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Stony Brook University

Michael Airola. Photo from SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

Numerous trucks arrive at a construction site, each doing their part to make a blueprint for a building into a reality. In a destructive way, molecules also come together in cancer to change cells that cause damage and can ultimately kill.

Researchers often know the participants in the cancer process, although the structure of each molecule can be a mystery. Determining how the parts of an enzyme work could allow scientists and, eventually, doctors to slow those cancer players down or inactivate them, stopping their cell-damaging or destroying processes.

Recently, Michael Airola, who started his own lab at Stony Brook University early this year and is an assistant professor of biochemistry and cell biology, published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in which he showed the structure of an important enzyme that contributes to cell growth regulation in cancer and other diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Called neutral sphingomyelinase, this enzyme produces ceramide, which allows cancer cells to become metastatic. Finding the structure of an enzyme can enable scientists to figure out the way it operates, which can point to pharmacological agents that can inhibit or deactivate the enzyme.

“We are trying to understand the link between structure and function to try to get the first sort of snapshots or pictures of what these enzymes look like” in the on and off states, said Airola. In his research, he showed what this enzyme looked like in its off or inactive state.

Airola joined Stony Brook Cancer Center Director Yusuf Hannun’s lab as a postdoctoral researcher in 2010, when Hannun was working in Charleston, South Carolina, at the Medical University of South Carolina. When Hannun moved to SBU in March of 2012, Airola joined him, continuing his postdoctoral research.

Michael Airola in April in New Orleans aboard the steamboat Natchez on the Mississippi River with his family, wife Krystal Airola, four-year-old Harper and two-year-old Grady. Photo from Michael Airola

Airola conducted his research at Stony Brook and Brookhaven National Laboratory, where he used a technique called X-ray crystallography, which shows the structure of crystallized molecules. Getting this enzyme to crystallize took considerable effort, especially because it has what Airola described as a floppy segment between two rigid structures.

Those floppy pieces, which Airola said aren’t the active sites of the enzyme, can interfere with the structural analysis. To see the important regions, Airola had to cut those flexible parts out, while fusing the rest of the enzyme into a single structure.

The crystallization took almost three years and was a “very difficult process,” Airola recounted. “To get proteins to crystallize, you need to get them to pack together in an ordered fashion.” He said he needed to develop some biochemical tricks to delete a large part in the middle of the protein. “Once we found the right trick and the right region to delete, we were able to crystallize the protein in about three months.”

Airola said he took considerable care to make sure removing the floppy or flexible region didn’t disrupt the function of the enzyme. Hannun and Airola are co-mentoring Prajna Shanbhogue, a graduate student who is in the process of discovering molecules that activate and inhibit the enzyme.

Hannun was pleased with the work Airola did in his lab, which he suggested was a “challenging type of research. Getting to a structure of a protein or enzyme (a specific type of protein) can take several years and is never guaranteed of success, but the rewards can be tremendous,” Hannun explained in an email, adding that Airola was a “critical contributor” and introduced structural biology to his group.

While Airola will continue to work on this enzyme, he is exploring another enzyme, in a collaboration with Hannun and John Haley at Stony Brook, that is involved in colon cancer.

Airola, two graduate students and three undergraduates in his lab are focusing considerable energy on an enzyme involved in the production of triglycerides.

Airola recently received a three-year, $231,000 grant from the American Heart Association to study lipins, a class of enzyme that plays a role both in heart disease and in diabetes. As he did with the enzyme that makes ceramide, Airola is developing a way to understand the structure and function of the triglyceride enzyme. He’d like to find out how this enzyme is regulated. “We’re trying to see if we can inhibit that enzyme, too,” he said.

Airola has “some creative ideas about using information from lipin proteins in plants and fungi, which have a less complex protein structure than mammalian lipins but catalyze the same biochemical reaction,” Karen Reue, a professor in the Department of Human Genetics, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and a collaborator with Airola, explained in an email.

Reue’s lab will complement Airola’s work by conducting physiological analyses of the various “minimal” lipin proteins in processes that the mammalian proteins perform, including triglyceride biosynthesis.

While lipin proteins are necessary for metabolic homeostasis, Reue said a reasonable but still challenging goal might be to modulate the enzyme’s activity for partial inhibition in areas such as adipose tissue, while allowing the triglycerides to perform other important tasks.

Airola lives in East Setauket with his wife Krystal Airola, who is doing her residency in radiology at SBU, and their two children, four-year-old Harper and two-year-old Grady. The couple, who is expecting a third child next month, enjoy living in East Setauket, where they appreciate that they have a forest in their backyard and they can enjoy the water in Port Jefferson and West Meadow Beach.

When Airola’s postdoctoral position ended, he did a broad, national search for his next position and was delighted that he could remain at Stony Brook. “We love the area,” he said. “The research and science here are fantastic.” Airola’s collaborators are optimistic about the prospects for his research.

He is an “up and coming structural biologist that has already made important contributions to the field of lipid biology” Reue said and is a “creative and rigorous scientist with a bright future.”

The 2017 Stony Brook Film Festival will host the world premiere screening of ‘To the Edge of the Sky’ on July 23. Photo courtesy of Staller Center
Presents mix of independent features, documentaries and shorts

By Jill Webb

Drop your beach towels and grab some popcorn because the Stony Brook Film Festival kicks off tonight at 8 p.m. and will run for 10 nights. The festival’s director, Alan Inkles, who has been curating the event since its inception, said in a recent interview that the idea to showcase great films annually came to him because “film is the art of this century.”

