Authors Posts by Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief


METRO photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

The world is a mess.

For some, that world doesn’t even need to extend beyond the walls of their own home, as they deal with one personal or family crisis after another.

For others, that includes horrible headlines and the reality of a world in which people jump at the opportunity to attack them physically, verbally or both. The world is filled with so much dry kindling that any kind of spark seems sufficient to lead to a brush fire.

And, stupidly, many of us look at our phones or watch the news right before we go to bed, giving our unconscious minds the opportunity to marinate in the misery and to imagine ourselves caught in circumstances beyond our control that conjure our worst nightmares on steroids.

Once our minds start to ponder these horrific realities, some of which play out in the protests and counter protests that characterize an American landscape filled with divisions and tectonic differences, we find ourselves staring, wide eyed, into a dark abyss.

Despite the need to give our minds and souls a rest to rebuild our resilience and prepare us for the next day, we struggle to sleep for any length of time.

Like a bad habit we can’t kick, sleep deprivation defines our existence, making us more vulnerable, angrier, and reactive to the kinds of stimuli, conspiracy theories, and information that unnerves us.

Shutting that down and ignoring the reality of a world coming apart doesn’t seem like an option, even if we ourselves aren’t doing anything other than losing sleep, arguing with friends, family or coworkers, and promising to vote for the person whose anger, frustration, and alarm bells sound similar enough to our own.

These restless nights exacerbate our feelings of unease and anxiety. Even for people who didn’t have a hard day filled with deadlines, challenging assignments, impossible bosses, or frustrating losses, the end of the day can feel less like a chance to reflect on triumphs than a moment to surrender to a cruel circadian rhythm that leaves us with even less emotional and energy reserves each day.

We need the kind of sleep that doesn’t depend on over the counter remedies. We need to feel safe, secure, and relaxed enough to rest.

For many of us in the United States, that relaxation can arise out of a belief in a better tomorrow. We can control ourselves, the world we create for our children, and the way we interact with each other.

We might sleep better if we feel like we improved someone else’s day, if we volunteer to help others, or if we take a moment to appreciate what we can control.

Getting up and circling the house at 2 or 4 am won’t help us the next day, nor will logging onto our computers and sending or responding to emails. We’re not doing our best work at those hours and we aren’t our most insightful.

The benefit of stories in which the characters live “happily ever after” is that it gives our minds resolution and helps us believe that things will work out for us as well.

Our parents and grandparents rarely tell us to give up, give in, and surrender to problems outside of our control. We shouldn’t tell ourselves that either, no matter how late at night we might start to believe it.

A good night’s sleep won’t help us solve the world’s problems, but it may help us start to solve some of our own. People have told me many times not to make decisions when I’m angry or frustrated. The same holds true for being tired. Finding solutions to our nighttime problems may contribute to discovering some relief from the pressures and worries of the day.

Dr. Harold Paz. File photo by Stony Brook Medicine/Jeanne Neville

Two years after he joined Stony Brook University as executive vice president for health sciences, Dr. Harold “Hal” Paz is no longer one of the most senior members of New York State’s southern flagship university staff.

An internal SBU announcement that went out Friday, Oct. 6, from the office of President Maurie McInnis indicated that Paz, whose page on the Renaissance School of Medicine website no longer links to information about him, will be replaced on an interim basis by Dr. William Wertheim.

Wertheim joined Stony Brook in 1996 and had been serving as the vice dean for graduate academic affairs at the Renaissance School of Medicine, where he had previously been interim dean.

Wertheim is also an Endowed Chair in Graduate Medical Education at the School of Medicine and is president of the Stony Brook Medicine Community Medical Group.

While Stony Brook didn’t offer a reason for Paz’s departure, officials indicated it is “not our practice to discuss personnel matters.”

Paz had come to SBU from The Ohio State University, where he was executive vice president and chancellor for health affairs and chief executive officer of the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center.

Paz, who was Chief Executive Officer of Stony Brook University Medicine, reported to McInnis and was a member of her senior leadership team.

When Stony Brook announced that executive vice president and provost Carl Lejuez joined the university in May 2022, the university signaled that Lejuez would work collaboratively with Paz.

Paz had also been working with academic, hospital and clinical leadership and with community partners in his role.

The announcement of Paz’s departure from SBU, which came two years and two days after his official start date, did not include a list of any of Paz’s achievements, initiatives or contributions to the university.

Before joining The Ohio State University, Paz was the executive vice president and chief medical officer for CVS Health/Aetna, serving as a leader in the company’s domestic and global businesses. He also served as dean of the College of Medicine at Pennsylvania State University and CEO of the Penn State Hershey Medical Center and Health System.

Paz had succeeded Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky, who retired as senior vice president of health sciences, in June 2021.

