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Stony Brook University

Elaine Gross, Christopher Sellers, Crystal Fleming, Miriam Sarwana and Abena Asare speak about race at ERASE Racism forum. Photo by Kyle Barr

In a politically charged time, race is seen as a third-rail issue, one that if touched leads to political headache in the case of a politician or a rough time around the holiday dinner table for everyday folks.

Which is why Elaine Gross, president of Syosset-based ERASE Racism, which wishes to examine and make meaningful change to race relations in New York, said Long Island was the perfect time and place to start meaningful conversations about race and racism, both in the overt and covert displays of prejudice.

“Even though we are becoming more diverse, that doesn’t mean we have what we want going on in our schools,” Gross said. “Long Island is home to 2.8 million people so we’re not a small place, but tremendously fragmented.”

The nonprofit, which was originally founded in 2001, made its first stop at Hilton Garden Inn, Stony Brook University Nov. 29 during a five-series Long Island-wide tour called How Do We Build a Just Long Island? The mission is to start a dialogue about meaningful change for race relations in both Suffolk and Nassau counties. Four panelists, all professors and graduate students at Stony Brook, spoke to a fully packed room about their own research into the subject and took questions from the audience on how they could affect change in their own communities.

Christopher Sellers, history professor and director of the Center for the Study of Inequalities, Social Justice, and Policy, has studied what he described as “scientific racism,” of people who look at the superiority and inferiority of other races as an objective truth, an idea that was born during the enlightenment and colonial period used to justify conquering nations overseas. It’s a form of understanding identity that lives on in many people, Sellers said.

“It’s as old as western society itself,” he said.

Race is an important issue in a county that is very segregated depending on the town and school district. An image created by the nonprofit and compiled with information from the New York State Department of Education shows a district such as Port Jefferson is made up of 80 percent white students, while in the Brentwood school district 79 percent of students are Latino and 12 percent are black.

Panelists argued that racism exists and is perpetuated through local policy. Abena Asare,
assistant professor of Modern African Affairs and History said that racism currently exists in the segregated schools, in lack of public transportation, zoning laws and other land-use policies created by local governments.

“Many of the policies on our island that insulate and produce structural racism are based on a false narrative on what Long Island was, who it is was for, and the fear of where it is going,” Asare said. “Creating new futures requires that we expose the version of the past that justifies or separates an unequal status quo.”

Crystal Fleming, an associate professor of sociology at Stony Brook, spoke about how historically the idea of white supremacy is ingrained in America’s social consciousness, that lingering ideas of one race’s entitlement to security and citizenship over other races have helped perpetuate racist ideas and policy.

“When we talk about systemic racism, it’s not black supremacy, it’s not Native American supremacy, it’s not Asian supremacy, it’s white supremacy,” Fleming said. “We need to be brave and talk frankly about these matters.”

Miriam Sarwana, a graduate student in psychology at Stony Brook, said after the civil rights movement of the 1960s racism did not simply die, but it became subtle, only used in the safety of the home. This is compounded by the lack of interaction between races on a daily basis.

“These biases are influenced by the social, societal and cultural [elements] in our lives, and can be influenced both directly and indirectly,” Sarwana said. “A white adult has little or no interaction with African-Americans, and then starting childhood this person may be exposed to negative images of African-Americans.”

The panelists said that the extreme segregation in school districts has resulted in an even greater disparity of resources and attention for nonwhite races. The issue, Asare said, after the forum, was that the 125 public school districts on Long Island have remained insular, leading to communities becoming disparate and inclusive. She said the best way to deal with this is to consolidate school districts, even along town lines, which could lead to bigger savings for school districts, more resources to less-served districts and allow for better cross-pollination of races between schools.

“The fact that those types of discussions are not normally occurring here speaks to a larger issue, that segregation works for a lot of people around Long Island,” Asare said.

The final Erase Racism forum in this series will be held Dec. 10 at the Radisson Hotel in Hauppauge at 6 p.m. Visit www.eraseracismny.org for more information or to register for the event.

Weisen Shen in front of a twin-otter airplane in the Antarctic during the 2017-18 season. Photo by Zhengyang Zhou

By Daniel Dunaief

Ever sit alone in a house and hear noises you can’t explain? Was that the wind, the house settling (whatever that means) or the cat swatting at the string hanging from the blinds?

Those sounds, which are sometimes inexplicable and are called ambient noise, are often hard to trace, even if we walk around the house and listen outside every room.

Weisen Shen
Photo by John Griffin

For Weisen Shen, an assistant professor in the Department of Geosciences at Stony Brook University, ambient noises deep below the Antarctic continent and elsewhere can be and often are clues that unlock mysteries hidden miles below the frozen surface.

