Authors Posts by Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief


METRO photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

We are on the precipice of a few social evenings. As such, I have prepared the internal and external dialog of one such potential interaction. Yes, some of it reflects my performance in previous gatherings, while other elements are exaggerated versions of what may happen. And away we go:

“Hi Pat, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Dan.”

“Good to meet you, too, Dan.”

Ow, did you have to squeeze my hand that hard? Were you trying to prove something? I get it. You’re bigger and stronger than I am. You probably lift weights and stare at yourself in the mirror at the gym while you listen to Annie’s “Tomorrow.” No, I know you don’t listen to Annie. At least, not in public..

Not that you asked, but I like to sweat in the gym, too. I use the elliptical machine, the bike and the treadmill. 

“So, did Maria tell you about me?”

Wait, who’s Maria? Oh, right, your wife, the woman standing next to you. She’s the reason we’re here. Our wives worked together a few years ago and now the four of us are going out to dinner.

Pat is talking about how great he is at bowling.

He wants me to smile, so I’m smiling, but I’m not sure what he said. Maybe it was self deprecating? Nope, doesn’t seem likely. He’s talking about how much his average has gone up since he joined the Thursday night league.

“Good for you,” I say.

He nods appreciatively. Whew! I said the right thing. Go me! 

Oh, cool, now he’s talking about how great his son is at tennis. I’m picturing myself scuba diving. I’m looking at him, but I’m imaging fish around me, the warm water, and the bubbles that expand as they head to the surface. Nice! Life is good down here. Oh, wait, he just touched my shoulder. He wants me to say something. Staring into space isn’t enough.

“You know what I’m saying?” he asked.

I’m sorry, no. I don’t know, but I’m going to nod and hope that’s enough. Nope, clearly not.

“Tell me more about your son,” I say.

That’s enough. He’s off to the races with another story about some incredible app his son is working on that already has over 1,000 subscribers. My wife seems to be enjoying Maria’s company. Wait, no, she wrinkled her eyes subtly at me. Uh oh! She knows I’m not paying attention to John. No, that’s not his name. It begins with a P. No, hold on. I’ll get it. It’s Paul.

“So, Dan,” she says, “did Pat tell you about their plans to go to Alaska this summer?”

Pat! Duh. How easy was that? I would have gotten it eventually. No, I wouldn’t. Who am I kidding? 

I’m going to focus closely on his story. He’s talking about how much he enjoys vacations. I like vacations.

“Alaska was pretty amazing,” I say, hoping I shared the right sentiment. “We saw whales, drove a dog sled, and ate fresh fish.”

He’s always wanted to go to Alaska. He can’t wait to see the wide open terrain. He wonders whether it’ll be the same 500 years from now.

Assuming the Earth is still here and is habitable, what will humans be talking about and thinking about in 500 years? Will a potentially longer life span mean that future humans will be more patient? Will they think about what our life was like today? They’re as likely to think about us as we are to think about the people who shared the world of 1523.

The evening is almost over. We pay the check and talk about how wonderful it is to to go out together.

“Yes, we should do this again some time,” I say as we head towards the car. Maria and my wife give each other a professional hug – not too long and not too close – while Pat and I share a manly handshake. Pat seems to appreciate the firmer grip.

“Something wrong with your hand?” my wife asks as we walk towards the car.

“Nope, all good,” I say, as I try to bring the circulation back to my fingers.

A Jamaican fruit bat, one of two bat species Scheben studied as a part of his comparative genomic work. Photo by Brock & Sherri Fenton

By Daniel Dunaief

Popular in late October as Halloween props and the answer to trivia questions about the only flying mammals, bats may also provide clues about something far more significant.

Despite their long lives and a lifestyle that includes living in close social groups, bats tend to be resistant to viruses and cancer, which is a disease that can and does affect other mammals with a longer life span.

Armin Scheben

In recent work published in the journal Genome Biology and Evolution, scientists including postdoctoral researcher at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and first author Armin Scheben, CSHL Professor and Chair of the Simons Center for Quantitative Biology Adam Siepel, and CSHL Professor W. Richard McCombie explored the genetics of the Jamaican fruit bat and the Mesoamerican mustached bat.

By comparing the complete genomes for these bats and 13 others to other mammals, including mice, dogs, horses, pigs and humans, these scientists discovered key differences in several genes.

The lower copy number of interferon alpha and higher number of interferon omega, which are inflammatory protein-coding genes, may explain a bat’s resistance to viruses. As for cancer, they discovered that bat genomes have six DNA repair and 33 tumor suppressor genes that show signs of genetic changes.

These differences offer potential future targets for research and, down the road, therapeutic work.

“In the case of bats, we were really interested in the immune system and cancer resistance traits,” said Scheben. “We lined up those genomes with other mammals that didn’t have these traits” to compare them.

Scheben described the work as a “jumping off point for experimental validation that can test whether what we think is true: that having more omega than alpha will develop a more potent anti-viral response.”

Follow up studies

This study provides valuable potential targets that could help explain a bat’s immunological superpowers that will require further studies.

“This work gives us strong hints as to which genes are involved, but fully understanding the molecular biology will require more work” explained Siepel.

In Siepel’s lab, where Scheben has been conducting his postdoctoral research since 2019, he is using human cell lines to see whether adding genetic bat elements makes them more effective in fighting off viral infections and cancer. He plans to do more of this work with mice, testing whether these bat variants help convey the same advantages in live mice.

Armin Scheben won the German Academic International Network Science Slam competition with his presentation on bat genomics.