Paz serves on the National Academy of Medicine Leadership Consortium, the board of directors of Research America and the Curai Health advisory board.

In April, Paz was appointed to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis: Accelerating Treatments and Improving Quality of Life committee.

Wertheim’s tenure

Wertheim started his Stony Brook career by leading the Medical Consult Services. He later served as associate program director and director of the primary care track of the Internal Medicine residency, then Internal Medicine residency program director, and then executive vice chair of the Department of Medicine and associate dean for clinical outreach.

Wertheim has also served as the president of the medical staff at Stony Brook University Hospital.

Wertheim graduated from Harvard University and New York University School of Medicine. He completed his residency at the University of Michigan Hospitals, where he served as chief resident.

Wertheim worked as a clinical faculty member at the University of Michigan’s Veterans Administration Hospital. In New York, he worked at The Brooklyn Hospital Center.

The letter from the president’s office announcing the changes urged the community to “join us in congratulating Dr. Wertheim on his appointment and welcoming him to his new role.”

Dr. Susan Hedayati, right, and Dr. Peter Igarashi attend the ASCI/AAP meeting in Chicago Spring 2023. Photo courtesy Hedayati

She is bringing two important parts of an effective team back together.

Dr. Susan Hedayati — pronounced heh-DYE-it-tee — recently joined the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University as vice dean for research. Hedayati was most recently a professor of medicine and associate vice chair for research at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

Hedayati plans to help improve Stony Brook Medical School’s national and international reputation by coupling frontline research with translational and patient-oriented care and studies.

The combination of a research and clinical care focus will provide for the “betterment of the health of Long Island population of patients,” Hedayati said.

In addition to enhancing clinical care, such an approach would “facilitate funding of investigator-initiated [National Institute of Health] grants and aid in the recruitment and retention of excellent M.D.-investigators,” she explained in an email.

She said she is eager to build an institutional clinical trials infrastructure that would involve a dedicated research support team.

Adding Hedayati to the medical school faculty at Stony Brook University, where she will also serve as the Lina Obeid chair in biomedical sciences, also brings two prominent kidney specialists who have different approaches to their work back together again.

Dr. Peter Igarashi, dean of the Renaissance School of Medicine and a nationally recognized nephrologist, had recruited and collaborated with Hedayati when she joined the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center after winning first place in a clinical research award at the Southern Society for Clinical Investigation Young Investigator Forum.

When Igarashi first met Hedayati as a judge of the fellowship competition, he suggested that her expertise stood out clearly.

“She has enormous content expertise in the field of nephrology and internal medicine more broadly,” he said.

He was also impressed with her “passion” for research and her “devotion to patients and research,” which has also made her a “perfect fit” for her current position at Stony Brook University.

Combining research and clinical care will enable SBU to provide one-stop shopping at facilities like the specialty practices in Commack and the one recently opened in Lake Grove in the former Sears building at the Smith Haven Mall, he said.

Patients can receive clinical care at the same time that they can enroll in clinical trials for potential treatments of some conditions.

Hedayati “set that up at the University of Texas at Southwestern, and I’m hoping she’ll be able to grow that capability here,” Igarashi said.

Igarashi also described Hedayati, who was offered the job after a committee conducted the search, as “personable and likable.”

Complementary strengths

Igarashi described the different research approaches he and Hedayati take as “complementary” strengths.

Igarashi’s research is basic, wet lab science, while Hedayati has focused on translational and clinical research.

Their backgrounds will “be very helpful for elevating the entire research enterprise, not only in basic science but also in clinical and translational research,” Igarashi noted.

For her part, Hedayati suggested that her short-term goal is to build the physical infrastructure for clinical research and clinical trials.

Such efforts will require a clinical research staff infrastructure composed of research coordinators, research managers, regulatory personnel and biostatisticians.

“I’m hoping that, within a year, we’re going to be making some big strides in those directions,” Hedayati said.

She also hopes to build upon the existing medical scientist training program for M.D./Ph.D. students to establish a physician training program for residents to retain M.D. investigators in academic and biomedical research careers. That, she suggested, is a pool that is dwindling nationally.

Ongoing research

Hedayati, who is transferring most of her grants to Stony Brook, plans to continue conducting her own research.

She has been studying the link between chronic kidney disease, which affects about one in seven people, and other conditions, such as premature cardiovascular disease, susceptibility to depression and the role of inflammation.

“This is an area that’s prevalent, but understudied,” said Igarashi. 

She is searching for nontraditional biomarkers associated with kidney function decline, especially in patients with heart failure.

Patients with heart failure are at increased risk of acute and chronic kidney failure.

Igarashi is confident that Stony Brook’s new vice dean for research will serve patients on Long Island and beyond.

“She would not have taken this job unless we assured her that she would be able to continue to see patients in the clinic as well as in the hospital,” said Igarashi. “That is a core value for her.”

