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Stony Brook University

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine will seek re-election in November. File photo by Alex Petroski

Off-campus housing riddled with town code violations and unsafe conditions for Stony Brook University students has plagued Three Village residents for years. In 2013, the situation inspired community residents Bruce Sander and Anthony DeRosa to start the nonprofit organization Stony Brook Concerned Homeowners.

Coordinated with the start of a new school year, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) delivered a clear message to landlords who rent to university students within his jurisdiction during a press conference Sept. 8: follow town building and fire safety codes or face consequences. The town and university presented a united front from Stony Brook Fire Department Sub Station 2 and stated their intentions to ensure students who reside in off-campus housing are safe in homes that meet town and state codes.

“We have codes for a reason — to protect health and safety,” Romaine said. “We are going to protect the health and safety of the students.”

The supervisor said many of the illegal rooming houses where students live have been subdivided into as many as 10 bedrooms, and a home on Christian Avenue, which he called the “showpiece” of illegal homes, had at least 16 occupants. Romaine said the house is now in foreclosure.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said it is important that renters in the town know their rights when dealing with landlords, and she said town officials are available to assist renters who feel they are in an unsafe situation.

“The supervisor and I cosponsored a number of resolutions over the years to improve the quality of life of residents and to improve the safety of the residents renting here in the Town of Brookhaven,” she said. “Over the past two years or so we have a had a number of roundtable discussions with Stony Brook University, the supervisor’s office, Stony Brook Concerned Homeowners, and of course, our law department and planning department, to make sure we are addressing this issue, as it is a very important issue in our community.”

Bruce Sander of Stony Brook Concerned Homeowners thanked Brookhaven Town and SBU for their efforts in curbing illegal rentals. Photo by Alex Petroski

Deputy Town Attorney Dave Moran said there has been an increase in foreclosures in the community not due to financial reasons but due to the enforcement of building codes.

“We have broken [landlords’] business models in some circumstances, where it is no longer profitable for them to own their second and third house and collect those thousands in rents, by enforcing the statutes that we’ve put in place, by monitoring the rental permits and complaints that come in,” Moran said.

Moran said the town has collected $211,000 in fines over the last month for building violations, compared to only $300,000 collected for the entire year in 2008.

He said partnering with the university, which has educated students on their rights, has helped in uncovering issues as more students are contacting the town to report violations by their landlords.

Judith Greiman, chief deputy to the president of Stony Brook University and senior vice president for government and community relations, said the university has the most beds of any SUNY campus and are second among all universities in the state. The university added 759 new beds this past year with the opening of Chavez and Tubman residence halls and an additional 173 new beds will be available in the fall of 2018.

The chief deputy said the university has taken great steps to ensure students’ safety thanks to the input received from the community and support Romaine, Cartright, Brookhaven Town code inspectors and others have provided.

Among measures the university has undertaken since March 2013 are prohibiting advertisements of off-campus rentals on SBU’s website, unless the landlord can provide a Brookhaven Town rental permit, and prohibiting posting on campus bulletin boards. The university also holds tenants’ rights workshops to help students understand what to look for when renting.

Sander was on hand for the conference representing the Stony Brook Concerned Homeowners organization, and he commended the town and the university for their efforts.

“Unfortunately there will always be those landlords who still believe in the secret method of evading the laws and endangering the students and their community,” Sander said. “I’d like to send a message to the housing landlords: obey the laws.”

The organization founder said there should be no more than four people in a home. He said landlords can also do their part by maintaining their property, mowing grass weekly and providing garbage cans and enough parking space in driveways for tenants.

When it comes to circumventing the law, Romaine had a warning for landlords.

“Don’t do it, we’re coming for you,” he said.

Additional reporting by Alex Petroski

Stony Brook University students show their support for those protected by DACA. Photo from Stony Brook University

As President Donald Trump (R) proposed to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Stony Brook University community members and students voiced their support for the DREAMers — the name given to the approximately 800,000 undocumented immigrants that were brought to the United States as children.

University President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. stated his and the institution’s continued support of DACA in a Sept. 5 email sent to the campus community.

“We have seen how the recipients of DACA have a positive impact on our campus and broader community,” Stanley said. “Diversity of perspectives, thought and understanding serves as a foundation of Stony Brook’s academic enterprise and helps our students become global citizens. Let’s do what’s right, and unite to support our ‘dreamers’ together.”

Two days later, more than 200 students, faculty members and administrators united in the March for DREAMers rally to show undocumented students at the university their support. In addition, the marchers presented a letter to administrators listing further actions they hope the university will take.

Marchers show signs they brought to the March for DREAMers rally at Stony Brook University Sept. 7. Photo from College Democrats

Members of the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, an equality advocacy group, were among the rally’s organizers. The group’s Vice-President David Clark felt it was important to stand up for classmates who may feel vulnerable now.

“I wanted to, first of all, raise awareness of the concerns of DACA recipients and DREAMers on campus and also to show support of them on campus,” he said.

Clark said participants were thankful for the institution’s support of undocumented students and appreciated the university’s current stance on DACA, and Stanley’s statement that the campus should be considered a sensitive location by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Clark said the marchers were joined by representatives of non-campus groups including the Islandia-based SEPA Mujer, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the empowerment of Latina immigrant women.

The college junior said administrators cooperated in securing a ballroom in the student activity center where participants gathered for speeches after walking around a circle and congregating in the main academic mall’s plaza. He said chants included,

“Say it loud. Say it clear. Dreamers are welcomed here.” Marchers held signs with messages that included, “Undocumented and unafraid” and “Sin DACA, Sin Miedo,” which in Spanish means, “Without DACA, without fear.”