Siepel and Scheben have discussed improving the comparative analysis by collecting information across bats and other mammals of tissue-specific gene expression and epigenetic marks which would help reveal changes not only in the content of DNA, but also in how genes are being turned on and off in different cell types and tissues. That could allow them to focus more directly on key genes to test in mice or other systems.

Scheben has been collaborating with CSHL Professor Alea Mills, whose lab has “excellent capabilities for doing genome editing in mice,” Scheben said.

Scheben’s PhD thesis advisor at the University of Western Australia, Dave Edwards described his former lab member’s work as “exciting.”

Edwards, who is Director of the UWA Centre for Applied Bioinformatics in the School of Biological Sciences, suggested that Scheben stood out for his “ability to strike up successful collaborations” as well as his willingness to mentor other trainees.

Other possible explanations

While these genetic differences could reveal a molecular biological mechanism that explains the bat’s enviable ability to stave off infections and cancer, researchers have proposed other ways the bat might have developed these virus and cancer fighting assets.

When a bat flies, it raises its body temperature. Viruses likely prefer a normal body temperature to operate optimally. 

Bats are “getting fevers without getting infections,” Scheben said.

Additionally, flight increases the creation of reactive oxygen species, which the bat needs to control on an ongoing basis.

At the same time, bats produce fewer inflammatory cytokines, which helps prevent them from having a runaway immune reaction. Some researchers have hypothesized that bats clear reactive oxygen species more effectively than humans.

A ‘eureka’ moment

The process of puzzling together all the pieces of DNA into individual chromosomes took considerable time and effort.

A Mesoamerican mustached bat, one of two bat species Scheben studied as a part of his comparative genomic work. Photo by Brock & Sherri Fenton

Scheben spent over 280,000 CPU hours chewing through thousands of genes in dozens of species on the CSHL supercomputer called Elzar, named for the chef from the cartoon “Futurama.” Such an effort would have taken eight years on a modern day personal computer.

During this effort, Scheben saw this “stark effect,” he said. “We had known that bats had lost some interferon alpha. What astounded me was that some bats had lost all alpha” while they had also raised interferon omega. That was the moment when he realized he found something novel and bat specific.

Scheben recognized that this finding could be one of many that lead to a better understanding of the processes that lead to cancer.

“We know that it’s unlikely that a single set of genes or a small set of genes such as we identified can fully explain the diversity of outcomes when it comes to a complex disease like cancer,” said Scheben.

A long journey

A resident of Northport, Scheben grew up in Frankfurt, Germany. He moved to London for several years, which explains his use of words like “chuffed” to describe the excitement he felt when he received a postdoctoral research offer at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

When he was young, Scheben was interested in science despite the fact that classes were challenging for him.

“I was pretty poor in math and biology, but I liked doing it,” he said.

Outside of work, Scheben enjoys baking dense, whole wheat German-style bread, which he consumes with cheese or with apple, pear and nuts, and also hiking.

As for his work, which includes collaborating with CSHL Professor Rob Martienssen to study the genomes of plants like maize that make them resilient amid challenging environmental conditions, Scheben suggested it was the “best time to be alive and be a biologist” because of the combination of new data and the computational ability to study and analyze it.

Scheben recognized that graduate students in the future may scoff at this study, as they might be able to compare a wider range of mammalian genomes in a shorter amount of time.

Such a study could include mammals like naked mole rats, whales and elephants, which also have low cancer incidence and long lifespans.

METRO photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

My wife and I used to say “the recording is always on.”

It was our code words to each other to be careful about what we said and did in front of our children, particularly when, as many parents know, we might not want our children to act or speak in the same way we might be tempted to in the moment.

Our children have an incredible ability to monitor everything we do, even when they don’t appear to be paying any attention to us. Sometimes, they actively choose the opposite because our choices annoyed or frustrated them.

If, as many of us say and believe, we want our children to be better than we are, we wish them well, wait and watch, hoping their happiness, success and achievements far exceed our own.

Perhaps such reaction formation is what brings grandparents and grandchildren together, causing various characteristics to skip a generation, as two opposites create the same.

Aside from things like weekly routines, an emphasis (or not) on achievements like community service, or performance in sports or music, parents recognize that we are role models.

In the movie “42” about trailblazer Jackie Robinson, the first African-American man to play in Major League Baseball, a father shouts racial epithets at Robinson, leading his conflicted son to ponder how to behave. The son echoes what his father shouts.

In that moment, Peewee Reese puts his arm around Robinson, offering his public support and quieting the hostile crowd. Reese even suggests, as a nod to the realities of today, that “Maybe tomorrow we’ll all wear number 42. That way they won’t tell us apart.”

Films are great, but we don’t live in a world where supportive music and smiling heroes remind us who we are or how we should act.

It’s up to us to decide how to be better for ourselves and for our children.

A friend recently shared a story about his daughter. A college student, she was working at an ice cream store during a fall break. A few customers came in and a man in the group asked her where she attended college.

When she told him, the man suggested that there were Muslims who attended that college and it would be easy enough to take a few of them behind the shed and get rid of them.

The man who made a joke about murder at a time of violent conflict in the Middle East and ongoing and hostile disagreements among Americans probably wasn’t thinking about his children, about my friend’s daughter, or anyone else.

Maybe he was repeating the words his father or mother said at the dinner table, after an evening of drinking or within minutes of leaving a house of worship.

Is that the person he wants to be? Is that what he would encourage his own children to believe, that people who practice other religions or have other beliefs are somehow such enemies that it’s okay to make such a comment?

