Stony Brook University

BeLocal winners from left, Yuxin Xia, Luke Papazian, Manuela Corcho, Johnny Donza and their thesis advisor Harold Walker. File photo

In its inaugural year of facilitating student engineering projects to improve the quality of life in Madagascar, BeLocal Group had an enviable problem.

The organization, which was founded by husband and wife team Jeff and Mickie Nagel of Laurel Hollow and Eric Bergerson of Forest Hills, had so many high-quality projects with the potential to solve daily challenges in Madagascar that they had trouble selecting the winner of the $2,500 prize.

“We had really robust debates amongst the entire BeLocal team,” Jeff Nagle said, referring to about eight projects that met several important criteria, including an expectation of impact, innovation and quality of engineering.

Luke Papazian, left, and Johnny Donza, two of the members of the winning team, along with a model of their da Vinci bridge. Photo from Mickie Nagel

Indeed, the BeLocal Group is highlighting the winner and seven finalists on its website, BeLocalGrp.com.

“We saw so many good projects,” Bergerson said. “It’s ultimately about the transfer of knowledge and empowerment.”

The nine members of the judging panel awarded the BeLocal Prize for Student Innovation May 2 to a team that worked on a bridge to cross a stream near the village of Mandrivany. Led by Johnny Donza, the team, which includes Yuxin Xia, Luke Papazian and Manuela Corcho, designed a da Vinci bridge, so named after the famed Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci, who sketched a design for a similar bridge in 1502.

Villagers had been using a log to cross the stream. A broken log was difficult to replace because the island nation is confronting significant deforestation.

Instead of using valuable trees to construct the bridge, the Stony Brook University team turned to the plentiful bamboo.

Donza came up with the idea for the design after watching a video on YouTube of the Rainbow Bridge in China. A few clicks later, he said he stumbled on the da Vinci bridge, which is a simpler concept.

Stony Brook students produced a range of designs. Many homes in Madagascar cook their food inside, where they produce smoke from briquettes. The children who stay inside during cooking time struggle with breathing problems, as the particulates from the briquettes create a hazard.

Jeff Nagel said they don’t have a lot of aeration in their homes. Inhaling the fumes from briquettes made of raw wood or poorly made charcoal causes respiratory disease.

Michael Downey led a team that presses a mash made by another Stony Brook team including Timothy Hart into briquettes using biowaste from rice husks and casaba peels.

“Most people, when [they] graduate, they start working or go into an office and sit behind a computer. This is a chance to go to the opposite side of the world and help people.”

— Johnny Donza

The device, which is made of bamboo, PVC tubing and some nuts and bolts, can produce four briquettes in a minute, Downey said. The other members of Downey’s team were Robert Michael, Adam Smith and Arie Spiel.

“The charcoal burns cleaner than regular wood,” Downey added.

The ideas for specific needs came from a trip BeLocal coordinated last summer in which graduate students Acacia Leakey and Leila Esmailzada traveled with Mickie Nagel to Madagascar with video cameras to learn about local needs.

This summer, BeLocal will send a larger contingent of students to Madagascar. Hart, Donza and Downey will travel with Sean Peters, Sunny Cheng and Robert Myrick. The team will build four prototypes of various designs. Donza and Downey were excited about their postgraduation trip to the island of lemurs.

“Most people, when [they] graduate, they start working or go into an office and sit behind a computer,” Donza said. “This is a chance to go to the opposite side of the world and help people.”

Downey added that the “whole point of becoming an engineer is to change the world.”

While the students are exploring new areas with their designs, BeLocal is also planning to broaden out its work. The organization is looking to gather information and foster innovation in other countries next year. It has also spoken with faculty at several other universities, as well as with nongovernmental organizations.

“It is the goal of BeLocal to provide the leverage of global innovation to challenges sourced around the globe,” Bergerson said in an email.

By Eric Rashba, M.D.

Dr. Eric Rashba

Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, is generally considered to be reaching epidemic numbers, especially among people over age 60. This condition, which is characterized by an erratic, irregular heartbeat, can cause problems ranging from unpleasant symptoms to serious problems like heart failure or stroke.

At the Stony Brook Heart Rhythm Center, our physicians and entire team of heart rhythm experts are constantly working to help people with AFib live better and longer. These are some of the important new state-of-the-art therapies:

Reducing stroke risk for people with atrial fibrillation

People with AFib have a 5 to 7 percent increased risk of having a stroke compared to people without AFib. To help prevent strokes, blood thinners such as warfarin or direct oral anticoagulants (DOACs) are prescribed. Most people do well with medication, but some experience bleeding problems or have other reasons why blood thinners aren’t the best option. 