Echoing those sentiments, Hedayati suggested she has a “patient-centered approach in everything I do.”

Wei Yang at a poster session for a conference. Photo by Dr. Bo Zhou

By Daniel Dunaief

When cancer spreads, it becomes especially dangerous. Indeed, metastatic cancer accounts for 90 percent of deaths from this disease.

Stony Brook University Associate Professor Wei Yang, who joined the Pathology Department on August 1st, hopes to reduce metastatic mortality.

Yang is looking both upstream for the kind of molecular biological signals that might make cancer more likely to spread and downstream, for processes that overcome the body’s natural defenses and that lead to increased morbidity and mortality.

As he described, the goal is to prevent micrometastases, which are metastatic tumors that are too small for a radiographic scan, from growing into clinically relevant macrometastases that can be detected through imaging such as X-ray scans.

Micrometasases can form at an early stage, sometimes even before the detection of primary tumors. They are typically asymptomatic and are rarely lethal, as many cancer survivors die with, but not of, these micrometastases.

In work he conducted in California at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Yang focused on the protein kinase RIPK2, which is over expressed in prostate cancer.

By inhibiting RIPK2 kinase in cell culture and animal models, Yang reduced prostate cancer metastasis by over 90 percent after four weeks of treatment. Inhibiting this protein made cancer progression over 10 times slower.

Innate immune cells and epithelial cells express RIPK2 at various levels. RIPK2 is over expressed in about 18 cancer types and the high expression is generally associated with worse patient outcomes.

RIPK2 is localized in the cytoplasm, which is inside the cell, rather than on the cell surface, which makes it difficult to train the immune system to destroy it. Small molecule compounds, however, can penetrate into the cytoplasm of tumor cells.

Developing oral drugs to shut off RIPK2 is a promising approach to disrupting this protein.

Repurposing an existing drug

The Food and Drug Administration has already approved a multi-kinase inhibitor called Ponatinib, which can inhibit the pro-metastatic RIPK2 signaling pathway in prostate cancer.

Yang believes it is “very promising” to repurpose this drug to treat prostate cancer patients who don’t respond to hormone therapies.

His animal experiments showed that RIPK2-higher tumor cells can grow into macromestases in multiple organs, such as bones, liver and adrenal glands. RIPK2 was also detected in cancers such as kidney and breast. Its expression levels are typically higher than in normal tissues.

Yang is the first to demonstrate that targeting RIPK2 reduces cancer metastasis.

He has been working on prostate cancer since he conducted his postdoctoral research at Harvard University/ Boston Children’s Hospital in 2006.

He started by analyzing three comprehensive and publicly available clinical databases. Using stringent criteria, he identified seven promising drug targets in prostate cancer metastasis. Among the seven, RIPK2 was the most significantly overexpressed and its expression increased along with prostate cancer progression from benign to lethal cancer.

Most patients diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer die within two to three years. About 31 percent live five years or longer. 

For Yang, who earned his PhD from Peking University, the goal is to understand and prevent the lethal process of metastatic progression. He aims to develop clinically actionable drug targets and biomarkers.

Upstream and downstream

Yang is searching for genes and proteins that regulate the expression of this protein kinase, to find out what increases the expression of RIPK2 in tumor cells.

He has identified three transcription factors that are important for the expression of RIPK2 mRNA in prostate cancer cells. Previous studies showed that these factors are key drivers of prostate cancer aggressiveness.

He explained that it’s promising that patients with the overexpression of these transcription factors may benefit from targeting RIPK2 to reduce cancer aggressiveness. He is also identifying a gene signature associated with RIPK2 signaling activity. This will allow him to identify additional patients who may benefit from inhibiting this protein.

Seeking collaborators

Yang said he came to Stony Brook University for a host of reasons, including to have more lab space where he can employ two post doctoral researchers, two or three graduate students, one research support specialist and two undergraduates.

He is in the second year of a five year National Cancer Institute grant and is also in the second year of a three-year Department of Defense grant.

Yang would like to find collaborators at Stony Brook who can bring specific levels of expertise in areas such as lipid signaling.

In addition to RIPK2, Yang also focuses on palmitoylation signaling in cancer metastasis. Palmitoylation is a type of lipid modification on proteins and is a reversible post-translational modification whose deregulation contributes to diseases including cancer.

Stony Brook has a “world class lipid signaling research center,” he explained in an email, and he would like to find collaborators in this arena.


Married with a 14-year old son, Yang enjoys traveling with his family to cities and national parks and reading history and science fiction books. One of his favorite authors is Yuval Noah Harari.

As a child, Yang was particularly interested in science. Cancer affected his family, as his grandfather had liver cancer that was diagnosed early enough to receive treatment and his aunt is living with lung cancer.