Clark was satisfied with the turnout of the peaceful protest.

“I was really happy that so many Stony Brook students care about their fellow classmates, friends who are undocumented, who are getting through a very hard time right now, a time of uncertainty for them,” he said.

In their letter, marchers asked the university to ensure SBU would not provide information to ICE about any undocumented students or their families, not allow ICE to take students into custody without a judicial warrant, and to let students know if ICE is on campus through the university’s alert systems. The organizers also asked that a list be available on the website of the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships to notify those who are not citizens where private scholarships may be available to them.

Stanley said in his Sept. 5 email that the university does not request or require immigration status as part of the admissions process. He added that immigration status is not a factor in student housing decisions, and the university does not share private information.

Above, Ken Dill shows how molecules fold and bind together. Photo from SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

The raw materials were here. Somehow, billions of years ago, these materials followed patterns and repeated and revised the process, turning the parts into something more than a primordial soup.

Ken Dill, who is a distinguished professor and the director of the Laufer Center for Physical and Quantitative Biology at Stony Brook University, took a methodical approach to this fundamental development. He wanted to understand the early statistical mechanics that would allow molecules to form long chains, called polymers, which contained information worthy of being passed along. The process of forming these chains had to be self-sustaining.

After all, Dill said, many activities reach an end point. Putting salt in water, for example, creates a mixture, until it stops. Dill, however, was looking for a way to understand auto-catalytic or runaway events. Lighting a forest fire, for example, is much more self sustaining, although even it eventually stops. Life has continued for over four billion years.

On Aug. 22, Dill, Elizaveta Guseva and Ronald Zuckermann, the facility director in biological nanostructures at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, published a paper in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The researchers developed a fold and catalyze computational model that would explain how these long chains developed in a self-sustaining way, in which hydrophilic and hydrophobic polymers fold and bind together.

Random sequence chains of each type can collapse and fold into structures that expose their hydrophobic parts. Like a conga line at a wedding reception, the parts can then couple together to form longer chains.

These random chemical processes could lead to pre-proteins. Today’s proteins, Dill said, mostly fold into a very particular shape. Pre-proteins would have been looser, with more shape shifting.

The workhorses of the body, proteins perform thousands of biochemical reactions. Dill suggested that this model “rates high on the list” in terms of the findings he’s made over the course of his career.

Zuckermann described this work as significant because it lays out predictions that can be tested. It highlights the importance of chemical sequence information in polymer chains and “how certain sequences are more likely to fold into enzyme-like shapes and act as catalysts than others,” he explained in an email.

Zuckermann works with substances he figured out how to make in a lab that are called peptoids, which are non-natural polymers. These peptoids are a “good system to test the universality of [Dill’s] predictions,” he said.

The “beauty” of Dill’s work, Zuckermann suggested, is that “it should apply to most any kind of polymer system” where researchers control the monomer sequence and include hydrophobic and hydrophilic monomers in a particular order, putting Dill’s predictions to the test.

For her part, Guseva worked in Dill’s lab for her PhD thesis. She had started her research on something that was “more standard physical biology” Dill said, but it “was not turning out to be particularly interesting.”

The scientists had a discussion about trying to develop a chemical model related to the origins of life. While exciting for the scope of the question, the research could have come up empty.

“There was so much potential to fail,” Dill said. “I feel pretty uncomfortable in general about asking a graduate student to go in that direction, but she was fearless.”

Dill and Zuckermann, who have collaborated for over 25 years, are trying to move forward to the next set of questions.

Zuckermann’s efforts will focus on finding catalytic peptoid sequences, which are nonbiological polymers. He will synthesize tens of thousands of peptoid sequences and rank them on how enzyme-like they are. This, he explained, will lead to a better understanding of which monomer sequences encode for protein-like structure and function.

Zuckermann suggested that the process in this research could have the effect of transforming a soup of monomers into a soup of functional polymers. This, he said, might set the stage for the evolution of DNA and RNA.

Proteins could have been a first step towards a genetic code, although life, as currently defined, would not have blossomed until a genetic code occurred, too, Dill suggested.

The origins of DNA, however, remains an unanswered question. “We’re trying to think about where the genetic code comes from,” Dill said. “It’s not built into our model per se. Why would biology want to do a two polymer solution, which is messy and complicated and why are proteins the functional molecules? This paper doesn’t answer that question.”

Dill and Zuckermann are in the early stage of exploring that question and Dill is hopeful he can get to a new model, although he doesn’t have it yet.

Dill moved from the University of California at San Francisco to join the Laufer Center about seven years ago. He appreciates the freedom to ask “blue sky questions” that he couldn’t address as much in his previous work.

Wearing a hat from his native Oklahoma, Dill, in a photo from around 1997, tinkers with a toy boat he made with sons Tyler and Ryan. Photo by Jolanda Schreurs

A resident of Port Jefferson, Dill lives with his wife Jolanda Schreurs, who has a PhD in pharmacology. The couple has two sons, Tyler and Ryan.

Tyler graduated with a PhD from the University of California at San Diego and now works for Illumina, a company which which makes DNA sequencers. Ryan, meanwhile, is earning his PhD in chemistry from the University of Colorado and is working on lasers.

“We didn’t try to drag our sons into science,” Dill said. “With both kids, however, we had a workshop in the basement” where they often took anything that was within arm’s reach and nailed it to a board. One of the finished products was a remote-controlled and motorized boat.