We have to be better than that. Maybe the guy didn’t mean it, but even saying it suggests that he not only thought it, but that he also likely shared that idea in some context in front of his children.

Killing and hatred won’t end if we don’t hold ourselves accountable for our actions and words.

We identify ourselves in particular ways, by such factors as nationality, religion, race, among many other labels.

Those identifiers, many of which we didn’t choose but are an accident of our birth, mean that others around us are on the outside, associating with a different group.

We owe it to our children to imagine and create a better world. That starts by serving as role models and not as reflexive perpetuators of anger, hatred, or prejudice towards those we consider others.

With the world echoing the conditions from the 20th century, we should speak and act in ways that bring people together and that would make us proud if and when we heard our children making those same, or perhaps better, remarks.

Joseph Pierce, associate professor in the Department of Hispanic Languages and Literature and the inaugural director of Stony Brook University’s Native American and Indigenous Studies program. Photo courtesy Stony Brook University

Stony Brook University named Joseph Pierce, associate professor in the Department of Hispanic Languages and Literature, the inaugural director of a Native American and Indigenous Studies effort as the university plans to hire three new faculty in this nascent undertaking.

Next year, the southern flagship school of the State University of New York plans to add staff in the English Department, Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies and Anthropology.

“I have been eager for this to start,” said Pierce, a member of the Cherokee Nation who has been at the university for a decade. “We have so much to contribute to broader discussions that are happening around the world. The university is better by including Native American studies.”

Andrew Newman, professor and chair of the Department of English at SBU. Photo courtesy Stony Brook University

Andrew Newman, professor and current chair of the Department of English, who is also chair of a committee advising Axel Drees, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, described Pierce as having a “real national profile,” adding that he was the “right person to be the founding director.”

Starting next fall, students at the university can minor in Native American and Indigenous Studies, where they can study the history, art, social and political interests, languages and cultures of Indigenous peoples.

The focus on Native American Studies will emphasize transdisciplinary topics such as environmental justice and sustainability.

Earlier this year, Stony Brook won a competition to develop Governors Island as a climate solutions center [See story, “SBU will develop $700M climate center on Governors Island,” April 26, TBR News Media].

Indigenous scholars should have a “seat at the table,” said Newman, “as they are globally one of the demographics most impacted by climate change.”

Islands in the Pacific are disappearing, Guam is undergoing “significant environmental degradation,” and fires in the Pacific Northwest and leaking pipelines in the United States and Canada are “disproportionately affecting Indigenous peoples,” Pierce added.

Indigenous groups relate to the land in a way that’s different from others, approaching it as stewards and caretakers, Pierce said.

“We see land as a relative,” he noted. “We’re asking very different questions about what it means to care for a place and to care for the environment and to care for the life that sustains it.”

The New York City government proposed plans for flood relief on the lower East Side of Manhattan in the event of future storms like Hurricane Sandy. The proposals included building massive walls and raising elevated platforms, including clearing thousands of trees.

Numerous indigenous groups objected and protested against such plans, Pierce said.

In an email, Carl Lejuez, Stony Brook University’s provost, suggested that a significant piece of Governors Island is climate justice, so the link between the Governors Island effort and indigenous peoples “fits naturally with the goals of the New York Climate Exchange.”

Axel Drees, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at SBU. Photo courtesy Stony Brook University

Lejuez credited Drees as a “driver of this in collaboration with Professor Pierce.” Lejuez added that his office is “definitely providing support to see it come to fruition.”

The most crucial component in the start of this effort is hiring faculty.

“If we build the core faculty across the university, we can definitely consider expanding research and curriculum opportunities,” Lejuez wrote.

Student interest

Students from the Anthropology Department recently invited Pierce to give a talk about some of his current research.

“It was evident that a lot of them have an interest in working toward understanding humanity, what it means to be human,” he said. They also have an understanding of how anthropology as a discipline has sometimes historically “adopted rather unscientific and proto-eugenic methods” in describing and analyzing Indigenous Peoples.

Students are eager for an alternative perspective on the acquisition and acceptance of knowledge.

Pierce believes students have considerable interest in Native American Studies. His courses about Latin American indigenous populations are full.

“There are numerous students who are interested in Native American and Indigenous studies but don’t quite have a cohesive plan of study that’s available to them,” Pierce said. “This is remedying that disconnection.”

Long Island students grow up in numerous towns and communities with Native American names, such as Sachem, Wyandanch, Montauk and Setauket.

Newman added that the staff hopes the new effort can do some “outreach to local schools and provide professional development with kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers. It would be an important mission for the university to educate Long Island as a whole about Native culture.”

The free event will be held on Oct. 30 at 4 p.m. at Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts, Theater Two, 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook.

By Daniel Dunaief

Want to hear characters from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein discussing artificial intelligence? Or, perhaps, get an inside look at an interaction between a scientist studying penguins and a potential donor? Maybe you’d like something more abstract, like a thought piece on aspects of memory?

You can get all three at an upcoming Science on Stage performance of three one-act plays written by award-winning playwrights that feature the themes of cutting edge research from Stony Brook University.

Ken Weitzman Photo courtesy of SBU

On October 30th at 4 p.m. at Staller Center for the Arts’ Theater Two, which holds up to 130 people, professional actors will read three 10-minute scripts. Directed by Jackson Gay, topics will include research about artificial intelligence, climate change in Antarctica and collective memory. Audience members can then listen to a discussion hosted by Program Founder and Associate Professor of Theater Ken Weitzman that includes the scientists and the playwrights. The event is free and open to the public.

