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Stony Brook University

SBU Athletic Director Shawn Heilbron accepts the 2019 Commissioner’s Cup from America East Commisioner Amy Huchthausen. Photo from SBU

SARATOGA SPRINGS: Following a historic 2018-19 season, Stony Brook University has claimed the Stuart P. Haskell, Jr. Commissioner’s Cup for the first time in school history, the league announce at its annual awards dinner at the Saratoga Hilton on June 6. University at Albany came in second place followed by UMass Lowell in third.

The trophy was accepted by SBU Athletic Director Shawn Heilbron.

“The Cup is coming home to Long Island,” announced  Heilbron shortly after the event. “This belongs to our Stony Brook Athletics coaches, staff and — most importantly — student-athletes,” he said. Stony Brook is just the fourth America East school to win the Commissioner’s Cup. Past recipients have been the University of Albany, Boston University and the University of Delaware.

Michael Watts accepts his award for 2018-19 America East Man of the Year from Amy Hutchhausen. Photo from SBU

The Commissioner’s Cup annually recognizes the strongest athletic program in America East as determined by a scoring system that rewards a school for success both during the regular season and championship competition in the conference’s 18 sports.

At the same event, Stony Brook men’s track and field and cross-country member Michael Watts of Islip was named the 2018-19 America East Man of the Year.

Watts had a decorated career on the track and cross-country course as a Seawolf, winning two individual conference track and field titles while helping the cross-country team to two consecutive America East Championships in 2016 and 2017. The team captain also holds the program record in the 3,000 meters and garnered several All-Conference, All-IC4A and MVP honors throughout his career.

Most importantly, Watts was a leader in the community as well. On campus, he volunteered and was involved with a myriad of organizations including the Stony Brook PACK program, the Student Athlete Advisory Committee and PAWS. The Islip native also helped raise and allocate funds for numerous events and charities such as 9/11 Vets, the EJ Autism Foundation and the annual Midnight Run to help clothe the homeless.

Watts is pursuing his MBA in health care management, holding a 3.8 GPA. He received his undergraduate degree in 2018 with a 3.4 GPA in health science with a concentration in health care policy and management.

During his time at Stony Brook, Watts was put on the America East All-Academic Team, America East Commissioner’s Honor Roll, Dean’s List and America East Honor Roll. He was also a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, the Stony Brook Society of Distinguished Scholar Athletes and a recipient of the Joel Mitofsky Memorial Scholarship.

Fusheng Wang. Photo from SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

Long Island’s opioid-related use and poisoning, which nearly doubled from 2015 to 2016, was higher among lower income households in Nassau and Suffolk counties, according to a recent study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Looking at hospital codes throughout New York to gather specific data about medical problems caused by the overuse or addiction to painkillers, researchers including Fusheng Wang, an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Informatics at Stony Brook University, George Leibowitz, a professor in Stony Brook’s School of Social Welfare, and Elinor Schoenfeld, a research professor of preventive medicine at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook, explored patterns that reveal details about the epidemic on Long Island.

“We want to know what the population groups are who get addicted or get poisoned and what are the regions we have to pay a lot of attention to,” Wang said. “We try to use lots of information to support these studies.”

Data from The Journal

The Stony Brook team, which received financial support from the National Science Foundation, explored over 7 years of hospital data from 2010 to 2016 in which seven different codes — all related to opioid problems — were reported.

During those years, the rates of opioid poisoning increased by 250 percent. In their report, the scientists urged a greater understanding and intervening at the community level, focusing on those most at risk.

Indeed, the ZIP codes that showed the greatest percentage of opioid poisoning came from communities with the lowest median home value, the greatest percentage of residents who completed high school and the lowest percentage of residents who achieved education beyond college, according to the study.

In Suffolk County, specifically, the highest quartile of opioid poisoning occurred in communities with lower median income.

Patients with opioid poisoning were typically younger and more often identified themselves as white. People battling the painkilling affliction in Suffolk County were more likely to use self-pay only and less likely to use Medicare.