As for his lab work, Dill is thrilled to have this model that he, Guseva and Zuckermann provided, while he recognizes the questions ahead. Scientists “see something puzzling and, rather than saying, ‘I need to avoid this, I don’t have an answer,’ we find it intriguing and these things lead from one step to the next. There tends to remain a huge number of super fascinating problems.”

Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr., Stony Brook University president, helps a student move into a residence hall Aug. 25. Photo from Stony Brook University

By Rita J. Egan

Stony Brook University has been doing its part to make campus life feel more like home for most students, by offering gender-inclusive housing.

For a decade, the option has allowed students to share a room with friends or siblings no matter what their gender, or choose housing based on the gender they identify with. The only requirements are that students have to be 18 or older and sign a contract stating they will respect everyone in their residence hall.

On Aug. 25, move-in day for freshmen and transfer students, resident assistant Derrick Wegner, who is transgender, was on hand to greet newcomers. The senior psychology major said he was happy to have the option when he came to Stony Brook. Wegner, who lives in Wurtsboro,  said college is a great opportunity for a fresh start, especially for young people looking to transition. 

Derrick Wegner stands in the gender-inclusive room he shares with his best friend Sydney. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Wegner said the gender-inclusive housing option at Stony Brook creates a happy and safe environment, and he feels being happy and healthy plays a big part in being a successful student.

“You’re of value, and you belong here,” he said.

This year the senior is thrilled to be sharing a dorm with his best friend Sydney Monroe Gaglio, who he met early on in college through mutual friends.

“She’s my best friend, and I’m her best friend,” he said. “Just having somebody that I know I can go home to, and [say] this happened, and she’s like ‘I’m sorry.’ She just gets it.”

Ian Rose, who majors in engineering chemistry and applied mathematics and statistics, was thrilled when he heard of the gender-inclusive option. The junior said last year he made friends with Daniel Mahoney, Brandon O’Rourke, Bianca Mugone and Brittany Voboril, and they all became great friends. They lived in the same residence hall — the males in one room on one floor and the girls in their own room on another floor. Many nights last year they would find themselves in each other’s rooms studying or talking and decided to live together.

“We’re friends just hanging out,” Rose said.

This academic year the five are living in a suite with three bedrooms and one bathroom. Rose said at first his only concern was how things would work out in the bathroom, but so far things are going smoothly.

“I just want this to show everyone that guys and girls living together isn’t weird or uncomfortable,” Rose said. “You’re living with your friends; friends are friends. It doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or girl or different skin tone. It doesn’t matter; we’re all the same.”

Ian Rose, right, and friends settle in their three-bedroom suite after a long day. Photo from Ian Rose

Catherine-Mary Rivera, director of residential programs at SBU, said the program began as a small pilot initiative at the university 10 years ago, and grew slowly through the years. In 2016, approximately 40 students took advantage of the housing option, while this year more than 200 students — out of 10,683 living on campus — chose gender-inclusive residences across the campus.

She said the university wants to ensure that all students feel safe and welcome because it’s their home, and they have received plenty of positive feedback regarding the housing.

“The fact that it has grown from 42 to 200 has shown us students feel that they have a place here, and that they don’t have to either feel not comfortable being themselves or feel that Stony Brook doesn’t have a place for them, or they have to remain quiet about who they are or how they express themselves,” Rivera said. “That freedom has come through very clearly that this is a place they can thrive and be their true selves and live with their friends.”

The housing option also allows couples to live together; however, the university does recommend romantic partners think twice before making that decision.

“We want you to branch out and build a stronger community and have healthy relationships, and it may not be best to live with your significant other at this point,” Rivera said.

In addition to gender-inclusive housing, she said SBU offers all-gender, multi-stall bathrooms throughout campus and on the main floors of residence halls, in addition to all-men and all-women restrooms. Software updates have also been made to the school’s system allowing students and faculty members to choose their preferred names and pronoun if they would prefer to be addressed by something other than their legal name. The change means that identification cards and email addresses now show the name a person uses on a regular basis instead of their legal name.

Alex Orlov on the campus of the University of Cambridge. Photo by Nathan Pitt, University of Cambridge

By Daniel Dunaief

The Ukranian-born Alex Orlov, who is an associate professor of materials science and chemical engineering at Stony Brook University, helps officials in a delicate balancing act.

Orlov, who is a member of the US-EU working group on Risk Assessment of Nanomaterials, helps measure, monitor and understand the hazards associated with nanoparticles, which regulatory bodies then compare to the benefit these particles have in consumer products.

“My research, which is highlighted by the European Union Commission, demonstrated that under certain conditions, [specific] nanoparticles might not be safe,” Orlov said via Skype from Cambridge, England, where he has been a visiting professor for the past four summers. For carbon nanotubes, which are used in products ranging from sports equipment to vehicles and batteries, those conditions include exposure to humidity and sunlight.

“Instead of banning and restricting their production” they can be reformulated to make them safer, he said.

Orlov described how chemical companies are conducting research to enhance the safety of their products. Globally, nanotechnology has become a growing industry, as electronics and drug companies search for ways to benefit from different physical properties that exist on a small scale. Long Island has become a focal point for research in this arena, particularly at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials and the National Synchrotron Light Source II at Brookhaven National Laboratory.