Festivalgoers view these films in the main 1,000-seat auditorium of the Staller Center for the Arts at Stony Brook University, which features a 40-foot-wide screen for maximum viewing pleasure.

Inkles’ biggest challenge as festival director is finding the films that are going to “draw 800 people on a Thursday night — in the summer on Long Island — to a film they’ve never heard of.”

Last year, the director started using www.filmfreeway.com as a way for filmmakers to submit their films, saying the service is “the most fair to both filmmakers and film festivals” due to its piracy protection. Inkles and his team received over 1,000 submissions from the website, along with about 700 from sales agents internationally — all of which are viewed between January and May.

Diversity on the big screen

The vast number of submissions have led to greater diversity. This year’s lineup includes films from Italy, Armenia, France, Sweden and the Netherlands among others and puts a spotlight on a variety of relevant topics including the LGBTQ+ community and immigration.

The big draw this year, Inkles said, is an abundance of women directors — a demographic that often gets overlooked in the film industry. “Almost 50 percent of our films are directed by women — features and shorts,” Inkles said, adding that three of them write, direct and star in their films.

The opening and closing night films both have one thing in common: Germany. Each of these German films will be making its U.S. premiere at SBFF on its respective night. Opening the festival is “Welcome to Germany” (“Willkommen bei den Hartmanns”), written and directed by Simon Verhoeven, a ‘laugh-out-loud’ comedy about a refugee from Nigeria who, while awaiting the ruling on his asylum request, is taken in by a wealthy but severely dysfunctional family from Munich.

A scene from ‘Text for You’. Photo courtesy of Staller Center

The closer, titled “Text for You” (“SMS für Dich”), is a romantic comedy that explores coping with grief and loss. Karoline Herfurth is a triple threat in the movie’s production as director/writer/actress. The film’s main character, Clara, is struggling to get over the death of her true love and begins to send text messages to his old number. The new owner of the phone is compelled to answer these messages, creating a dialogue between the two strangers. Inkles describes the film as a “German [version of] ‘When Harry Met Sally.’”

Long Island: In front and behind the camera

While Inkles stresses that he selects films solely on being the best of the bunch, he admits he loves getting a Long Island angle in. This year’s Long Island connections includes “The Second Act of Elliott Murphy,” a documentary chronicling Rockville Centre native Elliott Murphy’s journey to rock star status, starting in mid-1970s America and eventually traveling to Europe where his career takes off.

While the film is set in Maine, a great deal of “The Sounding” — which follows a woman who has chosen to remain silent until a traumatic experience leads her to speak in only Shakespearean words — was shot here on Long Island.

The 2017 Stony Brook Film Festival will host the world premiere screening of ‘To the Edge of the Sky’ on July 23. Photo from Staller Center

Academy Award winners and Ward Melville graduates, Todd and Jedd Wider, have been making films together for 19 years. Their documentary “To the Edge of the Sky” focuses on mothers trying to get FDA approval for a drug to save their sons affected by the fatal disease Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). Jedd Wider got the idea for the film at an event listening to a Harvard-educated doctor talk about his son’s experience with DMD and the extents his family was going through to save his life.

“I was mesmerized by what he had to say,” Wider said. After the event, a Google search on the doctor, Benjy Seckler, lead Wider to his first meet-up with a family challenging DMD. The film watches the mothers transform into “very serious political activists as they attempt to rally the FDA,” Wider said. “It’s really a window into the FDA system, but it’s also a very serious look and window into the troubles, the issues, the challenges, the tragic circumstances surrounding these families as they attempt to find a cure and secure that cure for their children.”

The short “Brothers” will be screened before the Wider brother’s film and is directed by another Ward Melville graduate, Zachary Fuhrer. “Brothers” tells a story of a 9-year-old boy who deals with experiencing guilt after accidentally hurting his little brother while playing baseball. Fuhrer looked back on the way he dealt with confrontation as a child as inspiration for the film. The take-away Fuhrer hopes the audience gets is “what it truly means to say I’m sorry, and what it truly means to show compassion for another person and understand wrong-doing.”

Exploring your options

Presented by Island Federal Credit Union, the festival will run through July 29. For $85 you can purchase a Festival Pass to see all of the films, along with promotions for local restaurants through labor day, seating guaranteed up to 15 minutes prior to the showing, first entry for preferred seating options and some merchandise freebies: a film pass, lanyard and tote bag.

If you’re looking for something a bit more lavish, try the Gold Pass: For $225 you get all the perks of the Festival Pass but also entry into the Opening and Closing Night parties along with access to the VIP seating with the filmmakers. Individual tickets are $12 adults, $10 seniors and $5 with a student ID. Free parking is available in the Visitors Parking Garage during the festival.

For more information on the program, tickets and trailers check out www.stonybrookfilmfestival.com or call the Staller Center Box Office at 631-632-2787.

Film Festival Schedule

Thursday, July 20

Opening Night

8 p.m. “Welcome to Germany”

Friday, July 21

7 p.m. “Walking David”

Short: “Game”

9:30 p.m. “Let Yourself Go”

Short: “Rated”

Saturday, July 22

4 p.m. “Ethel & Ernest” (animated)

Short: “Snowgirl”

7 p.m.“The Sounding”

Short: “Icarus” 9:30 p.m.