While he has a sense of urgency to study metastatic cancer, Yang said the field does not receive as much funding and attention as other areas of cancer research. He estimates that about 10 percent of the cancer budget supports investigations into metastatic cancer.

His approach, he said, will remain focused on actionable plans and on efforts that have “high translational potential,” he explained.

METRO photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

We need people around us for a host of reasons.

We have the kind of division of labor that makes it possible for someone like me with no mechanical skills whatsoever to fix, repair, install or replace something we need, like a dishwasher or roof, to pick up the phone and call a specialist who can do the job.

We also need people to provide the kind of food we don’t grow or cook ourselves and to ship that food across the country or the world.

How would we people watch without people strutting, holding hands, barking commands on cell phones, or pausing to take a giant mouthful of hot pizza?

We also need people for social and emotional reasons.

It’s helpful to have someone who can tell you whether your shoes match your outfit, who can point out if you have food in your teeth, or who can nix your idea to share a risqué joke with your boss.

We go through stages in life when our social needs rise and fall, depending on our age, vulnerabilities, and emotional equanimity.

I have several friends whose children are living through different phases in life, entering and leaving colleges, changing jobs or location, and starting or ending serious relationships.

When people in unfamiliar settings first settle into a new routine, they can feel vulnerable, disconnected, and incredibly lonely.

Making matters worse, they see other people around them laughing with friends, moving in a group, or chatting animatedly on the phone. Social media doesn’t help, as they can see pictures of other people having the times of their lives on other college campuses, surrounded by their new friends, while they look to the vacant space to the left and right of them.

These transitionary periods can make people feel as if they are the only ones without an invitation to an incredible party on the other side of the fence. They can hear music and laughter, they can smell the barbecued chicken, and they can see the flickering lights.

It’s as if a magnetic attraction drew everyone else together, while that same force repelled them, making them outsiders in their towns and universities.

While most young people can and do find comfort from companionship, the time when they feel as if they are on their own can seem extraordinarily long.

That’s where we come in.

You see, we are surrounded by students who are going to college, have returned for a few days or longer, or who have graduated and are trying to find their place in the world.

Some of them want or need nothing from us, as they glide effortlessly between their professional or academic responsibilities and their recharging social contacts.

Others, however, may be too unnerved or unsure to ask for help or to try to get what they may not even acknowledge they need.

The cost of offering an encouraging word, of asking about a student who is rounding up grocery carts in a parking lot, is restocking shelves at a department store or who is taking our order at a fast food restaurant is low.

Most of us are creatures of habit. We tend to go to the same places to eat, to buy our food, or to get our hardware store supplies.

When we go to those stores, we might see those same familiar faces, some of whom might be hiding behind extra long bangs or appear to be staring at their phones or shoes.

We don’t have to become best friends with any of them, and we don’t need to pull up a chair and ask their life stories.

We can, however, spend more than a few seconds getting whatever we need. We can ask how school is going, about the products they are selling or about the changing weather.

Those contacts, brief though they may be, could provide the kind of connection that offers them more of what they needed than whatever we purchased for ourselves in a store.

And who knows? Maybe our awkward attempts to offer some unsolicited connection can give them a good story to tell their current or future friends.

Surrounded by people, we can sometimes feel even more disconnected than we might if we were alone. Let’s try not to be too distracted to notice what someone else might need an encouraging or supportive word or two.

Students are not like the cracks in the sidewalk or the contour of a winding road: they may benefit from something we can and should consider sharing and that doesn’t cost anything more than our time and consideration.

Stony Brook University students Anusha Siddiqui, left, and Aafia Syeda volunteer at the university’s food pantry. Photo by Marc S. Levine

Donations to the Stony Brook University food pantry, which has been providing nourishment to students who are food insecure for 10 years, tend to track familiar routines.

During food drives, people go through their pantries or head to stores, often donating helpful and necessary cans of non-perishable goods like canned vegetables.

For students who are food insecure, some of whom stop by either the main food pantry on campus or one of the two satellite locations opened within the last year, items like granola bars, oatmeal, cereal, ready-made pasta meals and mac ’n cheese are also often welcome food choices to satisfy an instant need.

For members of the university community who are food insecure, the goal of the food pantry is to provide necessities while students concentrate on their studies.

“We want to make sure our students are able to focus on what they came here for, which is being academically successful and creating an enriching student life experience without worrying about where their next meal is coming from,” said Emily Snyder, director of the Department of Student Community Development at SBU.

The food pantry, which has 31 student volunteers, distributed about 22,900 individual items during 2022-2023.

Last year, the pantry had about 2,000 visitors, with about 600 to 700 people who sought sustenance at the pantry more than once during the course of the academic year.

On a busy day, the pantries can get upwards of 15 to 20 visitors, which can increase further when the school provides targeted outreach about available perishables with time-sensitive pick up windows.