Alex Orlov on the campus of the University of Cambridge. Photo by Nathan Pitt, University of Cambridge

Indeed, Orlov is working at the University of Cambridge to facilitate partnerships between researchers in the chemistry departments of the two universities, while benefiting from the facilities at BNL. “We exchange some new materials between Cambridge and Stony Brook,” he said. “We use BNL to test those materials.”

BNL is an “essential facility,” Orlov said, and is where the postdoctoral student in his lab and the five graduate students spend 30 to 60 percent of their time. The data he and his team collect can help reduce risks related to the release of nanomaterials and create safer products, he suggested.

“Most hazardous materials on Earth can be handled in a safe way,” Orlov said. “Most scientific progress and environmental protection can be merged together. Understanding the environmental impact of new technologies and reducing their risks to the environment should be at the core of scientific and technological progress.”

According to Orlov, the European Union spends more money on technological safety than the United States. European regulations, however, affect American companies, especially those that export products to companies in the European Union.

Orlov has studied how quickly toxic materials might be released in the environment under different conditions.

“What we do in our lab is put numbers” on the amount of a substance released, he said, which informs a more quantitative understanding of the risks posed by a product. Regulators seek a balance between scientific progress and industrial development in the face of uncertainty related to new technologies.

As policy makers consider the economics of regulations, they weigh the estimated cost against that value. For example, if the cost of implementing a water treatment measure is $3 million and the cost of a human life is $7 million, it’s more economical to create a water treatment plan.

Orlov teaches a course in environmental engineering. “These are the types of things I discuss with students,” he said. “For them, it’s eye opening. They are engineers. They don’t deal with economics.”

In his own research, Orlov recently published an article in which he analyzed the potential use of concrete to remove pollutants like sulfur dioxide from the air. While concrete is the biggest material people produce by weight and volume, most of it is wasted when a building gets demolished. “What we discovered,” said Orlov, who published his work in the Journal of Chemical Engineering, “is that if you take this concrete and expose new surfaces, it takes in pollutants again.”

Fotis Sotiropoulos, the dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at SBU, said Orlov has added to the understanding of the potential benefits of using concrete to remove pollutants.

Other researchers have worked only with carbon dioxide, and there is “incomplete and/or even nonexistent data for other pollutants,” Sotiropoulos explained in an email. Orlov’s research could be helpful for city planners especially for end-of-life building demolition, Sotiropoulous continued. Manufacturers could take concrete from an old, crushed building and pass waste through this concrete in smokestacks.

To be sure, the production of concrete itself is energy intensive and generates pollutants like carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. “It’s not the case that concrete would take as much [pollutants] out of the air as was emitted during production,” Orlov said. On balance, however, recycled concrete could prove useful not only in reducing waste but also in removing pollutants from the air.

Orlov urged an increase in the recycling of concrete, which varies in the amount that’s recycled. He has collaborated on other projects, such as using small amounts of gold to separate water, producing hydrogen that could be used in fuel cells.

“The research showed a promising way to produce clean hydrogen from water,” Sotiropoulos said.

As for his work at Cambridge, Orlov appreciates the value the scientists in the United Kingdom place on their collaboration with their Long Island partners.

“Cambridge faculty from disciplines ranging from archeology to chemistry are aware of the SBU/BNL faculty members and their research,” Orlov said. A resident of Smithtown, Orlov has been on Long Island for eight years. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking and exploring new areas. As for his work, Orlov hopes his work helps regulators make informed decisions that protect consumers while making scientific and technological advances possible.

A boy wears protective glasses during a partial solar eclipse in 2014. Photo from nasa.gov

By Jill Webb

It won’t be an average Monday, Aug. 21, this year as the moon will completely block the sun for two-and-a-half minutes.

The day marks the first total solar eclipse to happen in North America since 1979, and it’s the first one to stretch from coast to coast in 99 years. In a total solar eclipse the disk of the moon seems to entirely cover the disk of the sun. This will happen Monday on a path about 70 miles wide.

A solar eclipse. Stock photo

Unfortunately, Long Island isn’t on the eclipse’s path of totality, but you still will be able to see a partial eclipse. New York will have about 71 percent of the sun covered during the eclipse. At 1:24 p.m. the eclipse begins on Long Island, and will last till 4:01 p.m. The peak eclipse time is 2:46 p.m.

“I think it’s wonderful for families to experience this with their children,” NASA expert Laurie Cantillo said. “It could be an experience like this that will get a child to stop looking at a phone or tablet and look up to the sky and perhaps motivate them to want to learn more.”

Fredrick Walters, an astronomy professor at Stony Brook University, has put together a list of ways to maximize your viewing experience of the eclipse. Walters said to focus on looking at the stars emerging during the daytime, the shadow bands that will appear across the land and the changing colors as the light fades.

Most importantly, you need to have the proper viewing tool: eclipse glasses. Regular sunglasses won’t cut it, and it’s very dangerous to directly expose your eyes to the sun.

“We’ve all been taught ever since we were kids don’t ever look directly at the sun and that advice applies,” Cantillo said. “The only time it’s safe to remove eclipse glasses is if you’re in the path of totality, during those couple minutes of totality.”

Unprotected viewing may not cause immediate pain, but Walters said he has heard of cases of people waking up the next morning with blurry vision or blindness. Some people can recover in months to years, but it’s not worth the risk.

North Shore solar eclipse events

Middle Country Public Library

2017 Solar Eclipse: Celestial Event of the Century

At its Centereach building, the library will be hosting a solar eclipse viewing between 1:15 and 3:45 p.m. Along with the viewing, activities and eclipse glasses will be provided for all ages. Register for the event by calling 631-585-9393.