“Love Is Thicker Than Water”

Short: “Waiting to Die in Bayside, Queens”

Sunday, July 23

4 p.m. “To the Edge of the Sky”

Short: “Brothers”

7 p.m. “Fanny’s Journey”

Short: “Who Sank Your Ships?”

9:15 p.m. “Tonio”

Short: “Oma”

Monday, July 24

7 p.m. “Apricot Groves”

Short: “The Simon’s Way”

9:15 p.m. “Strawberry Days”

Short: “The Dog and the Elephant”

Tuesday, July 25

7 p.m. “Little Wing”

Short: “Real Artists”

9:15 p.m. “From the Land of the Moon”

Short: “Interrogation”

Wednesday, July 26

7 p.m. “Laura Gets a Cat”

Short: “Speak”

9:15 p.m. “The Second Act of Elliott Murphy”

Short: “Just, go!”

Thursday, July 27

7 p.m. “Purple Dreams”

Short: “Across the Line”

9:15 p.m. “Hanna’s Sleeping Dogs”

Short: “AmeriKa”

Friday, July 28

7 p.m. “The King’s Choice”

9:30 p.m. “The Midwife”

Saturday, July 29

Closing Night

8 p.m. “Text for You”

Stony Brook women's lacrosse head coach Joe Spallina rounds up his team. Photo from Stony Brook University athletics

Joe Spallina has done what many would deem impossible.

In six short years, the Mount Sinai resident and Stony Brook University women’s lacrosse coach has turned the university’s program from a U.S. Lacrosse Magazine RPI-ranked No. 62 team, into the No. 2 team in the country.

“He knows what he’s doing,” said Frankie Caridi, 2014 Stony Brook graduate and former goalkeeper for the Seawolves. “His coaching style, his philosophy and his ideas are allowing them to get to where he wants to bring that program.”

Stony Brook women’s lacrosse coach Joe Spallina talks plays with his Seawolves. Photo from Stony Brook University athletics

Caridi played under Spallina as a freshman at Adelphi University. He had the opportunity to make the move to Stony Brook and encouraged Caridi, now associate head coach for the Adelphi Panthers, to make the move with him during her playing career.

“He was a great coach straight from the beginning,” she said. “Just playing for him at Adelphi that one year was amazing. The fact that he believed in the few of us that went with him that we’d be able to change the program pretty quickly — he sold us.”

Caridi said she was not only sold on making the switch because of his vision of building a national championship caliber team, but because he was honest about what he was looking for from his players and what he thought they could be.

“He shot the truth,” she said. “He’s someone who is able to get the most out of you. He demands you to be the best you can be … every single day. I respected him so much as a coach, because he respects us as players.”

Her first conversation with him when being recruited to play for Adelphi was about if she wanted to win a national championship and be an All-American.

“He told me the opportunities that I had, and he let them play out,” she said. “I credit all of it to him.”

Caridi became one of the most prolific goalies in Stony Brook program history. Her .514 career save percentage is tops in the school’s record book, while her 5.91 goals-against average is the best among any goalie with at least 1,500 minutes played.

Stony Brook women’s lacrosse head coach Joe Spallina speaks with attack Kylie Ohlmiller. Photo from Stony Brook University athletics

The East Northport native won two America East championships and qualified for two NCAA tournaments, earning International Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association Third-Team All-American status in 2014. She was also named the Lacrosse Magazine and ILWomen.com Goalie of the Year, picked as the America East Defensive Player of the Year and nominee for the Tewaaraton Award, given to the most outstanding American lacrosse player.

Current Stony Brook attack and soon-to-be senior Kylie Ohlmiller also bought what Spallina was selling.

“He told me I could live out my dreams here,” she said. “He told me I could win a national championship in my time here, I’ll be the face of women’s lacrosse and on the cover of magazines. And it’s all happening now. He painted my dream in my head for me and has been making it all possible.”

She agreed with Caridi that he’s been able to shape the athletes to get the program to where it is today.

“I think if I were to go anywhere else, and a lot of my teammates would say the same thing, that we might not be the level of lacrosse players that we are or even the people that we are,” Ohlmiller said. “We want to give our fans — all the little girls who play lacrosse — the dream of coming to Division I lacrosse games and watching a good, Top 5 Division I program play and compete for a national championship.”

“He’s someone who is able to get the most out of you. He demands you to be the best you can be … every single day.”

— Frankie Caridi

The Islip resident said she wants to be a coach one day, and Spallina is the inspiration.

“He’s able to be stern and be authoritative, but at the same time he can throw a joke in there like he’s one of your best friends,” she said. “He’s able to make it fun, and that’s ultimately the reason we play. It’s to have fun and win.”

He and Ohlmiller were big proponents in recruiting her younger sister Taryn, who will be a sophomore in the upcoming school year. As the leading scorers on the team, the two are referred to by their head coach as a couple of the “big dogs” on the team. Kylie Ohlmiller’s 164 points shattered the previous Division I record of 148. Her 86 assists are also a new DI record. She was American East Offensive Player of the Year, was named a Tewaaraton finalist, also an IWLCA ILWomen Attacker of the Year. Her younger sister led all Division I freshmen and ranked seventh in the nation with 98 points last season. The attacker was named America East Rookie of the Year and an IWLCA All-American.

“Once you’re one of his big dogs he wants to be closer to you,” Taryn Ohlmiller said. “He does one-on-one workouts with us, he gets you out there early, doing shooting drills. He cares about you as an individual as much as he cares about the team.”

