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Stony Brook University

By Kevin Redding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Jeffrey Hunter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Daniel Dunaief

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

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

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

Eckard Wimmer in his lab. Photo by Naif Mohammed Almojarthi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Daniel Dunaief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back row from left, Karen Levitov, gallery director and curator; Thomas Meehan, principal of Edna Louise Spear Elementary School; Richard Anderson, art teacher and Art Club instructor; far right: Caitlin Terrell, art teacher; front row from left, Samantha Clink, gallery assistant; Andrea Baatz, student gallery assistant; and, front center, artist Lorna Bieber with art students from Edna Louise Spear Elementary School. Photo from Karen Levitov

Art2Go program inspires

As part of Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts Art2Go program, the fifth-grade Art Club of Port Jefferson’s Edna Louise Spear Elementary School visited the Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery on Dec. 14 to work on activities inspired by last month’s exhibition, Lorna Bieber: Traces. The artist made a special appearance, making it a really exciting day for the kids. Previous to the visit, Director and Curator Karen Levitov and her gallery assistant Samantha Clink met with the school’s Art Club to do a collage activity. The students brought their collages to the gallery to show to the artist and then made a large montage of all of the collages in the gallery.

St. George's Golf Course in Setauket. File photo

Suffolk County Police responded to an incident in which a woman crashed into a building structure on a golf course in Setauket Jan. 3.

Alyssa Chaikin, 19, was traveling east on Sheep Pasture Road at about 5:40 p.m., when she lost control of her 2003 Jeep Liberty on the wet pavement, struck a wooden guardrail, went through a chain-link fence and down an embankment. She crashed into the side of a building located at St. George’s Golf Course, at 134 Lower Sheep Pasture Road. The Jeep caught fire and the building structure, which houses a bathroom and is used for selling refreshments, caught fire and was destroyed. There was no one in the building or on the golf course at the time.

Chaikin, of Stony Brook, crawled out of the vehicle and was transported to Stony Brook University Hospital via Setauket Fire Department Ambulance with non-life-threatening injuries.

The investigation is ongoing.

Tom Manuel leads the Jazz Loft Big Band on a bandstand at the loft, constructed from pieces of the original dance floor of New York’s famed Roseland Ballroom. Photo from The Jazz Loft

By John Broven

On May 21, Stony Brook Village reverberated to the sounds of a New Orleans-style street parade to mark the opening of The Jazz Loft at 275 Christian Ave. That happy day brought to reality the dreams of president and founder Tom Manuel.

“In the brief seven months the Jazz Loft has been open we’ve been able to accomplish the goals of our mission well ahead of schedule,” Manuel said. “Our performance calendar has presented some of the finest local, national and international artists; our educational programming has established our pre-college Jazz Institute in collaboration with Stony Brook University; and Our Young at Heart program has introduced wonderful music therapy events to people with memory loss.

“In addition to all of this our lecture series, family concerts, sponsored concert series and acquisitions and installations of jazz memorabilia, art, photography and more are ongoing and ever growing.”

Tom Manuel with children during The Creole Love Song: Operation Haiti! mission. Photo from The Jazz Loft

For establishing The Jazz Loft so quickly and effectively as a community resource, Manuel, a 37-year-old educator, historian and trumpet player, from St. James, is recognized by TBR News Media as a Person of the Year.

“Tom Manuel is a well-deserving nominee for Person of the Year,” Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said. “The Jazz Loft is an incredible gift to the 1st Council District. Tom’s passion for jazz has been transformed into a vivid, vibrant, collection of jazz history and a home for local talent, musicians and performances. In a short time, The Jazz Loft has become an incredible community space for art, history, culture and music.”

Visitors are able to view the loft’s museum exhibits featuring greats such as saxophonist Louis Jordan, the biggest African-American star of the 1940s and a massive influence on the ensuing rock ’n’ roll era; heartthrob blues and jazz crooner Arthur Prysock; upright bassist Lloyd Trotman, a prolific session musician who provided the bass line on Ben E. King’s anthem, “Stand by Me”; society bandleader Lester Lanin; and the seafaring vibraphonist and composer Teddy Charles.