In Suffolk County, the patients who had opioid poisoning also were concentrated along the western section, where population densities were higher than in other regions of the county.

The Stony Brook scientists suggested that the data are consistent with information presented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has found significant increases in use by women, older adults and non-Hispanic whites.

“The observed trends are consistent with national statistics of higher opioid use among lower-income households,” the authors wrote in their study. Opioid prescribing among Medicare Part D recipients has risen 2.84 percent in the Empire State. The data on Long Island reflected the national trend among states with older residents.

“States with higher median population age consume more opioids per capita, suggesting that older adults consume more opioids,” the study suggested, citing a report last year from the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Nationally, between 21 to 29 percent of people prescribed opioids for pain misused them, according to the study, which cited other research. About 4 to 6 percent of people who misuse opioids then transition to heroin. Opioid costs, including treatment and criminal justice, have climbed to about $500 billion, up from $55.7 billion in 2007, according to a 2017 study in the journal Pain Physician.

The findings from the current study on Long Island, the authors suggest, are helping regional efforts to plan for and expand capacity to provide focused and targeted intervention where they are needed most.

Limited trained staff present challenges for the implementation of efforts like evidenced-based psychosocial programs such as the Vermont Hub and Spoke system.

The researchers suggest that the information about communities in need provides a critical first step in addressing provider shortages.

New York State cautioned that findings from this study may underreport the burden of opioid abuse and dependence, according to the study. To understand the extent of underreporting, the scientists suggest conducting similar studies in other states.

Scientists are increasingly looking to the field of informatics to analyze and interpret large data sets. The lower cost of computing, coupled with an abundance of available data, allows researchers to ask more detailed and specific questions in a shorter space of time.

Wang said this kind of information about the opioid crisis can provide those engaging in public policy with a specific understanding of the crisis. “People are not [generally] aware of the overall distribution” of opioid cases, Wang said. Each hospital only has its own data, while “we can provide a much more accurate” analysis, comparing each group.

Gathering the data from the hospitals took considerable time, he said. “We want to get information and push this to local administrations. We want to eventually support wide information for decision-making by the government.”

Wang credited his collaborators Leibowitz and Schoenfeld with making connections with local governments.

He became involved in this project because of contact he made with Stony Brook Hospital in 2016. Wang is also studying comorbidity: He’d like to know what other presenting symptoms, addictions or problems patients with opioid-related crises have when they visit the hospital. The next stage, he said, is to look at the effectiveness of different types of treatment.

A resident of Lake Grove, Wang believes he made the right decision to join Stony Brook. “I really enjoy my research here,” he said.

Many of Madagascar’s iconic lemur species such as this black-and-white ruffed lemur are critically endangered. Photo by Daniel Burgas

By Daniel Dunaief

As a part of an ambitious reforestation plan announced in March, Madagascar’s newly elected president Andry Rajoelina explained that he wanted to change the way his nation off the southwest coast of the African continent was known, from the Red Island to the Green Island.

An international collection of scientists, including lemur expert and award-winning scientist Patricia Wright of Stony Brook University, recently weighed in on other ways Rajoelina can help conservation goals for the country through a five-step solution they outlined in the journal Nature Sustainability.

“We are all very concerned” about the fate of biodiversity in Madagascar, said Wright. “We know that only with a collaborative effort can we push things in the right direction.”

Madagascar, which has numerous species endemic to the island nation, including many of the lemurs Wright studies, is known as the island of red clay in part because deforestation has exposed much of the clay underlying the country. This clay has eroded into rivers, which have washed into the ocean.

“If you flew over the whole island, it would be very sad” because of all the exposed red clay from deforestation, Wright said.

She remains optimistic about Rajoelina’s goals and the potential for achieving them. The president “talked about going on the offensive and reforestation is one of his platforms,” she said. “It’s most important to reforest with endemic species,” as opposed to eucalyptus and pine.

