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Stony Brook University

David Matus in his lab at Stony Brook University. Photo courtesy of SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

At first look, the connection between a roundworm, a zebrafish and cancer appears distant. After all, what can a transparent worm or a tropical fish native to India and the surrounding areas reveal about a disease that ravages its victims and devastates their families each year?

Plenty, when talking to David Matus and Benjamin Martin, assistant professors in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at Stony Brook University whose labs are next door to each other. The scientific tandem recently received the 2017 Damon Runyon–Rachleff Innovation Award, which includes a two-year grant of $300,000, followed by another renewable grant of $300,000 to continue this work.

In the first of a two-part series, Times Beacon Record Newspapers will profile the work of Matus this week. Next week the Power of Three will feature Martin’s research on zebrafish.

Long ago a scientist studying dolphin cognition in Hawaii, Matus has since delved into the world of genetic development, studying the roundworm, or, as its known by its scientific name, Caenorhabditis elegans. An adult of this worm, which lives in temperate soil environments, measures about 1 millimeter, which means it would take about 70 of them lined up end to end to equal the length of an average earthworm.

From left, David Matus and Benjamin Martin. Photo courtesy of SBU

Matus specifically is interested in exploring how a cell called the anchor cell in a roundworm invades through the basement membrane, initiating a uterine-vulval connection that allows adult roundworms to pass eggs to the outside environment. He is searching for the signals and genetic changes that give the anchor cell its invasive properties.

Indeed, it was through a serendipitous discovery that he observed that the loss of a single gene results in anchor cells that divide but don’t invade. These dividing cells are still anchor cells, but they have lost the capacity to breach the basement membrane. That, Matus said, has led the team to explore the ways cancer has to decide whether to become metastatic and invade other cells or proliferate, producing more copies of itself. In some cancers, their hypothesis suggests, the cells either divide or invade and can’t do both at the same time. It could be a cancer multitasking bottleneck.

Mark Martindale, the director of the Whitney Laboratory at the University of Florida in Gainesville who was Matus’ doctoral advisor, said a cell’s decision about when to attach to other cells and when to let go involves cell polarity, the energetics of motility and a host of other factors that are impossible to study in a mammal.

The roundworm presents a system “in which it is possible to manipulate gene expression, and their clear optical properties make them ideal for imaging living cell behavior,” Martindale explained in an email. Seeing these developmental steps allows one to “understand a variety of biomedical issues.”

Last year, Matus and Martin were finalists for the Runyon–Rachleff prize. In between almost getting the award and this year, the team conducted imaging experiments in collaboration with Eric Betzig, a group leader at the Janelia Research Campus of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Ashburn, Virginia. Betzig not only brings expertise in optical imaging technologies but also has won a Nobel Prize.

“We really appreciate the opportunity to work with [Betzig] and his lab members on this project,” said Matus, who also published a review paper in Trends in Cell Biology that explored the link between cell cycle regulation and invasion. He and his graduate student Abraham Kohrman explored the literature to find cases that showed the same switching that he has been exploring with the roundworm.

Yusuf Hannun, the director of the Stony Brook Cancer Center, said the work is highly relevant to cancer as it explores fundamental issues about how cells behave when they invade, which is a key property of cancer cells. Hannun said the tandem’s hypothesis about division and invasion is “consistent with previous understandings but I believe this is the first time it is proposed formally,” he suggested in an email.

Their work could apply to invasive epithelial cancers, suggested Scott Powers, a professor in the Department of Pathology at Stony Brook and the director of Clinical Cancer Genomics at the Cancer Center. That could include breast, colon, prostate, lung and pancreatic cancers, noted Powers, who is a recent collaborator with Matus and Martin.

The additional funding allows Matus and Martin to focus more of their time on their research and less on applying for other grants, Matus said.

Back row from left, David Matus and his father in law Doug Killebrew; front row from left, Maile 9, Bria, 7, and Matus’ wife Deirdre Killebrew. Photo by Richard Row

Matus lives in East Setauket with his wife Deirdre Killebrew, who works for Applied DNA Sciences. The couple met when they were working with dolphins in Hawaii. Matus’ first paper was on dolphin cognition, although he switched to evolutionary and developmental biology when he worked in Martindale’s lab at the University of Hawaii.

Martindale described Matus as prolific during his time in his lab, publishing numerous papers that were “profoundly important in our continued understanding of the relationship between genotype and phenotype and the evolution of biological complexity,” Martindale wrote in an email.

Following in Martindale’s footsteps, Matus replaced his middle name, Samuel, in publications with a Q. Martindale said several of his colleagues adopted the phony Q to pay homage to the attitude that drove them to pursue careers in science. Matus has now passed that Q on to Korhman, who is his first graduate student.

Matus and Killibrew have two daughters, Bria and Maille, who are 7 and 9 years old. Their children have a last name that combines each of their surnames, Matubrew. Matus said he feels “fortunate when I got here three years ago that they had me set up my lab next to [Martin]. That gave us an instantaneous atmosphere for collaboration.”

This year's Gala will feature Itzhak Perlman. Photo from Staller Center

By Erika Riley

After a month-long break this holiday season, Stony Brook University’s Staller Center returns for the second half of its 2016-17 season with compelling performances. There is something for everybody, and you won’t want to miss out on these exciting shows.

“The second half of the Staller Center season really shows the diversity of our programs to fill the broad and varied tastes of our students, faculty, staff and greater community,” said Alan Inkles, director of Staller Center for the Arts. “Shows range from the world’s greatest violinist, Itzhak Perlman, to a spectacular cirque show, “Cuisine & Confessions” featuring aerealists, jugglers and acrobats and boasts a full kitchen where the cast cooks for our audience.

Inkles continued, “We truly span the arts in every format this spring. Bollywood’s finest song and dance routines will abound in Taj Express; Off Book/Out of Bounds with Brooklyn Rundfunk Orkestrata will add their pop/rock take on famous Broadway tunes; dance explodes as the Russian National Ballet Theatre brings a program with two story ballets, ‘Carmen’ and ‘Romeo & Juliet.’ The impeccable Martha Graham Dance Company brings their modern dance fire to Staller. Jazz abounds with award-winning artists including pianist Vijay Iyer and singer Cécile McLorin Salvant. There’s of course much more and with continued private and corporate support, we continue to keep ticket prices reasonable for everyone to attend and to attend often!”

Musical performances

Vijay Iyer will be performing on Feb. 25. Photo from Staller Center.

On Feb. 19 at 7 p.m., Peter Kiesewalter, founder of the East Village Opera Company and Brooklyn Runkfunk Orkestrata, will be leading a high-energy rock show titled Off Book/Out of Bounds. The show, held in the Recital Hall, will feature a four-piece rock band performing rock versions of well-loved theater songs. Tickets are $42.