Funded by a grant from the Office of the Provost at Stony Brook University and supported by the College of Arts and Sciences and the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, the performances are an “amuse-bouche,” or an appetizer, about some of the diverse and compelling science that occurs at Stony Brook University, said Weitzman. 

“The hope is that [the plays] generate interest and get people to want to ask the next question or that [the plays] stick with audience members emotionally or intellectually and makes them want to discover more.”

The upcoming performance features the writing of two-time Tony Award winning playwright Greg Kotis, who wrote Urinetown; Michele Lowe, whose first play made it to Broadway and around the world; and Rogelio Martinez, whose plays have been produced around the U.S. and internationally.

The short plays will feature the scientific work of Nilanjan Chakraborty, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering; Heather Lynch, Professor of Ecology and Evolution, and Suparna Rajaram, Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science in the Psychology Department.

“It’s a good example of what we are doing and the opportunities for us as we continue to put funding in the arts and the humanities and also in the intersection of that from an interdisciplinary perspective,” said Carl Lejuez, Stony Brook Provost, in an interview. This kind of collaborative effort works best “when it’s truly bi-directional. Both sides benefit.”

Lejuez credits President Maurie McInnis with setting the tone about the importance of learning the humanities and the sciences. Lejuez said McInnis talks during her convocation speech about how she had intended to become a physician when she attended college, but took an art history course that was part of a general education curriculum that changed her life. The sixth president of Stony Brook, McInnis earned her PhD in the History of Art from Yale University.

Lejuez highlighted a number of interdisciplinary efforts at Stony Brook University. Stephanie Dinkins, Professor in the Department of Art, bridges visual art and Artificial Intelligence. She has focused her work on addressing the shortcomings of AI in understanding and depicting black women.

The Simons Center for Geometry and Physics has an arts and culture program, while the Collaborative for the Earth has faculty from numerous disciplines. They are starting a new Tiger Teams to develop key areas of study and will offer seed funding for interdisciplinary work to tackle climate change.

Lejuez plans to attend Science on Stage on October 30th.

“I feel an almost desperation to learn as much as I can about all the aspects of the university,” he said. Not only is he there to “show respect for the work and give it gravitas, but it’s the only way [he and others] can do [their job] of representing and supporting faculty and staff” in science and the humanities.

An enjoyable experience

The participants in Science on Stage appreciate the opportunity to collaborate outside their typical working world.

Heather Lynch, who conducts research on penguins in Antarctica and worked with Lowe, described the experience as “immensely enjoyable” and suggested that the “arts can help scientists step out of their own comfort zone to think about where their own work fits into society at large.”

Lynch explained that while the specific conversation in the play is fictionalized, the story reflects “my aggregate angst about our Antarctic field work and, in that sense, is probably more literally true than any conversation or interaction with any real life traveling guest.”

Lynch believes the play on her work is thought provoking. “Science is a tool, what matters is what you do” with that science, she said.

Lynch was thrilled to work with someone new and believes Lowe probably learned about Antarctica and the challenges it faces.

Bringing talent together

The first iteration of Science on Stage occurred in 2020 and was available remotely in the midst of the pandemic. Weitzman had reached out to scientists at Stony Brook to see who might be willing to partner up with playwrights.

He  is eager to share the diverse combination of topics in a live setting from this year’s trio of scientists. “I did some nudging to make sure there were a variety” of grand challenge topics, he said.

Weitzman explained that bringing the humanities and arts together in such an effort generated considerable enthusiasm. “There’s such incredible research being done here,” he said. “I want to engage for this community.”

He hopes such a performance can intrigue people at Stony Brook or in the broader community about science, theater writing or science communication.

While the plays are each 10 minutes long and include actors reading scripts, Weitzman said the experience would feel like it’s being performed and not read, particularly because professional actors are participating. 

He also hopes one or more of the playwrights sees this interaction as an opportunity to create a longer piece.

“I would love it if [this experience] encourages a playwright to think it justifies a full length” script, Weitzman said.

Lynch wrote a pilot screenplay herself called “Forecast Horizon” that she describes as an intellectual exercise. If Netflix calls, however, she’s “definitely interested in having it live on,” she said. Writing the screenplay gave her a “better appreciation for how much more similar science is to the arts than I would have thought. Both involve solving puzzles.”

As for future funding, Lejuez suggested that the University was still figuring out how to allocate available funds for next year and in future years.

He would like to see how this first time in person goes. Depending on the interest and enthusiasm, he could envision a regular source of funds to support such future similar collaborations.


Some of the ways SBU combines arts and humanities with science

By Daniel Dunaief

The southern flagship State University of New York facility, Stony Brook University seeks ways to bring the best from the arts and humanities together with science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Provost Carl Lejuez. Photo from SBU

Indeed, the school provides a home for the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, where researchers tap into famed actor Alda’s improvisational acting skills, among other techniques, to connect with their audiences and share their cutting-edge work and discoveries.

In addition to the October 30th Science on Stage production at Staller Theater 2, Provost Carl Lejuez recently highlighted numerous additional interdisciplinary efforts.

This past spring, the Simons Center for Geometry and Physics presented artwork by Professor of Mathematics Moira Chas. Chas created artwork that combines yarn and wire, clot and zippers to illustrate mathematical objects, questions or theorems.

The Office of the Provost has also provided several grants to support interdisciplinary work. This includes two $25,000 grants that promote the development of new research teams to explore interdisciplinary areas of scholarly work and address challenges such as Digital Futures/ Ethical Artificial Intelligence, Sustainability, Critical health Studies/ Health Disparities, Global Migration, and other areas.