Huntington Public Library

Astronomy Crafts

From noon to 2:00 p.m. Huntington Public Library will be offering an astronomy craft session at its main building as well as the Huntington Station branch. One of the space-themed crafts is an eclipse on a stick. There will also be a viewing event in the afternoon at both buildings where you will receive a free pair of eclipse glasses; no registration is required. For more information, visit www.thehuntingtonlibrary.org.

Long Island Science Center

Solar Eclipse Event

From 1 to 4 p.m. the Long Island Science Center will be hosting solar activities, live streaming and more. Planetarium presentations will happen at 1, 2 and 3 p.m. Admission is $10 and free for children 2 and under. For more information, visit www.lisciencecenter.org.

North Shore Public Library

Catch the Eclipse!

At 1:30 p.m. Tom Madigan of Suffolk County Community College, who is a part of Astronomy for Change, will give a brief presentation on solar eclipses before leading the event outside to view the solar eclipse. Eclipse glasses will be provided. Register for the event by calling 631-929-4488.

South Huntington Public Library

See the Solar Eclipse

Bring some snacks and a blanket to lay out on the lawn behind the library from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. to witness the eclipse. The library will provide glasses (four per family) while supplies last. Inside, the eclipse will be live streamed from NASA in the library’s theater. Visit www.shpl.info for more information.

Maritime Explorium

Totality 2017 Solar Eclipse

Become a citizen scientist at the Maritime Explorium in Port Jefferson by attending a viewing from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. and helping to crowd source data for researchers at NASA and EclipseMob. Eclipse glasses will be available while supplies last; no registration required. For more information, visit www.maritimeexplorium.org.

The professor said that these special glasses are basically pieces of Mylar foil shielding your eyes. The glasses should be from proper sources that are certified by testing organizations.

“If you have a pair of eclipse glasses and want to test them, put them on and look —not at the sun — but just look at bright lights and things.” Walters said. “If you can see anything, throw them away. You shouldn’t be able to see [anything] except the sun.”

If you can’t get a pair of eclipse glasses in time, you can DIY them by putting a small round hole in an index card and project the image of the sun onto a flat surface.

“One thing you will notice if you don’t look at the sun through your glasses is if you look at the shadows on the ground, you’ll see the shadows are crescent-shaped,” Walters said.

Leaves in the trees could act as projection tools too, casting multiple tiny crescent-shaped shadows on the ground.

During the partial phase, according to Walters, you won’t notice anything besides the sun getting dimmer.

“Unless, you look at the sun through your eclipse glasses, and you can see the sun is no longer circular — there’s a chunk taken out of it,” Walters said. “But, nothing much changes until you have the total phase of the eclipse because the sun just fades.”

Viewers along the path of totality will have a different viewing experience than Long Islanders.

“Inside the path of totality is completely different, it will be night for two and a half minutes.,” Walters said. “The sun gets completely blocked out, the corona of the sun is about as bright as the full moon, that will provide illumination.”

Walters also pointed out that in the path of totality, regular colors might appear different. Where sunrises and sunsets usually appear to have reddish tints, during the eclipse the tone will have a blue tinge. Another thing to notice is temperature; during the peak eclipse things will get colder.

Eclipses have provided researchers with data to uncover scientific discoveries. This time, the scientists are letting the public partake in their findings.

“One of the things that is being planned for next Monday is the National Solar Observatory and the National Science Foundation have handed out a number of telescopes [and] cameras to people along the eclipse line,” Walters said. “The idea is to have them take pictures and movies and stitch it all together to a 90-minute-long movie of how the sun’s corona is changing. This has never been done.”

If you miss this eclipse, don’t fret because another one is coming April 8, 2024, that will run from Texas through Maine — and upstate New York will be in the path of totality.

“It’s almost a mystical experience — you really have to experience this,” Walters said. “It’s good scientifically, but it’s really a great thing to observe on a human level.”

News 12 meteorologist Rich Hoffman said in an email that the weather forecast for Aug. 21 is good, even though things could change between press time and the eclipse. Hoffman said mostly sunny skies are expected for the day with temperature highs near 84.

Above, Alesi, the skull of the new extinct ape species Nyanzapithecus alesi. Photo by Fred Spoor

By Daniel Dunaief

They were in a terrible mood. They had spent an entire day searching for clues about creatures that walked the Earth millions of years ago and had come up empty.

“We were not finding even a single bone, nothing,” recalled Isaiah Nengo, who will be an associate director of the Turkana Basin Institute and an assistant research professor at Stony Brook University this fall.

Alesi after attached sandstone rock was partially removed at the Turkana Basin Institute, near Lodwar, Kenya. Photo by Christopher Kiarie

One of the fossil hunters in the group, John Ekusi, started rolling a cigarette. Nengo told him to move away from them so that they didn’t inhale second-hand smoke. Walking ahead, Ekusi made a spectacular discovery that Nengo called a “freak of a fossil.” Ekusi pointed out a bone sticking out of the ground that looked like the femur of a large animal. When they got closer, they could see that it had brow ridges. Pushing aside dirt, they saw the outline of a primate skull.

“We knew we had found something unique and we started celebrating right there,” Nengo said. “We were dancing and high-fiving. The thrill was unimaginable.”

Nengo and his team discovered the fossil on Sept. 4, 2014, in northern Kenya. This week, a team of researchers from the United States, France and England are unveiling three years worth of research into this remarkable find in the prestigious research journal Nature.

For starters, the researchers had to confirm the date of their fossil, which was about the size of a lemon. Rutgers University geologists Craig Feibel and Sara Mana studied the matrix around the fossil and the area around it.

Akai Ekes and John Ekusi watch as Isaiah Nengo lifts the sandstone block with Alesi after six hours of excavation. Photo from ​Isaiah Nengo

“There was no doubt that [the fossil] came from this deposit and hadn’t rolled in or washed in” during some later period, explained Ellen Miller, a professor of physical anthropology at Wake Forest University.

Next, they had to figure out what kind of primate they had: It could have been an ape or a monkey. Fred Spoor, a paleontologist at University College London, did an initial CT reading using a medical scanner. He found intact molars that were characteristic of apes.

The researchers wanted to do a more thorough analysis of the three-dimensional shape of the skull, so they called Paul Tafforeau, a paleoanthropologist specialist of X-ray imaging who works as a beamline scientist at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France. Typically, such research centers require scientists to wait a year or more.

As soon as Tafforeau saw the photos, Nengo recalls, he said, “You can bring it in anytime.” Tafforeau used a technique called propagation phase contrast–X-ray synchrotron microtomography. In an email, Tafforeau described it as being close to a medical scanner, but 1,000 times more precise and sensitive.

Over the course of three or four days, Tafforeau analyzed the teeth that hadn’t erupted from this young primate, which indicated that this individual died when it was only 16 months old. The teeth also demonstrated that the toddler, whose gender is difficult to determine because of its age, belonged to a new species, called Nyanzapithecus alesi. The name Alesi comes from the Turkana word “ales,” which means ancestor.

Tafforeau said the thickness of the tooth enamel suggest a classic hominoid diet, which would be similar to that of a modern gibbon, and would consist mostly of fruits and leaves. Researchers estimate that an adult of this species would weigh about 20 pounds.

Turning their attention to the fantastic creature’s ears, the researchers found that it didn’t have a balance organ. That means it couldn’t move as rapidly through trees as a gibbon. The ears of this primate, however, did have fully developed bony ear tubes. These ear structures “absolutely confirmed that these were apes,” said Miller. “We had no specimens between 15 million and 10 million years ago.”

Field crew of the​ Stony Brook University-affiliated​ Turkana Basin Institute​ when Alesi​ ​was discovered​ ​at​ Napudet​ in September 2014. From​ ​left, Abdala Ekuon, John Ekus​i, Isaiah Nengo,​ ​Bernard Ewoi, Akai Ekes and Cyprian Nyete.​ Photo from Isaiah​ ​​​Nengo.

Scientists generally believe apes and humans diverged in their evolution about 7 million years ago. That means this toddler ape belongs to a species that is likely a common ancestor for other apes and humans.

Anthropologist Meave Leakey, a research professor in the Department of Anthropology and the Turkana Basin Institute, suggested that this fossil “gives us a picture for the first time of what the ancestor of apes and humans looked like 13 million years ago. It also suggests,” she continued in an email, “that the nyanzapiehecines were close to the origin of all living apes and humans.”

Leakey described the fossil as one of the most complete skulls of an ape ever found anywhere and indicated it was of an age that is poorly represented in the African fossil record.

The three years between the discovery of the fossil and its unveiling to the world in the Nature article is “actually very quick,” Leakey explained. The images captured through the synchrotron provide detailed pictures of structures that would otherwise be hidden by bone.

Gathering and interpreting these images meant traveling to Grenoble, which, she explained, “takes considerable time.”

Researchers involved in this study said this is just the beginning of the work they will conduct on this rare and detailed fossil. Nengo said they had already collected two terabytes worth of data from their scans. Much of the further study of this ape will involve a closer examination of all of that data.

“A paper coming out in Nature makes it seem like the end of the process,” Miller said. “This is just the beginning.” He is intrigued to learn more about the organization of the brain.

Nengo hopes to bring together researchers for a two- or three-day workshop in September or October at Stony Brook University to tackle the next phase of analysis for Alesi.

As it turns out, September will likely become an important anniversary for Nengo, as he recalls the memory of a day three years ago that didn’t start out particularly well, but that ended with a rare and thrilling fossil find.

Nengo recalled how excited he was to return to the Turkana Basin Institute to show Richard Leakey, the founder of the site, Meave Leakey and Lawrence Martin, the director of TBI. “I had photos on my iPad and they were absolutely thrilled,” said Nengo. “Everybody was beginning the guesswork of wondering what it is.”

Local family goes from organizing basket raffles to hosting international symposium

Many battling the autoimmune disease APS Type 1 and their families, above, attended a symposium at Stony Brook University organized by Dave and Sherri Seyfert of Stony Brook. Photo from Sherri Seyfert

By Rita J. Egan

When their son Matthew, now 17, was diagnosed with Autoimmune Polyglandular Syndrome Type 1 11 years ago, Sherri and Dave Seyfert’s world was turned upside down.

The diagnosis led the Stony Brook couple to join the cause to find a cure for the rare autoimmune disease that affects 1 in 2 million people in the United States, and the results of their efforts culminated recently with the Second International Symposium on APS Type 1 at Stony Brook University July 13 through 15, an event they organized and hosted.

“Each time we have a hospitalization or emergency room visit or are in ICU, for the most part we learn something that will keep us out of there for that particular thing next time.”

—Dave Seyfert

The Seyferts with Todd and Heather Talarico of New Jersey founded the APS Type 1 Foundation with the main goal of making physicians more aware of the rare disorder. In the last decade, the families have raised $500,000 for research through fundraising events, which includes basket raffles organized by the Seyferts at the Setauket firehouse on Main Street.

The Seyferts said the basket raffles were always popular thanks to the support of local businesses and residents, and their fundraising success led to the hosting of the July symposium that gave researchers an opportunity to share information. It also provided patients and their loved ones a chance to find a much-needed support system.

Attendees traveled from all over the country as well as Ireland and South America to share their experiences. The couple said life after a diagnosis can sometimes be lonely for families.

“The symposium gave [families] the opportunity to share, to be able to provide each other with support and also listen to the researchers giving them hope that there’s a lot of research going on out there,” Sherri Seyfert said.

The Seyferts said “there are a lot of moving pieces” when it comes to APS Type 1, because the body has trouble metabolizing Vitamin D, which helps in the process of providing calcium to bones and muscles, including the heart.. A patient can experience various symptoms including cramping, bone mass problems and an irregular heart rhythm. However, a triad of disorders identifies the disease: adrenal insufficiency (Addison’s), hypoparathyroidism, and Candidiasis.

The Seyfert’s son Matthew was diagnosed when he was six years old. Photo from Sherri Seyfert

“So everybody is actually a little bit different as far as what conditions they have, even though they’ll share three things,” Dave Seyfert said. 

He said the disease overall is manageable, even though patients can develop something new every decade of their life.

“Each time we have a hospitalization or emergency room visit or are in ICU, for the most part we learn something that will keep us out of there for that particular thing next time,” the father said.

He said the couple chose the university to recognize the contributions of Stony Brook Children’s Hospital  to the community and their quick diagnosis of Matthew when he was six years old. At the time he was experiencing excessive fatigue and suffered a seizure in kindergarten. His father said it took 48 hours for the team at Stony Brook to diagnosis his son. It can sometimes take years to identify the disease in a patient.

The couple said the symposium included a section for children and teenagers to interact separately from adults. Matthew attended the event and assisted in escorting guests and served as a microphone runner during the Q&A.

Dr. Andrew Lane,  professor of clinical pediatrics in the Division of Pediatric Endocrinology at Stony Brook Medicine, and Dr. Mark Anderson, director of University of California, San Francisco’s Medical Scientist Training Program, were among the speakers at the symposium.

“I think that [the Seyferts] are just a fantastic example of encouraging people to believe that for whatever medical condition or other condition in the world they are interested in fixing, even small things can make a difference.”

—Dr. Andrew Lane

“I thought it was really uplifting,” Lane said. “It was really great to see all the families supporting each other. It was also great for the physicians and scientists in the audience to interact, and informally and formally hear each other’s work and help recognize what areas need further work.”

Anderson, who met the Seyferts at the first symposium in Toronto, Canada in 2015, said there is hope for those diagnosed with APS Type 1. He said with stem cell transplants, the thymus, a gland that sits in front of the heart and plays a part in APS Type 1, may possibly be reprogrammed.

“That’s the type of thing that families want to know that someone is working on the problem,” Anderson said.

Lane, who was part of the team that diagnosed Matthew, said the symposium was the perfect opportunity for families to raise concerns directly to internationally recognized researchers in the field, and he is amazed that the family went from organizing basket raffles to hosting a symposium.

“I think that [the Seyferts] are just a fantastic example of encouraging people to believe that for whatever medical condition or other condition in the world they are interested in fixing, even small things can make a difference and sometimes turn into really big things,” Lane said.

Matthew was too shy to comment on the event, according to his mother, but she said the whole family was left with hope after the three-day symposium.

“People were thanking me, and my response always was it’s an honor to be able do this for everyone,” his mother said.

For more information about APS Type 1 and future events, visit www.apstype1.org.

Award winners at the Closing Night Awards reception, from left, Catherine Eaton, writer/director/actor/co-producer of ‘The Sounding’; Todd and Jedd Wider, directors of ‘To the Edge of the Sky’; Nadav Shlomo Giladi of ‘Across the Line’; Michael Ferrell, writer/director/actor/co-producer of ‘Laura Gets a Cat’; Robin Grey, producer of ‘Purple Dreams’; and Pavels Gumennikovs of ‘Just, Go!’ Photo by Nick A. Koridis for the SB Film Festival

The 22nd annual Stony Brook Film Festival, presented by Island Federal Credit Union, wrapped up with a Closing Night Awards Reception on July 29. The evening recognized the outstanding new independent films screened at the festival, which was held at Staller Center for the Arts at Stony Brook University from July 20 to 29. John Anderson, film critic and master of ceremonies, and a longtime MC for the awards reception, announced the winners.

The event attracted the largest attendance ever this year. Filmmaker participation also broke records with directors from Armenia, Bulgaria, England, France, Germany, Israel, Latvia, Netherlands, Spain and USA representing their films at the screenings. In addition, films from Finland, Iran, Italy, Norway and Sweden were in the mix.

From left, John Anderson, film critic and MC for the awards reception; Karoline Herfurth, writer/director/actress; and Alan Inkles, director of the Stony Brook Film Festival attend the Stony Brook Film Festival’s Closing Night’s U.S. Premiere of ‘Text for You.’ Photo by Nick A. Koridis for the SB Film Festival

“It truly was a magical year where almost every filmmaker attended their screenings to represent their films and host Q&As,” said Alan Inkles, founder and director of the Stony Brook Film Festival, adding, “As for the films we showed, the audience scores were the best in our 22 years. Great films, great guests and packed houses nightly. It’s what I envisioned for Stony Brook when we started this festival and it was certainly achieved this year.”

Two of the filmmakers whose film won an award at the festival grew up in the Three Village area. The Wider brothers’ documentary followed four families as they fought the FDA to gain access to a lifesaving drug to help their sons, all coping with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The world premiere of Todd and Jedd Wider’s documentary “To the Edge of the Sky” was awarded the Audience Choice Award for Best Feature along with “Fanny’s Journey,” which tied with an identical high score.

“The Stony Brook Film Festival is an incredibly well curated and intelligent film festival. It celebrates independent film from around the world and gives its audience a chance to discover great films and interact with filmmakers,” noted Todd Wider. “Supremely well run and organized, each film is shown once in a giant, state-of-the-art theater to a routinely packed crowd. This format really works well here, as the entire community focuses on one film at a time. Set in one of the most beautiful towns on Long Island and backed by a powerhouse university, the audiences are really smart and very welcoming. Don’t miss this festival [next year]. It’s a wonderful experience,” he said.

Among the many highlights of the festival was the U.S. premiere of the rock documentary, “The Second Act of Elliott Murphy.” The singer-songwriter Elliott Murphy, a Garden City native, moved to Paris after a music career with his band in the U.S. and then found new success in Europe. At the screening of his film, he hosted a Q&A and then played three of his songs from the stage.

Closing Night presented the U.S. premiere of “Text for You” (“SMS für Dich”), a romantic comedy. The writer, director and actress Karoline Herfurth came in from Germany to represent her film.

And the winners are:

2017 Jury Award — Best Feature

“The Sounding” (United States)

2017 Audience Choice — Best Feature (tie)

“Fanny’s Journey” (France)

“To the Edge of the Sky” World Premiere (United States)

2017 Special Recognition by the Jury — Spirit of Independent Filmmaking

“Laura Gets a Cat” (United States)

2017 Special Recognition by the Jury — Achievement in Social Impact

“Purple Dreams” New York Premiere (United States)

2017 Jury Award — Best Short

“Across the Line” World Premiere (Israel)

2017 Audience Choice Award — Best Short

“Just, Go!” (Latvia)

For more information about the Stony Brook Film Festival, visit www.stonybrookfilmfestival.com.

Jenn McNary and her children, above, are featured in the movie ‘To the Edge of the Sky.’ Photo from Brian Ariotti

By Jenna Lennon

Duchenne muscular dystrophy is the number one genetic killer of boys in the world.

In “To the Edge of the Sky,” Emmy and Oscar Award winning producers, and Old Field natives, Jedd and Todd Wider tell the story of four mothers in their fight against the U.S. Food & Drug Administration for the approval of a potentially life-saving drug for this fatal disease.

The world premiere of the 118-minute documentary at the 22nd annual Stony Brook Film Festival was met with a standing ovation July 23. Continued feedback from the audience, during and after the Q&A period, has been nothing but positive for the brothers and for raising awareness for treatment of this disease.

“As a documentarian, there’s no greater reward than hearing audience members come up afterwards and ask how we can help, what we can do, how can we bring further attention or shine further light on these issues and help the families that are suffering so deeply,” Jedd said.

‘To the Edge of the Sky’ is produced by Jedd and Todd Wider brothers who grew up in Old Field. Photo from Brian Ariotti

“We spoke to so many people after the film who wanted to get involved and that’s incredibly rewarding to us as filmmakers,” he continued. “We invest years of our lives into these topics to help bring attention to these issues to help these families and for us there’s just nothing greater than that, than hearing that response.”

With such a large audience, Todd couldn’t help but be emotional as he took the stage with his brother for the Q&A session.

“It was a weird thing — I’m not normally that emotional during a screening,” he said. “I got to say it …. was a little surreal. It’s not like I hadn’t seen it before. I’ve probably watched it about a thousand times now, but I found that screening was extremely, unbelievably, emotionally powerful.”

Jenn McNary, one of the mothers in the film, brought her sons Max and Austin to the July 23 premiere.

“Jenn and her family have been incredibly supportive of the film from the very beginning, as has all of the other families as well,” Jedd said. “They’ve all been strongly behind the film and hoping that this film could bring more attention to these issues and bring more attention to the potential companies out there and the foundations that are working to help fund further research.”

Filming took place periodically over almost four years and “was a significant emotional investment,” Jedd said.

“At any given point, the story line would change on the drop of a dime,” he continued. “We became very attached to these boys and very attached to these families.”

Duchenne is the most common type of muscular dystrophy and occurs from a mutation in the gene for the protein dystrophin. Symptoms begin appearing around the age of three or four. At first, young boys start having trouble walking. By their early 20s, they’re essentially paralyzed from the neck down.

“To the Edge of the Sky” examines the fight for FDA approval of the drug eteplirsen, produced by Sarepta Therapeutics, that is meant to help produce the missing protein. In 2016, and at the end of the film, the FDA granted an accelerated approval for the drug, but Todd said the fight is far from over.

“We live in the United States of America where we’re in a functioning democracy, and we can move our political organizations and our political institutions with the power of our will if we choose to,” Todd said. “And in the case of this situation, it was really these four moms that really moved the needle, we feel, on how the FDA was sort of dealing with this … it was the power of their advocacy and the connection and their love for their kids that helped to sort of focus that attention on what was going on in terms of the drug approval process in this particular case.”

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