At the Heart Rhythm Center, our specialists are treating appropriate patients with an implantable heart device, called Watchman™, to offer lifelong protection against stroke. For people who have AFib that’s not caused by a heart valve problem, the device provides an alternative to the lifelong use of blood thinners by blocking blood clots from leaving the heart and possibly causing a stroke. 

Miniaturized pacemaker for people with bradycardia

Bradycardia, also called slow heart rate, is when the heart beats at 60 times a minute or less. Not everyone with a slow heart rate needs a pacemaker — the presence of symptoms and the type of rhythm disorder are key. At our Heart Rhythm Center, for people whose slow heart rate can be treated with a pacemaker in just one of the four heart chambers, we use a pacemaker that is 93 percent smaller than traditional pacemakers, called Micra™. It is the world’s smallest pacemaker available and it offers some big benefits to the patient. 

Conventional, bulkier pacemakers are visible under the skin and have a lead wire that is threaded from the pacemaker into the heart. Our team implants the Micra pacemaker in the electrophysiology lab where the device is placed aboard a catheter (a thin, flexible tube) and moved up to the heart through the femoral vein in the leg. The device lasts for about a decade, and because it is so small, another one can be added to the same heart chamber years down the road when needed. The patient can also be safely scanned using certain types of full-body MRI.  

Zero-radiation ablation

Ablation is a procedure that uses cauterization to burn or scar the electric pathways that trigger the arrhythmia or abnormal heart rhythm. During a conventional ablation procedure, real-time X-ray, called fluoroscopy, is used and it delivers the equivalent radiation of up to 830 chest X-rays. At Stony Brook, my colleague, Dr. Roger Fan routinely performs complex ablations for AFib without any fluoroscopy at all. This important advance eliminates radiation exposure to the patient, with the same excellent results as conventional ablation. Zero-radiation ablation is such an important advance for the overall health of the patient, since excessive radiation can lead to medical problems over the long term. 

Questions about your heart’s rhythm? Call Dr. Rashba at 631-444-3575 or call 631-444-3278. Interested in learning more about your heart health? Take the free heart health online risk assessment at www.stonybrookmedicine.edu/hearthealth.

Dr. Eric Rashba is the director of the Heart Rhythm Center at the Stony Brook University Heart Institute.

Co-Director of Stony Brook University's Center for Clean Water Technology Howard Walker demonstrates how sand is used in a prototype of a new Nitrogen Reducing Biofilter at press conference in Shirley April 26. Photo by Kyle Barr

Scientists and engineers from Stony Brook University are planning to use two plentiful Long Island resources to save its coastal waters from nitrogen pollution: sand and wood chips.

Members of the New York State-funded Center for Clean Water Technology at Stony Brook University unveiled their nitrogen-reducing biofilter April 26 at a Suffolk County-owned home in Shirley.

“We have made a huge commitment to protect and preserve our land as we are protecting the groundwater below,” said New York state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). “We are zeroing in on our water, and we are making a major commitment with systems like these.”

“The results that we’ve gained have been very exciting.”

— Howard Walker

Through the system, waste from the home is first pumped into a septic tank. After the septic tank the effluent is moved into a separate system that trickles down by gravity, first going through a sand layer where bacteria turns the nitrogen into nitrite and nitrate. The waste then goes through another layer of sand and wood chips designed to turn the nitrite/nitrate into nitrogen gas that will go into the atmosphere, instead of into the ground and thus Long Island’s water.

The system being built in Shirley is one of three the center is testing as part of Suffolk County’s bid to create a nitrogen reducing home wastewater system.

“We have outstanding professionals who are helping to guide these efforts,” Deputy County Executive Peter Scully said. “We should be able to involve ourselves in the designing of the next generation of this technology, bringing the cost down [and] making the technology more effective.”

One of the biggest problems for Long Island’s coastal waters has been hypoxia, a state caused by excess nitrogen, where the oxygen level in water is below the necessary levels to support life. It affects fish, clams and any underwater plant life. Last year co-director of the Center for Clean Water Technology, Christopher Gobler and other researchers from the Long Island Clean Water Partnership, concluded there were cases of hypoxia in Stony Brook Harbor, Northport Bay, Oyster Bay, Hempstead Bay as well as waters all along both the North and South shores.

In 2015 Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) called nitrogen pollution the county’s “environmental public enemy number one.” Since then the county has worked with local scientists and engineers to craft technology that could replace Long Island’s old cesspool and septic tanks.