A geoscientist who uses computer programs in his research, Shen would like to study the temperature well below the surface. He developed an in-house code to understand and interpret seismic data.

The speed at which Earth rumbling passes from one area to another can indicate the relative temperature of an area. Seismic activity moves more slowly through warmer rocks and moves more rapidly through colder crust, which has a higher rigidity. According to Shen, these temperature readings can help provide a clearer understanding of how much heat is traveling through the surface of the solid Earth into the ice sheet.

Shen traveled to the Ross Ice Shelf in the 2015-16 season and ventured to the South Pole in the 2017-18 season. He is currently seeking funding to go back to the Antartica. Earlier this year, he published an article in the journal Geology in which he found evidence that the lithosphere beneath the Transantarctic Mountains is thinner than expected.

Shen pointed out that seismic properties aren’t just related to temperature: They can help determine the density of the material, the composition and the existence of fluid such as water. He looks for surface geology and other types of geophysical data to detect what is the dominant reason for seismic structure anomalies. He also uses properties other than speed, such as seismic attenuation and amplitude ratios, in his analysis.

This kind of information can also provide an idea of the underlying support for mountain ranges, which get built up and collapse through a lithographic cycling.

As for ambient noises, Shen explained that they can come from ocean fluctuations caused by a hurricane, from human activities or, most commonly, from the bottom of the ocean, where the dynamic ocean wave constantly pushes against the bottom of the earth. By processing the noises in a certain way, he can extract information about the materials through which the noise traveled.

Shen published an article in the Journal of Geophysical Research in which he discussed a noise source in Kyushu Island in the Japanese archipelago. “The noise is so subtle that people’s ears will never catch it,” he said. “By deploying these very accurate seismic sensors, we will be able to monitor and study all the sources of those noises, not just the earthquakes.”

Studying these lower volume, less violent noises is especially helpful in places like Antarctica, which is, Shen said, a “quiet continent,” without a lot of strong seismic activity. He also uses the images of earthquakes that occur elsewhere, which travel less violently and dramatically through Antarctica.

Shen decided to study Antarctica after he earned his doctorate at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “I have this ambition to get to all the continents,” he said. In graduate school he told himself, “If you ever want to get that work done, you have to crack this continent.”

During his postdoctoral work, Shen moved to St. Louis, where he worked at Washington University in the laboratory of Doug Wiens, professor of Earth and planetary sciences.

In addition to conducting research in Antarctica, Shen collaborated with Chen Cai, a graduate student in Wiens’ lab. Together with other members of the Washington University team, they used seismic data in the Mariana Trench to show that about three to four times more water than previously estimated traveled beneath the tectonic plates into the Earth’s interior.

That much water rushing further into the Earth, however, is somehow offset by water returning to the oceans, as ocean levels haven’t changed dramatically through this part of the water cycle process.

“People’s estimates for the water coming out is probably out of balance,” Wiens said. “We can’t through millions of years bring lots of water through the interior. The oceans would get lower. There’s no evidence” to support that, which means that “an upward revision of the amount of water coming out of the Earth” is necessary. That water could be coming out through volcanoes or perhaps through the crust or gas funnels beneath the seafloor, he suggested.

Wiens praised all the researchers involved in the study, including Shen, whom he said was “very important” and “wrote a lot of the software we used to produce the final images.”

A resident of Queens, Shen lives with his wife Jiayi Xie, who works as a data scientist at Xaxis, a subcompany of the global media firm GroupM. The couple has an infant son, Luke.

Shen grew up in the southwestern part of China. When he was younger, he was generally interested in science, although his particular passion for geoscience started when he was in college at the University of Science and Technology of China, USTC, in Hefei, Anhui, China.

The assistant professor, who teaches a geophysics class at Stony Brook University, currently has two graduate students in his lab. He said he appreciates the support Stony Brook provides for young faculty.

As for his work, Shen is excited to contribute to the field, where he enjoys the opportunity and camaraderie that comes from exploring parts of Earth that are relatively inaccessible. He feels his detailed studies can help change people’s understanding of the planet.

Erase Racism is holding events across Long Island. Photo from Erase Racism website

A Syosset nonprofit and a Stony Brook University department are teaming up to open up a public dialogue pertaining to one of Long Island and America’s oldest societal problems.

ERASE Racism, a regional organization founded in 2001 that advocates for public policy to promote racial equality in housing, education and more, and SBU’s Center for the Study of Inequalities, Social Justice, and Policy, a department founded in 2017 that provides a forum for the promotion of various forms of student and faculty engagement on the same issues, will co-host the first of a series of forums meant to jump start a community conversation on racial inequality.