Unlike in other countries, where politicians sometimes view conservation and economic development as forces pulling in opposite directions, Malagasy leaders acknowledge and recognize the benefit of preserving unique habitats that are home to the rare and threatened species of Madagascar.

“If you destroy all the forests, you destroy all the water and they will no longer be able to farm,” Wright said. “The natural wildlife and habitats are closely connected to their well-being. One of the biggest industries is ecotourism, which supports many industries on the ground. It’s not like there’s a line between people and wildlife.”

Indeed, the scientists acknowledge the importance of financial growth for the country that dovetails with their conservation goals.

“Conservation needs to contribute to, and not detract from, national efforts targeting economic development,” Julia Jones of Bangor University, in Wales, who led the study, said in a press release. “It must not make situations worse for the rural poor who are so often marginalized in decision making.”

The people of Madagascar have many of the same needs as those in other countries, as they seek jobs, health care, and good schooling, Wright said. “These families are closer to not having enough food to eat and they are much poorer if the natural resources are all destroyed.”

Concerned about the fate of biodiversity in Madagascar, Jones contacted Wright, who suggested the team enlist the help of Jonah Ratsimbazafy from the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar.

“It was just a matter of bringing together some of the key players in conservation for 20 years,” explained Wright.

The group generated a list of five priorities.

First on the list is tackling environmental crime. The scientists suggest using new technologies, including remote sensing and rapid DNA barcoding, to allow forest rangers and others to identify protected species. To improve this effort, however, the Ministry of Justice also needs to enhance the way it reacts to environmental crimes.

The researchers suggest prosecuting and fining those who traffic in rosewood or the critically endangered species for the pet trade. They see progress in this arena in the northeastern part of the island nation, where prosecutors have effectively charged some people who have sold rosewood.

Second, the group recommends investing in protected areas. The researchers urge greater investment in policy, legal and economic conditions that encourage additional investment in nature, which could include improving infrastructure to develop tourism around protected areas, payment for ecosystem services and debt for nature swaps.

Critically endangered species such as these ploughshare tortoises may be extinct in the wild within the next few years if illegal collection isn’t stopped. Photo by Chris Scarffe

Third, the scientists urge that major infrastructure developments limit the impact on biodiversity. The current environmental impact assessment law is over 20 years old and needs an update to require the use of environmental assessment. This component also includes a greater commitment to enforcement.

Fourth, the scientists suggest strengthening tenure rights for local people over natural resources. Most farmers can’t get certification for their land, which reduces the incentive for them to invest in settled agriculture and potentially exacerbates forest clearance. A review of tenure laws could help local landowners and biodiversity.

Finally, researchers recognize a growing crisis in fuel wood. They urge an investment in reforestation efforts, which could provide environmental and economic benefits.

While these steps are important for Rajoelina and the government in Madagascar, Wright suggests several ways Long Islanders can help. She urges school teachers to cover Madagascar in their classes. Teachers in the area who are interested in gathering information about the island nation can write to Wright at Patricia.Wright@stonybrook.edu.

She also urges people to become involved through social media, which they can use to have fundraisers through organizations like PIVOT, an organization committed to improving health in developing nations like Madagascar and strongly encourages people to visit Madagascar, where they can enjoy the benefits of ecotourism.

Visitors to Madagascar would have the incredible opportunity to witness the varied biodiversity for themselves.“We have charismatic lemurs,” Wright said, although many of them are critically endangered. Even if they can’t travel that far, people can support students who wish to study abroad.

“I don’t think health and wildlife are separated,” Wright said. “The health of the people depends on us preserving natural resources.”

She is looking forward to the Annual Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation meeting in Antananarivo, Madagascar, from July 30 through August 3. “Hopefully, we will be going forward with the next step during or shortly after that meeting.”

The medical arm of Stony Brook University held its 45th convocation ceremony May 23 at the Staller Center. The event was the first time medical degrees were presented under the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University moniker.