Stony Brook women’s lacrosse head coach Joe Spallina walks the sideline during a game. Photo from Stony Brook University athletics

The team-first mentality that the Ohlmillers and the Seawolves have bought into under Spallina, who is also the head coach of the Long Island Lizards, propelled Stony Brook to new heights in 2017, as the Seawolves went 20-2 and advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals – all new high-water marks in program history. The team broke Division I single-season records for assists (222) and points (576) in 2017 while leading the nation in scoring defense (7.27) and scoring margin (8.82).

For his leadership, in turning the program around and becoming the winningest coach in program history, Spallina has been named America East Coach of the Year in 2012, 2015, 2016 and 2017, and was named IWLCA Coach of the Year for the Mid-Atlantic Region following this season. He also garnered several coach of the year honors with the Lizards.

“He deserves all of the recognition — he deserves the world and so much more,” Kylie Ohlmiller said of her head coach. “Last year we were ranked second in the nation behind No. 1 undefeated University of Maryland, and that’s just in a couple of years — it takes decades for some coaches to do. He’s doing what a lot of coaches can’t or haven’t done, and it’s really cool to see. It’s insane how he’s flipped the culture of Stony Brook athletics.”

Alyssa Iryami, left, and Audrey Shine, right, stand by their SuperSilk presentation at the July 14 Clean Tech Contest. Photo from Corbett Public Relations

Stony Brook University was bursting with “clean” and “green” alternatives July 14 thanks to high school students competing in the international Spellman High Voltage Electronics Clean Tech Contest, a competition geared to challenging teenagers to identify and create solutions to environmental and green building problems.

Now in its sixth year, July 14 was the first time the international competition took place on Long Island. It was hosted by the Center for Science Teaching and Learning of Rockville Centre, which encourages children to learn about science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The nine teams on hand — which included seven from the United States, one from Singapore and another from the Philippines — competed for the top prize of $10,000. The teams earned their spots in the finals after beating out 230 other teams from around the globe in previous competitions.

This year’s theme was Creating a Greener Future, and the contestants outlined their findings for solutions in topics such as sustainability, green building, “sick” building syndrome and energy efficiency.

In the end, two Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School students, Alyssa Iryami, 15, and Audrey Shine, 16, emerged the winners with their SuperSilk project. Feeding silkworms graphene, an allotrope of carbon, the girls were able to create strong, natural silk to construct low-cost water purification filters.

After the competition Alyssa and Audrey were ecstatic about their win.

“It’s been such a journey,” Audrey said in a statement. “It’s been a long day. It’s been a long year really because we started this in September, and now that we got this far I can’t believe it.”

Audrey said that both of their grandfathers had experience working with silkworms — hers in China and Alyssa’s in Iran.

The girls said it’s important for young people to get involved in creating green solutions. Alyssa said the sooner such solutions are applied the more people can do to protect the future of the planet to prevent “devastation and destruction.”

Loren Skeist, president of Spellman High Voltage Electronics, back row right, and finalists in the July 14 Clean Tech Contest. Photo from Corbett Public Relations

“Right now the world needs more environmentally friendly options considering that there’s a lot of pollution and water levels rising,” Alyssa said.

Loren Skeist, president of Spellman High Voltage Electronics, a Hauppauge-based company that sponsored the event, said in a statement the company became involved because the competition touches on important issues and topics that are of interest to the business, plus other aspects were attractive to them.

“The manner in which it’s done both in terms of focusing on practical applications that can have a meaningful impact on one of the central issues of our time, and working as teams and then providing the contestants with an opportunity to interact with teams and high schools from other areas around the world, it’s just a wonderful concept,” he said.

Skeist was not a judge at the event, which he said enabled him to interact with the teams more so than the judges were able to. He said he appreciated the students’ enthusiasm, energy and creativity, and the winners’ concept was extraordinary. He said he hoped the competition will encourage the contestants to continue with innovative green projects and support similar activities by others. 

“I learned from their presentations,” he said. “And it gets me excited about the opportunities to use technology to address important issues. They made me maybe more aware of issues that I hadn’t even been fully aware of [before], and some that I had been aware of but was not aware that there was this kind of approach to solve.”

Ray Ann Havasy, director of the Center for Science Teaching and Learning of Rockville Centre and Long Island administrator of the competition, said all the team members possessed creativity, which she said most people don’t realize is a big part of science. She said she was pleased with this year’s venue.

“This place has such a reputation for science and technology,” she said in a statement about Stony Brook.

The administrator of the competition said she was impressed by the winners’ enthusiasm.

“Something simple as silk combined with something that we know of graphene — I think how excited they were that something so common can become something so great,” she said.

Havasy said she hoped students such as the ones involved in the competition will inspire other young people to become involved in STEM education and work on green projects.

“The earth is changing and we need to save it,” she said. “I hate to sound pessimistic but if we don’t believe we can save it, it’s going to keep going the way it is.”

Elizabeth Boon, back row, center, with graduate students from her lab at Stony Brook University. Photo from Elizabeth Boon

By Daniel Dunaief

It was in the back of Elizabeth Boon’s mind for the last decade. How, she wondered, could the switch that is so critical to life not be there and yet still allow for normal functioning? She suspected that there had to be another switch, so the associate professor in the Department of Chemistry at Stony Brook University, spent the last five years looking for it.

Sure enough, she and graduate students including Sajjad Hossain, found it.