Grammy-nominated composer and pianist Vijay Iyer will be performing with his sextet in the Recital Hall on Feb. 25 at 8 p.m.. Described by The New Yorker as “jubilant and dramatic,” he plays pure jazz that is currently at the center of attention in the jazz scene. Tickets are $42.

The Staller Center’s 2017 Gala will take place on March 4 at 8 p.m. on the Main Stage and will feature violinist Itzhak Perlman. Perlman is the recipient of over 12 Grammys and several Emmys and worked on film scores such as “Schindler’s List” and “Memoirs of a Geisha.” Tickets are $75 and Gala Supporters can also make additional donations to enhance Staller Center’s programs and educational outreach activities.

Starry Nights returns to the Recital Hall on March 8 at 8 p.m. this year under the direction of Colin Carr, who will also be performing cello during the program. Artists-in-Residence at Stony Brook will be playing beautiful classics such as Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto and Schubert’s Piano Trio #3 in E flat major. Tickets are $38.

Peter Cincotti will perform on March 9. Photo from Staller Center

Newly added to the roster is singer, songwriter and pianist Peter Cincotti who will perform an intimate concert in the Recital Hall on March 9 at 8 p.m. Named “one of the most promising singer-pianists of the next generation” by the New York Times, Cincotti will be featuring his newest album, Long Way From Home. With a piano, a bench, a microphone and his band, Cincotti will take his audience on a breathtaking musical ride. Tickets are $30.

The Five Irish Tenors will be performing a lineup of beloved Irish songs and opera on March 18 at 8 p.m., the day after St. Patrick’s Day. Songs include “Down by the Sally Gardens,” “Will You Go Lassie Go” and “Danny Boy.” Tickets to the concert, taking place in the Recital Hall, are $42.

The award-winning Emerson String Quartet, with Eugene Drucker, Philip Setzer, Lawrence Dutton and Paul Watkins, will return on April 4 at 8 p.m. in the Recital Hall. The program will feature works by Dvorak, Debussy and Tchaikovsky. Tickets are $48.

Cecile McLorin Salvant will close out the musical performances of the season on April 29 at 8 p.m. in the Recital Hall with unique interpretations of blues and jazz compositions with the accompaniment of Sullivan Fortner on piano. Salvant is a Grammy award winner and has returned to the Staller Center after popular demand from her 2013 performance. The performance is sure to be theatrical and emotional. Tickets are $42.

Dance performances

Taj Express will perform on Feb. 11. Photo from Staller Center

Staller Center’s first dance performance of 2017 is sure to be a hit. Taj Express will be performing on Feb. 11 at 8 p.m., delivering a high-energy performance of Bollywood dances, celebrating the colorful dance and music of India. Through a fusion of video, dance and music, the ensemble will take you on a magical journey through modern Indian culture and society; this full-scale production will fuse east and west with classical dance steps, sexy moves and traditional silks and turbans. The extravagant performance will take place on the Main Stage, and tickets are $48.

The Russian National Ballet Theatre will be performing on the Main Stage on March 11 at 8 p.m. Created in Moscow, the Ballet Theatre blends the timeless tradition of classical Russian ballet with new developments in dance from around the world. The Ballet Theatre will be performing both “Carmen” and “Romeo & Juliet.” Tickets are $48.

Canada’s award-winning circus/acrobat troupe, Les 7 doigts de la main (7 Fingers of the Hand), will be performing their show Cuisine & Confessions on the Main Stage on April 1 (8 p.m.) and April 2 (2 p.m.) The show is set in a kitchen and plays to all five of the senses, mixing acrobatic cirque choreography and pulsating music with other effects, such as the scents of cookies baking in the oven, the taste of oregano and the touch of hands in batter. A crowd pleaser for all ages, tickets are $42.

The last dance performance of the season will be on April 8 at 8 p.m. by the Martha Graham Dance Company. The program will showcase masterpieces by Graham alongside newly commissioned works by contemporary artists inspired by Graham. The dance performance will take place on the Main Stage and tickets are $48.

Not just for kids

The Cashore Marionettes will present a show titled Simple Gifts. Photo from Staller Center

The ever unique Cashore Marionettes will be presenting a show called Simple Gifts in the Recital Hall on March 26 at 4 p.m. The Cashore Marionettes will showcase the art of puppetry through humorous and poignant scenes set to music by classics like Vivaldi, Beethoven and Copland. Tickets to see the engineering marvels at work are $20.

The Met: Live in HD

The Metropolitan Opera HD Live will be returning once again to the Staller Center screen. The screenings of the operas feature extras such as introductions and backstage interviews. There will be seven screenings throughout the second half of the season: “L’amour de Loin” on Jan. 14, “Romeo et Juliette” on Jan. 21, “Rusalka,” on Feb. 26, “La Traviata” on March 12, “Idomeneo” on April 9, “Eugene Onegin” on May 7 and “Der Rosenkavalier” on May 13. The screenings are all at 1:00 p.m., except for “Der Rosenkavalier,” which is at 12:30 p.m. For a full schedule and to buy tickets, visit www.stallercenter.com or call at 631-632-ARTS.

Films

‘Hidden Figures’ will be screened on April 28.

As always, the Staller Center will be screening excellent films throughout the upcoming months. Through April 28, two movies will be screened on Friday evenings: one at 7 p.m. and one at 9 p.m. On Feb. 3, “Newtown,” a documentary about the Sandy Hook shooting, and “Loving,” a story of the first interracial marriage in America will both screen. “American Pastoral,” starring Ewan McGregor, Jennifer Connelly and Dakota Fanning will screen on Feb. 17; and “Jackie,” starring Natalie Portman, will screen on March 24. The season will finish off on April 28 with “Hidden Figures,” a true story of the African American female mathematicians who worked for NASA during the space race, and “La La Land,” a modern-day romantic musical starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.

Tickets to the movie screenings are $9 for adults, $7 for students, seniors and children and $5 SBU students. Tickets for the shows and films may be ordered by calling 631-632-2787. Order tickets online by visiting www.stallercenter.com.

About the author: Stony Brook resident Erika Riley is a sophomore at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. She recently interned at TBR during her winter break and hopes to advance in the world of journalism and publishing after graduation.

Stony Brook students from around the world attend an informational forum regarding President Trump's executive order restricting travel from seven Muslim-majority nations at the Charles B. Wang Center Feb. 1. Photo by Kevin Redding

Stony Brook University students, many of them international, poured into the Charles B. Wang Center on campus last week to voice their concerns and seek guidance following President Donald Trump’s (R) controversial executive order signed Jan. 27 which put a temporary freeze on travelers entering the United States from seven Muslim-majority nations.

A 19-year old student from Yemen, one of the seven countries targeted under the ban, said he’s afraid of being detained if he were to travel through John F. Kennedy International Airport for spring break. He asked not to be identified because of safety concerns.