The primary location for the food pantry is at the Stony Brook Union in Suite L-20 in the lower level. Satellite locations opened last winter at the LGBTQ Center on the second floor of the West Side Dining and the second floor hallway of the Student Activities Center.

The pantry has seen a “considerable increase from year to year,” said Ashley Mercado, assistant director in the Center for Civic Justice at Stony Brook.

The Student Community Development group took over operation of the pantry in 2020, when the needs were growing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were doing contactless delivery for residents still living on campus,” said Snyder. “The need is always there.”

Visits to the pantry have increased by 150% since 2020, with a rise of 112% in unique users since that time.

Snyder suggested that Stony Brook was focusing on “destigmatizing” the use of resources such as the food pantry. “We have really been focused on communicating that it’s OK to ask for help.”

Snyder and Mercado appreciated the support of students, university departments and the community, who have donated food items to a pantry that has become an increasingly important resource on campus.

Support for the pantry comes from the state as well as monetary and goods donations, including a recent donation of $10,000 from Stop and Shop gift cards.

Stop and Shop announces in September a $10,000 donation in gift cards to the SBU food pantry. Bottom row: Dylan Rehman, Adithya Muralli and Devin Lobosco. Middle row: Carl Lejuez, Anusha Siddiqui, Aafia Syeda, Emily Snyder, Ashley Mercado-Liegi, Rudy Foerster, Shannon Karafian, Rick Gatteau, Karman Pun and Nohemy Alfaro. Top row: Wolfie Seawolf, Ric McClendon and Daniel Wolk. Photo by Marc S. Levine

Student volunteers

Tanisa Usha, a junior from Brooklyn who started volunteering last fall, contributes eight hours a week as an undergraduate student coordinator.

She “enjoys being able to help” and appreciates the opportunity to “make sure [students] feel welcome,” Usha said.

The pantry also stocks a few hygiene products, which are popular with students. Hygiene items can include anything that’s packaged appropriately, such as razors, soaps and hair care products.

Unusual Thanksgiving items

Snyder and Mercado said donations typically increase around the holidays.

During Thanksgiving, people bring in pumpkin pie mix, stuffing and cranberry sauce.

“People assume that’s the cuisine everyone is looking for,” said Mercado. At Stony Brook University, where diversity is one of the school’s assets, students are often seeking foods that are more familiar to them.

“We have an Asian grocery store close to campus,” said Mercado. “People will buy from there and donate. Students get excited when we get products they are used to having.”

Alexander Zamolodchikov Photo by John Griffin/SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

Alexander Zamolodchikov Photo by John Griffin/SBU

Stony Brook University might need to rename a wing of the C.N. Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics the Breakthrough Prize alley. That’s because theoretical physicist Alexander Zamolodchikov recently shared a $3 million prize in fundamental physics, matching a similar honor his neighbor on the floor and in the department, Peter van Nieuwenhuizen, earned in 2019.

Zamolodchikov shared this year’s award with University of Oxford Professor John Cardy for their contributions to quantum field theories which describe particle physics as well as magnetism, superconducting materials and the information content of black holes.

“I’m not working for prizes, but it’s kind of encouraging that other people think that my contribution is significant,” said the Russian-born Zamolodchikov, who joined Stony Brook in 2016 and had previously worked at Rutgers for 26 years, where he co-founded the High Energy Theory Center.

While Zamolodchikov was pleased to win the award and was understated in his response, his colleagues sang his praises.

Zamolodchikov is “one of the most accomplished theoretical physicists worldwide,” George Sterman, Director of the C.N. Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics and Distinguished Professor at Stony Brook University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, said in a statement. “He has made groundbreaking advances, with enormous impact in many physics fields, such as condensed matter physics, quantum statistical physics and high energy physics, including our understanding of fundamental matter and forces.”

Sterman added that Zamolodchikov’s insights have influenced the way theoretical physicists think about foundational concepts.

“Having such a giant in your institute is always great,” said van Nieuwenhuizen, who said the two Breakthrough Prize winners sometimes discuss physics problems together, although their fields differ.

Founded by Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, Julia and Yuri Milner and Anne Wojcicki, the Breakthrough Prizes are referred to as the “Oscars of science.”

A scientific throwback

Zamolodchikov has a “very pleasant personality” and couldn’t be a better neighbor in a corridor in which five of the offices house distinguished professors, van Nieuwenhuizen said.

Van Nieuwenhuizen, who was a deputy for C.N. Yang for six years, said the two of them often discussed whether to continue to build a theoretical physics department or to branch out into applied physics.

The direction for the department “wasn’t so obvious at the time” but the institute members decided to continue to build a fundamental physics group, which attracted the “right people. In hindsight, it was the right decision,” van Nieuwenhuizen added.

