Brookhaven National Laboratory

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.

Esther Tsai is one of four scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory to be selected by DOE’s Office of Science to receive significant funding through its Early Career Research Program. Photo courtesy of BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

This is part 2 of a 2-part series.

Half of this year’s crop of recipients from New York State for Early Career Awards from the Department of Energy came from Brookhaven National Laboratory.

With ideas for a range of research efforts that have the potential to enhance basic knowledge and lead to technological innovations, two of the four winners earned awards in basic energy science, while the others scored funds from high energy physics and the office of nuclear physics.

“Supporting America’s scientists and researchers early in their careers will ensure the United States remains at the forefront of scientific discovery,” Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said in a statement. The funding provides resources to “find the answers to some of the most complex questions as they establish themselves as experts in their fields.”

The DOE chose the four BNL recipients based on peer review by outside scientific experts. All eligible researchers had to have earned their PhDs within the previous 12 years and had to conduct research within the scope of the Office of Science’s eight major program areas.

Last week, the TBR News Media  highlighted the work of Elizabeth Brost and Derong Xu. This week, we will feature the efforts of Esther Tsai and Joanna Zajac.

Esther Tsai

Esther Tsai is one of four scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory to be selected by DOE’s Office of Science to receive significant funding through its Early Career Research Program. Photo courtesy of BNL

Listening to her in-laws argue over whom Alexa, the virtual assistant, listens to more, Esther Tsai had an idea for how to help the scientists who trek to BNL for their experiments. As a member of the beamline staff at the National Synchrotron Lightsource II, Tsai knew firsthand the struggles staff and visiting scientists face during experiments.

Artificial intelligence systems, she reasoned, could help bridge the knowledge gap between different domain experts and train students and future generations of scientists, some of whom might not be familiar with the coding language of Python.

In work titled “Virtual Scientific Companion for Synchrotron Beamlines,” Tsai, who is a scientist in the Electronic Nanomaterials Group of the Center for Functional Nanomaterials, is developing a virtual scientific companion called VISION. The system, which is based on a natural language based interaction, will translate English to programming language Python. 

“VISION will allow for easy, intuitive and customized operation for instruments without programming experience or deep understanding of the control system,” said Tsai.

The system could increase the efficiency of experiments, while reducing bottlenecks at the lightsource, which is a resource that is in high demand among researchers throughout the country and the world.

Staff spend about 20 percent of user-support time on training new users, setting up operation and analysis protocols and performing data interpretation, Tsai estimated. Beamline staff often have to explain how Python works to control the instrument and analyze data.

VISION, however, can assist with or perform all of those efforts, which could increase the efficiency of scientific discoveries.

After the initial feelings of shock at receiving the award and gratitude for the support she received during the award preparation, Tsai shared the news with friends and family and then went to the beamline to support users over the weekend.

As a child, Tsai loved LEGO and jigsaw puzzles and enjoyed building objects and solving problems. Science offers the most interesting “puzzles to solve and endless possibilities for new inventions.”

Tsai appreciates the support she received from her parents, who offered encouragement throughout her study and career. Her father Tang Tsai, who is a a retired professor in Taiwan, often thought about research and scribbled equations on napkins while waiting for food in restaurants. On trips, he’d bring papers to read and shared his thoughts. Tsai’s mom Grace, a professor in management in Taiwan who plans to retire soon, also supported her daughter’s work. Both parents read press releases about Tsai’s research and shared their experience in academia.

Tsai thinks it’s exciting to make the imaginary world of Star Trek and other science fiction stories a reality through human-AI interactions.

Joanna Zajac

From left, Joanna Zajac is one of four scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory to be selected by DOE’s Office of Science to receive significant funding through its Early Career Research Program. Photo courtesy of BNL

A quantum scientist in the Instrumentation Division, Joanna Zajac is developing a fundamental understanding of fast light-matter interconnects that could facilitate long distance quantum networks.

Zajac will design and build systems that use quantum dots to generate single photos in the wavelengths used for optical telecommunications.

These quantum dots could potentially generate photons that would work at telecommunication and atomic wavelengths, which could reduce the losses to almost nothing when quantum information travels through the current optical fibers network. Losses are currently around 3.5 decibels per kilometer, Zajac explained in an email.

By coupling quantum dot single photons with alkali vapors, the light-matter interconnects may operate as a basis for quantum information, making up nodes of quantum network connected by optical links.

“Within this project, we are going to develop fundamental understanding of interactions therein allowing us to develop components of long-distance quantum networks,” Zajac said in a statement. “This DOE award gives me a fantastic opportunity to explore this important topic among the vibrant scientific community in Brookhaven Lab’s Instrumentation Division and beyond.”

Zajac explained that she was excited to learn that her project had been selected for this prestigious award. “I have no doubt that we have fascinating physics to learn,” she added.

In her first year, she would like to set up her lab space to conduct these measurements. This will also include development experimental infrastructure such as microscopes and table-top optical experiments. She hopes to have some proof-of-principle experiments. 

She has served as a mentor for numerous junior scientists and calls herself “passionate” when it comes to working with students and interns.

Zajac, who received her master’s degree in physics from Southampton University and her PhD in Physics from Cardiff University, said she would like to encourage more women to enter the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, “as they are still underrepresented,” she said. “I would encourage them to study STEM subjects and ensure them that they will do just great.”