Of the 129 receiving medical degrees, 53 of the graduates were hooded by a family member who has a doctoral degree. At a hooding ceremony, each degree candidate is named and receives a hood. The family members on hand for the SBU hooding included 36 parents, 11 siblings and three spouses, according to a press release from the university. Others were hooded by a faculty mentor.

Graduates, who range in age between 25 and 45, will begin their training this summer at medical facilities in New York state and around the country.

Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky, School of Medicine dean, introduced the graduates, and New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker delivered the convocation address.

Kaushansky talked about the obstacles that face the medical profession, including budget deficits that hamstring state hospitals, Medicare and Medicaid cutbacks and malpractice insurance premiums going up. He also reminded the graduates that they now take on the responsibility of life-long learning as advances are continually made in the medical field.

“As physicians you will be frequently in the position to affect life-altering decisions,” he said.

Zucker reminded the graduates that one day they will be in a position to save a person’s life.

“Be daring and help your patients should others turn a blind eye,” he said. “And remember that the stethoscope allows our ears to listen to the patient’s heart sounds, but it’s our heart that hears their words and their life stories.

The convocation speaker also said as doctors manage the challenges such as exhaustion, missed family gatherings and losing patients, they will experience tears of their own.

“You will find yourself as we all have in a room where the tears are your own because a child never had a chance to look with awe at the giraffes at the zoo,” he said, adding that in those times doctors must remind themselves that they did all they could, but it wasn’t meant to be.

“Let those experiences become lessons about being human and ask questions of your mentors and colleagues,” he said. “Foolish is the one who fails to wonder why.”

Firefighter Cliff Lesmeister greets Selden resident Bob Short for the second time at SBU Hospital. Photo by David Luces

“It means everything that he was there — he knew,” Bob Short, a Selden resident said of Cliff Lesmeister, a Port Jefferson Station resident and New York City firefighter. The man had rushed to his aid after he crashed his car and stopped on a lawn in Selden and went into cardiac arrest Feb. 25. 

Lesmeister and Olivia Hoerner were presented with a community award. Photo by David Luces

Four months later, Short and Lesmeister reunited for the first time since the incident at Stony Brook University Hospital May 28. The 28-year veteran of the FDNY and Olivia Hoerner, an EMT from the Selden fire department, were presented with the Stony Brook University Heart Institute’s HeartSaver Community Award. 

Lesmeister was off-duty and was parked on the other side of the road taking a phone call when he witnessed Short’s car crash. He and a bystander ran across a street, called 911, broke the car window to rescue Bob and started performing CPR. In a short time, the Selden EMS/fire department responded, and Bob was taken to the Heart Institute. After 15 days of treatment, which included a protected percutaneous coronary intervention procedure, Short was released March 12. 

When asked if he remembered anything from that day. Short said he doesn’t remember a thing and when he regained consciousness his wife told him he had suffered a heart attack. 

Lesmeister and Short’s wife Dawn embrace. Photo by David Luces

“Something was wrong — I had to act, and I was just happy I was there,” the FDNY firefighter stationed in Astoria said. 

Short stated he didn’t know what he could say to the firefighter and said he didn’t know if he’s supposed to be here or not supposed to be here after all that has happened. 

“You are supposed to be here,” Lesmeister reassured him. 

Recipients of the HeartSaver Community Award are recognized for delivering exemplary cardiac care to the community at large by the Heart Institute’s Chest Pain Center and Door-to- Balloon Committee.

Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. addresses the crowd at Stony Brook University’s 2019 commencement May 24. Photo by Greg Catalano

Less than a week after Stony Brook University’s commencement ceremony, the school’s president will also be moving on.

On May 28, the Michigan State University Board of Trustees announced that SBU President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. will take on the role of president at MSU at a special meeting. Trustees chair Dianne Byrum said the goal was “to identify the best person possible to lead Michigan Student University.”

Melanie Foster, co-chair of MSU’s 18-member search committee, commented on the
announcement at the May 28 meeting.

“I know the Spartan community has been profoundly troubled by the events of the past years that have shaken confidence in the institution.”