Additionally, the Collaborative for the Earth brings together faculty from the arts, humanities and social sciences with behavioral science and STEM faculty. The university is starting a new Tiger Teams that will develop key areas of study and offer seed funding to tackle climate change. The funding will explore ways to create solutions that policy makers and the public can adopt, as well as ways to address disparities in the impact of climate change and ways to support people who are disproportionately affected by this threat.

SBU added interdisciplinary faculty. Susannah Glickman, Assistant Professor in the Department of History, has interests such as computing, political economy, 20th century US and world history and the history of science.

Matthew Salzano, IDEA Fellow in Ethical AI, Information Systems and Data Science and Literacy, meanwhile, has a joint appointment with the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Communication. He studies rhetoric and digital culture, emphasizing how digital technology, including artificial intelligence, impacts and interacts with social justice.

Through course work, members of the university community can also address interdisciplinary questions. Associate Professor in the Department of Art Karen Lloyd teaches an Art and Medicine course, while  Adjunct Lecturer Patricia Maudies, also in the Art Department, teaches Art + The Brain. Both of these courses bring in guest lecturers from STEM and medicine.

Stony Brook also hosts centers aimed at interdisciplinary research, such as the Institute for Advanced Computational Science (IACS).

One of the current goals and objectives of the IACS strategic plan is to advance the intellectual foundations of computation and data, with high-impact applications in engineering, in the physical, environmental, life, health and social sciences, and in the arts and humanities.

President Barack Obama said he wanted even more funding for treatment. File photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Years before he was the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama gave me a call.

I was working at Bloomberg News as a banking reporter and was covering some financial services issue. A source of mine suggested that I chat with this state senator from Illinois, whom he insisted was going places. My source clearly recognized Obama’s potential.

What I recall about a conversation that was akin to getting a rookie card for Derek Jeter was that Obama was erudite, eloquent and halting in his response to my questions. Attuned to the rapid pace of New York conversation, I was unaccustomed to the cadence of his conversation.

When Obama ran for office, I recognized not only his name but also his speech pattern.

I have had brushes with a wide range of people of varying levels of fame, often times in the context of my work as a journalist. Please find below a brief compendium of such interactions.

— Jim Lovell. The commander of Apollo 13, Lovell and his wife Marilyn attended an event in Florida where I was their point of contact. When the cool night breeze gave Marilyn a chill, Lovell jumped up to get her sweater and asked when they could leave. I asked my bosses, who wanted Lovell, who was the honored guest, to stay until after dinner. He was greatly appreciative when I told him he could finally lift off.

— Yogi Berra. I attended an event at Tavern on the Green event, where Berra was a client of the host. Even though I was only five foot, seven inches tall at the time (I’m probably a bit shorter now), I towered over the older and thin former Yankees catcher. When I told him it was an honor to meet him, he took my hand in his and offered a polite smile.

— Eliot Spitzer. Before he was a governor and client 9, Spitzer was a hard-charging New York Attorney General who went after investment banks for inflating stocks to help their business at the potential expense of investors. I spoke regularly with Spitzer, whose energy and intellect made it hard for my fingers to keep up while I was typing notes. I expected the impressive and ambitious Spitzer to ascend to national office.

— Scott Kelly. I interviewed Astronaut Scott Kelly after he set an American record for continuous time in space of 340 days aboard the International Space Station. With his then girlfriend, now wife, Amika Kauderer, in the room, the two of them described his book. She also recounted the second class treatment she received from some of the wives who weren’t impressed with her status as a girlfriend.

— Ed Koch. The former New York mayor was a staple at Bloomberg News, where I worked for several years. At 6 feet, two inches tall, Koch towered over me as he regularly filled his plate with some of the free snacks and sugary treats at the newsroom.

— Hank Paulson. I interviewed the former Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs at an International Monetary Fund meeting in Hong Kong. After I asked the first question, Paulson, who would become Treasury Secretary, yanked the microphone out of my hands and spent the rest of the interview holding it up to his mouth. I tried to project my voice into the microphone and above the chatter in a crowded restaurant.

— Goldie Hawn. At a lunch at Shun Lee Palace near Lincoln Center with a former banker from the now defunct Lehman Brothers, I spotted the famous actress as I approached her crowded table. Dressed in a sleeveless black dress, she could tell I recognized her. Rather than look away, she gave me a warm and welcoming smile. I wished, even moments later, that I had given her a thumbs up or an appreciative grin. 

— Earl “The Pearl” Monroe. When I was at the New York Daily News, I spoke regularly with the Knicks legend for a rookie (Channing Frye) vs. veteran stock picking contest. While he lost the contest, he couldn’t have been friendlier and more receptive during our weekly calls, updating me on his life and sharing his weekly stock picks.

Jon Heusel Photo by Henry David

By Daniel Dunaief

Growing up in Hooper, a small town in the central part of Nebraska, Jon Heusel considered following in his parents’ footsteps.

His father William took him on house calls where he provided for a wide range of medical needs.

Jon Heusel with his father William.

Along the way, however, Heusel, whose mother Mona was also an intensive care unit nurse towards the end of her career, discovered genetics and immunology as he earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Nebraska and then his MD, PhD at the University of Washington in St. Louis.

Enamored with these sciences and inspired to pursue a path of patient care from a different perspective, Heusel blazed his own trail, albeit one in which health care remained a professional focus.

Indeed, the second-generation doctor, who became Vice Chair for Clinical Pathology at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University on October 2nd, has devoted his career to the translation of new technologies into healthcare solutions.