A 24-year-old Muslim student from Bangladesh wanted to know if she’d be able to see her family this year.

A 22-year old student from Pakistan said he’s no longer interested in finding a physics job in the United States because, as he put it, “it’s just not an environment I want to be in.”

On Feb. 1, less than a week after Trump signed the order to ban citizens of the seven nations from entering the U.S. for 90 days, and all refugees for 120 days —the order has since been temporarily halted by a federal appeals court, though the U.S. Justice Department filed an appeal of the ruling — the university hosted an information session with two New York City-based immigration lawyers, Alexander Rojas and Eric Lorenzo of Barst Mukamal & Kleiner LLP.

According to Dr. Jun Liu, SBU’s Vice Provost for Global Affairs and Dean of International Academic Programs and Services, the session was organized by SBU President Dr. Samuel Stanley to affirm the university’s “commitment to diversity, strong values of inclusiveness, and campus environment that welcomes all.”

The legal experts addressed and interpreted the immigrant reform, which Rojas described as “startling,” as it stood on the day, and fielded questions from those in attendance. Representatives from the offices of Visa and Immigration Services and Dean of Students were also on hand to offer support and answer questions.

Rojas repeatedly advised students currently holding visas from any of the seven affected countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — to remain in the U.S. until the end of the 90-day period, April 27, because, as he said, “there is no guarantee that you’ll be allowed re-entry into the [U.S.].”

The three main student visas are F-1, H-1, and J-1, nonimmigrant visas for those studying, those in “specialized occupations,” and those wishing to take part in work-and-study-based exchange and visitor programs, respectively.

According to Lorenzo, the only type of visa excluded from the executive order are G-1, or diplomatic, visas, which are typically for representatives of foreign governments within the United Nations or foreign embassies within the U.S.

But Rojas, who acknowledged there’s still plenty of uncertainty hanging over the ban in terms of its function and development, said those within immigration law anticipate Trump might extend the 90-day period and implement considerations with regards to the countries listed, something the order already laid out as a possibility.

According to the lawyer, an unconfirmed draft with additional countries for the travel ban list had been circulating. The rumored additional countries, Rojas said, are Egypt, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Colombia, Venezuela, Philippines, and Mali.

“It would be prudent to not travel until there’s further guidance with regards to what the White House is going to do with respect to these additional countries proposed on that [supposed] list,” he said. Rojas added he’s not sure of the rationale behind any of the nations currently on the list, or the ones speculated to be in danger of being placed under similar restrictions.

The student from Bangladesh, who would only identify herself as Adrita, was told by Rojas that since her native country is not currently on the travel ban list, she should have no concerns about traveling back home to see her family.

While the 24-year-old genetics student admitted she’s glad to know she won’t be affected by the ban, she called the whole situation unfair.

“Even though I’m not from any of the affected countries, the ban seems to apply to Muslims…so obviously I’m concerned,” Adrita said. “Pakistan is one of the [possible] countries, and Pakistan is right next to Bangladesh. My parents told me ‘forget it, don’t travel, what if you’re told to come back to us?’ I’m doing a PhD here; I can’t just leave.”

Trump has insisted since the roll out of the order it’s not a Muslim ban but a security measure to prevent threats of terrorism.

“America has always been the land of the free and home of the brave,” the President said in a statement. “We will keep it free and keep it safe…to be clear, this is not a Muslim ban…this is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe.”

Daud Khan, 22, from Pakistan, said he anticipated this sort of situation upon Trump’s election.

“I was just home [in Pakistan] in December for my brother’s wedding and I made it a point to return before Trump’s inauguration so I arrived Jan. 19 to be on the safe side,” he said. “Because you don’t know what he’s going to do.”

Liliana Davalos, right in blue and white shirt, in La Victoria, Colombia with the paleo team from Grand Valley State University during a fossil dig last year. Photo courtesy of Siobhán Cooke

By Daniel Dunaief 

It’s like that old bus riddle. The bus starts out with 20 people. Six people get off, then eight get on, two more get off, 12 enter, eight exit, and so on until, lo and behold, the bus has either the same number of people or someone asks the identity of the driver.

In this case, though, the bus is a collection of Caribbean islands called the Greater Antilles, which includes the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Hispaniola, Haiti, Puerto Rico, the Cayman Islands and Jamaica. The passengers are not people; they are species of bats.

Working with Luis Valente, a postdoctoral researcher at the Natural History Museum of Berlin, Liliana Davalos, an associate professor of conservation biology/ecology and evolution at Stony Brook University, recently determined that the number of species of bats, like the people entering and leaving the bus, remained in relative equilibrium for millions of years over many generations.

Liliana Davalos at La Venta site in Colombia with a rainbow in the background.Photo courtesy of Siobhán Cooke

While several species of bats will colonize the islands and new species will also form over that long time scale, the rate of natural extinction in that time balances out the islands’ diversity gains, leaving the metaphorical bus with about the same number of species.

Famous biologists Edward O. Wilson and Robert MacArthur came up with the theory of island biogeography in 1967, which might help explain how the number of species of bats remained in equilibrium for millions of years. The theory proposes an equilibrium between colonization and extinction.

For bats, however, that balance changed. About 20,000 years ago, fossils of extinct species made their final appearance, while other species died off about 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. So, what happened to the bat bus?

The last ice age accounts for some of the declines about 20,000 years ago. More recently, the arrival of people altered conditions on the islands. At least two other waves of colonization occurred before the arrival of Europeans, with people changing the landscape through agriculture. While hunting of other mammals is evident from the archeological record, it is less certain how changes on the land affected bats. It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact time when each species went extinct, although many of those events happened after people arrived on the islands, changing the region’s equilibrium.

Davalos’ previous work had found that the number of species lost was as predicted if the losses occurred because of the rising sea levels at the end of the last glaciation. If that were the case, many of those species would have disappeared around that time. Some of her colleagues, however, dated the remains of bats and found that these species became extinct more recently, over the last few thousand years.

“While we cannot be certain that all bat extinctions were caused by humans, evidence increasingly seems to suggest so,” explained Valente in an email. “All over the world, colonization of islands by humans has led to many extinctions of local species, because islands have very unique species that are very prone to any disturbances.”

The researchers used computer simulations to calculate that it would take nature eight million years to restore bat biodiversity. “Some people argue that if we leave nature alone it will quickly return to its original state,” Valente explained. “However, the finding that it would take eight million years to recover lost diversity suggests that is clearly not the case.” Valente, who described Davalos as a “wonderful collaborator” who was “actively involved in the project at all stages,” wrote that this study “raises awareness for conservation of the unique bat species of the Caribbean.”

While there is still work ahead, the “nations of the Greater Antilles have amazing natural parks to protect their biodiversity,” Davalos explained. In the tropics of the Western Hemisphere, Puerto Rico is the “number one example of a forest growing back,” Davalos said. “Puerto Rico is one of the places in the world that has had more of a resurgence of the forest.”