In some of his lectures and discussions, Zamolodchikov, who often pushes his glasses up on his forehead, works with equations he writes on a blackboard with chalk.

He suggested that many in the audience prefer the slow pace of the blackboard and he uses it when appropriate, including in class lectures. Having grown up in pre-computer times, he considers the blackboard his “friend.” 

“He’s a throwback,” said van Nieuwenhuizen. “I happen to think that is the best way of teaching.”

Thinking about eating bread

Zamolodchikov said he often gives his work considerable thought, which he believes many scientists do consciously and subconsciously, wherever they are and what they are doing.

When his daughter Dasha was about four years old, she asked him what he was thinking about all the time. He joked that he was contemplating “how to consume more white bread.”

Even today, Dasha, who conducts biological research, asks if he is “still thinking about white bread.”

Family commitment to physics

When Zamolodchikov’s father Boris returned from World War II, the Soviet Union built a physics institute in his town of Dubna.

His father had an “exceptional understanding” of some parts of physics, such as electromagnetic theory and he would talk in their house about science. Boris Zamolodchikov was chief engineer of a laboratory that was working on the first cyclotron.

“He convinced us that physics was something to devote the life to,” Zamolodchikov explained.

Zamolodchikov (who goes by the name “Sasha”) and his late twin brother Alexei (who was known as Alyosha) looked strikingly similar, but were never sure whether they were fraternal or identical twins. The twins collaborated on research in physics until Alexei died in 2007.

Zamolodchikov and his brother understood each other incredibly well. One of them would share a thought in a few words and the other would understand the idea and concept quickly.

“It was some sort of magic,” said Zamolodchikov. “I miss him greatly.”

Indeed, even recently, Zamolodchikov has been working to solve a problem. He recalls that his brother told him he knew how to solve it, but the Stony Brook Distinguished Professor forgot to ask him about the details.

When Zamolodchikov, who thinks of his twin brother every day, learned he had won the prize, he said he feels “like I share this honor with him.”

Description of his work

In explaining his work, Zamalodchikov suggests that quantum field theory, which was questioned for some time before the mid-1970’s, has been used to describe subatomic physics.

On a general level, quantum field theory helps explain nature in terms of degrees of freedom.

“I was trying to solve simplified versions of these field theories,” said Zamolodchikov. He provided insights into what quantum field theory can describe and what kind of physical behavior would never come from quantum field theory.

His work shed light on phase transitions, from liquids to gases. He was able to find a solution through quantum field theory that had a direct application in explaining phase transition.

Experimentalists did the experiment and found the signature he expected.

“When I make a prediction about the behavior in phase transition and they do the experiment and find it exactly as my prediction, it’s remarkable,” he said. “My prediction involves an exceptionally complicated but beautiful mathematical structure.”

A scene from 'Monsters, Inc.' Image courtesy of Disney/Pixar

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

“Monsters, Inc.” and the modern media share some terrifying traits.

You see, at the beginning of the animated Pixar movie, the Monsters from Monstropolis collect energy by scaring children at night.

It’s a relatable phenomenon, especially for those of us with an active imagination and who insisted their parents check under their bed, in the closet and in every conceivable place a monster might hide before going to sleep. I’m not referring to anyone in particular in that description here, in case anyone might be wondering.

So, anyway, in Monstropolis, the terror and screams from the children fill canisters of energy that monsters bring back home through the magic doors, which are often closets.

Similarly, the modern media is filled with terrible stories, finger pointing, angry headlines and the kind of click bait that demands people read the story or they’ll die or, perhaps, worse, become a Democrat or a Republican.

I understand the division in our country. Well, let me rephrase that. I understand that division in the country can be productive and can allow people to share ideas from different backgrounds or from opposite sides of a political fence.

I don’t completely understand why the country has become so fractured and stubborn in its thinking that people view those who are on the other side as unworthy or as the enemy.

The enemy of what, exactly?

News organizations have poured gasoline on our cultural dumpster fire by sharing and blaring headlines about how dumb the other side is, and how specific people, often from one political camp, are to blame for their problems.

On any given day, it’s easy to find a Trump-is-an-idiot-who-is-destroying-the-country story from CNN, the Washington Post or the New York Times. It’s just as easy  to find a Biden-is-too-old, Harris-is-a-disaster, or Futterman-can’t-dress-himself-well story from the other side.

I get it: those stories sell news, draw eyeballs, get advertisers and generate heat and energy.

It’s an energy that feeds on itself, as the next day’s stories often not only include the latest gaffe from the president or the latest outrage from the former president, but they also rekindle all the outrage from the ridiculous things each of them did in the days, weeks and months before.

Those stories are easy to write, because they only require about four paragraphs of new information. After that, it’s off to the races, adding all the usual background about how this objectionable act or speech comes after so many other similar incidents.