For the past decade, this involved next generation sequencing, but also other new technologies and computerized systems for analyzing the data.

Heusel is inspired by a drive to improve the healthcare at academic medical centers like Stony Brook and Washington University, where new discoveries can affect positive change.

“The more I learned about Stony Brook, which is an up-and-coming university, the more I thought it was a magnificent opportunity for me,” said Heusel, who admired the recent jump Stony Brook University has made in the U.S. News and World Report rankings.


Pathology Chair Kenneth Shroyer described Heusel as a “wonderful recruitment” and believes his background makes him especially well suited to his role.

“We want to develop in-house capacity to do advanced molecular testing to find actionable mutations that could inform therapeutic decision making,” said Shroyer. “He’s extremely experienced in that area.”

John Heusel’s medical school graduation with his parents William and Mona Heusel.

Shroyer suggested Stony Brook wants to develop opportunities for advanced sequencing technology within the molecular pathology lab, with a focus on molecular oncology.

Heusel described the development of a comprehensive diagnostic service in cancer as a high priority.

The cost of building new services with new technologies will require significant investment. The Pathology Department will work in partnership with the Cancer Center to build services.

“Ideally, the clinical services we build will also be attractive in supporting research and contract testing from companies in the pharmaceutical and biotech spaces,” Heusel explained.

By using informatics and digital pathology, Stony Brook can become a place where medical students and professionals in related areas including computational biology, genetic counseling and oncology increasingly want to come.

Heusel particularly appreciates the opportunity to translate technology and science into healthcare solutions.

“If you do this correctly, the tests, systems, programs and people you have recruited to run them will extend far into the future,” he said. “When this happens, you leave behind a legacy of excellence.”

Heusel will replace Eric Spitzer, who will retain his role of medical director of labs until Heusel takes over that role in January.

Shroyer described Spitzer’s contributions to the department and hospital as “tremendous,” adding that he has “been outstanding in his position as leader of the hospital laboratory. While we know [Heusel] is going to be extremely successful in part due to [Spitzer’s] help in the transition phase, we’re still going to miss” Spitzer.

Spitzer has been a valuable counselor to Shroyer and a mentor to many and is an “outstanding educator” who has been a “very impactful educator for our residents and medical students,” Shroyer said.

Educational opportunities

Heusel not only has ambitions for the university, but also for himself in his new job.

The new pathology vice chair is looking for opportunities to put his knowledge and instincts to work to make Stony Brook better — even if only in the slightest of ways, he said.

“The tumblers of fate must align themselves to become opportunities for transformational leadership; those are relatively rare,” he explained. “It’s my hope that I am well prepared and can recognize them when they cross my path.”

As for the public, Heusel recognizes that primary school teachers have a tough job in educating the public in general and in sharing the intricacies of science such as genetics. He admires them for their work.

He suggested that primary education could be reimagined amid the exponential growth in knowledge.

“I am hopeful that biology and genetics will be taught in a way that empowers people to understand their bodies and their health or disease better, but I think it is more important to teach our children to think critically,” he explained.

Part of Heusel’s job is to make the results of complex testing accessible to patients and, in many cases, their doctors.

“The growing importance of genetics in our understanding of health and disease means people will, over time, gain new insights simply because they are reading and hearing about these concepts much more often,” he explained. “It also highlights the critical role that well trained genetic counselors have in the healthcare of today and the foreseeable future.”

Jon Heusel with his wife Jean at a Gallery North art show.

Heusel and his wife Jean enjoy living in the Stony Brook area, where they have found the people welcoming. In the past, they have gone scuba diving and sky diving and have also done canoeing, hiking, kayaking and skiing.

As they have gotten older, they have tended towards quieter experiences. They have found the West Meadow Beach sunsets “amazing” and have enjoyed their introduction to shows at the Staller Center for the Arts.

Heusel also appreciates a life outside work that includes working with wood, painting, doing pottery, cooking and making up poems, songs on the ukulele and bad puns.

His parents generated a sense of compassion in Heusel and his sisters, with a “wonder of the human body, and with the ability to find humor in almost anything.”

As for his work, Heusel is thrilled that Shroyer recruited him to join the university. He admits, though, that he has had to adjust to local driving styles.

“I am surprised by the aggressive manner in which people drive inside their cars which is so very opposite from the friendliness they exude outside of them,” he said.

METRO photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

We have a Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, a Baseball Hall of Fame, a US Space Walk of Fame, a Model Car Hall of Fame, and a World Video Hall of Fame, to name a few.

Why not a love hall of fame, which we could build right here on Long Island, with a picturesque view of the Long Island Sound or of one of the many glorious parks? After all, love is all around us, as the song and countless movies suggest.

Beyond the love for a child, spouse or family member, here are some of my nominees for the Love Hall of Fame. Feel free to share some of yours, if you’d like.

— Love of a pet. This is an easy place to start. After a tough day, what’s better than the feeling of a happy, furry, wet nose in your hands? Dogs and cats are popular not just because they’re great companions and don’t talk back when we’re rude or annoying, but because they are often so happy to see us that they run to get their favorite toy, chase balls for us, go on runs around the neighborhood, or lean against us while we read a book or watch our favorite films.

— Love of a song. Time disappears when we hear a song whose lyrics say exactly what we’re thinking or feeling or whose melody transports us to the moment we met our partner or spouse, learned that we’d been hired by our dream company or received admission to our top choice for college. Music can carry us back to that magic moment.