— Samuel L. Stanley Jr.

“Today represents a pivotal moment in MSU’s 164-year history as we begin what I am confident will be an engaged and exciting future under the leadership of Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr.,” she said.

Stanley was in East Lansing for the announcement along with his wife and three of his four children.

“MSU is one of the world’s leading research universities, and I am grateful to the Board of Trustees and the Presidential Search Committee that so ably represented the entire MSU community for giving me the opportunity to serve this great institution,” Stanley said in a statement on the school’s website. “MSU’s core strength is its amazing students, superb faculty, dedicated staff and proud alumni, and I cannot wait to get to campus to meet with you and learn from you.”

Previous MSU president Lou Anna Simon resigned from the position in January 2018 after being criticized for how she handled allegations that the university’s doctor Larry Nassar molested female gymnasts and athletes. Since the resignation, the school has been led by interim presidents.

In his statement, Stanley commented on the scandal.

“I know the Spartan community has been profoundly troubled by the events of the past years that have shaken confidence in the institution,” he said. “We will meet these challenges together, and we will build on the important work that has already been done to create a campus culture of diversity, inclusion, equity, accountability and safety that supports all of our endeavors.”

State University of New York Chancellor Kristina Johnson will work with the SUNY board of trustees to appoint an interim president, according to a press release from SUNY. A campus search committee also will be assembled to conduct a national search for a permanent president.

“Under Dr. Stanley’s leadership, Stony Brook University has become a vibrant center of research and one of the most highly regarded universities in the nation,” Johnson said. “His commitment to advancing technologies and research in environmental protection and renewable energy has been among many of Dr. Stanley’s most notable accomplishments. On behalf of the entire SUNY family, we celebrate his achievements.”

Stanley will be Michigan State University’s 21st president and will begin his term at
MSU Aug. 1. 

On May 24, more than 7,500 graduates, ranging between the ages of 18 and 72, joined the nearly 200,000 Seawolves worldwide as Stony Brook University celebrated its 59th commencement.

Award-winning actor Alan Alda, a 2016 TBR News Media person of the year, received an honorary degree at the ceremony.  The polymath is the inspiration behind the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. He is best known for his role as Hawkeye Pierce in the TV show “M*A*S*H.”

Alda talked about the importance of connection during his address.

“It takes work,” he said. “But here’s the thing — if you dig down under the surface to bring to the surface your own dream, your own thing that motivates you, that makes you want to help other people that is born from your sense of generosity. The work you do to accomplish that dream won’t seem like work. It’ll seem like fun. That’s how it’s been for me. And you may find, as I’ve found, that the dream you start out with can morph into some other dream and another dream after that.”

Greg Marshall, SBU class of 1988, also received an honorary degree. He is the inventor of Crittercam and a Stony Brook University Marine Sciences master’s program alumnus. Crittercam a video/audio system that allows humans to study wildlife behavior by experiencing the world through an animal’s perspective on land or in the sea.

 

Steve Chassman, executive director of Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, speaks at a May 21 press conference. Photo from Suffolk County

Legislators are asking high school athletic coaches to help combat substance abuse in Suffolk County and are looking to give them the training needed to do so.

“This program will help save lives. I have no doubt about that.”

— Steve Bellone

On May 21, at a press conference held at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) announced a partnership with the nonprofit Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. Bellone said a new, county-funded program will provide athletic coaches and trainers in middle and high schools with a 75-minute training course designed to combat substance abuse among student-athletes. Ward Melville coaches have already been through the awareness training that now will be offered to all county secondary schools.

“This program will help save lives,” Bellone said. “I have no doubt about that.”

Krista Bertschi, who lost her son Anthony Mazzella to drug addiction, attended the press conference, holding a photo of her son, to show support for the training.

Mazzella passed away Jan. 22, 2017, from an overdose of heroin and fentanyl. Bertschi said her son was a boxer who was clean for two years when he dislocated his shoulder before Thanksgiving of 2016. While he refused pain medication at first, as the pain lingered, he decided to take them.