Jean Prysock, of Searingtown, donated the memorabilia of her late husband Arthur Prysock, who played the top theaters and clubs from the 1940s onward and recorded for labels such as Decca, Mercury, Old Town and MGM-Verve. Why did she feel Manuel was worthy of support?

“He was young, he was enthusiastic, he was dedicated, he was sincere,” she said. “I first met him at a jazz bar in Patchogue. He led an 11-piece band, which sounded as if it could have played at New York’s Paramount Theatre.”

Apart from conducting bands, Manuel is an expert trumpet player, who credits among his inspirations Chet Baker, Warren Vache, Bobby Hackett, Harry “Sweets” Edison and Roy Eldridge. As an indication of the Jazz Loft’s authentic atmosphere, Manuel said the impressive three-tier bandstand was constructed from the original dance floor of the famed Roseland Ballroom on New York’s 52nd Street, adding, “It was an extreme labor of love, but certainly worth the effort.”

Manuel has directed a full program at The Jazz Loft while holding an adjunct post at Suffolk County Community College and a faculty position with Stony Brook University directing the jazz program of the Pre-College Music Division. If that’s not all, he has recently completed his doctorate, a DMA in jazz performance, at SBU and carried out charity work in Haiti.

“Tom is fully deserving of this award, not only for creating The Jazz Loft and making jazz available in our area, but also because of his remarkable spirit in bettering every community with which he engages,” Perry Goldstein, professor and chair at SBU’s Department of Music, said.

Tom Manuel (white hat at center) on opening day at The Jazz Loft in Stony Brook, on May 21 of this year. Photo by John Broven

“He motivated seven volunteers to go to Haiti with him after the recent hurricane, where they distributed 200 pairs of sneakers, clothing and school supplies purchased through donations. Tom radiates positive energy in everything he does,” Goldstein said.

Manuel readily acknowledges the help of others in giving liftoff to The Jazz Loft, including board members Laura Vogelsberg and Laura Stiegelmaier, many musicians and sponsors Harlan and Olivia Fischer who “donated our sound system, which is quite outstanding.” Manuel’s philosophy is summarized by the title of his well-received talk at the Three Village Community Trust’s annual celebration, held at The Jazz Loft in November: “Collaboration: The Art of Possibility.”

The jazz facility is housed in a historic building, comprising the old Stone Jug tavern and the former firehouse station, which accommodated the first museum in Stony Brook, founded in 1935 by real estate broker and insurance agent O.C. Lempfert. With the backing of Ward and Dorothy Melville, the museum was formally incorporated as the Suffolk Museum in 1939 before evolving into today’s The Long Island Museum. The renovated building, which was accorded landmark status by the Town of Brookhaven in September, is leased long term to The Jazz Loft by The Ward Melville Heritage Organization.

“Tom Manuel is a unique individual who was born into a generation of musicians steeped in rock ’n’ roll, rap and new wave,” Gloria Rocchio, president of WMHO, said. “I got to know Tom because of a[n] … article about a ‘young man’ with a house full of artifacts and memorabilia relating to the jazz era. The Ward Melville Heritage Organization owned a vacant building … and Tom had a collection in need of a home. A year later The Jazz Loft opened in Stony Brook, where Tom shares his love of jazz with like-minded musicians and fans. Tom is truly a role model for the concept of accomplishing your dream through passion and dedication. We are proud to welcome The Jazz Loft and Dr. Tom Manuel into our community.”

Alan Alda received the Double Helix Award from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory this month. Photo by Constance Brukin, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

By Daniel Dunaief

In a world of tirades and terrifying tweets, the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University is encouraging its professors and students to do something the center’s namesake urges: Listen.

Tough as it is to hear what people mean behind an explosive expression that fuses reason and emotion, the scientists in training, established researchers and others who attend some of the lectures or workshops at the center go through an exercise called “rant” in which each person listens for two minutes to something that drives their partner crazy. Afterward, the scientist has to introduce their partner to the group in a positive way.