Bacteria, like so many other living creatures, need to have a way of detecting nitric oxide gas. At a high enough concentration, this gas can kill them and, indeed, can kill other living creatures as well, including humans.

Nitric oxide is “toxic to any organism at a high enough concentration,” Boon said. “Most organisms have ways of detecting high concentrations … to avoid toxic consequences.” Other research had found a way other bacteria detect this toxic gas through a system called H-NOX, for heme nitric oxide/ oxygen binding protein.

When bacteria live together in colonies called biofilms, many of them typically rely on a signal about the presence of nitric oxide from the H-NOX protein. And yet, some bacteria survived without this seemingly critical protein. “We and others have shown that H-NOX detection of nitric oxide allows bacteria to regulate biofilm formation,” Boon explained.

Elizabeth Boon with her family, from left, Sheridan, 3, Cannon, 7, Beckett, 1, with her husband Isaac Carrico, who is also an Associate Professor in the Chemistry Department at Stony Brook University. Photo by Alfreda James

Named the nitric oxide sensing protein, or NosP, Boon and her team discovered this alternative signaling system that has some of the same functional group as the original mechanism. When activated in one bacteria, the Pseudomonas aeruginosa, this signaling mechanism causes biofilm bacteria to react in the same way as they would when an H-NOX system was alerted, by breaking up the colony into individuals. Using a flagella, an individual bacteria can move to try to escape from an environment containing the toxic gas.

Nicole Sampson, a professor of chemistry at Stony Brook University, suggested that this work was groundbreaking. While some biofilms are benign or even beneficial to humans, including a biofilm in the human gut, many of them, including those involved in hospital-borne infections, can cause illness or exacerbate diseases, particularly for people who are immunocompromised. Bacteria in biofilm are difficult to eradicate through drugs or antibiotics. When they are separated into individuals, however, they don’t have the same rigid defenses.

“They are resistant to most forms of treatment” when they are in biofilms, Boon said. “If we could get the bacteria to disperse, it’d be much easier to kill them. One of the hopes is that we could develop some sort of molecule that might loosen up the film and then we could come in with an antibiotic and kill the bacteria.”

Boon and her team published their results on the cover of the magazine ACS Infectious Disease, where they presented evidence of what they describe as a novel nitric oxide response pathway that regulates biofilm in the bacteria P. aeruginosa, which lack the H-NOX gene. The day the lab discovered this other protein, they celebrated with a trip for frozen yogurt at Sweet Frog.

In an email, Sampson said that finding the mechanism through which bacteria responds to nitric oxide “is important for developing therapies that target biofilms.”

While Boon is pleased that her lab found an alternative nitric oxide signaling system that answered a long-standing question about how some bacteria could respond to an environmental signal that suggested a threat to the biofilm, she said the answer to the question, as so many others do in the world of science, has led to numerous other questions.

For starters, the lab doesn’t yet know the structure of the NosP. “Not all proteins are immediately willing to crystallize,” Boon said. “We’re hopeful we’ll have a structure soon.” She knows it has a heme group, which includes an iron ion in the middle of an organic compound. That’s where the nitric oxide binds.

“We’d like to have the structure to piece together how that signal is relayed out to the end of the protein and how that gets transferred to other proteins that cause changes in behavior,” she said. The NosP is longer than the H-NOX protein, although they appear to have the same function.

Boon has also found that some bacteria have both the H-NOX and the NosP, which raises questions about why there might be an apparent redundancy. In organisms that have both proteins, it’s tempting to conclude that these bacteria live in a broader range of environments, which might suggest that the two systems react to the gas under different conditions. At this point, however, it’s too early to conclude that the additional sensing system developed to enable the bacteria to respond in a wider range of conditions.

Boon believes the nitric oxide system could be a master regulator of bacterial biofilms. “Detecting nitric oxide might be one of the first things that happen” to protect a bacteria, she said. The reason for that is that bacteria, like humans, use iron proteins in respiration. If those proteins are blocked by nitric oxide, any organism could suffocate.

Boon believes a multistep therapeutic approach might work down the road. She believes breaking up the biofilm would be an important first step in making the bacteria vulnerable to attack by antibiotics. She and her graduate students work with bacteria in the lab that generally only cause human disease in people who are already immunocompromised. Even so, her staff takes safety precautions, including working in a hood and wearing protective equipment.

Boon and her husband Isaac Carrico, who is an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry at Stony Brook University, have a 7-year-old son Cannon, a 3-year-old daughter Sheridan and a 1-year-old son Beckett. Boon said she and her husband are equal partners in raising their three children.

In her work, Boon is excited by the possibility of addressing new questions in this nitric oxide mechanism. “We’re trying to cover as much ground as fast as possible,” she said.

Joseph Wilko. Photo from SCPD

A 25-year-old man from Medford was arrested at his home July 13 for his alleged involvement in a May 15 burglary in Port Jefferson and a June 27 burglary in Coram, the second of which resulted in a victim being shot multiple times, according to the Suffolk County Police Department. Following an investigation, 6th Squad detectives located the man, Joseph Wilko, at his home in Medford and placed him under arrest at about 4:30 p.m. Thursday.

The first burglary occurred at an occupied home on Sheep Pasture Road in Port Jeff May 15 just before midnight. Three men entered the home, assaulted the homeowner, and stole money and a pickup truck, police said. The homeowner, a male, was transported to Stony Brook University Hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries.