The program, developed with LICADD and Stony Brook University, will look to provide coaches with the knowledge of the warning signs of drug and alcohol abuse in student-athletes and how to engage and intervene with team members suspected of abusing addictive substances. Bellone said a coach’s knowledge of an injury may be especially critical in that they may be able to link subtle changes in a player’s behavior to the treatment they are receiving as many times opioids are prescribed for pain.

Hahn had piloted the program with several local school districts, working alongside LICADD and SBU to develop the training. The county will be providing $100,000 to LICADD to aid in developing the program.

Hahn, a graduate of Ward Melville High School, said she was pleased to launch the program at her alma mater. As a former student-athlete and the mother of a recent Ward Melville cheerleader and current Three Village athlete, Hahn said she recognizes how influential a coach’s role can be in a student’s life both on and off the field. She added that the training course was customized to address the various scenarios coaches may encounter, from an injured teenager being prescribed opioids to a marijuana bag falling out of a backpack to team members talking about a big party coming up.

“It’s a unique place in a player’s life that is provided by the coach with an unparalleled opportunity to understand the circumstances the athlete is facing.”

— Kara Hahn

“It’s a unique place in a player’s life that is provided by the coach with an unparalleled opportunity to understand the circumstances the athlete is facing,” she said.

Hahn said social workers are still needed when a problem is identified but coaches can be the first line of defense.

“They can play an important role in the fight against student drug abuse, and through this training, we have invited them to be among the traditional stakeholders working to save lives,” she said.

Steve Chassman, executive director of LICADD, said the seeds of drug disorders usually start in high school, and he thanked the legislators and coaches for their help in solving what he called a public health crisis.

“We are encouraging the coaches to create a culture where people can work together and come forward not just from a disciplinary standpoint but from a public health standpoint,” he said.

Peter Melore, executive director of health, physical education, recreation and athletics for the Three Village Central School District, said during training the district coaches had numerous questions, including how to approach a student, and what to say if they were approached first.

“It’s been a privilege and an honor to be the first to do this,” he said. “I would be remiss if I did not thank our coaches for their engagement in the workshops.”

Bertschi said she believes the program will foster essential communication between coaches and parents if an issue is identified. She will continue to support awareness and prevention programs such as the coach training course, she said, “In memory of my beautiful son and all of the other angels gone too soon to this horrific disease so that no other parent has to walk in the ugly shoes that I walk in every day.”

Districts interested in participating in the program can reach out to LICADD at 631-979-1700 to schedule a training session.

Gordon Taylor with technician, Tatiana Zaliznyak. A Raman microspectrometer is pictured in the background. Photo by J. Griffin

By Daniel Dunaief

Something is happening in the Twilight Zone of the ocean, but it’s unclear exactly who is involved and how fast the process is occurring. 

Plants and animals are eating, living, defecating and dying above the so-called Twilight Zone and their bodies and waste are falling toward the bottom of the ocean. But most of that matter isn’t making it all the way to the ocean floor.

That’s where Gordon Taylor, a professor and director of the NAno-RAMAN Molecular Imaging Laboratory at the School of Marine & Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, comes in. 

Taylor and Professor Alexander Bochdansky of Old Dominion University recently received a $434,000 three-year grant to study the way microorganisms eat, process and convert organic carbon — i.e., carbon that’s a part of living organisms like plants, sea birds and whales — into inorganic carbon, which includes carbon dioxide, carbonate, bicarbonate and carbonic acid.

“The inorganic carbon moves back and forth among these four chemical species,” Taylor explained in an email. Understanding the rate at which carbonic acid builds up can and will help lead to a greater awareness of ways the ocean, which used to have a pH around 8.2 — which is slightly basic, as opposed to levels below the neutral 7— is becoming more acidic.