The series of forums, entitled How Do We Build a Just Long Island? will kick off at the Hilton Garden Inn on the SBU campus Nov. 29 at 6 p.m.

“This whole thing is premised on the fact that everybody can educate themselves,” ERASE Racism President Elaine Gross said in an interview. “It’s not about anyone calling anyone a racist. It’s not a blame and shame kind of thing. Let’s make sure we have all the facts, let’s make sure we understand the context.”

Gross said so far about 400 people have registered to attend the event. She said from the organization’s inception its goal has been to identify institutional and structural racism and seek to educate the public about the history that has led to places like Long Island being so racially segregated today.

“It is embedded — it doesn’t require that all of the players be racist people, or bad people, it only requires that people go along with the business as usual,” she said.

Christopher Sellers, SBU history professor and director of the center, said part of the thinking behind the forums is to frame the conversation in a way for people not exposed to racial inequality or injustice on a daily basis to see barriers and exclusions they may not have viewed as such. He said the goal is to ultimately expand the discussion from the confines of the campus and into the community. He called Long Island the perfect place to begin this dialogue.

“Demographic change causes people to get more defensive and fall back on these racializing tool kits they may have picked up from their own past,” he said, adding that data suggests Long Island has become more racially diverse during recent decades, specifically seeing an increase in those of Hispanic descent.

Sellers said he feels a sense of urgency to begin a wide discussion on racial intolerance despite the perception from many that in the decades since the civil rights movement society has made sufficient progress in creating a just America for all. In “Hate Crime Statistics, 2017” released Nov. 13, the FBI reported a 17 percent increase in incidents identified as hate crimes from 2016 to 2017, with nearly 60 percent of those incidents being motivated by racial or ethnic bias. From 2015 to 2016 there was a roughly 5 percent increase in these incidents. From 2014 to 2015, hate crimes went up by about 7 percent.

“We need as a university to do something, we as academics can no longer sit on our hands,” Sellers said. “This is maybe a more urgent matter than we’ve considered before.”

Gross said the aim of the events is education.

“We didn’t plan to be doing this at a time when the country is so divided and there’s so much overtly biased comments, racist comments being said at the highest levels,” Gross said. “We planned this because we felt that even though with all of the work that we’ve done, we felt that was really needed was a regional public discussion and understanding of how things are connected.”

To register for the event and to get more information on the remainder of the forums — slated for Riverhead, Hempstead, Melville and Hauppauge — visit www.eraseracismny.org.

Andrew Schwartz. Photo courtesy of Stony Brook University

By Daniel Dunaief

In the era of social media, people reveal a great deal about themselves, from the food they eat, to the people they see on a subway, to the places they’ve visited. Through their own postings, however, people can also share elements of their mental health.

In a recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Andrew Schwartz, an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science at Stony Brook University, teamed up with scientists at the University of Pennsylvania to describe how the words volunteers wrote in Facebook postings helped provide a preclinical indication of depression prior to a documentation of the diagnosis in the medical record.

Using his background in computational linguistics and computational psychology, Schwartz helped analyze the frequency of particular words and the specific word choices to link any potential indicators from these posts with later diagnoses of depression.

Combining an analysis of the small cues could provide some leading indicators for future diagnoses.

“When we put [the cues] all together, we get predictions slightly better than standard screening questionnaires,” Schwartz explained in an email. “We suggest language on Facebook is not only predictive, but predictive at a level that bears clinical consideration as a potential screening tool.”

Specifically, the researchers found that posts that used words like “feelings” and “tears” or the use of more first-person pronounces like “I” and “me,” along with descriptions of hostility and loneliness, served as potential indicators of depression.

By studying posts from consenting adults who shared their Facebook statuses and electronic medical record information, the scientists used machine learning in a secure data environment to identify those with a future diagnosis of depression.

The population involved in this study was restricted to the Philadelphia urban population, which is the location of the World Well-Being Project. When he was at the University of Pennsylvania prior to joining Stony Brook, Schwartz joined a group of other scientists to form the WWBP.

While people of a wide range of mental health status use the words “I” and “me” when posting anecdotes about their lives or sharing personal responses to events, the use of these words has potential clinical value when people use them more than average.

That alone, however, is predictive, but not enough to be meaningful. It suggests the person has a small percentage increase in being depressed but not enough to worry about on its own. Combining all the cues, the likelihood increases for having depression.