Alan Alda. Photo by Constance Brukin, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

The staff at the Alan Alda Center finds inspiration, a role model and a humble but willing listener in Alda, the highly decorated actor of “MASH” who has spent the last several decades drawing scientists out of dense shells constructed of impenetrable jargon and technical phrases.

For his dedication to forging connections for scientists, Times Beacon Record News Media is pleased to name Alan Alda a 2016 Person of the Year.

“He’s doing a wonderful job,” said Jim Simons, the former chairman of the Stony Brook Mathematics Department and hedge fund founder who shared the stage with Alda this summer as a part of a Mind Brain Lecture at Stony Brook. “I can’t think of anyone better to be an honoree.”

Simons described a moment with Alda, who is not a scientist nor does he play one on TV, when he was sharing some abstruse mathematics. Alda’s eyes “glazed over when I was first talking to him. He’s teaching scientists not to get a glaze over their audience’s eyes.”

Alda works tirelessly to share a method that blends scientific communication with the kind of improvisational acting he studied early in his career.

“Improv is not about being funny,” said Laura Lindenfeld, the director at the center. “It’s about being connected.”

Last June, Alda was a part of a team that traveled to California to share an approach that is in demand at universities and research institutions around the world. The day of the workshop, three people who were supposed to help lead the session were delayed.

Alda suggested that he run the event, which would normally involve several instructors and break-out groups. Learning about the art of connecting with an audience from someone who reached people over decades through TV, movies and Broadway performances, the attendees were enchanted by their discussion.

“He’s the master,” said Lindenfeld, who was at the campus when the team received news about the delay for the other instructors.

As soon as the session ended, Alda headed for Los Angeles to conduct a radio interview.

“I handed him a granola bar,” recalled Lindenfeld, who joined the center last year. “I was afraid he hadn’t eaten.”

Alda celebrated his 80th birthday earlier this year and shows no signs of slowing down, encouraging the spread of training techniques that will help scientists share their information and discoveries.

“He’s teaching scientists not to get a glaze over their audience’s eyes.”

— Jim Simons

The Alda Center is planning a trip to Scotland next year and has been invited to go to Norway, Germany and countries in South America, Lindenfeld said.

When the University of Dundee received a grant from the Leverhulme Trust to create the Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science, officials in Scotland, one of whom knew Lindenfeld personally, researched the Alan Alda Center’s mission and decided to forge a connection. Lindenfeld helped coordinate a congratulatory video Alda sent that the Scottish centre played at its opening ceremony.

“Everyone present from the highest Law Lord in Scotland, through to the principal of the university and the Leverhulme trustees did not know it was going to happen, and so it was a huge surprise that stunned the room into complete silence,” recalled Sue Black, the director of the centre in an email. “Brilliant theatre of which Mr. Alda would have been proud.”

Established and internationally known scientists have expressed their appreciation and admiration for Alda’s dedication to their field.

The training sessions “drag out of people their inhibitions and get them to think about interacting with the public in ways that they might not have felt comfortable doing before,” said Bruce Stillman, the president and CEO of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. This month, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory gave Alda the Double Helix Medal at a ceremony at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Stillman described the public understanding and perception of science as “poor.” To bridge that gap, Alda’s programs “induce scientists to feel comfortable about talking to the public about their ideas and progress.”

Nobel Prize winner Eric Kandel suggested that Alda’s accomplishments exceed his own.

“There ain’t many Alan Aldas, but there are a lot of Nobel Prizes out there,” Kandel said. While Kandel is “extremely indebted to having won the Nobel Prize,” he said the totality of Alda’s accomplishments are “enormous.”

The Alda Center is working with Columbia University, where Kandel is the director of the Kavli Institute for Brain Science and a professor, to develop an ongoing program to foster scientific communication.