Above, incubators that Alexander Bochdansky has used in Bermuda. The ones Taylor and Bochdansky will analyze will be smaller than these, which won’t require such a large A-frame to deploy. Images courtesy of A. Bochdansky

They will start by deploying the traps at a single depth, about 985 feet, along the ocean off the coast of Virginia. “We are going to look at who the players are,” Bochdansky said. “There might be only a few key players that degrade this organic carbon. With [Taylor’s] great methods, we can measure the uptake rate in single microbes. This is really exciting.”

The Twilight Zone received its name because it is 650 to 3,300 feet below the surface of the water. Some faint light reaches the top of that zone, but most of that region, which includes creatures that use bioluminescence to attract or find prey, is pitch black.

“The directory of which inventories and fluxes decrease [is] still poorly understood,” Taylor said. “Animals eating the material is one mechanism and we don’t know how important that is compared to microbial decomposition or remineralization,” adding that the goal of this project is to “better define the role of microorganisms in returning carbon to the inorganic pool.”

Taylor is exploring this area with new tools that will allow a greater depth of understanding than previously possible. His group has developed new experimental approaches to apply Raman microspectrometry to this problem. The organisms they examine will include bacteria, fungi and protozoans.

Their experiment will explore which organisms are recycling organic carbon, how fast they are doing it and what factors control their activities. Through this approach, Taylor will be able to see these processes down to the level of a single cell as the instrument can identify organisms that have consumed the heavy isotope tracer.

The Raman microspectrometer uses an optical microscope with a laser and a Raman spectrometer. This tool will measure samples that are micrometers thick, which is smaller than the width of a human hair. The microspectrometer can obtain data from a 0.3-micrometer spot in a cell and he has even produced spectra from single viruses.

The scientists will place phytoplankton common to the region in incubators that Bochdansky developed. They will use a heavy carbon isotope, called carbon 13, that is easy to find through these experiments and see how rapidly microorganisms that colonize are incorporating the isotopically labeled carbon.

Taylor and Bochdansky received funding for the project through the Biological Oceanography Program at the National Science Foundation in the Directorate of Geosciences. Twice a year, the division makes open calls for proposals on any topic of interest to researchers. The scientists submit 15 pages of text that the NSF sends to peer reviewers. A panel meets to evaluate the reviews and ratings and decides which projects to fund.

Bochdansky and Taylor have been “acquainted for a long time and have shared similar interests,” Taylor said.

The carbon experiments in the Twilight Zone account for about a quarter of the work Taylor is doing in his lab. The other research also employs Raman microspectrometry. The United States only has one or two other facilities that do environmental research comparable to the one in Taylor’s lab at Stony Brook. Europe also has three such tools, which can look into single cells using lasers.

One of the other projects Taylor hopes to get funded involves studying the distribution of microplastics in the ocean. “The instrument I have is one of the best tools to look at microscopic plastic particles,” because it identifies the plastic polymer and its source, said Taylor, who is awaiting word on funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The other work involves exploring viruses that attack plankton.

“We are exploring Raman methods for early detection of viruses that attack plankton,” Taylor explained. Every organism in the ocean has at least one virus that has evolved to attack it.

As for his work on the Twilight Zone, Taylor said the area acts as a filter of sorts because less than 20 percent of the organic material entering at the top exits at the bottom.

Bochdansky added that these microbes are critical to processes that affect oceans and the planet.

“That’s something people often overlook,” Bochdansky said. “We can’t understand the ocean if we don’t understand it at the level or the scale that’s relevant to microbes.”

Bochdansky is thrilled to work with Taylor, who he’s known for years but will collaborate with for the first time on this project.

“In my lab, we have measured the turnover and release of carbon dioxide,” Bochdansky said. In Taylor’s lab, he measures “the actual feeding of microbial cells.”

On May 10 Stony Brook University students gathered at the campus’ Roth Pond to participate in the Roth Pond Regatta. The annual event, hosted by Undergraduate Student Government, is held to help students blow off some steam before finals as they take to the 200-yard pond in handmade cardboard boats. This year marked the event’s 30th anniversary and featured the Dr. Seuss and All Things Seussical theme. 

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