The preservation of biodiversity remains threatened even now as at least three bat populations on the Greater Antilles are threatened with extinction and two might already be extinct. Still, the effort is not “hopeless,” she said, as there are some large populations of bats thriving on these islands. Davalos and her colleagues were able to make these discoveries by examining the bat in detail.

A resident of Setauket, Davalos has been at Stony Brook University for eight years. She enjoys kayaking on Long Island and visiting local and state parks. Over the last few years, she has spent her free time on staycations, where she sees a protected area of Long Island each day.

From a young age, Davalos recalls being interested in science. Indeed, when she was only 4, she saw a documentary where Louis and Mary Leakey showed the results of their expeditions where they collected human fossils in Kenya. “From that moment on,” Davalos recalled, “I thought, ‘Some day, this is what I’m going to study.’” Her family and their acquaintances suggested that pursuing such a career path would be challenging.

She tells her current SBU students that she’s “the luckiest person in the world, living out my childhood dream.” Last year, she went on her first fossil dig in Colombia, where she joined a team from Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, and Johns Hopkins. She found fossils from bats that were 12 million years old.

While Davalos has never met the Leakey family, she wants to tell them that, “Children are watching and [their work] can have a huge effect” on their dreams. Some day, Davalos hopes a future scientist may say the same thing about her research.

President Trump’s order halts entry from seven countries, seeks to reform policy

Airports across the country were the sight of massive protests. Stock photo

By Victoria Espinoza and Alex Petroski

The recent executive order by President Donald Trump (R) for immigration reform affected refugees and immigrants across the country this past week, including a North Shore-bound traveler.

Trump signed an order Jan. 27 to ban travelers from seven nations — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — from entering the United States for the next 90 days. The immigration reform effort has been met with criticism from federal legislators and activists, and protests against the ban broke out in airports and cities across the country, some starting just hours after the order was signed.

President Donald Trump suspended entry from seven countries last week. File photo

Other federal politicians and commentators support the action, citing the country’s need to strengthen immigration laws and secure the U.S. from terrorist attacks.

Stony Brook student detained

The travel ban and its hasty roll out impacted Stony Brook University president of Graduate Student Organization, Vahideh Rasekhi, who is pursuing a doctorate in linguistics.

According to a statement from university President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr., Rasekhi was detained at John F. Kennedy International Airport when she arrived back in the U.S. from a trip to Iran to visit her family, though she arrived on a layover flight from Ukraine. She was detained and later released Jan. 29. Stanley addressed Trump’s executive order, urging caution from international students, and recommending students from the seven countries listed in the order not travel outside of the U.S. unless absolutely necessary during the 90-day period.

“In November, I shared a message with the campus community expressing the university’s unwavering commitment to diversity — anchored in our strong values of access and inclusiveness — and to creating a campus environment that welcomes all,” Stanley said. “I want to reaffirm the university is resolute on this stance.”

Stanley also offered international students contact information for the university’s Visa and Immigration Services Office, and planned to host an information session with legal experts at the Wang Center yesterday, Feb. 1.

Rasekhi, who arrived at Stony Brook in 2010 after attending the University of California and California State University, declined an interview request, but addressed her experience in an emailed statement through a university media relations representative.

“I am now grateful to be back on the Stony Brook University campus, where I plan to complete my Ph.D. dissertation and continue my work as president of our Graduate Student Organization,” she said. “I would like to extend my sincerest thanks and appreciation to all who intervened on my behalf, including elected representatives, attorneys from the International Refugee Assistance Project and Legal Aid Society who volunteered their help, the ACLU, the [SBU] Linguistics Department and the leadership at Stony Brook University.”

Local officials react

The U.S. representative for New York’s 1st Congressional District, Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), one of Trump’s local supporters, said in an email through a press representative he played a role in Rasekhi’s release from JFK, though he said he supports the order.

“I sympathize with every innocent person looking to come to America for a better life but we must prioritize America’s national security first,” Zeldin said.

“I sympathize with every innocent person looking to come to America for a better life but we must prioritize America’s national security first.”

— Lee Zeldin

He added he would support a ban on all Syrian refugees entering the U.S. until vulnerabilities in vetting systems can be improved.

“America is a nation of immigrants and people should have the opportunity to pursue the American Dream,” Zeldin said. … “The ultimate humanitarian victory is to assist with efforts to stabilize these nations and eliminate the threats there to peace.”

He also said he plans to monitor the application of the order and intervene in cases where he believes it is being used incorrectly.

The 3rd Congressional District U.S. representative, Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), offered no such support for the order.

“While we all are concerned about the security of our people and our nation, we cannot abandon our values,” he said in a statement. … “This issue cannot become an excuse for discrimination. I am adamantly opposed to targeting whole populations of people based upon their religion. It is un-American.”

After the signing of the executive order Jan. 27, subsequent protests over detentions, the opinion that this order targets people based on religion and the apparent uncoordinated rollout, Trump issued a statement Jan. 29.

“America has always been the land of the free and home of the brave,” he said. “We will keep it free and keep it safe. … To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban. … This is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe.”

A closer look at the order

David Sperling, an immigration attorney based out of Huntington Station, said he believes there is a need for reform.

“I’m an immigration attorney, I’ve been doing this for 22 years,” he said in a phone interview. “From being in immigration court I have seen there is a great deal of fraud even from people applying for asylum from the United States.”

He referenced a lack of documentation from refugees in areas like Syria.

Detractors of the ban have criticized the inclusion of the countries on the list — all of which have a Muslim-majority population.

According to New America, a nonpartisan think tank, “not one domestic terrorist attack since 9/11” has been executed by citizens of the seven countries now banned from entering the U.S. “Overall, terrorism in America is happening from homegrown radicals,” the think tank said. Foreign attackers have come from Egypt, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, none of which made the list.

The new administration has contended it has simply continued an initiative started by the Obama administration, which flagged the seven countries as possible areas of concern in 2015, and imposed limited restrictions.

“I’ve never in my career as an immigration attorney seen anything like this.”

— David Sperling

“I’ve never in my career as an immigration attorney seen anything like this,” Sperling said, though he added many aspects of Trump’s presidency thus far are without precedent.

During the 90-day period, the president has ordered the Secretary of Homeland Security with the Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence to review the current information required from a country before a traveler is granted a visa or admission to the U.S. to ensure the country is not allowing in individuals who are security threats.

The executive order states the 90-day ban is needed to ensure research during this time is successful, the maximum utilization of resources are being used and adequate standards are established. The order also leaves room for special exceptions on a case-by-case basis.

A mission of this order is to eventually implement new uniform screening standards for immigration programs.

For immigrants and refugees, there is already an extensive system process in place.

For immigration screening, according to the State Department, the process includes submitting a petition to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, submitting financial and other supporting documents, and completing an interview.

“America has always been the land of the free and home of the brave. We will keep it free and keep it safe. … To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban. … This is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe.”

— Donald Trump

According to the White House, the refugee screening process involves multiple steps, including interviews with the United Nations refugee agency to confirm refugee status and conducting biographic security checks. While all of these steps are happening, each refugee’s file is being continuously reevaluated based on any new, relevant terrorism information.

Less than 1 percent of the global refugee population makes it past the first step in the process currently. The order also suspends the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days, but plans to prioritize refugee claims of minority religious-based persecution in their home country.

The ban also sets a 50,000 cap on refugees allowed to enter the states in 2017, compared to the Obama administration’s goal of admitting 110,000 refugees, according to the Pew Research Institute.

The order intends to complete and implement a biometric entry-exit tracking system of fingerprints and digital photos for all travelers to the U.S. which was discussed by prior administrations and committees.

The order also intends that there will be more transparency in reporting facts and data collection to the public regarding the number of foreign nationals who planned or carried out acts of terrorism.

Sperling said most of his clientele come from Hispanic communities and are concerned about the future.

“They’re scared, they don’t know what’s going to happen,” Sperling said. “There’s a great deal of fear and uncertainty in the immigrant community.”

By Daniel Dunaief

First responders, soldiers or those exposed to any kind of chemical weapons attack need a way to remove the gas from the air. While masks with activated carbon have been effective, the latest technological breakthrough involving a metal organic framework may not only remove the gas, but it could also disarm and decompose it.

That’s the recent finding from research led by Anatoly Frenkel in a study on a substance that simulates the action of sarin nerve gas.

Frenkel, who is a senior chemist at Brookhaven National Laboratory and a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Chemical Engineering at Stony Brook University, worked with metal organic frameworks, which contain zirconium cluster nodes that are connected through a lattice of organic linkages.

Anatoly Frenkel with his son, Yoni, at Lake Hopatcong in New Jersey. Photo by Mikhail Loutsenko.

These structures would “do the job even without any catalytic activity,” Frenkel said, because they are porous and capture gases as they pass through them. “It’s like a sponge that can take in moisture. Its high porosity was already an asset.”

Frenkel and his colleagues, which include John Morris and Diego Troya from Virginia Tech, Wesley Gordon from Edgewood Chemical Biological Center and Craig Hill from Emory University, among other contributors, suspected that these frameworks might also decompose the gas.

Theoretically, researchers had predicted this might be the case, although they had no proof. Frenkel and his team used a differential method to see what was left in the structure after the gas passed through. Their studies demonstrated a high density of electrons near the zirconium atoms. “These were like bread crumbs congregated around a place where the zirconium nodes with the connecting linkers were,” Frenkel said.

While this work, which the scientists published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, has implications for protecting soldiers or civilians in the event of a chemical weapons attack, Frenkel and his colleagues, who received funding from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, can share their results with the public and scientific community because they are not working on classified materials and they used a substance that’s similar to a nerve gas and not sarin or any other potentially lethal gas.

“This knowledge can be transferred to classified research,” Frenkel said. “This is a stepping stone.” Indeed, Frenkel can envision the creation of a mask that includes a metal organic framework that removes deadly nerve gases from the air and, at the same time, disarms the gas, providing a defense for first responders or the military after a chemical weapons attack. Even though he doesn’t work in this arena, Frenkel also described how manufacturers might use these frameworks in treating the fabric that is used to make clothing that can prevent gases that can be harmful to the skin from making contact.

A physicist by training, Frenkel’s work, which includes collaborations on five other grants, has a common theme: He explores the relationship between structure and function, particularly in the world of nanomaterials, where smaller materials with large surface areas have applications in a range of industries, from storing and transmitting energy to delivering drugs or pharmaceuticals to a targeted site.

Eric Stach, a group leader in electron microscopy at BNL, has collaborated with Frenkel and suggested that his colleague has helped “develop all these approaches for characterizing these materials.” Stach said that Frenkel has “an outstanding reputation internationally” as an expert in X-ray absorption spectroscopy, and, in particular, a subarea that allows scientists to learn about extremely subtle changes in the distance between atoms when they are subjected to reactive environments.

Frenkel said some of the next steps in the work with metal organic frameworks include understanding how these materials might become saturated with decomposed gas after they perform their catalytic function. “It’s not clear what can affect saturation,” he said, and that is something that “needs to be systematically investigated.” After the catalyst reaches saturation, it would also be helpful to know whether it’s possible to remove the remaining compound and reuse the catalyst.

“The next question is whether to discard” the framework after it’s trapped and deactivated the chemicals or regenerate it, Frenkel said. He is also exploring how temperature ranges might affect the performance of the framework. Ideally, it would function as well in an arctic environment as it would in a desert under extreme heat. A commercial application might require the synthesis of a material with different physical characteristics for a range of temperature conditions.

Frenkel has been working on this project for about one and a half years. A colleague approached him to become a part of this new collaboration. “My role was to bring this work to a national lab setting,” where the scientists could use the advanced tools at BNL to study the material as it was working, he said.

A resident of Great Neck, Frenkel, who grew up in St. Petersburg, Russia, lives with his wife Hope Chafiian, a teacher at the Spence School in Manhattan for almost 30 years. He has three children: Yoni lives in Manhattan and works at JP Morgan Chase, Ariela is a student at Binghampton and Sophie is in middle school in Great Neck.

Frenkel appreciates the opportunity to explore the broader world of nanomaterials, which, he said, are not constrained by crystal structures and can be synthesized by design. “They show a lot of mysteries that are not understood fully,” he said. Indeed, Frenkel explained that there are numerous commercial processes that might benefit from design studies conducted by scientists. As for his work with metal organic frameworks, he said “there’s no way to overestimate how important [it is] to do work that has a practical application that improves technology, saves costs, protects the environment” and/or has the potential to save lives.

From left, Alan Inkles, Lee Wilkof, Director, ‘No Pay, No Nudity’; Ryan Lacen and Anthony Baldino, co-directors of ‘The Dust Storm’; and actor Ralph Macchio at last year’s Stony Brook Film Festival. Photo courtesy of Staller Center for the Arts

By Rita J. Egan

When Alan Inkles, director of the Staller Center for the Arts, moved from Brooklyn to Port Jefferson Station at the age of 11, the stage was being set for him to one day play an integral part in creating an impressive cultural and arts community right here on Long Island.

After graduating from Comsewogue High School, he headed out to Los Angeles to play soccer and study acting. After discovering he wasn’t cut out for college sports, he seized the opportunity to concentrate on the craft of acting and honed his talents working on commercials and pilots. Fortunately, for Long Islanders, he soon returned to New York and enrolled at Stony Brook University, earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in theater arts.

The founder of the Stony Brook Film Festival, his loyalty to the university has paid off for local residents who can attend high-quality shows just minutes away from their own homes. His success is a combination of meeting the needs of performers, being open to the opinions of audience members and appreciating his hard-working team, generous sponsors and the university’s supportive administration.

Recently, while nursing the flu and screening movies for the upcoming annual film festival, the director, who has brought the likes of Ray Charles, Harry Belafonte, Patti LuPone and more to the center, took time to answer a few questions about his stellar career.

Alan Inkles with Broadway star Kelli O’Hara who performed at the Staller Center on Dec. 10 of last year. Photo courtesy of the Staller Center

How long have you been the director of the Staller Center, and how did you get the job there?

I injured my knee while performing in 1983, and I had just graduated from Stony Brook and had worked as a student for the Fine Arts Center [the original name of Staller Center] during my years. And, as I couldn’t perform with my injury for a while, I asked the director of the center, Terry Netter, if he could use a theater manager — which I had done as a student. He hired me and at least seven titles later and an International Theatre Festival that I created — what really kept me interested in the early years — and  beginning to do all the programming in 1992, I took over as director upon Terry’s retirement in 1995. So, I guess officially I’ve been the director for 21 years.

You have a long history with Stony Brook University. What do you love about it?

What don’t I love about Stony Brook University? I did my undergraduate and graduate studies here. Two of my three kids and my son-in-law graduated from here, and I’ve been here as an employee and student for almost 37 years. I’ve enjoyed working for three presidents and almost a dozen provosts — permanent and acting ones, have made numerous friends with faculty, staff over the years, and have the greatest staff anyone could dream of having — some of which have been with me for my entire time as director. I love the energy of the students, the challenges that a public university continues to throw my way and the amazing ambiance of a continually growing and improving university. Stony Brook is about its amazing people, and I’ve been fortunate to be a member of this great collegial community for so long.

You’ve been credited with making the center what it is today. How did you go about that?

I guess longevity allows that to work. My predecessor Terry Netter opened the Staller Center back in 1976, 1977. It was a different time. You know back in those days the center was really more for the university, supporting the music department, the theater department, which we still do, and they did a couple of ballets and orchestras.

Early on when I started getting the itch, Terry asked to me to start programming. It was growing pains because I wanted to do more jazz and pop and children’s programs, because that’s what I saw we needed to do, because it was a different era. The arts centers of the 1960s and ’70s doing orchestras and ballets were great, and we continued to do them, but we needed to diversify. We needed to get broader. So, he really gave me a lot of leeway to go out and try to find these programs, and I liked the challenge.

What does it take to coordinate all the events the Staller Center presents during a year?

A great team. I can go to a conference, and I come back, and yesterday while being home laying in a bed (recovering from the flu), call my team up and say we’re booking Peter Cincotti. And, within 24 hours, we got a press release, the website, an email, the machine ready on social media, my production team going through the rider knowing exactly what we need so that I was able to approve it because there’s certain needs we have to get for the show. All this happens in 24 hours. I’m not so sure Live Nation could even pull it off in 24 hours!

So it starts with a great team, the confidence that I have the support of my provost (we have a new one this year, Michael Bernstein, who is really great) and a president who basically said to me, the third one I have worked for, “You raise the money, you bring in the audience, you got carte blanche.”

In addition to the performances at the center, you also coordinate the Stony Brook Film Festival. What does preparing for that entail?

Fortunately, over the years my contract administrator, my associate, Kent Marks, has taken on a good chunk of that. He’s great, and my staff have also helped pre-screen a lot of the movies. In the early days, I admit I watched everything. In the first 15, 16 years of the festival I was watching all 400 to 600 films coming in and picking 40. In the last five years we have had over 3,000 films coming in each year.

What have been your favorite personal accomplishments since being director of the center?

That’s an interesting question as I don’t think I’ve really given much thought to personal accomplishments. I’ve really always tried to focus on bringing quality programs in the arts to our faculty, staff, students and community over the years and always have tried to secure excellence and try to both entertain and enlighten our audiences and occasionally challenge them. Personally, I felt a great accomplishment in pulling off a 10-year run of a major International Theatre Festival early on in my career, and when I think back to my first trip to Sundance in 1999, and thinking about how little I knew about film festivals, I certainly am very proud of the fact that we have created a significant and lasting annual festival that grows every year in importance, quality and attendance. I’ve watched dozens of branded festivals in recent years dissolve as we gain strength.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t beam about the Outreach & Education program my staff and I have built. With just an idea over a decade ago to significantly reach out to communities and young people on Long Island, we now provide hundreds of programs at Staller and in our communities and serve several thousands of individuals who may not have had the opportunity to partake in the arts with workshops, school/library performances and complimentary Staller tickets. This is, of course, important for the future of the arts, and I am very proud of this growing and important part of our operation.

What are your plans for the Staller Center’s future?

I spent a great deal of time last weekend at the annual arts center/producer/ talent booking conference discussing with agents and artists and colleagues that we need to be creative, daring and also listen to our audience going forward. This digital era provides so much entertainment for people where they never need to leave their homes or their phones. We have to find ways through unique, different and exciting programs in the arts — theater, music, art and film — to take people away from their own arts centers —their 70-inch screen TVs.

It means continuing to be relevant so that corporate and private individuals will support us so we can bring these exciting programs to our campus and community, continue to keep the prices reasonable and make them available to all. I can promise you, I will continue to search far and wide for these live programs and films and continue to ask before I book something, “Is this something my audience needs to see?” That line has replaced the line that used to be, “What do they want to see?” And, when I stop asking that question and feel I can’t lift that proverbial rock any higher to find that program, I’ll know it’s time to pass on the baton. Fortunately, I don’t see that time coming too soon, and I’m also so grateful that my staff seems to want to keep me around a bit longer as well!

By Kevin Redding

While many young people look to television, YouTube videos and sports arenas for a glance at their heroes, a 23-year-old Shoreham resident sees hers every night around the kitchen table.

In Rachel Hunter’s own words in a heartfelt email, her parents — Jeffrey Hunter, a respiratory therapist at Brookhaven Memorial Hospital in Patchogue, and Donna Hunter, a neonatal nurse practitioner at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson — are “the hardest working, most loving, supportive and beautiful people” she’s ever known.

Jeffrey Jr., Jake, Rachel, Jeff Sr., and Donna Hunter at Rachel’s graduation party in June of last year. Photo from Rachel Hunter

“My parents exude the meaning of character, integrity, respect, responsibility, kindness, compassion and love,” Hunter said. “I can honestly say I’ve never seen two adults that are more amazing standards for human beings.”

Newfield High School sweethearts, the Hunters have been providing care and service for people across Long Island, consistently going above and beyond to ensure their patients are as comfortable, safe and as happy as possible.

For Jeffrey Hunter, 55, whose day-to-day job is to be responsible for every patient in the hospital — from making sure their cardiopulmonary conditions are steady, to drawing blood from arteries, to being on high alert as a member of the rapid response team — the passion for helping people comes from his upbringing in Selden.

“We lived a simple life, and I was always taught to treat people with dignity and respect … the way you would want to be treated,” he said. “I try to practice that every day of my life, not only in work, but with my daily activities.”

He said while the job can be emotionally harrowing at times — working at Brookhaven Memorial Hospital for 31 years, Hunter establishes close relationships with patients who end up passing away after fighting conditions that worsen over time  — but it’s worthwhile and extremely rewarding when he can help somebody and bring relief to family members.

“Just to see the look on someone’s face if you can make them feel better, even just by holding their hand … it’s the simple things and it really doesn’t take much, but I think the world needs a lot more of that these days,” he said. “I’m just a general people-person and try to comfort patients in their time of need. It can be really dangerous and sad at times, but I just try to remain hopeful.”

“Just to see the look on someone’s face if you can make them feel better, even just by holding their hand … it’s the simple things.”

— Jeffrey Hunter

Rachel Hunter recalled a day when her father came home from work and told her about an older man in the hospital who felt abandoned and forgotten by his kids, who never called or sent birthday cards.

“I held back tears as my dad told me he sent him a birthday card this year,” she said. “Many leave their workday trying as hard as possible to forget about the long, stressful day, but not my dad. He left work thinking ‘what else can I do? How else can I make a difference?’”

Donna Hunter, 54, said her passion for providing care to neonates, infants and toddlers and emotional support and compassion for their parents and families started when she found out her own parents had full-term newborns who died soon after delivery.

She graduated from Adelphi University with a degree in nursing and received a master’s degree as a perinatal nurse practitioner from Stony Brook University. When fielding questions from people asking why she didn’t go through all her schooling to become a doctor, she says, “because I wanted to be a nurse and do what nurses do.”

“I’m one of those very fortunate people that love the career that I chose,” she said. “Every time I go to work, I’m passionate about being there, I’m excited, and it’s always a new adventure for me.”

Highly respected among staff for the 26 years she’s worked at St. Charles, she tends to newborns in need of specialized medical attention — from resuscitation and stabilization to rushing those born critically ill or with a heart condition to Stony Brook University Hospital.

Donna Hunter during the delivery of her cousin. Photo from Donna Hunter

“Babies are the most vulnerable population, but are incredibly resilient,” she said. “Babies have come back literally from the doors of death and have become healthy, and to be part of that in any small way is very satisfying.”

Maryanne Gross, the labor and delivery head nurse at St. Charles, called her “the calm voice in the room.”

“Donna is who you want with you if you’re having an issue or in a bad situation,” Gross said. “She’s an excellent teacher and just leads you step by step on what you need to do to help the baby. She’s great to be around and I think she was born to do [this].”

Hunter has also dedicated herself to creating a better future regarding neonatal withdrawal, saying the hospital is seeing more and more babies in the Intensive Care Unit affected by their mothers’ opioid use.

She recently gave a 45-minute seminar on the subject at a chemical dependency symposium by St. Charles outlining the newborn’s symptoms, treatment options and what it means for future health. She not only wants to help the baby but also the mother, providing resources to help them recover successfully.

Even with all their accomplishments in the field, Jeffrey and Donna Hunter consider family their top priority. With three children — Jeffrey Jr., 27; Jake, 24; and Rachel —  they take advantage of every opportunity they have to be together.

“It’s a juggle as to who’s working, who’s got to go to a meeting, but we make it happen,” Donna Hunter said. “We even take time to play games at our kitchen table … a lot of families don’t do that anymore. We’re very fortunate.”

By Daniel Dunaief

Born in Berlin just before World War II, Eckard Wimmer has dedicated himself in the last 20 years to producing something that would benefit humankind. A distinguished professor in molecular genetics and microbiology at Stony Brook University, Wimmer is hoping to produce vaccines to prevent the spread of viruses ranging from influenza, to Zika, to dengue fever, each of which can have significant health consequences for people around the world.

Using the latest technology, Wimmer, Steffen Mueller and J. Robert Coleman started a company called Codagenix in Melville. They aim to use software to alter the genes of viruses to make vaccines. “The technology we developed is unique,” said Wimmer, who serves as senior scientific advisor and co-founder of the new company.

Mueller is the president and chief science officer and Coleman is the chief operating officer. Both worked for years in Wimmer’s lab. Despite the potential to create vaccines that could treat people around the world facing the prospect of debilitating illnesses, Wimmer and his collaborators weren’t able to attract a pharmaceutical company willing to invest in a new technology that, he estimates, will take millions of dollars to figure out its value.“Nobody with a lot of money may want to take the risk, so we overcame that barrier right now,” he said.

Eckard Wimmer in his lab. Photo by Naif Mohammed Almojarthi

Codagenix has $6.2 million in funding. The National Institutes of Health initially contributed $600,000. The company scored an additional $1.4 million from NIH. It also raised $4.2 million from venture capital, which includes $4 million from TopSpin and $100,000 from Accelerate Long Island and a similar amount from the Center for Biotechnology at Stony Brook University.

Stony Brook University recently entered an exclusive licensing agreement with Codagenix to commercialize this viral vaccine platform. Codagenix is scheduled to begin phase I trials on a vaccine for seasonal influenza this year.

The key to this technology came from a SBU collaboration that included Wimmer, Bruce Futcher in the Department of Molecular Genetics & Microbiology and Steven Skiena in the Department of Computer Science. The team figured out a way to use gene manipulation and computer algorithms to alter the genes in a virus. The change weakens the virus, giving the attack dog elements of the immune system a strong scent to seek out and destroy any real viruses in the event of exposure.

Wimmer explained that the process starts with a thorough analysis of a virus’s genes. Once scientists determine the genetic code, they can introduce hundreds or even thousands of changes in the nucleic acids that make up the sequence. A computer helps select the areas to alter, which is a rapid process and, in a computer model, can take only one afternoon. From there, the researchers conduct experiments in tissue culture cells and then move on to experiment on animals, typically mice. This can take six months, which is a short time compared to the classical way, Wimmer said.

At this point, Codagenix has a collaboration with the Universidad de Puerto Rico at the Caribbean Primate Research Center to treat dengue and Zika virus in primates. To be sure, some promising vaccines in the past have been taken off the market because of unexpected side effects or even because they have become ineffective after the virus in the vaccine undergoes mutations that return it to its pathogenic state. Wimmer believes this is unlikely because he is introducing 1,000 changes within a vaccine candidate, which is much higher than other vaccines. In 2000, for example, it was discovered that the polio vaccines involve only five to 50 mutations and that these viruses had a propensity to revert, which was rare, to the type that could cause polio.

Colleagues suggested that this technique was promising. “This approach, given that numerous mutations are involved, has the advantage of both attenuation and genetic stability of the attenuated phenotype,” Charles Rice, the Maurice R. and Corrine P. Greenberg professor in virology at Rockefeller University explained in an email.

While Wimmer is changing the genome, he is not altering the structure of the proteins the attenuated virus produces, which is exactly the same as the virus. This gives the immune system a target it can recognize and destroy that is specific to the virus. Wimmer and his associates are monitoring the effect of the vaccines on mosquitoes that carry and transmit them to humans. “It’s not that we worry about the mosquito getting sick,” he said. “We have to worry whether the mosquito can propagate this virus better than before.” Preliminary results show that this is not the case, he said.

Wimmer said there are many safety precautions the company is taking, including ensuring that the vaccine candidate is safe to administer to humans. Wimmer moved from Berlin to Saxony after his father died when Wimmer was 3. He earned an undergraduate degree in chemistry in 1956 at the University of Rockstock. When he was working on his second postdoctoral fellowship at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, he heard a talk on viruses, which brought him into the field.

A resident of Old Field, Wimmer lives with his wife Astrid, a retired English professor at Stony Brook. The couple’s daughter Susanne lives in New Hampshire and has three children, while their son Thomas lives in Portland, Oregon, and has one child. “We’re very happy Long Islanders,” said Wimmer, who likes to be near the ocean and Manhattan.

Through a career spanning over 50 years, Wimmer has won numerous awards and distinctions. He demonstrated the chemical structure of the polio genome and worked on polio pathogenesis and human receptor for polio. He also published the first cell-free creation of a virus.

“This was an amazing result that enabled a number of important mechanistic studies on poliovirus replication,” Rice explained. Wimmer has “always been fearless and innovative, with great enthusiasm for virology and discovery.”

With this new effort, Wimmer feels he will continue in his quest to contributing to humanity.

Esther Takeuchi with photo in the background of her with President Obama, when she won the 2009 National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Photo courtesy of Brookhaven National Laboratory

By Daniel Dunaief

Pop them in the back of a cell phone and they work, most of the time. Sometimes, they only do their job a short time, discharge or generate so much heat that they become a hazard, much to the disappointment of the manufacturers and the consumers who bought electronic device.

Esther Takeuchi, a SUNY distinguished professor in the Departments of Chemistry and Materials Science and Engineering and the chief scientist in the Energy Sciences Directorate at Brookhaven National Laboratory leads a team of scientists who are exploring what makes one battery work while another falters or fails. She is investigating how to improve the efficiency of batteries so they can deliver more energy as electricity.

Esther Takeuchi with a device that allows her to test batteries under various conditions to see how they function. Photo courtesy of Brookhaven National Laboratory

The process of manufacturing batteries and storing energy is driven largely by commercial efforts in which companies put the ingredients together in ways that have, up until now, worked to produce energy. Scientists like Takeuchi, however, want to know what’s under the battery casing, as ions and electrons move beneath the surface to create a charge.

Recently, Takeuchi and a team that includes her husband Kenneth Takeuchi and Amy Marschilok, along with 18 postdoctoral and graduate students, made some progress in tackling energy storage activity in iron oxides.

These compounds have a mixed track record among energy scientists. That, Takeuchi said, is what attracted her and the team to them. Studying the literature on iron oxides, her graduate students discovered “everything from, ‘it looks terrible’ to, ‘it looks incredibly good,’” she said. “It is a challenging system to study, but is important to understand.”

This offered promise, not only in finding out what might make one set of iron oxides more effective in holding a charge without generating heat — the energy-robbing by-product of these reactions — but also in providing a greater awareness of the variables that can affect a battery’s performance.

In addition to determining how iron oxides function, Takeuchi would like to “determine whether these [iron oxides] can be useful and workable.” Scientists working with iron oxides didn’t know what factors to control in manufacturing their prospective batteries.

Takeuchi said her group is focusing on the linkage between small-scale and mesoscale particles and how that influences battery performance. “The benefit of iron oxides is that they are fairly inexpensive, are available, and are nontoxic,” she said, and they offer the potential of high energy content. They are related to rust in a broad sense. They could, theoretically, contain 2.5 times more energy than today’s batteries. “By understanding the fundamental mechanisms, we can move forward to understand their limitations,” she said, which, ultimately, could result in making these a viable energy storage material. T

akeuchi is also looking at a manganese oxide material in which the metal center and the oxygen connect, creating a tube-like structure, which allows ions to move along a track. When she started working with this material, she imagined that any ion that got stuck would cause reactions to stop, much as a stalled car in the Lincoln Tunnel leads to long traffic delays because the cars behind the blockage have nowhere to go.

Takeuchi said the ions don’t have the same problems as cars in a tunnel. She and her team believe the tunnel walls are porous, which would explain why something that looks like it should only produce a result that’s 5 percent different instead involves a process that’s 80 percent different. “These escape points are an interesting discovery, which means the materials have characteristics that weren’t anticipated,” Takeuchi said. The next step, she said, is to see if the researchers can control the technique to tune the material and make it into the constructs that take advantage of this more efficient flow of ions.

Through a career that included stops in Buffalo and North Carolina and West Virginia, Takeuchi, who has over 150 patents to her name, has collected numerous awards and received considerable recognition. She won the 2009 National Medal of Technology and Innovation, a presidential award given at a ceremony in the West Wing of the White House. Takeuchi developed compact lithium batteries for implantable cardiac defibrillators.

Takeuchi is currently a member of the National Medal of Technology and Innovation Nomination Evaluation Committee, which makes recommendations for the medal to the president. Scientists who have known Takeuchi for years applaud the work she and her team are doing on Long Island. “Dr. Takeuchi and her research group are making great advances in battery research that are very clearly promoted by the strong relationship between Stony Brook and BNL,” said Steven Suib, the director of the Institute for Materials Science at the University of Connecticut.

Indeed, at BNL, Takeuchi has used the National Synchrotron Light Source II, which became operational last year. The light source uses extremely powerful X-rays to create incredibly detailed images. She has worked with three beamlines on her research. At the same time, Takeuchi collaborates with researchers at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials at BNL.

Although she works with real-world experiments, Takeuchi partners with scientists at Stony Brook, BNL and Columbia University who focus on theoretical possibilities, offering her an insight into what might be happening or be possible. There are times when she and her team have observed some interaction with batteries, and she’s asked the theorists to help rationalize her finding. Other times, theorists have suggested what experimentalists should search for in the lab.

A resident of South Setauket, Takeuchi and her husband enjoy Long Island beaches. Even during the colder weather, they bundle up and enjoy the coastline. “There’s nothing more mentally soothing and energizing” than going for a long walk on the beach, she said.

In her research, Takeuchi and her team are focused on understanding the limitations of battery materials. Other battery experts believe her efforts are paying dividends. Suib said the recent work could be “very important in the development of new, inexpensive battery materials.”

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