Alan Alda, left, at a ceremony at the American Museum of Natural History. Photo by Constance Brukin, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Kandel, who considers Alda a friend, appreciates his support. Kandel said Jeff Lieberman, the chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia, asked Alda and Kandel to give a talk on issues related to neuroscience. Lieberman “was my boss,” Kandel said, “I had to be there, but [Alda] didn’t have to be there. He goes out of his way for people.”

In 2017, the center will not only share its communication techniques around the world, but it will also create conferences for timely scientific topics, including climate change and women in science.

The glass ceiling is a “real issue for women in science,” said Valerie Lantz Gefroh, the improvisation program leader at the center. “We’re hoping to give [women] better communication tools so they can move forward in their careers.”

The center is also adding new courses. Next fall, Christine O’Connell, who is a part of a new effort at Stony Brook called the Science Training & Research to Inform Decision and is the associate director at the center, will teach a course on communicating with policy and decision makers.

That will include encouraging scientists to invite state senators to see their field work, going to Congress, meeting with a senator or writing position papers. In political discussions, scientists often feel like “fish out of water,” O’Connell said. The course will give scientists the “tools to effectively engage” in political discussions.

Scientists don’t have to be “advocates for or against an issue,” O’Connell said, but they do have to “be advocates for science and what the science is telling us.”

Given an opportunity to express her appreciation directly to Alda, Black at the University of Dundee wrote, “Thanks for having the faith to collaborate with our centre so far away in Scotland, where we are trying to influence the global understanding of forensic science in our courtrooms — where science communication can make the difference between a guilty or an innocent verdict and in some places, the difference between life and a death sentence.”

To borrow from words Alda has shared, and that the staff at the center believe, “Real listening is a willingness to let the other person change you.” Even if, as those who have gone through some of the sessions, the speaker is ranting.

SBU program for retirees is unique on Long Island

File Photo

A substantial gift from the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute will extend Stony Brook University’s ability to offer opportunities to individuals who are semi-retired or retired.

Originally founded at the university as The Round Table, the program was renamed after receiving an initial grant from the Osher Foundation in June 2007.

A program within the School of Professional Development, directed by Wayne Holo, OLLI is open to mature adults interested in expanding their intellectual horizons in a university setting. Volunteers — very often experts in the subjects they teach — teach peer-taught sessions, which carry no credits or prerequisites. Workshops are structured to offer an informal exchange of ideas among participants.

Osher Foundation President Mary Bitterman found the Stony Brook OLLI’s progress to be inspiring.

“Since making [the] initial grant, we have been impressed by [the program’s] exceptional progress,” she said. “We applaud the collective effort and achievement of its excellent staff and its dynamic community of intellectually vigorous members. We also salute the university’s leadership for its steadfast support of the Osher Institute and for embracing the concept that education is a lifelong pursuit that has the power to forge and enhance our connection to one another and to a larger world.”

Retired schoolteacher Bruce Stasiuk, of Setauket, is one of the more popular workshop leaders in the program and his philosophy may indicate why.

“The ingenious OLLI program is like going back to school without the pressures, or papers,” he said. “Here, required courses and tests went the way of Clearasil. OLLI is all about pursuing interests, keeping active, and continuing personal growth. It’s the purest form of education — it’s fun.”

Martin and Joyce Rubenstein of Port Jefferson Station would agree. Marty Rubenstein has been a participant for nearly two decades; Joyce Rubenstein almost as long. Both have taken classes, and Marty Rubenstein has taught quite a few, ranging from physics for poets to classes in his special passion, music appreciation, including history of the big band era and history of rock and roll.

“I started soon after retirement, about 1998,” Marty Rubenstein said. “It’s a well-run program and a good vehicle for people who are retired.” He added that one’s social network disappears when you no longer see the colleagues and friends you worked with daily.

It was still The Round Table, comprised of 300 members when Rubenstein joined, and he has watched the organization grow. He said he is hoping that the new funding will make it possible to improve the model, now that there are more than 1,000 members.

Joyce Rubenstein, a participant since 2000, says she likes the variety of classes offered.

“It’s nice because I don’t have to take academic courses unless I want to. You go in and you laugh. I enjoy it. I’ve made a lot of new friends,” she said, adding, “There are some extremely smart people there. You learn a lot just by listening.”

The Rubensteins shared their OLLI experiences with Bonnie and Norm Samuels of Setauket, who take classes, too.

“It’s great OLLI has received this endowment because the program has grown so much and so many people are now involved,” Bonnie Samuels said.

Norm Samuels is a newbie, taking classes for the first time this fall. He sad he is finding his DNA class stimulating.

“It opens your mind up to more in-depth examination of ideas,“ he said. “What I’ve learned about future uses of DNA — I think it’s going to shake us to our foundations! Being on campus, seeing the young people gives me vicarious pleasure. What I’d like to see is more integration between the young ones and us elders.”

Bonnie Samuels said opportunities of that sort do come up. OLLI members were recruited this semester to be audience members for a Talking Science class for undergraduate students. The goal was to listen and give feedback to young scientists to help them become clearer communicators when addressing nonscientists.

OLLI membership is open for an annual fee to all retired and semiretired individuals. The program currently offers more than 100 workshops per semester, and a variety of day trips. Avenues for participation include workshops, lectures, special events, committees and social activities. OLLI classes include topics in history, creative arts, science, literature and computer skills; fall classes included intermediate Latin, history of England, quantum weirdness, poetry out loud, senior legal matters and a virtual investing club.

Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes operate on the campuses of 119 institutions of higher education throughout the nation. Stony Brook’s OLLI program is the only such program on Long Island.

For more information, go to the Stony Brook University Osher Lifelong Learning Institute website or call 631-632-7063.

By Daniel Dunaief

In medieval times, armies needed to understand the structure of the castles they were about to attack. Enough information could enable a leader to find a weakness and exploit it, giving his troops a plan to take over the castle. Today, researchers use advanced tools to study the molecular structure of everything from tumors to the protein plaques involved in neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.

Recently, William Van Nostrand and Steven Smith, scientists at Stony Brook University who have worked together for over 10 years, discovered subtle differences in amyloid fibril structures that surround blood vessels and neurons. Many forms of the structures likely have some contributory effect to cognitive declines, although researchers debate the extent of that contribution, Van Nostrand said.

Above, William Van Nostrand completes a triathlon this past September in Lake George. Photo courtesy of William Van Nostrand
Above, William Van Nostrand completes a triathlon this past September in Lake George. Photo courtesy of William Van Nostrand

Amyloid fibrils in plaques in the space between neurons have subunits lined up side by side in a head-to-head manner. Van Nostrand and Smith’s new work, which was published in Nature Communications, showed that vascular amyloid subunits, which are on the vessel’s surface, have a different configuration, lining up side by side in an alternating head-to-toe pattern.

This structural difference generates a new set of questions that might provide insight into ways to diagnose or treat diseases or cognitive declines. The structural difference in the vascular forms may provide a way to determine how they uniquely contribute to cognitive decline, which could have implications for diagnostic and therapeutic intervention.

“We want to know if these different structures cause different responses,” said Van Nostrand, who was the co-lead investigator in the study with Smith and is a professor in the Department of Neurosurgery at Stony Brook. The research came from a close structural analysis of the amyloid buildup in mouse models of the disease. Van Nostrand provided the animal models and did the vascular amyloid isolation, while Smith, a professor and the director of structural biology in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, conducted the structural study.

“The more we understand about how these peptides assemble (and which components and structural motifs actually are toxic to neurons), the easier it is to target” the problem, Smith explained in an email. While the mouse models the scientists studied may have some differences from the human forms of the disease, Van Nostrand said the group also conducted some preliminary studies that showed that vascular amyloid from human vessels has the same structure as the vascular amyloid in isolated vessels from the mice.

Van Nostrand and Smith have “investigated the structure of vascular amyloid in one case of a transgenic mouse and from vessels isolated from the brain of one human patient that had spontaneous cerebral amyloid angiopathy,” Smith said. “In both cases, the structure was anti-parallel, which provides some confidence when we start investigating additional mouse and human samples, we will also find the structure is anti-parallel.”

Van Nostrand’s lab studies pathogenic mechanisms in neurodegenerative diseases, including cerebral amyloid angiopathy. In Alzheimer’s disease, patients have these amyloid or protein plaques around neurons. In about 90 percent of these, people also have protein buildup around blood vessels, where the amount can vary.

Amyloid plaques on the surface of blood vessels are “a lot more common than previously thought,” Van Nostrand said. The consequences of these amyloid fibrils on blood vessels can affect other conditions and treatments for medical challenges including an ischemic stroke. Typically, doctors can prescribe a tissue plasminogen activator. While the drug works to break up the blood clot in the brain, it can cause amyloid blood vessels, if they are present, to bleed, which is a serious side effect.

It would be particularly helpful for doctors and their patients if they knew with certainty before doctors gave any drugs whether the patient had any of these plaques around their blood vessels. The current state of the art in searching for these plaques around blood vessels is to look for any signs of bleeding.

Van Nostrand and Smith are searching for biomarkers that could indicate the presence of specific types of amyloids. “If you had a probe that would recognize a structure, can you also use that for imaging?” Van Nostrand asked. Such a probe might be able to distinguish between the parallel and anti-parallel orientation of the proteins in the plaques.

Van Nostrand said there are rare mutations that create blood vessel amyloids, without the plaque between the neurons. People with only blood vessel amyloids have cognitive impairments, Van Nostrand said, but it’s not the same as Alzheimer’s pathology. In addition to partnering with Smith, Van Nostrand works with Lisa Miller, a biophysical chemist at Brookhaven National Laboratory and collaborators in the Netherlands.

A resident of Poquott, Van Nostrand competes in triathlons and iron man events. During the offseason, when the weather isn’t particularly warm, he still does some training. Van Nostrand’s oldest son, Joffrey, who earned his undergraduate degree at Stony Brook, graduated from law school and is now working at a law firm in Wisconsin. His younger son, Kellen, is applying to graduate school to study psychology. Van Nostrand has an 11-year old daughter, Waela, with his wife Judianne Davis. Waela has done two triathlons and “puts me to shame in 100 yards swimming,” Van Nostrand proudly confessed.

As for his work, Van Nostrand, Smith and their collaborators are focused on understanding how to exploit any differences in the plaques, so they can make progress in the battle against neurodegenerative diseases. “We are interested in understanding structure and pathological functions” of different states of the subunits of amyloid fibrils, Van Nostrand said.

unknown-2The Seiskaya Ballet’s “The Nutcracker,” a perennial holiday favorite on Long Island, returns to Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts for a six-performance run from Friday, Dec. 16 to Monday, Dec. 19. This classical ballet rendition has earned praise from critics and audiences alike. Hailed in its 1995 debut as Long Island’s most lavish “Nutcracker,” the Seiskaya Ballet production of the classic holiday ballet is a truly international collaboration, choreographed by world-renowned Russian-born choreographer Valia Seiskaya.

This year’s cast will be led by guest artist Nick Coppula (pictured above), formerly with the Pittsburgh Ballet, who will play the role of Cavalier, and Seiskaya’s award-winning principal dancers Jenna Lee, Diana Atoian and Brianna Jimenez (pictured above) along with first soloists Max Lippman, Jamie Bergold, Amber Donnelly and Lara Caraiani.

Performances will be held on Friday, Dec. 16 at 7 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 17 at 2 and 7 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 18 at 1 and 6 p.m. and Monday, Dec. 19 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $40 adults, $34 children and seniors, and $30 for groups of 20 or more; on sale now at the Staller Center Box Office at 631-632-ARTS and at www.nutcrackerballet.com. (Box office hours are noon to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and one hour prior to all performances. Online seat selection is available for all shows.)