Schwartz acknowledged that some of the terms that contribute to these diagnoses are logical. Words like “crying,” for example, are also predictive of being depressed, he said.

The process of tracking the frequency and use of specific words to link to depression through Facebook posts bears some overlap with the guide psychiatrists and psychologists use when they’re assessing their patients.

The “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” typically lays out a list of symptoms associated with conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or depression, just to name a few.

“The analogy to the DSM and how it works that way is kind of similar to how these algorithms will work,” Schwartz said. “We look at signals across a wide spectrum of features. The output of the algorithm is a probability that someone is depressed.”

The linguistic analysis is based on quantified evidence rather than subjective judgments. That doesn’t make it better than an evaluation by mental health professional. The algorithm would need more development to reach the accuracy of a trained psychologist to assess symptoms through a structured interview, Schwartz explained.

At this point, using such an algorithm to diagnose mental health better than trained professionals is a “long shot” and not possible with today’s techniques, Schwartz added.

Schwartz considers himself part computer scientist, part computational psychologist. He is focused on the intersection of algorithms that analyze language and apply psychology to that approach.

A person who is in therapy might offer an update through his or her writing on a monthly basis that could then offer a probability score about a depression diagnosis.

Linguistic tools might help determine the best course of treatment for people who have depression as well. In consultation with their clinician, people with depression have choices, including types of medications they can take.

While they don’t have the data for it yet, Schwartz said he hopes an algorithmic assessment of linguistic cues ahead of time may guide decisions about the most effective treatment.

Schwartz, who has been at SBU for over three years, cautions people against making their own mental health judgments based on an impromptu algorithm. “I’ve had some questions about trying to diagnose friends by their posts on social media,” he said. “I wouldn’t advocate that. Even someone like me, who has studied how words relate to mental health, has a hard time” coming up with a valid analysis, he said.

A resident of Sound Beach, Schwartz lives with his wife Becky, who is a music instructor at Laurel Hill Middle School in Setauket, and their pre-school-aged son. A trombone player and past  member of a drum and bugle corps, he met his wife through college band.

Schwartz grew up in Orlando, where he met numerous Long Islanders who had moved to the area after they retired. When he was younger, he used to read magazines that had 50 lines of computer code at the back of them that created computer games.

He started out by tweaking the code on his own, which drove him toward programming and computers.

As for his recent work, Schwartz suggested that the analysis is “often misunderstood when people first hear about these techniques. It’s not just people announcing to the world that they have a condition. It’s a combination of other signals, none of which, by themselves, are predictive.”

Sam Aronson. Photo courtesy of BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

Sam Aronson, the retired head of Brookhaven National Laboratory, has set his sights on a new project far from Long Island.

Teaming up with Acacia Leakey, the project management and engineering consultant of a company called SOSAED and a member of the famed family that has made seminal discoveries about human evolution in Kenya, Aronson would like to stimulate the growth of businesses through the use of solar power that provides products and services.

“This [part of Africa] is an area where there’s really little infrastructure,” Aronson said. “We’re looking to help people get up on the economic pyramid.”

The people Aronson and Leakey would like to help are representative of the one billion people without access to electric power. Two-thirds of them live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Through SOSAED — which stands for Sustainable Off-grid Solutions for African Economic Development — Aronson and Leakey are working with the Turkana Basin Institute of northern Kenya, Stony Brook University, Strathmore University in Nairobi and other Kenyan educational institutions and businesses to integrate business creation in off-grid areas into the larger Kenyan economic ecosystem.

The group would like to create a business model, using local workers and managers, for a range of companies, Leakey explained.

SOSAED plans to start with a small-scale solar-powered clothing production business, which would create affordable clothing for the heat, including skirts, shirts and shorts. SOSAED expects to build this plant adjacent to the TBI research facility.

Ideally, the manufacturer will make the clothing from local material. The clothing business is a pilot project to see whether the model can work for other types of projects in other areas. The Turkana Basin Institute will provide some of the infrastructure, while SOSAED will acquire the equipment and the raw materials and training to do the work.

SOSAED hopes the project will become “self-sustaining when it’s up and running,” Aronson said. “To be sustainable, it has to be the work of local people.” He hopes what will differentiate this effort from other groups’ attempts to build economic development is the commitment to maintenance by people living and working in the area.

“To an extent, the suitability of technology is rarely rigorously considered when humanitarian or generic development projects are implemented,” Leakey explained in an email. “Not only are the skills required for maintenance an important consideration, the availability of spare parts and the motivation and ability to pay for these are also important.”