— Love of nature. We don’t all see or appreciate nature in the same way. Some of us adore snakes, mud puddles, and dark clouds, while others are moved by sunsets, water lapping on the shore, or a hawk soaring overhead. Whatever your favorite moments, nature provides an infinite array of spectacles, from the movements and behaviors of other animals to spectacular landscapes.

— Love of a sport. This one is particularly easy at this time of year. Passionate baseball fans are enjoying the last few innings of the playoffs, continuing whatever superstitions they think will help their teams win, while football is grinding through the first half of the season, hockey just started and basketball opens next Tuesday. Fans of a team, a sport, or all sports have plenty of choices for their agony and ecstasy.

— Love of cooking and eating. I’ve watched people, like my college roommate, who truly adore the fine art of cooking. They toss spices into the air, roll their wrists to stir pots, and conduct the scents of their creations into their receptive nostrils. When these same chefs eat, they appear filled and fulfilled, savoring the sauces, textures, flavors and combinations of tastes they brought to life.

— Love of art. People dedicate hours creating wood cabinets, landscape paintings, and portraits, as their imaginations shape the material in front of them.

— Love of religion. The world sometimes makes no sense. With its traditions, rituals, and, hopefully, spiritual encouragement, religion can help us find meaning and purpose and can connect us with our ancestors and with something larger than ourselves.

— Love of travel. People journey outside their immediate surroundings, visiting unfamiliar places and meeting new people whose lives differ but whose priorities – taking care of their children, contributing to the world, meeting their needs – are often the same. Undeterred by language differences, we can work through conversations, sharing moments with people who can become an ongoing part of our lives.

— Love of oneself. I know, I know. Numerous people have an overabundance of this that makes them insufferable. And yet, some people benefit from the right balance of enjoying their own company and sharing that sense of well-being and joy with others. I’m pretty sure Mary Poppins was able to love the children in her care because she – in the form of Julie Andrews or Emily Blunt – appreciated her own company.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

News Flash: Generated by ChatGPT, edited by our staff

• FDA approves RSV vaccines for the first time. These vaccines target the respiratory syncytial virus, a seasonal lung-related illness, with recommendations for adults over 60 and pregnant women in specific gestational weeks.

• Infants under eight months born to mothers without the RSV vaccination can receive monoclonal antibody treatment, providing immunological protection against severe RSV symptoms.

• There are challenges in accessing RSV shots, including delayed processing by insurance companies and pharmacy shortages. Health officials urge residents to advocate for themselves, emphasizing the importance of timely vaccinations given the approaching RSV season.

For the first time, vaccines against the respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV — a lung-related illness that crops up during the fall and winter — have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA recommends that adults ages 60 and older receive a dose of the vaccine, either Pfizer’s Abrysvo or GSK’s Arexvy, within the next few weeks.

Women in their 32nd to 36th week of pregnancy at some point during September through January are also urged to receive Abrysvo.

For babies born to mothers who didn’t receive a dose of the RSV vaccine, the FDA has approved a monoclonal antibody treatment for infants eight months old and younger that will offer immunological protection against a common and prevalent respiratory condition that can lead to severe symptoms and hospitalizations.

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend a dose of RSV antibody for children between eight and 19 months entering their second RSV season if they have chronic lung disease, are severely immunocompromised, have a severe form of cystic fibrosis or are American Indian or Alaska Natives.

Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. File photo from Stony Brook Medicine

While local doctors welcomed the opportunity to inoculate residents, they said finding these treatments has been difficult.

“People are having a hard time getting” the vaccine, said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.

Some pharmacies have told patients to come back, which decreases the likelihood that they will return for vaccinations in time, Nachman said.

Additionally, insurance companies have not immediately processed requests for vaccinations, which also slows the process, she said.

Nachman recommended that residents “continue to go back and advocate for yourself” because that is “the only way you’ll get what you need.”

RSV season starts around November, which means residents qualified to receive the vaccine or parents with infants need to reach out to their health care providers now to receive some protection against the virus.

Childhood illness

According to recent data, RSV caused 2,800 hospitalizations per 100,000 children in the first year of life, Nachman said. The range can go as low as 1,500 per 100,000.

However, that only captures the number of hospitalized people and doesn’t include all the times anxious parents bring their sick children to doctor’s offices or walk-in clinics.

“Hospitalizations are the worst of the group, [but] it’s a much bigger pyramid” of people who develop RSV illnesses, Nachman said.

In addition to recommending monoclonal treatment for children under eight months old, the CDC urges parents to get this treatment for vulnerable children who are under two years old.

Dr. Gregson Pigott, commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services. File photo

Like other vaccinations, the RSV vaccine won’t prevent people from getting sick. It will, however, likely reduce the symptoms and duration of the illness.

“In trials, RSV vaccines significantly reduced lower respiratory tract lung infections serious enough to require medical care,” Dr. Gregson Pigott, Suffolk County Health Commissioner, explained in an email.

At its worst, the symptoms of RSV — such as fever, cough and serious respiratory illness — are problematic enough that it’s worth putting out extra effort to receive some immune protection.

“If you’re a little kid or an elderly patient, this is a disease you don’t want to get,” Nachman said.

Pigott said that data analysis shows that RSV vaccines are 85% effective against severe symptoms of the virus.

While people can receive the COVID-19 and flu vaccines simultaneously, doctors recommend getting the RSV vaccine two weeks later.

According to preliminary data, eligible residents may benefit from the RSV vaccine for two seasons, which means they would likely need to receive the shot every other year, according to Pigott.

With two vaccines approved for adults, Pigott recommended that people receive whichever shot is available.