The benchmark for total amount of nitrogen allowed from any of these new systems is 19 milligrams of nitrogen per liter. Co-director at the Center for Clean Water Technology, Howard Walker, said that initial tests of the system have reached well below that threshold.

“We’re seeing less than 10 milligrams per liter of total nitrogen coming from the systems in the prototypes we’ve been testing for the past year and a half,” Walker said. “The results that we’ve gained have been very exciting.”

“We are zeroing in on our water, and we are making a major commitment with systems like these.”

— Ken LaValle

The purpose of the prototypes is to gauge the effectiveness of the system as well as find ways to reduce the price and size of the filter. The center hopes the system will be affordable since all the parts could be bought from plumbing or pool supply stores. Gobler said the system currently costs several tens of thousands of dollars in its prototype stage, but he hopes the cost will come down with more tests.

“This is nonproprietary — all other systems are built off of Long Island and then brought here, this one is using Long Island materials, Long Island labor,” Gobler said. “Ultimately without having to run a company or without having to buy something off the shelf, there’s a promise to make these highly affordable.”

Other nitrogen filters have problems when it comes to people flushing any kind of bleach, pharmaceuticals or other harmful chemicals because they kill off the bacteria that remove the nitrogen from the effluent, according to Gobler. He said the design of SBU’s nitrogen-reducing biofilter will be less prone to failure because the waste is spread over a large area, and because it seeps through the layers of sand at a slower rate the killing effect of chemicals would be reduced.

“One bad flush is not going to upturn the apple cart,” Gobler said. “We’ve tested more than 30 different organic compounds, pharmaceuticals, personal care products, drugs, and in all cases its removing 90
percent of those compounds, sometimes 99 percent. In certain cases, it’s just as good or even better than a sewage treatment plant.”

The Center for Clean Water Technology hopes to have concrete results on its prototypes in a year’s time. After that a provisional phase would take place where the center would install another 20 filters in other parts of Long Island.

Annie Laurie W. Shroyer and Thomas Bilfinger

By Daniel Dunaief

Convenience can come at a cost, even in medicine. When it comes to a heart procedure called cardiac artery bypass surgery, that cost could make a difference in the outcome for the patient.

Annie Laurie W. Shroyer, vice chair for research and professor in the Department of Surgery at Stony Brook University School of Medicine, and Thomas Bilfinger, a professor of surgery in the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at SBU, found that the mortality and major morbidity rates were lower for patients of surgeons performing procedures at a single center compared to those performing procedures at more than one center. 

Among physicians who operated at two or more hospitals, these surgeons performed better at their home hospital than at a secondary center.

They’ve published their findings in the Annals of Thoracic Surgery. The Society of Thoracic Surgeons identified the article as the Continuing Medical Education article for the month. The article will provide a much more in-depth learning experience to a subgroup of the journal’s subscribers who seek Continuing Medical Education credits. This, Shroyer explained, will make it more likely that cardiac surgeons will read it thoroughly and discuss it.

“We believe that, based on the results, particularly complex coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) procedures may have a better outcome at bigger institutions,” Bilfinger explained in an email. Mortality for these procedures overall in the United States is low and the analysis is about differences of a few tenths of a percent, which becomes statistically significant due to the low number.

The central issue, Bilfinger said, is whether “the mother ship does better or worse than the satellite. Decision making about centralizing versus a de-centralized approach seems to be less driven by outcomes and rather by business decisions in many circumstances. The study adds some subjective data to this discussion.”

Using a measure called observed-to-expected mortality ratios based on the health of the patient and risks of the procedure, the ratio for multicenter surgeons was higher for the satellite facilities compared to their home facilities. The ratios were 1.17 for surgeons operating at satellite facilities versus 1.01 for multicenter surgeons performing the procedure at their home hospital.

The volume of surgeries is a complicated issue, Bilfinger cautioned. “There are very well-performing smaller volume places throughout the country,” he explained in an email. “It involves dedication to the procedures from admission to discharge.”

Assuming the surgeon is just as effective in different hospitals, which is “open to discussion,” any observed difference could be attributable to the system, Bilfinger explained. Measuring the effectiveness of the participants in the process, including nurses, anesthesiologists and orderlies, is a question for ongoing research, he continued.

Joseph Carey, a cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon in Torrance, California, conducted a study based on information from California about a decade ago. In an email, Carey suggested that “you pay a price in quality working in unfamiliar conditions and I believe hospital managers do not want their surgeons traveling about.” He added that this paper “is an important reminder” of this.