Developing a system that includes upkeep by people living and working in the area could “make a project move ahead on its own steam,” Aronson said. The area has limited infrastructure, although some of that is changing as new roads and government-funded water projects begin.

Leakey suggested that a long-term project would need extensive participation of the users in every step of the development and implementation. “The project will likely look very different once complete to how we envisage it now, and part of our success (if it comes) will lie in working in a way which allows a great degree of flexibility as it is unlikely we’ll design the ‘right’ system the first time around,” she explained in an email.

In areas with mature systems, Leakey suggested that some organizations had difficulty changing direction, retrofitting existing systems or adapting new technology. New York, she explained, is struggling to adopt sustainable technologies to the extent that it could. “Legislative and physical infrastructure imposes unfortunate roadblocks in the way of clean technologies,” she wrote in an email. “We’re fortunate that with electricity provision we have a fairly blank slate” in Kenya and that the “Kenya government also recognizes the value of off-grid initiatives.”

Leakey appreciates the support TBI played in helping to create SOSAED and is grateful for the ongoing assistance. Through Stony Brook University, SOSAED is beginning to engage business students on economic questions. In the future, the group may also work with engineering students on technological challenges.

“Research may include developing new productive uses of solar power, optimizing the existing system and using the site to rigorously test technologies developed at Stony Brook,” she explained.

Aronson’s initial interest in this project came from his technological connection to Brookhaven National Laboratory, where he retired as the director in 2015. He has been eager to bring new technology to a population he is confident they can help in a “way that makes sense to them and addresses their needs.”

With the support of the Turkana Basin Institute and Stony Brook, Aronson hopes to have a functioning solar hub and factory near TBI that serves a few surrounding villages within the next 18 months. “That’s a very ambitious goal,” he acknowledged. “We’re working in an environment that, because of the history and development, people you’re trying to serve are somewhat skeptical that you’re serious and that you have the staying power to make something that looks like what you’re talking about work.” 

While Aronson and Leakey are continuing to make connections in Kenya with government officials and residents interested in starting businesses, they are searching for ways to make this effort financially viable.

SOSAED is raising money through philanthropic grants and foundations to get the project going. Eventually, they hope to approach venture capital firms who are patient and prepared to invest for the longer term in a number of projects.

After they have an initial example, they will approach other financial backers with more than just a good idea, but with a model they hope will work in other locations.

Aronson lauded the effort and knowledge of Leakey. “We wouldn’t be making much progress right now for a variety of reasons in Kenya if [Leakey] hadn’t come on board,” Aronson said. “I value in the extreme her ability to get the work done.”

SOSAID would like to submit proposals to funding sources that can drive this concept forward.

If this effort takes root, Aronson believes there is a “tremendous market out there.” That would mean this would “become a much bigger organization.”

Stony Brook University representatives and legislators joined Jim and Marilyn Simons, holding scissors, at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at SBU Nov. 1. Photo from Stony Brook University

Stony Brook University is stepping into the future when it comes to cancer research and patient care.

“Imagine what we will accomplish once this building is filled with the pre-eminent doctors and scientists from across campus, the state and the globe.”

— Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Nov. 1 to commemorate the completion of construction of the Medical and Research Translation building, where Stony Brook University Cancer Center will be the primary occupant. The eight-level, 240,000-square-foot facility features expanded state-of-the-art space that will be used by clinicians and researchers to discover new cancer treatments, educate students, create more space for patients and family, and more. The building is slated to be opened to patients in January.

At a presentation after the ceremony, SBU President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. said the MART is the result of public and private funds and donations. Support from Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), the State University of New York and Empire State Development led to a $35 million NYSUNY 2020 challenge grant. Also, $50 million from a $150 million gift from Jim Simons, founder of Renaissance Technologies, and his wife Marilyn, and $53 million in funds secured by state Sens. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) added to donations from supporters.

The university president said the MART will bring together national and international experts in various fields including applied mathematics, imaging, chemistry, biology and computer science.

“Imagine what we will accomplish once this building is filled with the preeminent doctors and scientists from across campus, the state and the globe,” Stanley said.

Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky, senior vice president of health sciences and dean of the school of medicine, said the idea of the facility was conceived eight days after his arrival at Stony Brook nine years ago. He said it was envisioned as a catalyst for highly advanced cancer research and a facility to provide outstanding clinical care to patients.

“Because cancer researchers, educators and clinicians would occupy the same building and wait in the same lines for coffee, juice and food, what I’d like to term productive collisions would be inevitable, allowing the MART to serve as an incubator with the very best people to produce and then practice the very best ideas in medicine,” he said.