What these news organizations don’t often do, however, is what managers often encourage from their employees. If you’re going to bring a problem, try to suggest a solution.

That’s going to be tougher. It’s so much easier to point the finger, to call people names, and to blame others than it is to develop a cohesive and workable plan that might fail.

Maybe these news organizations should demand more from themselves. They shouldn’t fall into the trap of sharing the latest bad news or  problem, but should also force themselves to find people who have better ideas or who can offer solutions.

Returning to the movie “Monsters, Inc.”, perhaps there are other ways to generate energy that don’t terrify people

Laughter, as the cliche goes, is the best medicine. Maybe we aren’t laughing enough or maybe we aren’t laughing enough together. It’s far too easy to become a part of the chorus in a Greek tragedy, shaking our heads and mocking the ridiculous actions of others.

Sure, news organizations should capture the culture of the country and report on real people and real events. But they should also take the time and effort to do more than write the same mad libs story every day about the idiocy of the other side. They should offer the kind of solutions that can help people get a good night’s sleep and that don’t trigger sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Suji Park working at the QPress. Photo courtesy of BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

Technological advances, like the audiences who crave the latest gadgets and gizmos, often proceed with a sense of purpose and speed. Anything that gets in the way or slows down the process can become an obstacle to overcome.

And so it is for Suji Park, a member of the Research Staff at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Park, who joined the lab just under four years ago, is helping in the process of creating a reliable and faster process to produce two dimensional objects that could become parts of future nanotechnology.

Unlike an assembly line production to manufacture cars or objects that are part of the visible world, Park is working with scientists from around the world at the QPress, an effort that started a year before she arrived to create miniature materials that could become part of a host of technological advances, including in quantum information systems.

In the three steps involved in stacking two dimensional structures, the QPress system can improve efficiencies.

In the process of exfoliation, scientists typically create monolayers manually, which involves a long training period, time and effort to make two dimensional flakes. With the right recipes, the QPress uses controlled conditions, some of which are beyond the human range, through a more reliable process that takes a few hours of training.

The most time consuming step in the process involves searching for flakes with particular properties. Park uses machine learning techniques to help researchers filter out thin flakes.

The QPress has not automated the stacking of flakes, but they have created a motorized machine they can control remotely.

“We can provide more precise manipulation to stack nanomaterials, which makes this process easier and faster” than a manual or other motorized setup, Park explained.

The manufacturing process was “not very systematically studied. People didn’t know exactly what the important factors were to make good, quality two-dimensional materials.”

One of the earliest parts of the QPress process involved trying to understand how the older methodologies worked. 

When Park started to design the exfoliation machine, she said she was “surprised” at how little people knew about the mechanism. Once scientists create flakes they need, they typically move on. At a place like BNL, however, staff scientists can spend time on fundamental studies.

BNL“decided to make a machine to study this process and to make two dimensional materials easier,” which would allow scientists to “spend their time on research and not on the process,” she said.

Like a good baker

Park described the process of making these critical parts as being akin to the way a baker combines ingredients to create a house special bread. She may not have an exact recipe, but combines ingredients and cooks them at a particular temperature to produce the desired product.

“Somebody who knows how to make a good, quality bread has a sense of how it’s done” by relying on intuitive experience, she said. “Human factors are involved.”

A bread machine, by contrast, makes similar quality breads regardless of who uses it, which is more like how the QPress is designed to work to help make quality, reproducible two dimensional materials for application in nanotechnology.

The mechanized QPress process can optimize the steps, control a host of parameters and increase the yield.

To be sure, Park suggested the process isn’t designed to reach mass production levels, which would take another level of investment. Instead, QPress is targeting lab research.

Greater efficiency

You Zhou, Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland, can’t fabricate materials that are chemically unstable or that are air sensitive. He could, however, do so at QPress.

“The QPress system offers better control and reliability than our home-built system,” Zhou said. “Depending on the situation, sometimes we send graduate students to work onsite at the QPress for a week. Other times, we perform experiments remotely. Both have been working well for us.”

The QPress process has created a higher yield, with larger samples that sped up the process of making materials.

Zhou added that the QPress system seems to be one of the most advanced available to researchers in terms of control and automation.

Greater efficiency has meant that his group “has become more productive and can invest their saved time in other research activities,” Zhou said. “The technology is still improving.”

The process

Researchers stack these structures for specific applications. Depending on the sequence and orientation of each layer, the structures can store, process or communicate information.

Park is working with users to discuss experiments in advance. The discussions involve considering the feasibility of creating the materials and structures.

Air sensitive two dimensional materials can degrade over time. BNL prepares flakes one or two days before scientists arrive.

A cataloger can scan a sample and detect mono to tri-layered graphene flakes using a machine based learning program. The QPress group doesn’t make heterostructures. Users need to do it themselves.