During the second burglary, a 24-year-old man was shot multiple times inside the victim’s apartment, located on Kiowa Court in Coram, at about 10 p.m. June 27. The victim was taken to Stony Brook University Hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries.

Wilko was charged with two counts of first-degree burglary, first-degree assault and second-degree assault.

The investigation is ongoing. The 6th Squad is seeking the public’s help in finding additional suspects in connection with the burglaries. Anyone with information about this crime is asked to call the 6th Squad at (631) 854-8652 or anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS. All calls will be kept confidential.

Wilko was held at the 6th Precinct and was scheduled to be arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip, July 14. Attorney information for Wilko was not immediately available.

Stony Brook University's Student Activities Center

By Lu-Ann Kozlowski

Lu-Ann Kozlowski

As one of the premier research institutions in New York, Stony Brook University conducts clinical studies to advance our understanding of the prevention, diagnosis and possible roads to cures of all types of diseases. Every day, researchers at Stony Brook are going far beyond in their efforts to find answers to questions that face not only our own community but those around the globe.

At Stony Brook, major discoveries have been made that change the landscape of medicine thanks to the dedication of researchers willing to embark on new endeavors for the betterment of humankind. However, progress cannot be accomplished by a study team alone. Our research needs volunteers to help us answer the questions that advance medicine.

One of the leading reasons for the failure of a study is the lack of volunteer participation. There simply is no substitute for people willing to step up and get involved as research participants. Stony Brook understands this and has made great strides in reaching out and educating our community about this very important issue.

To educate the community about opportunities available in research and the importance of getting involved, we post on social media, attend health and wellness fairs and head a weekly informational kiosk in the lobby of our University Hospital. Stony Brook also maintains a website that assists individuals who would like to take the next step and volunteer and lists studies that are currently available.

Further, the university has hired a research subject advocate, an expert in research volunteer rights who is able to facilitate communication between patients and researchers, discuss questions or concerns with a volunteer and assist researchers in understanding and complying with the rules that ensure safe and ethical research.

In addition, Stony Brook has aligned with ResearchMatch, a national volunteer registry that connects people who want to participate in clinical studies with researchers who are seeking volunteers. This free Web-based service has one mission: to help to ensure the success of clinical research today, so that we can make a difference in the health of the future.

Deciding to participate in research is an important and personal decision. If you would like to learn more about participating or want to sign up for the ResearchMatch Registry, visit Stony Brook’s Volunteering in Research website at www.research.stonybrook.edu/volunteer or contact our research subject advocate at 631-632-9036. Medical breakthroughs cannot happen without you. Together, discovery is possible.

Lu-Ann Kozlowski is a Human Research Protection Program administrator and research participant advocate at Stony Brook University.

Demonstrators, above, at the May 10 March for Humanities at Stony Brook University protested potential cuts to humanities programs. Photo by Caroline Parker

Despite protests from students and faculty members, which included a March for Humanities rally May 10, the administration of Stony Brook University has decided to move ahead with the consolidation of departments in the College of Arts and Sciences.

In a June 22 email from Sacha Kopp, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, the announcement was made the school will create a new Department of Comparative World Literature by combining the current departments of European Languages; Literatures & Cultures; Cultural Studies & Comparative Literature and Hispanic Languages & Literature.

“This newly combined department will draw upon faculty strengths in literature, culture and language across the college and reinforce Stony Brook’s position as a global institution,” he said in the email.

Kopp said undergraduate majors and minors in Spanish, French, Italian and German as well as a minor in Russian and master’s degree programs in language teaching would all be contained within the new department. The university will also continue to offer the graduate degree program in Hispanic languages and literature.

Other changes include the suspension of admissions into the undergraduate degree programs in theatre arts; comparative literature; cinema and cultural studies and into the graduate degree programs in cultural studies and comparative literature.

“While suspending admissions into programs is an extremely difficult decision, it is important to recognize that if constrained resources were spread over a growing number of programs, all of our programs would be weakened,” Kopp said. “That said we are building resources in key departments that have demonstrated academic and scholarly excellence.”

Port Jefferson resident Naomi Solo, whose husband Richard was part of the university faculty for five decades, said she was disappointed in the news, especially when it came to the suspension of admissions to the theatre arts program as she remembers the political theater of the 1960s and 70s.

“[The theatre arts program] is something that’s not a big money maker but makes a fuller university,” Solo said.

Kopp said that the university has planned no course changes for the 2017-18 academic year and students enrolled as of May 1 in the upcoming suspended programs will be able to complete their studies.

“For the fewer than 100 students who are currently enrolled in the degree programs into which new admissions are being suspended, every one of these students will have the opportunity to complete their programs, and we will honor existing commitments to graduate students for teaching assistantships,” he said.

According to a Frequently Asked Questions section created by the university on their website regarding the changes, the institution is making every effort to limit the impact to faculty and staff. The university is planning to reassign most; however, “some term appointments may not be renewed.” Administrators are also exploring other elements as part of a process to address the university’s “overarching budgetary challenges. According to the FAQ, “when put into practice we anticipate savings in excess of $1 million.”

Kopp said the changes occurred after discussions with faculty leadership, members of the university administration, the provost, the graduate school and the university senate.

Jordan Helin, a Ph.D. candidate in history and a department mobilizer in the history department for the Graduate Student Employees Union, participated in the May rally that the GSEU organized. Helin in an email said he wasn’t surprised by the announcement, and he sees no reason for the GSEU to give up on opposing the plan.