“With expanded space for patients and families, the MART offers a convenient access to Stony Brook Cancer’s experts, all of them in one location, whether you’re four years old or 84 years old.”

— Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky

Kaushansky said the building is more than medical professionals coming together and brainstorming.

“With expanded space for patients and families, the MART offers a convenient access to Stony Brook Cancer’s experts, all of them in one location, whether you’re 4 years old or 84 years old,” Kaushansky said.

The dean said since 2012 Dr. Yusuf Hannun, director of SBU Cancer Center, has assembled a dream team of researchers, physicians, staff members and educators dedicated to finding cures and compassionate care for SBU patients.

Hannun said the plan was to build a comprehensive cancer center on Long Island that conducts cutting-edge research to understand cancer and then design approaches to predict, diagnose, prevent and defeat cancer.

“The broad scope of activities that we conduct — research, education, clinical trials, prevention, patient care, survivorship and many others — is only possible in a setting of an academic medical center that can support this depth and breadth of activity,” he said.

SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson, who battled Hodgkin’s disease nearly 40 years ago, attended the event. As a cancer survivor, Johnson said she was happy to be at the ribbon cutting and wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for professionals that developed the treatment she had to undergo.

“I can’t wait to see what innovations are going to come out for the care and treatment of patients to come from the comprehensive team of cross-disciplinary researchers empowered by MART, and how this facility will change the way we educate physician-scientists here at Stony Brook University,” Johnson said.

Marcelo Lucero

REMEMBERING MARCELO LUCERO A DECADE AFTER HIS DEATH

Campus, community members to mark anniversary with Nov. 8 vigil at Stony Brook University

 Ten years to the date of the hate crime killing of Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero, students, faculty and community members will gather at Stony Brook University for a night of remembrance and reflection.

“Our Town: Ten Years Later,” an educational vigil, will take place on Thursday, Nov. 8, from 7 to 9 p.m., in the university’s Students Activities Center (SAC) auditorium. Marcelo’s brother Joselo Lucero will address the crowd, along with Patchogue-Medford Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Hynes and filmmaker Susan Hagedorn.

Six campus partners are sponsoring the vigil: the Undergraduate Student Government (main sponsor); the Hispanic Languages and Literature Dept.; Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Dept.; Center for Civic Justice; Office of Multicultural Affairs; and Campus Residences.

The program will feature the screening of a special one-hour-long edited version of Deputized,Hagedorn’s documentary about the 2008 attack on Lucero by seven teens that intentionally sought Latinos to assault during a night of what they termed “beaner hopping.” A discussion and Q&A session will follow.

Remarks by Dr. Hynes, whose school district includes Patchogue Village, where Marcelo was slain, will begin the evening. The Lucero Award-winning video from the UN Plural+ Youth Video Festival on Migration, Diversity & Social Inclusion will be shown preceding Deputized.

Given the current national climate of division and distrust of immigrants, organizers say this year’s vigil is more important than ever to promote understanding of and respect for cultural differences. However, despite the international attention Marcelo’s fatal stabbing received and resulting calls for improved treatment of immigrants particularly by police, his brother’s story is not “political,” Joselo Lucero stressed.

“This is a human issue,” he said. “This is not about legal or illegal, documented or undocumented. This is about what happened to a human being. That’s what we will be remembering and realizing on November 8th.”

Co-organizer Ian Lesnick, assistant to the president and director of diversity affairs for the Undergraduate Student Government, added that the vigil also provides an opportunity for us “to reflect on ourselves as a society to see how we’ve changed and where we continue to grow.”

Marcelo and a friend were walking near the LIRR tracks in Patchogue when they were attacked by the seven youth. The killing sent shockwaves across Long Island and beyond, generated hundreds of news stories and sparked numerous community dialogues, a play, a novel and a PBS documentary .

The vigil is free of charge and open to the public. Free parking is available in the SAC lot. Upon driving onto the Stony Brook campus, follow signs to the Student Activities Center.

For information, contact 631-258-2016 or ilesnick@stonybrookusc.org.

Gábor Balázsi. Photo by Dmitry Nevozhay

By Daniel Dunaief

An especially hot July day can send hordes of people to Long Island beaches. A cooler July temperature, however, might encourage people to shop at a mall, catch a movie or stay at home and clean out clutter.

Similarly, genes in yeast respond to changes in temperature.

Gábor Balázsi, the Henry Laufer associate professor of physical and quantitative biology at Stony Brook University, recently published research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on the effect of temperature changes on yeast genes.

“We are looking at single cells and at genetic systems and we can dissect and understand gene by gene with a high level of detail,” said Balázsi, who used synthetic genetic systems to allow him to dissect and understand how temperature affects these genes.