With the QPress under development, the user community has continued to build. Last year, the QPress worked with 20 to 30 scientists. The numbers this year are outpacing that demand.


Born and raised in the southern part of South Korea in Masan-si, which is now called Changwon-si, Park liked math and science as a teenager. She thought she’d become a teacher until she was accepted by POSTECH in her second grade of high school. During her undergraduate training, she decided to earn her PhD and become a scientist.

Currently a resident of Coram, Park loves working at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials. Outside of work, she enjoys watching movies, shows, painting, drawing, baking, cooking, and yoga. She recently started growing plants.

In her work, Park, who is one of two dedicated members of the QPress team, appreciates the opportunity to create efficiencies for other scientists.

A scene from 'Oppenheimer'

By Daniel Dunaief

Researchers at Brookhaven National Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Stony Brook University joined the chorus of moviegoers who enjoyed and appreciated the Universal film Oppenheimer.

“I thought the movie was excellent,” said Leemor Joshua-Tor, Professor and HHMI Investigator at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. “It made me think, which is always a good sign.”

Yusuf Hannun, Vice Dean for Cancer Medicine at Stony Brook University, thought the movie was “terrific” and had anticipated the film would be a “simpler” movie.

Jeff Keister, leader of the Detector and Research Equipment Pool at NSLS-II at Brookhaven National Laboratory, described the movie as “interesting” and “well acted.”

Joshua-Tor indicated she didn’t know anything about Robert Oppenheimer, the title character and leader of the Manhattan Project that built the atomic bomb. She “learned lots of new things” about him, she wrote. “I knew he was targeted by McCarthy-ism, but didn’t realize how that came about and the details.”

Keister also didn’t know much about Oppenheimer, who was played by actor Cillian Murphy in the film. “Oppenheimer seemed to quietly struggle with finding his role in the story of the development of the atomic bomb,” Keister said. “At times, he wore the uniform, then later seemed to express regret.”

Like other researchers, particularly those involved in large projects that bring together people with different skills and from various cultural backgrounds, Oppenheimer led a diverse team of scientists amid the heightened tension of World War II.

Oppenheimer was “shown to have been granted an extremely powerful position and was able to form a relatively diverse team, although he was not able to win over all the brightest minds,” Keister wrote.

Joshua-Tor suggested Oppenheimer “charmed” the other scientists, who were so driven by the science and the goal that they “accepted him. The leader of the team should be a great scientist, but doesn’t necessarily have to be the biggest genius. There is a genius in being able to herd the cats in the right way.”

Joel Hurowitz, Associate Professor in the Department of Geosciences at Stony Brook University, “loved” the movie. Hurowitz has worked with large projects with NASA teams as a part of his research effort.

Hurowitz suggested that the work that goes into coordinating these large projects is “huge” and it requires “a well laid out organizational structure, effective leadership, and a team that is happy working hard towards a common goal.”

‘Stunning’ first bomb test

Keister described the first nuclear bomb test as “stunning” in the movie. “I have to wonder how the environmental and health impacts of such a test came to be judged as inconsequential.”

Some local scientists would have appreciated and enjoyed the opportunity to see more of the science that led to the creation of the bomb.

Science is the “only place the movie fell short,” Hannun said. “They could have spent a bit more time to indicate the basic science behind the project and maybe a bit more about the scientific accomplishments of the various participants.”

Given the focus of the movie on Oppenheimer and his leadership and ultimate ambivalence about the creation of the atomic bomb, Keister suggested that scientists “could be better encouraged to understand the impacts of applied uses of new discoveries. Scientists can learn to broaden their view to include means of mitigating potential negative impacts.”

Research sponsors, including taxpayers and their representatives, have an “ethical responsibility to incorporate scientists’ views of the full impacts into their decisions regarding applications and deployment of new technology,” Keister said.

Joshua-Tor thinks there “always has to be an ongoing conversation between scientists and the citizenry” which has to be an “informed, somewhat dispassionate conversation.”

Recommended movies about scientists

Local researchers also shared some of their film recommendations about scientists.

Hurowitz wrote that his favorite these days is Arrival, a science fiction film starring Amy Adams. If Hurowitz is looking for more lighthearted fare, he writes that “you can’t go wrong with Ghostbusters,” although he’s not sure the main characters Egon, Ray and Peter could be called scientists.

Keister also enjoys science fiction, as it “often challenges us with ethical dilemmas which need to be addressed.” While he isn’t sure he has a favorite, he recommended the sci-fi thriller Ex Machina starring Alicia Vikander as a humanoid robot with artificial intelligence,.

Joshua-Tor recalls liking the film A Beautiful Mind starring Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly as John and Alicia Nash. She also loved the film Hidden Figures, starring Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe.