my duties in order to work on mission operations on the Mars 2020 rover mission.  I’m the deputy principal investigator for one of the instruments that is flying aboard that rover, so the year 2021 is going to be consumed with my Mars-related work.  As things start to settle down a bit on Mars (in 2022), I’ll be able to return to my RISE research.  It’ll be really exciting to see how much progress will have been made by that time, but I’ll be planning to keep tabs on the RISE research even when I’m spending more time on the Mars 2020 mission.

Q & A with Hanna Nekvasil, Director of Undergraduate Studies and Professor of Geosciences:

Will you be synthesizing pure minerals in the lab, which are analogs to the materials  astronauts would encounter on the moon?

One of the problems that we encounter when trying to assess the toxicity of lunar materials to astronauts, is that Earth materials make poor analogs, as we know from the materials brought back to Earth from the Apollo missions.  For this reason we plan to make new materials under conditions that more closely simulate the conditions under which the materials formed at depth and were modified on the lunar surface. For this work we use the experimental equipment that we normally use to simulate the processes that form and modify igneous rocks on Earth modified for the special low oxygen conditions of the Moon.  The materials produced will simulate more closely both the compositional and textural characteristics of dust that we expect will be encountered in future manned lunar missions.
Will Joel Hurowitz use these minerals to expose them to lung fluids? 
The RISE4E team will expose cells to the new lunar regolith simulants and assess the molecular effects to understand the cytotoxic and genotoxic potential of the new, more relevant simulants. Beyond the cell-killing and DNA-damaging capacity of the materials, we will also examine their effects on the function of mitochondria: dysfunction in that organelle can have both acute and long-term health effects.
Are you excited to be a part of an effort that may one day help ensure the safety of astronauts who spend considerable time on a lunar habitat? 
I am very excited about this and I think that the diverse team that we have assembled has great potential to really move our understanding of the potential toxicity of lunar materials forward.
Is there a specific question or mission objective you hope future trips to the moon addresses?
My greatest hope is that we encounter a diverse set of new rocktypes as each new rocktype will provide a wealth of information on the origin and evolution of the Moon’s surface and interior.

Participants in the Empower Spinal Cord Injury program held at Stony Brook University play quad rugby. Photo from Empower Spinal Cord Injury

Stony Brook University students and local community members stopped by the Walter J. Hawrys Campus Recreation Center July 23 to check out the latest equipment created to make life easier for those with spinal cord injuries.

Empower Spinal Cord Injury program participant turned mentor Jack Gerard poses with his dog Radar. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Organized by Boston-based nonprofit Empower Spinal Cord Injury, the expo featured vendors from the health care field who specialize in innovative products for individuals with spinal cord injuries. On display were products such as the Action Trackchair that can handle rocky, dirt roads and go through streams, and a wheelchair called permobil that helps those who are paralyzed to maneuver upright. Participants also demonstrated a wheelchair rugby game called quad rugby, also known as murderball, where players sit in custom-made, manual wheelchairs and play a chair-based form of rugby, physical contact and all.

In attendance were participants from Empower SCI’s two-week program that began July 14 at the university. The residential program, in its eighth year at SBU, provides an opportunity for participants to be involved in an immersive rehabilitation experience with a mix of recreational activities such as cycling, yoga, quad rugby and kayaking in Setauket Harbor. Attendees also learn techniques such as how to make getting out of bed and dressing for the day easier on the body.

Stephanie Romano, assistant director of the program, said each year approximately 50 volunteers help a dozen program participants regain independence and passion in activities, as spinal cord injuries alter the ability to control parts of the body.  According to the organization, more than 17,000 people are affected by the injuries each year in the United States.

Andrew Gallo, from Lake Grove, has participated in the program for the last two years. The 28-year-old was injured in December 2016 while diving in the ocean in Florida when he hit a sandbar. He learned about the program through his therapy office, and he said a friend told him, “There’s life before Empower, and there’s life after Empower and that I had to go.”

Participants in the Empower Spinal Cord Injury program held at Stony Brook University play quad rugby. Photo from Empower Spinal Cord Injury

Gallo said it’s difficult for wheelchair users to get together, and he said he learned from his fellow participants several tricks to help navigate the day a little easier.

“To be around like people makes all the difference,” Gallo said. “You get to interact with them and see what they would do at home in their regular lifestyle.”

He said due to this year’s program he had a chance to try kayaking again, something he had done a few times before his accident. After last year’s event, he has tried adaptive hand cycling, and now he’s looking into buying his own bike.

Jack Gerard, of Massachusetts, who was injured three years ago while swimming in Cape Cod, was also in attendance with his service dog Radar, named after the M*A*S*H character. He first attended the program a few years ago when he couldn’t get out of bed or dress on his own. This year he is a mentor.

“We learn to adapt here rather than trying to change things, Gerard said. “So, I just find a different way to do it, and that’s how I go forward in my life.”

Gerard said he wanted to use the skills that helped him look at life differently and share them with others. He said his life is back on track with returning to school at the University of Massachusetts, playing sports and attending social events. The former lacrosse player and high school track and field player is now into quad rugby, adaptive surfing and hand cycling where he recently cycled 750 miles.

Everyone learns from each other, he said, even mentors from volunteers, especially since sometimes people don’t know what’s possible until others show them.

“One of the biggest things is that you have to be vulnerable to be brave,” he said. “There are a lot of things in our lives that we have to figure out by saying maybe this isn’t the right way to do it. I need to push through this wall to find a different way to get around it.”

For more information about Empower Spinal Cord Injury, visit www.empowersci.org.

Above, the author in front of the mirrorlike windows on Stony Brook’s South Campus with a dead Swainson’s thrush on the gravel in the foreground.

By John L. Turner

With the use of a helpful anchoring spoon, I swirled a large bundle of delicious linguine strands around the tines of my fork. As I brought the forkful of food forward, to meet its just fate as the first bite of a delicious pasta dinner, I looked up from the dining table to the view outside the large picture window in the adjacent living room. 

At that precise moment a blue jay (after all a birder is always birding!) launched from a low branch of an oak tree on the other side of the road, swooped across it and headed straight for the aforementioned window. Certainly it will veer to a side as it comes closer, or turn abruptly to perch on the roof, I thought to myself, but no such luck — it flew, beak first, directly into the window. It bounced off and down into the bushes in front.   

A female common yellow-throated warbler recovering after she struck the window of a building at SBU. Photo by John Turner

After shouting an expletive, I jumped from the dining room table and out the front door to see if the blue jay was alright. I anxiously scanned around and through the waist-high ornamental shrubs looking for what I expected to be a lifeless body that moments before had been so alive. I didn’t see it. I went behind the bushes, figuring perhaps it had fallen straight down. No bird. I looked through the web of branches. No bird. I looked under the shrubs, in the dirt in front of the shrubs and on the lawn. Still no bird. 

A solid 10-minute search while my pasta dinner grew cold produced nothing. I had to conclude the bird had survived the glancing blow to the window and after being momentarily stunned flew off. Standing near the sidewalk in the front yard I had the view the bird had experienced moments before — the window looked like an opening in the forest that reflected a dogwood tree on the right and taller oak trees in the distance. 

Most window strike victims are not as lucky as this blue jay was and as I soon learned what I had experienced is not uncommon — in fact it happens with frightening regularity, with estimates ranging from 1 to 3 million North American birds dying this way each and every day. This means an estimated 365 million to 1 billion birds dying from window strikes every year in the United States. 

The victims range from tiny to large, from dull to colorful. Hummingbirds are common victims and birds of prey, although less common, also collide with windows. The large group of birds referred to as songbirds — thrushes, vireos, warblers, sparrows and the like — form the largest bulk of collision victims. 

Migrant birds die more often than resident birds such as blue jays, the apparent reason being that resident birds better “know” their territory while migrant birds, transients in migratory habitats, don’t. 

Why do birds fly into windows and die in such large, almost unimaginable numbers? For the same reason people walk into glass doors, windows and dividers (often enough to produce a series of four-minute-long videos you can watch on YouTube!) — they don’t see the glass given its transparent qualities. 

For birds, though, a window’s transparency isn’t its only deadly feature. Its reflectivity can be worse. The reflected images in the window of trees, shrubs, sky and clouds fool birds into thinking they are the real thing. The result is a bird moving through space, at normal flying speeds, toward trees reflected in the distance until it abruptly meets the glass pane — most of the time with fatal results. 

This has occurred with increasing frequency as architects have moved toward using more and more highly reflective glass in building design, to produce dramatic views of the surrounding landscape. And the tall skyscrapers don’t pose the biggest problem — more than 90 percent of birds that perish from collisions do so by flying into the windows of homes and one- to four-story office buildings. It’s the lower stories of the building that reflect the features of the ambient environment creating the “fatal attraction” to birds. 

Amid all this death there is cause for optimism. The technology exists to make windows more bird friendly by creating the “visual interference” necessary for them to see the windows for what they are. 

For example, a number of exterior decal and sticker products are sold, ideal for home applications, that can be applied to a window’s outer surface (volunteers with the Four Harbors Audubon Society have placed more than 2,000 square decals on the windows of Endeavour Hall and other buildings on SUNY Stony Brook’s South Campus, thereby significantly reducing the number of songbirds dying from collisions with the highly reflective windows there). Better yet are readily available exterior window films that completely cover the window surface. 

Window manufacturers have also stepped up to the plate in making glass embedded with dots (called fritting) and with various other patterns. Even more promising are cutting edge window products reflecting patterns of ultraviolet light. Birds see UV light that we don’t; so these windows create the desired visual interference for birds but not for us — to us they look like normal windows.  

To his credit New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) has sponsored legislation, awaiting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) signature, that creates a “bird friendly building council” to research the issue and report back to the Legislature with a series of recommended strategies to reduce the carnage statewide, such as the use of bird-friendly building materials and design features in buildings; it’s Assembly bill A4055B/Senate bill S25B.   

I hope that you too care about reducing the number of vibrant and colorful songbirds that meet their untimely fate. If you do, please take a moment to pen a letter to Gov. Cuomo urging he sign the measure into law. His address is:  

The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo

Governor of New York State

NYS State Capitol Building

Albany, NY 12224

Birdsong is a gift to us. If birds could also speak, the many species killed at windows would thank you for YOUR gift to them of caring enough to take the time and effort to support the bill.  

A resident of Setauket, John Turner is conservation chair of the Four Harbors Audubon Society, author of “Exploring the Other Island: A Seasonal Nature Guide to Long Island” and president of Alula Birding & Natural History Tours.

The German film ‘Sweethearts’ starring Karoline Herfurth and Hannah Herzsprung makes its U.S. premiere at the festival on July 20. Photo from Staller Center

The Staller Center turns into a movie lover’s mecca when new independent films from nearly 20 countries screen at the Stony Brook Film Festival on evenings and weekends from Thursday, July 18 to Saturday, July 27. The popular festival, now in its 24th year, brings a highly selective roster of diverse films, making it a favorite of moviegoers and filmmakers alike.

Produced by the Staller Center for the Arts at Stony Brook University, the festival pairs memorable short films with an array of features you won’t see anywhere else. This year’s event, presented by Island Federal, brings in filmmakers, cast and crew who field questions after the screenings, adding a unique dimension to the experience.

The idea of family forms the foundation for many of the features and shorts at the festival this year. Whether they are by birth or by choice, flexible or dysfunctional, generational or newly formed, you will see families of all stripes in films that take place in nearly 20 countries, from Australia to Austria, India to Israel and Spain to South Africa.

The families in this year’s films are found in Cold War era East Germany and the political upheaval of 1980s Jerusalem. They brave the isolation of North Dakotan farmlands, experience drug-fueled head trips in the California desert and solve idiosyncratic murders on a small Turkish island. They live in Paris’ Chinatown as well as remote Himalayan villages; they travel the dusty roads of Senegal and the long highway from the south of England to the Isle of Skye; and they revel in the lush rain forest of Queensland and the wilds of Appalachia.

PREMIERES

There are many world, U.S., East Coast and New York premieres in this year’s festival including the opening film, Balloon, a German film based on the true story of two families who escaped East Germany on their homemade hot air balloon, which is making its New York premiere on July 18.

The festival closes with another New York premiere of the French film Lola & Her Brothers, a charming comedy about three adult siblings who are still trying to look after one other after losing their parents.

Several American indie films will have their world premiere at the festival, and many foreign films, including Yao, Sweethearts, Miamor perdido, Lady Winsley and Made in China will have their U.S. premieres. 

American features include Them That Follow, a tense drama featuring Academy Award winner Olivia Colman; the raucous comedy Babysplitters, featuring Long Island native Eddie Alfano; and Guest Artist, a stunning and humorous film written by and starring Jeff Daniels and directed by Timothy Busfield. 

“The quality and diversity in our dramas, comedies, and documentaries are extremely high and I expect our audience to be thoroughly entertained this summer,” said Alan Inkles, Stony Brook Film Festival founder and director. 

For a complete film schedule and descriptions of all of the films, visit www.stonybrookfilmfestival.com.

TICKET INFORMATION

All screenings are held at Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts, 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook in the 1,000-seat Main Stage theater. Film passes are on sale for $90, which includes admission to all 20 features and 16 shorts over 10 days. 

Passholder perks include VIP gifts, discounts to over a dozen area restaurants throughout the summer, guaranteed admission 15 minutes before each film, and the opportunity to purchase tickets for the Closing Night Awards reception. 

For $250 you can purchase a Gold Pass and receive all the Regular Pass perks plus reserved seating with filmmakers and guests, as well as entry to the exclusive Opening Night party and the Closing Night Awards reception. 

Single tickets for individual films are also available for $12 adults, $10 seniors, $5 students. For more information or to order, call the Staller Center Box Office at 631-632-2787.

From left to right: Daniel Lozeau, Galo Del Heirro, Alexander Dagum, Marissa Ayasse, Richard J Scriven. Photo from SBU

By David Luces

For one Ecuadorian native, attending a lecture by Stony Brook Medicine doctors changed his life.

Galo Del Hierro, 44, who works for the Charles Darwin Foundation in the Galapagos, was attending a lecture given by the Stony Brook Medicine team about skin cancer screenings and prevention in the archipelago. After the lecture, Del Hierro approached Alexander Dagum, a reconstructive plastic surgeon at Stony Brook, and showed him a lesion he had on his right eyelid that was not going away and had grown bigger in the last couple of years.

“He came up to me and said, ‘I’ve had this spot that has gotten larger for some time,’” Dagum said. “I looked at it and thought it was pretty suspicious and told him he should see one of our dermatologists.”

The team’s trip in March was part of a mission through Blanca’s House, a Long Island non-profit organization that works to bring much-needed, quality medical care to countries and communities throughout Latin America. The seven-person team from Stony Brook planned on providing screenings and other care for the local community. As they further examined Del Hierro, they realized they might have to bring him 3,051 miles away to Stony Brook for care.

Dr. Daniel Lozeau, a dermatologist and clinical assistant professor at Stony Brook Medicine, took a look at Del Hierro’s lesion and determined that they needed to do a biopsy. After testing was done, Del Hierro was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma.

Lozeau said given the location of the melanoma it would make it difficult to remove.

“On the eyelid you have less room to work with,” he said. “It not like when it’s on someone’s back, where we have a lot more real estate [to work with].”

Dagum said if people in the Galapagos had anything serious, they would have to go over to the mainland in Ecuador, which is quite far. Initially, he tried to find a doctor on the mainland to perform the surgery for Del Hierro instead of bringing him to Stony Brook as it was more convenient for Del Hierro, but he couldn’t find anyone that could do it.

Lozeau said the cancer Del Hierro had is aggressive, and he could have lost his eye and his life.

Dagum then got clearance to perform the surgery as a teaching case at Stony Brook Medicine and with help from the Darwin Foundation and Blanca’s House, Del Hierro was able to come to Stony Brook for the surgery in May.

The Stony Brook plastic surgeon said the procedure takes several days and requires using skin grafts to reconstruct and support the lower eyelid.

“It was important they we got [the melanoma] out as quickly as possible,” Dagum said.

Dagum and colleagues removed the lesion in full around his eyelids, and reconstructed skin around the eyelid so Del Hierro could see properly and blink normally. He had a second procedure to adjust the eyelid.

The Ecuadorian native said through a translator that he was grateful and impressed with the care he received at Stony Brook.

Del Hierro said that he had first noticed the spot on his eyelid when he was 18 years old.

“It was a tiny little dot, and I didn’t really think much of it, I thought it was just a mole,” he said.

He admitted when he first got his diagnosis, he was worried for himself and his family, but trusted Dagum and the team.

With the procedures complete, Dagum said they are waiting for the swelling to go down and everything should settle in and heal up in the next couple of months.

Dagum expects Del Hierro to live normally; however, he recommends he should continue to get screened and have the eyelid area examined periodically.

Del Hierro’s case and the team’s experiences bring to light the importance of skin cancer screening and skin protection, especially during the summer season.

Lozeau said the Academy of Dermatology recommends sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher.

“Most important thing is to constantly re-apply frequently every couple of hours,” he said. “Hats are good to wear and make sure you have eye protection.”

The dermatologist said when it comes to skin cancer, if one notices a spot that hasn’t gone away or has grown in size, he or she should get it checked out. Also, he mentioned spots that constantly bleed or scab over.

“Galo was really fortunate. He was at the right place at the right time,” Lozeau said.

The Port Jefferson, Stony Brook University Shuttle. Photo from Kevin Wood

After calling the first trial run a success, The Village of Port Jefferson will again be using its jitney bus for transport between the village and Stony Brook University when classes begin again Sept. 5.

Village Parking and Mobility Administrator Kevin Wood said people can expect the same service as last season, which started as a pilot program on March 7. The new season will last until at least Nov. 10, though depending on ridership it could run longer.

Daily schedules will remain the same, though the last pickup will be at 10 p.m. from SBU. The schedule is anticipated to be Thursdays from 3 to 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The original pilot program cost the village around approximately $13,000, with the university picking up promotional costs.

Wood said in an email the spring season showed 3,200 riders in the two-and-a-half-month spring pilot, but he expects more riders for this term. He also said the village is looking at supplying a second shuttle.

The loop starts at Port Jefferson train station along Main Street in what’s known as Upper Port, before heading into Arden Plaza in the village, continuing up West Broadway down Route 25A, stopping at Stop & Shop in East Setauket. Once on the Stony Brook campus, it will make stops at the main circle loop, West Campus and the Chapin Apartments before coming back down Route 25A and ending at Port Jeff train station. 

The jitney ride is free for Stony Brook University students and faculty.

Gábor Balázsi. Photo from SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

Take two identical twins with the same builds, skill sets and determination. One of them may become a multimillionaire, a household name and the face of a franchise, while the other may toil away at the sport for a few years until deciding to pursue other interests.

What causes the paths of these two potential megastars to diverge?

Gábor Balázsi, an associate professor in biomedical engineering at Stony Brook University, asked a similar question about a cellular circuit in the hopes of learning more about cancer. He wanted to know what is it about the heterogeneity of a cancer cell that makes one susceptible to treatment from chemotherapeutic drugs and the other resistant to them. Heterogeneity comes from molecular differences where the original causes may be subtle, such as two molecules colliding or a cell being closer to the tumor’s surface, while the consequences can create significant differences, even among cells with the same genes.

In research published this week in the journal Nature Communications, Balázsi used two mammalian cell lines that were identical except that each carried a different synthetic gene circuit that made one more heterogeneous than the other. He subjected the two cell lines, which would otherwise perform the same function, to various levels of the same drug to determine what might cause one to be treatable and the other to become resistant. 

Through these mammalian cells, Balázsi created two circuits, one of which kept the differences between the cells low, while the other caused larger differences. Once inserted in the cell, these gene circuits created uniform and variable populations that could serve as models for low and high heterogeneity in cancer.

Working with Kevin Farquhar, who recently graduated from Balázsi’s lab, and former Stony Brook postdoc Daniel Charlebois, who is currently at the Department of Physics at the University of Alberta, Balázsi tried to test how uniform versus heterogeneous cell populations respond to treatment with different drug levels. 

Using the two synthetic gene circuits in separate but identical cell lines, the Stony Brook scientists, with financial support from the National Institutes of Health and the Laufer Center for Physical and Quantitative Biology at SBU, could re-create high and low stochasticity, or noise, in drug resistance in two cell lines that were otherwise identical.

While the work is in its preliminary stages and is a long way from the complicated collection of genes responsible for various types of cancer, this kind of analysis can test the importance of specific processes for drug resistance.

“Only in the last decade or so have we come to realize how much heterogeneity (genetic and nongenetic differences) can exist within a tumor in a single patient,” Patricia Thompson-Carino, a professor in the Department of Pathology at the Renaissance School of Medicine at SBU, explained in an email. “Thinking of cancer in a single patient as several different diseases is a bit daunting, though currently, this heterogeneity and its direct effects on how the cancer behaves remains poorly understood.”

Indeed, Thompson-Carino added that she believes Balázsi’s work will “shed light on cancer cell responses to therapy. With the rise in cancer therapies designed to specific targets and the resistance that emerges in patients on these therapies, I think [Balázsi’s] work is of extremely high value” which may help with the puzzle of how nongenetic or epigenetic heterogeneity affects responses to treatment, she continued.

In the future, researchers and clinicians may look to develop new ways of biomarker analysis that considers the variability, rather than just the average level of a biomarker.

Balázsi suggested that looking only at the variability of cells is analogous to observing an iron block sinking in water. Someone might conclude that all solids sink in liquids. Similarly, scientists might decide that cellular variability always promotes drug resistance from observations when this happens. To gain a fuller understanding of the effect of variability, however, researchers need to equalize the averages. They then need to explore what happens at various levels of drug treatment.

Current therapies do not target heterogeneity. If such future treatments existed, doctors and scientists could combine ways of treating heterogeneity with attacking cancer, which might work in the short term or prevent cancer from recurring.

Balázsi suggests his paper is a part of his attempt to address three different areas. First, he’d like to figure out how to categorize patients better, including the variability of biomarkers. Second, he believes this kind of analysis will assist in creating future combinations of treatments. By understanding how the variability of cancer cells contributes to its reaction to therapies, he might help create a cocktail of treatments, akin to the effort that helped with the treatment of HIV in the lab.

Third, he’d like to obtain cancer samples and allow them to evolve in a lab, where he can check to see how they respond to treatment levels and administration scheduling. This effort could allow him to determine the optimal drug combination and dosing for a patient.

For the work that led to the current Nature Communications paper, Balázsi explored how mammalian cells respond to various concentrations of a drug. Over 80 percent of the genes in these cells are also present in human cells, so the mechanisms he discovered and conclusions he draws should apply to human cancer cells as well.

He concluded that cells with more heterogeneity, where the cells deviate more from the average, resist drugs better when the drug level is high. These same cells, show greater sensitivity when the drug is low.

Balázsi recognizes that the work he’s exploring is a “complex problem” and that it requires considerable additional research to understand and appreciate how a therapy might kill one cancer cell, while the same treatment in the same environment doesn’t have the same effect on a genetically identical cell.

An aerial view of Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

On July 1, Stony Brook Medicine announced the newest member of the Stony Brook University Hospital health care system — Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport.

The 90-bed, acute care hospital has been affiliated with Stony Brook since 2006, and in 2015, talks began between the two hospitals to form a partnership. The Greenport campus will now be referred to as Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital.

“This really has been a win-win for both the hospital and for the people on the South Fork so let’s do it on the North Fork.”

— Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky

Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky, senior vice president of health sciences and dean of the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, said the partnership will allow SBELIH to work collaboratively with Stony Brook University Hospital and Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, which joined the health care system in 2017.

While Stony Brook Medicine takes on the responsibility of operating the campus when it comes to things such as finances and quality responsibility, Kaushansky said the health care system doesn’t own the other hospitals but leases the buildings from the owners, and staff members are not state employees and continue with the same salaries and unions as before.

He said the partnership with Southampton has been a successful one, and the same is expected with SBELIH.

“This really has been a win-win for both the hospital and for the people on the South Fork so let’s do it on the North Fork,” Kaushansky said.

Stony Brook expects to help grow the Greenport hospital’s staff. Residents of the North Fork, which SBELIH serves along with Shelter Island, now can receive additional resources, particularly specialized outpatient services. Kaushansky said another plus is the use of a telehealth program, which allows doctors and patients on the North Fork direct access to Stony Brook Medicine specialists.

Stony Brook also has its eyes on Long Island Community Hospital in East Patchogue, which Kaushansky said they are in talks with, to see if it makes sense to create a similar affiliation with the facility.

“We would anticipate that behavioral medicine will remain the core service at Eastern Long Island Hospital.”

— Dr. Margaret McGovern

“[It would be] another opportunity for us to grow our health care system, which will give us more bandwidth, give us more opportunity to keep patients as close to home as possible,” he said. “But when it comes time to need more advanced facilities, they have a seamless transition into Stony Brook Hospital.”

Dr. Margaret McGovern, vice president for health system clinical programs and strategy at Stony Brook Medicine, said the affiliation is another step on the path of the health care system expanding.

She and Kaushansky said the behavioral health programs of Eastern Long Island, which include medical-surgical services, critical care, psychiatry and drug and alcohol detoxification and rehabilitation services, are strong.

“We would anticipate that behavioral medicine will remain the core service at Eastern Long Island Hospital,” McGovern said.

Kaushansky added that with limited beds at the university hospital for behavioral health patients, it will be a benefit to be able to utilize SBELIH.

Paul Connor, chief administrative officer of SBELIH, said a psychiatric residency started at the Greenport campus July 1 as a part of Stony Brook Medicine’s academic mission. The CAO said training physicians and health care professionals is important for future staffing needs, as a high percentage of physicians are more apt to remain where they spent their residency.

“This was really an effort to preserve the mission of Eastern Long Island Hospital and ultimately to create more local health care options.”

— Paul Connor

Connor said the hospital opened in 1905 and was the first hospital in Suffolk County and the second one on Long Island.

“This was really an effort to preserve the mission of Eastern Long Island Hospital and ultimately to create more local health care options,” he said.

The hospital’s board will be part of a joint advisory committee with Stony Brook Medicine, he said, and will meet on a regular basis to discuss topics such as finances, planning and safety.

“They’re going to be in a position to influence the operation of the hospital as representatives from the community,” he said.

Connor said the ELIH Foundation will continue to exist and be independent of Stony Brook, which means any funds raised will go toward the SBELIH campus.

McGovern said while Stony Brook is a resource for other hospitals entering the system, providing services such as a burn unit,  psychiatric emergency department and kidney transplant program, many patients prefer to be treated close to home.

“A lot of care is appropriate in a community hospital setting, so that’s the model we’re going with and complementing it with a robust outpatient ambulatory platform,” she said.

In addition to its strong behavioral health programs, SBELIH is also one of two hospitals on Long Island providing skin cancer screenings to all inpatients through its Mollie Biggane Melanoma Foundation.