Understanding the basic science of how genes in individual cells respond to temperature differences could have broad applications. In agriculture, farmers might need to know how genes or gene circuits that provide resistance to a pathogen or drought tolerance react when the temperature rises or falls.

Similarly, researchers using genetically designed biological solutions to environmental problems, like cleanups at toxic spills, would need to understand how a change in temperature can affect their systems.

Lingchong You, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Duke University, believes the research is promising.

“Understanding how temperature will influence the dynamics of gene circuits is intrinsically interesting and could serve as a foundation for the future,” You said. Researchers “could potentially design gene circuits to program the cell such that the cell will somehow remember its experience with the fluctuating temperatures,” which could provide clues about the experience of the cell.

Balázsi suggested the goal of his work is to understand the robustness of human control over cells in nonstandard conditions.

While other researchers have explored the effects of gene expression for hundreds of genes at different temperatures, Balázsi looked more precisely at single genes and human-made synthetic gene circuits in individual cells. He discovered various effects by inserting a two-gene circuit into yeast.

At the whole-cell level when temperatures rise from 30°C to 38°C, some cells continued growing, albeit at a slower rate, while others stopped growing and started to consume their proteins.

For the second type of cells, changing temperatures can lead to cell death. If the temperature comes down to normal levels soon enough, however, researchers can rescue those cells.

“How this decision happens is a question that should be addressed in the future,” Balázsi said.

While the dilution of all proteins slows down, the chemical reactions in which they participate speed up at a higher temperature, much like children who become more active after receiving sugar at a birthday party.

At another level, certain individual molecules change their movement between conformations at a higher temperature. Proteins wiggle more between different folding conformations even if they don’t change composition. This affects their ability to bind DNA.

Balázsi said he is fortunate that he works through the Laufer Center for Physical and Quantitative Biology, which partly supported the work, where he was able to find a collaborator to do molecular dynamic simulations. Based on the pioneering experiments of postdoctoral fellow Daniel Charlebois, with help from undergraduate researcher Sylvia Marshall, the team collected data for abnormal behaviors of well-characterized synthetic gene circuits. They worked with Kevin Hauser, a former Stony Brook graduate research assistant, who explained how the altered conformational movements affected how the protein and cells behaved.

The way proteins fold and move between conformations determines what they do.

Gábor Balázsi with his daughter Julianna at West Meadow Beach
Photo from Gábor Balázsi

Taking his observations and experiments further, Balázsi found that proteins that were unbound to a small molecule didn’t experience a change in their conformation. When they were linked up, however, they demonstrated a new behavior when heated. This suggests that understanding the effects of temperature on these genetic systems requires an awareness of the proteins involved, as well as the state of their interaction with other molecules.

While Balázsi explored several ways temperature changes affect the yeast proteins, he acknowledged that other levels or forces might emerge that dictate the way these proteins change.

Additionally, temperature changes represent just one of many environmental factors that could control the way the genetic machinery of a cell changes. The pH, or acidity, of a system might also change a gene or group of genes.

A main overarching question remains as to how much basic chemical and physical changes combine with biological effects to give predictable, observable changes in the behaviors of genes and living cells.

Balázsi may test other cell types. So far, he’s only looked at yeast cells. He would also like to know the order in which the various levels of reactions — from the whole cell to the molecular level — occur.

He is interested in cancer research and possibly defense applications and would like to take a closer look at the way temperature or other environmental factors impact human disease processes and progression or think about their relevance for homeland security or biological solutions to renewable energy.

Balázsi recognizes that he and others in this field have numerous hurdles to overcome to find acceptable appreciation for the application of synthetic gene circuits.

“It’s not so simple to engineer these cells reliably,” he said. “Some roadblocks need to be eliminated to convince people it’s feasible and useful.”

Balázsi suggested that the field of virology might benefit from pursuing some of these research questions. Viruses move from the environment or even from other hosts into humans. Avian influenza, for example, can begin inside a bird and wind up affecting people. These viruses “might have different expression patterns in birds versus humans,” he said.

Ultimately, he added, this kind of scientific pursuit is “multipronged and the applications are numerous.”

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Charles B. Wang, right, stands with Stony Brook University President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. after receiving an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from the school in 2015. Photo from Stony Brook University

Charles B. Wang, minority owner of the New York Islanders hockey team and founder of the software company CA Technologies, died Oct. 21 at the age of 74 in Oyster Bay, according to a statement from his attorney John McEntee of Farrell Fritz P.C. in Uniondale.

Charles B. Wang. Photo from CA Technologies

Wang was born in Shanghai, China, Aug. 19, 1944, and moved to the United States with his family when he was 8 years old. He attended Brooklyn Technical High School and graduated from Queens College with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics.

Wang donated $52 million to Stony Brook University, which led to the opening of the Charles B. Wang Center, in 2002, an Asian and Asian-American cultural center. At the time, it was the largest individual donation in State University of New York history, according to SBU’s website.

“I am deeply saddened to have learned about the passing of Charles Wang and extend my deepest sympathies to his family on behalf of myself and Stony Brook University,” SBU President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. said in a statement. “Charles’ legacy will live on at Stony Brook University in the iconic and vibrant Charles B. Wang Center, opened in 2002 as an international hub bringing Asians and Americans into a common space, a marketplace of cultural awakenings and ideas for the 21st century.”

Stanley said in the statement the center offers a respite for students.

“It is a proverbial bridge between cultures, and a welcome home to all students of every nationality, every race and religion,” he said. “It is a monument to his vision and will continue to be for generations to come. The world needs more like Charles Wang.”

In 2015, Wang received an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from the university. During his acceptance speech he stated his beliefs in four points: “1. You can make a difference; 2. Integrity and loyalty are only words until tested; 3. Love life to the fullest; and 4. Have fun.”

In 1976, Wang co-founded Computer Associates International, now known as CA Technologies, serving as chairman and chief executive officer, according to his attorney.

“I am deeply saddened to have learned about the passing of Charles Wang and extend my deepest sympathies to his family on behalf of myself and Stony Brook University.”

— Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr.

In 2000 Wang was asked to purchase the Islanders, for which he remained majority owner until 2016 when he sold his majority stake. The entrepreneur had only attended one hockey game in life before ownership, and the new role led to him creating Project Hope, an international program in China to develop education through ice hockey.

Another philanthropic venture of Wang’s was Smile Train, of which he was the founding member in 1999 and chairman of the board. The nonprofit provides free surgery to children in developing countries who have cleft lip and palate.

“Charles was the driving force behind Smile Train and the reason why so many deserving children continue to receive the care they so desperately need,” Smile Train posted on its website. “His unwavering passion, commitment and dedication to children with clefts was unmatched. Our Smile Train family will miss him beyond words, yet we take comfort in knowing his legacy will live on forever in the smiles of the faces of the children we help and in the hearts of everyone who was fortunate enough to know him.”

In 1998, Wang endowed the Charles B. Wang International Foundation, and, in 2001, he established the New York Islanders Children’s Foundation, dedicated to supporting children and youth organizations, according to McEntee’s statement.

Wang was also chairman of the board of NeuLion, a digital video technology company, from 2008 to 2016 and is the author of “TechnoVision: The Executive’s Survival Guide to Understanding and Managing Information Technology” and “Wok Like a Man,” a cookbook of his favorite Chinese food recipes.

Wang leaves behind his wife Nancy Li; children Kimberly (Chris), Jasmine and Cameron; grandchildren, Charles, Kingsley and Kendall; mother, Mary; brothers Anthony (Lulu) and Francis (Laura), and his nieces and nephew. He was preceded in death by his father, Kenneth. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to Smile Train or the New York Islanders Children’s Foundation.

 

Susan Lucci

A night of comedy

“Celebrity Autobiography” heads to Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts Recital Hall on Oct. 27 at 8 p.m. The evening will feature Emmy winner Susan Lucci (“All My Children”), Mario Cantone (“Sex and the City”), Jackie Hoffman (Emmy nominee for “Feud”) and show creators Emmy nominee Eugene Pack and Drama Desk winner Dayle Reyfel who will read from highly selective and hilarious celebrity memoirs.

Mario Cantone

The passages in “Celebrity Autobiography” run the gamut from the “poetry of Suzanne Somers” to the shocking “romance tips” from Tommy Lee. Audiences will hear how Vanna flips her panels, what Stallone stores in his freezer and tips from the Kardashians. Justin Bieber, Hasselhoff, Celine, Zayn, Barbra, Tiger, Arnold, Britney, Dolly, Cher, Oprah, Beyonce, as well as the famous love triangle of Elizabeth Taylor, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher are included, all in their own words. 

“Celebrity Autobiography” won the 2009 Drama Desk Award in the category of Unique Theatrical Experience. The off-Broadway show ran for 10 years and toured extensively to Los Angeles, Edinburgh, London’s West End and Australia’s Sydney Opera House. Tickets are $48 with discounts for children, students and seniors. To order, visit www.stallercenter.com or call 631-632-ARTS (2787). 

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