“A decision made is a decision that can be unmade,” he said. “Up until now, the administration has gotten by on waving off criticism because they are just floating ideas and nothing has been decided. Now that they have decided, they can be attacked with more specificity.”

Caroline Parker, who just completed her sophomore year and participated in the May rally, said in an email the combining of departments “flies in the face of the ‘commitment to diversity’ Stony Brook likes to uphold.”

“It’s true that these programs are small in numbers, but the critical thinking skills, cross-cultural exploration, creative expression and research taught therein are immeasurable for their far-reaching implications beyond borders and disciplines,” she said.

Parker said she is concerned about the future of the college.

“A true university cannot exist without humanities,” she said. “While people will be able to finish their degrees in the suspended programs, I fear the loss is a slippery slope and shows Stony Brook has lost sight of its mission, which will certainly affect future prospective students and the richness of our campus now.”

SBU graduate student and grand niece of world renowned anthropologist Richard Leakey, Acacia Leakey, draws a sketch of huts in the village of Ambodiaviavy, Madagascar as the children look on. Photo from Mickie Nagel

By Daniel Dunaief

 

Mickie Nagel recently returned from the island nation of Madagascar, and she’s filled with ideas, inspiration, observations and opportunities. One of the three founders of a new nongovernmental organization called BeLocal, the Laurel Hollow resident spent several weeks with Stony Brook University graduate students Leila Esmailzada and Acacia Leakey taking videos and gathering information about life in Madagascar.

The goal of the new organization is to share this footage and insight with undergraduate engineers at SBU, who might come up with innovations that could enhance the quality of life for the Malagasy people.

In one village, a man showed her a three-inch lump on his shoulder, which he got by dragging a long stick with bunches of bananas that weigh over 100 pounds along a clay footpath out of the forest. People also carry rice that weighs over 150 pounds on their heads, while many others haul buckets of water from rivers and streams to their homes while walking barefoot.

In addition to transportation, Nagel also found that villagers around Centre ValBio, a Stony Brook research station, had basic food and water needs. Over 17 years ago, another group had installed four water pumps in a village to provide access to water. Only one pump now works.

SBU graduate student Leila Esmailzada helps villagers in Ambodiaviavy, Madagascar, clean rice. The job is usually delegated to the children who pound the rice for 30 minutes. Photo by Mickie Nagel

As for food, some villagers in Madagascar spend hours preparing rice, including beating off the husks and drying the rice. They store this hard-earned food in huts that are often infiltrated with rats, who consume their rice and leave their feces, which spreads disease.

Traveling with Esmailzada and Leakey, Nagel not only helped document life in these villages but also searched for information about available resources to drive engineering innovations, while Leakey gathered information about an invasive species of guava.

“Ideally, if any projects require wood, then they should incorporate guava sticks into their design, as opposed to planks from forest trees,” explained Leakey in an email sent from Madagascar. The graduate student, who recently earned her bachelor’s degree at Stony Brook, will be recording the average thickness of the stems, the average length of a straight piece and the load capacity of the branches. Leakey plans to return from the African continent in the beginning of August.

Leakey also visited metalworkers to explore the local capacity. The raw materials come from scrap metal dealers, who often get them from old car parts.

Nagel started BeLocal with her husband Jeff Nagel and a classmate of his from their days as undergraduates at Carnegie Mellon University, Eric Bergerson. Indeed, BeLocal fulfills a long-standing goal of Jeff Nagel’s. Before freshman year in college, Nagel told Bergerson that he wanted to do something that had a positive impact on the world.

While the founders have contributed through their work, their jobs and their families, they found that partnering with Stony Brook University and Distinguished Professor Patricia Wright in Madagascar presented a chance to have a meaningful impact on life on the island nation.

Nagel, whose background is in marketing, visited Madagascar over two years ago, where she traveled for over a hundred hours on a bus through the country. “You just see people living below the poverty line and you see how that plays out in normal day-to-day activities,” she said. “You see a young mom carrying a child on her back and one on her front, with heavy produce on her head and you just think, ‘Wow, there has to be an easier way for some of this.’”

Mickie Nagel, far right, on an earlier trip to Central ValBio with her daughters Gabrielle, far left, and Lauren, center. when they first visited Centre ValBio. Photo by Heidi Hutner

When Nagel returned from her initial trip to Madagascar with her daughters Gabrielle, 18, and Lauren, 17, she and her husband thought people around the world would likely want to help but that not everyone could afford to travel that far.

Nagel recalls Bergerson, who is the director of research at the social data intelligence company Tickertags, telling her that they “don’t have to travel there. You can videotape the daily challenges and crowd source” innovations.

That’s exactly what Leakey and Esmailzada did for the last few weeks. Leakey said she is looking forward to working with senior design students as they go through their projects at Stony Brook and is eager to see how they understand the situation “through the footage and pictures we collect.”

The BeLocal approach isn’t limited to Madagascar, the BeLocal founders suggested. Indeed, given the distance to an island famous for its lemurs, animated movies and an Imax film that features primates with personality, BeLocal could have started in a Central American country like Belize.

Mickie Nagel, however, urged them to start at a location where they would immediately have the trust of local residents. That, she suggested, came from the over quarter of a century of work from Wright, an award-winning scientist who has not only helped preserve Ranomafana [National Park in Madagascar] but has also helped bring health care and education to the villages around the CVB research station. Wright and the Malagasy people have a “mutual respect for each other,” Nagel said.

“People have been exceptionally warm and welcoming,” Leakey said. Getting people accustomed to the presence of cameras hasn’t been straightforward, as people sometimes stop what they are doing, but the guides have helped make the villagers more comfortable.

Jeff Nagel, who works at a private equity firm in New York City, explained that Madagascar is the first step for BeLocal. This effort “can be expanded to other countries or other areas,” Nagel said. “It doesn’t have to be engineers and universities,” but can be instituted by creative people everywhere.

At this point, BeLocal is not looking for any additional funding but might consider expanding the effort at this time next year. Nagel said this fall, they will look for professional engineers to advise on projects. “We would like people who are interested in participating or just keeping up with developments to come and register on our website, www.BeLocalgrp.com,” she suggested.

The site, which the group is upgrading, is up and running. Bergerson explained that they have a “lot of infrastructure to build on” to create the crowd sourcing platform.

Jeff Nagel suggested that this effort is designed to use technology constructively. “Technology’s job, first and foremost, is to help humanity,” he said. “This is a chance to use it in a way that matters to people.”

Staff members of WUSB-FM Radio gather in the Media Suite in the Student Activity Center at Stony Brook University for a photo. Image courtesy of WUSB

By Norman Prusslin

Long Island radio listeners scanning the FM dial 40 years ago this coming Tuesday were surprised to hear musical stirrings on the 90.1 frequency that had previously offered static or sounds of distant stations. It was on Monday, June 27, 1977, at 5:30 p.m. that the Stony Brook University radio station joined the community of Long Island radio stations. I had the honor of coordinating the team that brought the station to the air that day and then went on to serve as the station’s general manager for 28 years.

Norman Prusslin

Looking back on that first day of broadcasting, it is fascinating to think about how much the media landscape has changed over the past 40 years.  In 1977, FM radio audience listening was just about ready to overtake the decades-old primacy of AM radio. Cable television on Long Island was in its formative years … CNN and MTV were still three and four years away, respectively. Music-oriented radio stations played vinyl on turntables while public service announcements aired on tape cartridges, and long-form public affairs programming was recorded on cassette and reel-to-reel audiotape.

How times have changed!

Through the compact disc and personal computer revolutions of the early 1980s to the web, streaming and digital download innovations of the 1990s to today’s multiple music distribution systems, WUSB has been at the forefront of marrying new technology with public service mission and responsibility.

The station was put to the test and earned its community service stripes eight months after sign on. Longtime North Shore residents will remember the crippling ice and snowstorms of February 1978. The Stony Brook campus was closed for a week. This was a time before wide cellphone use and way before the internet brought information to us, at a moment’s notice, anytime and anywhere.

WUSB was the main outlet in our area for getting critical safety information out to the community. Students and community volunteers slept in the studio to make sure the station provided a 24-hour service.

It was a crash course in local, person-to-person community radio programming. A lesson plan that has been used by the hundreds of student, staff, faculty, alumni and community volunteers who have sat in the on-air chair for 40 years.

Students covered the Shoreham nuclear power plant protests of the late 1970s live from the site. A radio play, “Shadow Over Long Island,” followed the template of “War of the Worlds” in focusing attention on the issue of nuclear power on Long Island while at the same time giving students a history lesson in producing “old time radio drama.”

WUSB received national attention (Time magazine and NBC News) when student staff produced and hosted the 1984 Alternative Presidential Convention on campus. While the two major party candidates, incumbent President Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale did not attend, over 30 “legally qualified candidates” did providing the campus and local community with a day-long “teach in” of debate, conversation and organizing.

In the music industry, the late 1970s have been recognized as the time when the influence of college radio stations to introduce new and developing genres to radio listeners took hold. In the years before music video, satellite radio, Facebook, YouTube, iTunes, Pandora and Spotify, college radio was THE broadcast outpost for new music.

WUSB was the Long Island radio home for artists of all musical stripes. The music of major label and independent artists from the worlds of rock, folk, blues, classical, hip-hop, dance, traditional and more was being heard, often for the first time, by Long Islanders over 90.1 FM.

I am perhaps most proud of the role WUSB has had in developing an active local music scene and community. From hosting the first Long Island Contemporary Music Conference in the early 1980s to developing collaborative partnerships with area nonprofit music and arts organizations and concert clubs and venues of all sizes, WUSB’s status as a key player in the Long Island music community has brought recognition and honors to the university. It is therefore no surprise that the first meetings that led to the creation of the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2003 were held on campus.

This coming week, we celebrate 40 years of 24 hours/day noncommercial radio programming created by a volunteer staff of students, faculty, alumni and community members varied in background and political persuasion and perspective. It’s a time to recognize volunteers coming together for the common mission and purpose of presenting intelligent and thought-provoking dialogue, music from all corners of the globe and campus-focused programming via live sports coverage, academic colloquia and event announcements and coverage.

Now is no time to rest on past laurels. Earlier this year, the station moved into new studios in the West Side Dining Complex and added a second broadcast signal at 107.3 FM to better increase service coverage to North Shore communities.  On June 27, 1977, at 5:30 p.m., founding members of the WUSB station staff coined the expression “….the experiment continues.”

40 years on, it still does!

Norman Prusslin is director of the media arts minor at Stony Brook University. He is WUSB-FM’s founding general manager serving in that position until 2006 and continues his association with the station as its faculty adviser.

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