Carey added that hospital systems and the makeup of the “heart team” may also be important to the outcome of a surgery.

Future research, which Shroyer plans to conduct, will evaluate other factors, such as patient risk, processes and structures of care, that impact cardiac surgical outcomes.

Other researchers could extend this study, which compares the quality of care for surgeons who work at single sites and multisites, to other areas of medical care, enabling hospital networks, insurance companies and patients to make informed risk-based decisions prior to approving difficult procedures.

The challenge, however, with similar studies for other conditions, is in finding national information. “This is the best documented group of procedures there is in the country,” Bilfinger said. For a procedure like back surgery, it might be difficult to come up with a comparable study, although Bilfinger said he “suspects strongly that this is a very similar relationship.”

Shroyer and Bilfinger will extend their work to another cardiothoracic operation. They have submitted a proposal to the Society of Thoracic Surgeons to start a parallel project to look at the difference in risk-adjusted outcomes for mitral valve procedures that compare single-center versus multicenter surgeons. The diversity of procedures may need to be considered in comparing single and multicenter surgeons.

Bilfinger said he recognizes that some doctors and hospital networks may find these conclusions disconcerting. It may give them pause in the internal discussion about value added by new satellites in any system, he explained. “This is worth a public debate. This is one of these aspects of modern health care that the consumer is not aware of.” The average consumer may not put too much emphasis on this, although the sophisticated consumer on Long Island may change or make decisions based on this type of information, he said.

Shroyer and Bilfinger, who have worked on the same floor at the Health Sciences Center since Shroyer arrived from Colorado in 2007, decided to collaborate on this project after a discussion during lunch. The duo were eating at SBU’s Simons Center Café when they were discussing the differences in outcomes for single and multicenter surgical procedures. They submitted a request to access the National Adult Cardiac Surgery Database in 2014 to the Society of Thoracic Surgeons.

For patients who are going to have a cardiac surgical procedure, Shroyer recommends that people choose their surgeon and surgery center “wisely.” She recommends researching the surgeons and their corresponding center’s bypass specific outcomes. She highlights two publicly available resources, which are Adult Cardiac Surgery Database Public Reporting|STS Public Reporting Online and Doctor Ratings — Consumer Reports.

Shroyer cautions that these ratings are somewhat outdated, so she suggests patients ask their surgeons directly about their more recent outcomes. She would also recommend contacting patients.

After conducting this study, Shroyer believes it would likely help patients if they searched for doctors who only perform bypass procedures at a single hospital. She also believes it is important for patients to consider surgeon-specific and center-specific risk-adjusted outcomes.

Ultimately, she said, the decision about a surgeon and a site for surgery is an important one that patients should make based on the likelihood of the best outcome.

“Patients should research their cardiac surgeon-hospital decision even more carefully than if they were buying a new home or a new car,” she explained in an email. “Their future health lies in their cardiac surgeon’s hands.”

The Bates House in Setauket will host Camp Kesem at Stony Brook University's fundraising event. File photo

Camp Kesem at Stony Brook University is planning its annual fundraising gala, Make the Magic. The event will be held at The Bates House in Setauket April 21 starting at 5 p.m.

The gala will include a cocktail hour, dinner, silent auction, paddle raise, prizes and more. Tickets are $65 per person or $500 for a table of eight.

Vacation prizes include a Zulu reserve trip to Africa for two, Royal Caribbean International cruise for two, a Florida trip to the Hilton Cocoa Beach Oceanfront for four and a Martha Clara Vineyards wine trip for six.

Camp Kesem is a nonprofit organization run by college students who are committed to providing programs and free summer camp to support children in the Long Island community who are impacted by a parent’s cancer.

For more information, contact Camp Kesem members at 631-716-5173 or email stonybrook.mtm@campkesem.org. To learn more about Camp Kesem, visit www.campkesem.org/stonybrook. 99The Bates House is located at 1 Bates Road in Setauket.

Maurizio Del Poeta. File photo from SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

Sometimes, fixing one problem creates another.

People with multiple sclerosis have been taking a medication called fingolimod for a few years. The medicine calms immune systems that attack the myelin around nerve cells. Fingolimid decreases the lymphocyte number in the bloodstream by trapping them in the lymph nodes.

In a few cases, however, the drug can reduce the immune system enough that it allows opportunistic infections to develop. Cryptococcosis, which is a fungal infection often spread through the inhalation of bird droppings or from specific trees such as eucalyptus, is one of these infections, and it can be fatal if it’s not caught or treated properly, especially for people who have weakened immune systems.

Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis contacted Stony Brook University fungal expert Maurizio Del Poeta, a professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics & Microbiology, to understand how this drug opens the door to this opportunistic and problematic infection. He is also exploring other forms of this drug to determine if tweaking it can allow the benefits without opening the door to problematic infections.

Most of the human population has been exposed to this fungus. In a study in the Bronx, over 75 percent of children older than 2 years of age had developed an antibody against Cryptococcus neoformans, which means they have been exposed to it. It is unknown whether these people harbor the fungus or if they have just mounted an immune reaction. Exposure may be continuous, but infections may only occur if a person is immunocompromised.

Fingolimid “inhibits a type of immunity” that involves the movement of lymphocytes from organs into the bloodstream,” Del Poeta said. “Because of this, there are certain infections that can develop.”

Through a spokeswoman, Novartis explained that the company was “happy to have started a scientific collaboration” with Del Poeta to understand the role of a specific pathway in cryptococcus infections.

Cryptococcal meningitis is one of several infections that can develop. Others include herpes meningitis and disseminated varicella zoster. Before starting fingolimid, patients need to receive immunization for varicella zoster virus. At this point, doctors do not have a vaccine for cryptococcosis.

To study the way this drug and its derivatives work, Del Poeta recently received a $2.5 million grant over a five-year period from the National Institutes of Health.

Yusuf Hannun, the director of the Cancer Center at SBU, was confident Del Poeta would continue to be successful in his ongoing research.

Del Poeta “does very important and innovative work on fungal pathogenesis and he is a leader in the field,” Hannun wrote in an email. “His work will enhance our understanding of the molecular mechanisms.”

Fingolimid mimics a natural lipid. Years ago, Del Poeta showed that this sphingolipid, which is on the external surface of the membrane, is important to contain cryptococcosis in the lung. If its level decreases, the fungus can move from the lung to the brain.

While people with multiple sclerosis have developed signs of this infection, it is also prevalent in areas like sub-Saharan Africa, where people with AIDS battle cryptococcosis. About 40 percent of this HIV population develops this fungal infection, Del Poeta said. About 500,000 people die of cryptococcosis every year.

In certain areas of the United States, such as the Pacific Northwest, this fungus is also endemic. On Vancouver Island, about 19 people died from Cryptococcus gattii infections between 1999 and 2007. Most of those patients were immunocompromised.

When the fungus migrates from the lung to the brain, it is “very difficult, if not impossible in most cases, to eradicate,” Del Poeta explained in an email. If the diagnosis is made early enough before the infection spreads to the brain, the recovery rate is high, he suggested. In people whose immune systems are not compromised by drugs or disease, “death is rare.” 

Del Poeta plans to study the interaction between the drug and the fungal infection through a mouse model of the disease. The mouse model mimics the human disease and will provide insights on how to control the infection, particularly when the fungus reaches the brain.

Some of the derivatives Novartis has developed do not cause a fungal infection. Del Poeta is working with Novartis to study other forms of fingolimid that do not reactivate cryptococcosis. Del Poeta said Novartis is currently in Phase III clinical trials for another drug for multiple sclerosis. The new drug acts on a different receptor.

“We think the reason the fingolimid reactivates cryptococcosis is that it is blocking one receptor, which is important for the containment” of the fungus. The other drug doesn’t allow the disease-bearing agent to escape.

“This is a hypothesis,” Del Poeta said. He is waiting to corroborate the cell culture data in animal models.

Del Poeta has been working with Novartis for over three years. The Stony Brook scientist used some preliminary studies on the way fingolimid analogs behave as part of the research grant application to the NIH that led to the current grant.

Del Poeta said he is excited about the possibility of contributing to this area.

“Not only will this work contribute to the field of MS, but it will also have a contribution to the field of cryptococcosis,” he said. “This will have important implications for MS patients [and] for the entire HIV population.” He said he believes patients may have some other defect. If he is able to discover what that is, he may be able to protect them from a cryptococcosis infection.

Ultimately, Del Poeta hopes this work leads to a broader understanding of fungal infections that could apply to other pathogens as well.

Mycobacterium tuberculosis causes a granuloma very similar to the one caused by the cryptococcosis and we could potentially study whether the same molecular mechanisms involved in the control of the infection in the lung are similar between the two infections,” he explained in an email.

Lee Koppelman, right is presented with a replica of the sign that will mark a nature preserve dedicated in his honor, by Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, state Assemblyman Steve Englebright and Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine. Photo by Alex Petroski

A public servant with more than four decades of planning experience now has a nature preserve with his name on it to honor his life’s work.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) hosted a ceremony at Jefferson’s Ferry Life Plan Community in South Setauket April 13 to dedicate a 46-acre parcel of woodlands in Stony Brook in honor of Lee Koppelman, who served as the first Suffolk County planner, a position he held for 28 years. He also served as regional planner for Suffolk and Nassau counties for 41 years.

“When you come to talk about preserving land; when you come to talk about planning communities; when you come to talk about vision; when you come to talk about master planners and you put that with Suffolk County, only one name comes up,” Romaine said of Koppelman. “When I look at the picture of the woods that will be named for Dr. Koppelman I can think of no better tribute to this man … Suffolk is in a large part what it is today because of this man’s vision, our master planner.”

Romaine lauded Koppelman for his dedication to preserving nature, including shoreline, wooded areas, wetlands and more. State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who served on the Suffolk County Legislature along with Romaine in the 1980s when Koppelman was also working for the county, repeatedly used the word “bold” in thanking Koppelman for his dedication.

“Suffolk is in a large part what it is today because of [Lee Koppelman’s] vision, our master planner.”

— Ed Romaine

“We had a master planner with a vision for this county that was daring and bold and unprecedented for any county in the United States,” Englebright said. “To set aside parkland — not like little pieces of confetti, but as whole sections of ecosystems and landscape segments — bold ideas. Not only was Dr. Koppleman the master planner, he was a master administrator. He hired extraordinary planners, talented people to serve with him.”

According to a press release from the town, Koppelman is regarded as the father of sustainability on Long Island, calling him the first of the “power players” to conceptualize the idea of preserving space in the interest of health and future generations. The Lee Koppelman Preserve is a heavily wooded parcel with a variety of deciduous tree and shrub species, or foliage that sheds its leaves annually. The town has owned the Stony Brook property just east of Nicolls Road and south of Stony Brook University, for about 45 years, using it as passive open space.

Cartright said she was honored to be a part of the dedication to such a prominent figure who had an impact on her district.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t have as much time to work with Dr. Koppleman as it relates to land use and planning, but it is clear to me he has left an indelible mark here within our community,” she said.

Koppelman joked that he wished the ceremony didn’t sound so much like a eulogy, though he said he was honored to be recognized by people he had considered friends for so long.

“Having that from them is a particular pleasure,” he said.

His wife Connie Koppelman was also in attendance and joked she had heard her husband honored so many times it was getting old, but called it very pleasing to hear once again how much his work was appreciated by those around him.

Koppelman currently heads the Center for Regional Policy Studies at Stony Brook University.

Gretchen Carlson. Photo by Brigitte Lacombe

Hundreds came out to hear a former TV anchor at the forefront of the #MeToo movement at Stony Brook University April 17.

Gretchen Carlson, the television anchor who forced Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes of Fox News to resign in July 2016, helped create the backdrop for the #MeToo movement. As the most recent in the “My Life As” speaker series offered by the School of Journalism at SBU, she described in graphic detail how she came to play that role in what has been called “The Year of the Woman.”

Carlson filed her lawsuit July 6, 2016, alleging sexual harassment after being let go by Fox June 23of the same year. She described being harassed, and said Ailes “spoke openly of expecting women to perform sexual favors in exchange for job opportunities.” Subsequently, other women came forward to similarly accuse Ailes, and by Sept. 21, Century Fox, Fox News’ parent corporation, had settled the lawsuit for $20 million. More important than the money to Carlson was the public apology.

That is just the bottom line on the exceptional life of Carlson. Born and raised in Minnesota, she is the granddaughter of the pastor of what was then the second largest Lutheran congregation in the country. She too was used to being in the spotlight. A child prodigy, she was a violin soloist with the Minnesota Orchestra at age 13, was the valedictorian of her high school class and entered the Miss America pageant in 1989 at her mother’s suggestion and won. She was the first classical violinist to wear that crown. The money that came with the honor went toward her senior year’s tuition at Stanford University, from which she graduated with honors. She also managed to fit in a year of study at the University of Oxford in England, where she focused on the writings of Virginia Woolf.

She has, no doubt, healthy self-esteem. Interested in a career in broadcast journalism, she worked her way up the ladder as reporter and anchor from smaller to larger stations, reaching CBS in 2000. She became cohost of the Saturday edition of “The Early Show.” In 2005, Fox News made her an offer she couldn’t refuse, and she became cohost of the morning show “Fox and Friends.” Then, in 2013, came “The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson.”

Along the way, she was subjected to sexual harassment of varying degrees. She finally complained to Fox’s human resources department, and when her contract was up in 2016, she was let go. That was shortly after she repulsed the alleged sexual advances of Ailes, setting up her grounds for the lawsuit.

Since she lost her job and won the lawsuit, she has been working hard to stand up for other women who may be faced with similar circumstances. She has spoken to many groups across the country, mentioning a recent talk at an all-boys high school. Carlson ardently believes that sexual harassment is not just a women’s problem. She posits that it is a men’s problem, and that boys at a young age need to be taught by the men in their lives to respect — and how to act with — women. She is using money from her lawsuit toward foundation to give young women leadership training and call out their courage.

On Jan. 1, Carlson was elected chairwoman of the board of the Miss America Pageant. She said to expect some significant changes.

Robert Verbeck donates platelets to Stony Brook University Hospital almost once a month. Photo from Cassandra Huneke

Because so many are in need of life-saving blood cells, a local teacher is doing all he can to help a hospital’s supply match its demand.

Almost once a month for the past few years, Miller Avenue Elementary School fifth-grade teacher Robert Verbeck has traveled to Stony Brook University Hospital to donate his platelets. Last Thursday marked his 114th time.

Though not quite squeamish, Verbeck said he feels almost wrong for talking about it, saying he doesn’t see much nobility in sacrificing a small amount of time to help save lives.

“It might feel self-aggrandizing if I say I’m out there saving people’s lives every couple of weeks, but people can die when they don’t have enough platelets.”

— Robert Verbeck

“I almost feel guilty, though at the same time, you know you’re saving somebody’s life,”the Shoreham-Wading River school district teacher said. “It might feel self-aggrandizing if I say I’m out there saving people’s lives every couple of weeks, but people can die when they don’t have enough platelets.”

Verbeck’s stepfather and retired NYPD officer John Eaton had also been a prolific platelet donor before he passed away in May 2008. Eaton donated approximately 24 times a year, close to the maximum a person can donate in 12 months, according to Verbeck.

“He just wanted to help people — that’s why he became a cop in the first place,” Verbeck said. “He just kind of kept donating. In a weird way, I don’t want to say it’s addictive, but you get a really good feeling from doing it. You keep coming back.”

Platelets, tiny cells in the blood that form clots and stop bleeding, are essential to surviving and fighting cancer, chronic diseases and traumatic injuries. Every 30 seconds a patient is in need of platelets and more than 1 million platelet transfusions are given to patients each year in the U.S. Once a donation is given, the platelets must be used within five days.

“Stony Brook University Hospital never has enough donated platelets to satisfy our demand, therefore, we have to purchase the from other larger blood products facilities,”  said Linda Pugliese, a blood bank recruiter at Stony Brook. She said most of the hospital’s platelets are purchased from Red Cross. Over 10 years, Eaton donated more than 100 times, according to Pugliese.

“I understand people have their lives, they have their problems and not everyone can sacrifice their time, but If everybody donated a few times a year, we wouldn’t be so tight.”

— Dennis Galanakis

“Without them we couldn’t function,” said Dr. Dennis Galanakis, director of transfusion medicine at Stony Brook Hospital. “The problem with platelets is they have to be stored in a special way. They have to have all the tests that are required for safety. They only have a five-day shelf life, and it takes two days to do all the tests, so in practice, the shelf life is about three days.”

Verbeck was an efficient blood donator before he heard about platelets, and while at first he said he was skeptical, that changed when a friend of his was diagnosed with cancer.

“I started doing it, and just like my dad, I felt it was a good thing to do,” he said. “I was doing it five or six times a year. After my dad died, it was a loss, and not just my personal loss, but it was a loss with their supply — it was one less person donating. So that gave me the impetus.”

The entire platelet donation process takes about two hours. Machines take half cup of blood through one vein and processes it to remove platelets before returning the blood through another vein.

April is National Donate Life Month, so to join Verbeck in his quest to feed the blood banks, potential givers can call Stony Brook Hospital at 631-444-3662 or find out more online at stonybrookmedecine.edu and to schedule an appointment.

“Only a small number of people donate at any given time,” Galanakis said. “I understand people have their lives, they have their problems and not everyone can sacrifice their time, but If everybody donated a few times a year, we wouldn’t be so tight.”

Sherif Abdelaziz. Photo by Juliana Thomas, SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

When the temperature drops dramatically, people put on extra layers of clothing or rush inside. At the other extreme, when the mercury climbs toward the top of thermometers, they turn on sprinklers, head to the beach or find cold drinks.

That, however, is not the case for the clay that is often underneath buildings, cliffs or the sides of hills on which people build picturesque homes. Clay shrinks after heating-cooking cycles in summer and also after freezing-thawing cycles in winter. “We want to understand why and how this behavior happens,” said Sherif Abdelaziz, an assistant professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at Stony Brook University.

Sherif Abdelaziz. Photo by Juliana Thomas, SBU

Abdalaziz recently received a prestigious Young Investigator Program award from the U.S. Army Research Office, which will provide $356,000 in funding over three years to study these properties. While the work will explore the basic science behind these clay materials, his findings could have a broad range of applications, from providing potential early-warning systems for future landslides or mudslides to monitoring coastal bluffs to keeping track of the soil around high-temperature nuclear waste buried in the ground.

Miriam Rafailovich, a distinguished professor in the Department of Materials Science at SBU who is beginning a collaboration with Abdelaziz, suggested that Abdelaziz’s work is relevant in multiple areas. “It applies to shoring infrastructure,” she wrote in an email. “The collapse of roadbeds under heavy traffic is a very common problem.”

Additionally, the clay around nuclear waste is subjected to very high temperatures during the period the waste is active. These temperatures recover to initial temperature with time, which will mainly subject the clay to a heating-cooling cycle that is part of this study, Abdelaziz explained. He is pleased to have the opportunity to explore these kinds of questions.

The Young Investigator Program award is “one of the most prestigious honors bestowed by the Army on outstanding scientists beginning their independent careers,” explained Julia Barzyk, a program manager in earth materials and processes at the U.S. Army Research Office, in an email. Abdelaziz’s research “is expected to contribute to improved approaches to mobility and siting and maintenance of infrastructure, especially in cold regions such as the Arctic.”

The field in which Abdelaziz works is called the thermomechanical behavior of soil. The challenge in this area, he said, is that the scientists are often divided into two groups. Some researchers focus on the heating effect on soil, while others explore cooling. In the real world, however, soil is exposed to both types of conditions, which could affect its ability to support structures above or around it.

In general, Abdelaziz has focused on clay. So far, scientists have looked at a piece or chunk of clay to see how it behaves. They haven’t done enough exploration at the microscale level, he said. “Our scientific approach crosses between the scales,” he said. In conducting experiments at SBU and at Brookhaven National Laboratory, he starts at the microscale and looks at the larger macroscale.

At the National Synchrotron Light Source II at BNL, Abdelaziz and his partners at BNL, including Eric Dooryhee, the beamline director for the X-ray Powder Diffraction beamline, change the temperature of the clay and look at the microstructure.

The challenge in the experiments they conducted last year was that they could change the temperature, but they couldn’t mimic the pressure conditions in the ground. Recently, they conducted the first experiments on a sample environment that involved a change in temperature and pressure and they got “good results so far,” Abdelaziz said in an email. He is looking for more beam time in the summer to finish the development of the sample environment. He is also seeking funding for a project to develop an early-warning system for coastal bluff stability.

“We are pretty good at predicting the weather,” Abdelaziz said. “What we don’t know is how this storm will impact our slopes.” The goal of the work he’s exploring now is to use what he learns from these experiments to predict potential changes in the soil. The purpose of this work is to better engineer mitigation techniques to avoid evacuations.

Abdelaziz’s work has focused on one clay type. He has, however, built a numerical model using experimental data. Once that model is validated, it will be able to predict the behavior of other clay, and he can include the heterogeneity of earth surface material in his numerical studies.

Rafailovich appreciates Abdelaziz’s dedication to his research. “He is very passionate about his work,” she wrote in an email. “He really hopes that he can change the world, one small road at a time.”

A native of Cairo, Egypt, Abdelaziz lives in Smithtown with his wife Heba Elnoby and their children Mohamed, 10, and Malak, 7. The father of two suggested that he “owes every single piece of success” in his career to the support he received from his wife.

The idea to study coastal bluff stability came to Abdelaziz when he was grilling on the beach a few years ago. He saw a sign that indicated that a bluff was unstable and that there was excessive movement. He related that to what he was studying. Abdelaziz is pleased with the funding and with the opportunity to contribute basic knowledge about clay to civil and military efforts. The financial support from the Army suggests that his “work is meaningful to the nation in general,” he said.

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