“Both reduce a person’s chances of getting very serious lung infections,” Pigott explained, adding that several measures can help people protect themselves from the flu, RSV and COVID.

Getting a vaccine, washing hands, avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth, avoiding close contact with people who are sick with respiratory symptoms and wearing a mask in places where respiratory viruses are circulating can all help.

Those who are symptomatic should stay home when they are sick and wear masks when they are around other people.

Suffolk County Department of Health Services officials indicated they are aware of the challenges of getting shots and monoclonal antibodies and “ask people to be patient.”

Educational Programs Administrator Michele Darienzo Photo from BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

Brookhaven National Laboratory hopes to inspire the scientists of the future.

The Department of Energy sponsored national laboratory, which attracts scientists from all over the world to its state-of-the-art facility, opens its doors regularly to local students and teachers, with researchers and educators translating what they do to area residents at all levels of scientific development and understanding.

Amid so many other efforts and with a welcome return to on-site education after pandemic restrictions over the last few years, BNL received DOE funding to help eight area teachers learn how to create computer coding.

In their classrooms, these educators have shared what they studied this past summer with their students.

Amanda Horn

Coding, which uses programs like Python and Arduino, can help scientists create a set of instructions that allow computers to process and sort through data more rapidly than any person could by hand.

At the same time, a knowledge of coding can and does provide students with tools that scientists seek when they are choosing graduate students, technicians or staff in their laboratories.

Coding helps to set students “up for a job,” said Michele Darienzo, Educational Programs Administrator and one of the two teachers for the four-week summer program. “It puts you at the top of the pile.”

Darienzo added that efforts such as these prepare the science, technology, engineering and math workforce for the future.

Using modern technology, researchers collect data in a wide range of fields at a rate that requires technological help to sort through it and derive meaning from it.

“We’re at the point where lots of projects are collecting so much data and information,” said Darienzo. “We have one experiment [that is producing] many iPhones per second worth of data. That’s not something a person can do in their lifetime.”

Darienzo taught the programming language Python to the class of teachers, while Amanda Horn, who is also an Educational Programs Administrator, instructed these educators with Arduino.

“It went really well,” said Horn. “The teachers seemed really engaged in everything we were doing.”

A day in the life of a river

Bernadette Uzzi

Beyond the on site experience at BNL, Horn accompanied a class this fall or a Day in the Life of the Carmans River at Smith Point County Marina.

The students used sensors to measure numerous variables, such as temperature, pressure and humidity. With another sensor, they were able to measure carbon dioxide levels.

“If you cup your hand around the sensor, you can graph [the level of the gas] in real time using the code,” said Horn. Variabilities occurred because of the movement of air, among other factors, she added.

The students on the trip “seemed excited [to use the sensors] and to get a sense of how they worked,” Horn said.

In the context of global warming in which greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide drive an increase in temperature, Horn addressed why it’s important to measure the levels of the gas.

Ongoing efforts

Training teachers to code represents one of numerous educational efforts BNL offers.

The Office of Educational Programs has hosted over 30,000 participants in various programs in its K-12 and university science education programs.

Kenneth White

Bringing students back on site this year after suspending in person visits amid the pandemic created a “big difference” for students, in terms of their excitement and enthusiasm, said Kenneth White, Manager of the Office of Educational Programs.

Jeffrey Tejada, a junior at Brown University, conducted summer research in the Computational Sciences Initiative.

Tejada, who grew up in Patchogue and moved to Medford, appreciated the opportunities he’s had since he started coming to BNL at the age of 14.

“It’s crazy how incredible BNL Is as a resource,” said Tejada, whose parents are immigrants from the Dominican Republic.

Indeed, the first year Tejada attended, Aleida Perez, Manager, University Relations and DOE Programs at BNL, needed to convince his mother Rosa Tejada that the effort, which didn’t involve any pay, would benefit her son.

“My mom asked [Perez,], ‘how worth it is this?’” Tejada recalled. Perez told Rosa Tejada, “You have to do this.”

His mom didn’t understand, but she listened and “that’s all that mattered,” as Tejada not only conducted research over the years, but is also planning to earn his PhD after he graduates.

White suggested that the recent coding effort was a recognition that students coming for internships at BNL or for scientific training opportunities elsewhere ended up spending considerable time trying to “figure out the basics” of coding.

Aleida Perez

In the first year of the teaching program, BNL reached out to teachers in 20 school districts that met particular criteria, including serving a high percentage of students that are traditionally under-represented in STEM fields. This included Longwood, Hampton Bays, Williams Floyd, South Huntington, Roosevelt, Central Islip, Middle Country and Brentwood.

The first week of the program was “frightening” for some of the teachers, who hadn’t had coding experience, said Perez. The teachers were “glad they came back for week two.”

As a part of the program, teachers presented their coding lessons to high school students on site at BNL, said Bernadette Uzzi, Manager, K-12 Programs in the Office of Educational Programs.

The final assessment test was a “pretty fun day,” Uzzi said, as the students pushed teachers to go further with their outdoor explorations.

Uzzi was thrilled when she had read that the Department of Energy had invited BNL to write a proposal for this pilot program. “Coding skills are important to be a scientist, no matter what field you’re in” she said. “There’s definitely a gap in what students are learning in school versus what is needed in the STEM workforce.”

Summer of ’24

At this point, it’s unclear if the DOE will build on this pilot program and offer additional teachers the opportunity to learn coding and bring this skill back to their classroom.

Uzzi said she would like to increase the number of teacher participants to 12 next year and to add physics applications to the current course work, which included a focus on environmental climate science.