Elizabeth Brost is one of four scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory selected by DOE’s Office of Science to receive significant funding through its Early Career Research Program. Photo courtesy of BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

This is part 1 of a 2-part series.

Half of this year’s crop of recipients from New York State for Early Career Awards from the Department of Energy came from Brookhaven National Laboratory.

With ideas for a range of research efforts that have the potential to enhance basic knowledge and lead to technological innovations, two of the four winners earned awards in basic energy science, while the others scored funds from high energy physics and the office of nuclear physics.

“Supporting America’s scientists and researchers early in their careers will ensure the United States remains at the forefront of scientific discovery,” Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said in a statement. The funding provides resources to “find the answers to some of the most complex questions as they establish themselves as experts in their fields.”

The DOE chose the four BNL recipients based on peer review by outside scientific experts. All eligible researchers had to have earned their PhDs within the previous 12 years and had to conduct research within the scope of the Office of Science’s eight major program areas.

In a two part series, TBR News Media will highlight the work of these four researchers. This week’s Power of 3 column features Elizabeth Brost and Derong Xu. Next week, TBR will highlight the work of Joanna Zajac and Esther Tsai.

Elizabeth ‘Liza’ Brost

Elizabeth Brost is one of four scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory selected by DOE’s Office of Science to receive significant funding through its Early Career Research Program. Photo courtesy of BNL

In work titled “Shining Light on the Higgs Self-Interaction,” Brost, who is an associate scientist, is studying properties of the Higgs Boson, which was a long sought after particle that helps explain why some particles have mass. The Standard Model of Particle Physics, which predicted the existence of the Higgs Boson, also suggests that the Higgs field can interact with itself. This interaction should produce pairs of Higgs Bosons at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland, where Brost works.

A significant challenge in Brost’s work is that the production of such pairs occurs 1,000 times less frequently than the production of single Higgs Bosons, which researchers discovered to considerable fanfare in 2012 after a 48-year search.

Brost is leading the effort to use machine learning algorithms to cherry pick collision data in real time. Since these events are so rare, “it’s very important that we are able to save promising collision events,” she explained in an email.

The LHC collides protons at a rate of 40 million times per second, but the facility only keeps about 100,000 of those.

Thus far, everything Brost has seen agrees with the Standard Model of Particle Physics predictions, but “that just means we have to work harder and develop new strategies to search for new physics,” she said.

Brost earned her undergraduate degree in physics and French from Grinnell College and her PhD in physics from the University of Oregon. When she learned she’d won this early career award, she “couldn’t believe it was real for quite some time,” she wrote. “The hardest part was keeping it a secret until the official announcement.

She explained that she was only allowed to tell a few select people at BNL and close family members about the distinction, who were also sworn to secrecy. 

The award will allow her to expand the scope of the work she’s doing and to hire additional staff.

As an experienced mentor, Brost recognizes that there is “a lot of pressure to work on whatever is the newest or coolest thing in order to stand out from a crowd” at a collaboration like ATLAS [an extensive particle detector experiment at the Large Hadron Collider] which involves over 3,000 people.” She urged researchers to work on the physics they find interesting and exciting.

Derong Xu

Derong Xu is one of four scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory selected by DOE’s Office of Science to receive significant funding through its Early Career Research Program. Photo courtesy of BNL

An Assistant Physicist, Xu is working to enhance the  efficiency of the Electron-Ion Collider, a marquee tool that BNL will start building next year and is expected to be operational in the 2030’s.

The EIC will collide beams of electrons and protons or other atomic nuclei. By reducing the beam size, or packing the same number of particles into a smaller space, the EIC can increase the likelihood of these collisions.

Specifically, Xu plans to flatten the beam, which has never been used in a hadron collider. He will explore ways to reduce the interactions between beams and superconducting magnets. He will pursue a combined approach using theoretical and experimental methods, which will affect the parameters for the future EIC.

Generating flat hadron beams in existing hadron machines remains “unexplored, making our project a pioneering effort dedicated to investigating methods for maintaining beam flatness,” Xu explained in an email.

In addition to leveraging flat iron beams, Xu is also considering ways to increase the beam intensity by injecting a greater number of particles into the accelerator, which would boost the collision rate. Such an approach, however, means more electromagnetic force between the beams, requiring additional effort to maintain beam flatness.

To explore these potential approaches and determine an optimal trade-off between strategies, his project will collaborate with leading experts in accelerator physics, conduct comprehensive simulations and investigate an array of techniques.

“Through pushing the boundaries of accelerator technology and exploring diverse construction and beam creation techniques, we aspire to unlock novel scientific frontiers and achieve groundbreaking discoveries in nuclear physics,” he explained.

Receiving the award filled Xu with “immense excitement and pride.” He and his wife called their parents, who are traditional farmers, in China. When he explained to them that the award is a substantial amount of money, they advised him to “try your best and not waste the money,” he shared.

At an early age, Xu showed a strong interest in math and physics. His parents rewarded him with snacks when he got high scores. 

“That was my first equation in my life: high scores = more snacks,” he joked.

To share the subatomic world with people outside his field, Xu often makes analogies. He compares the collision of an electron beam with a proton beam to shooting a flying ping-pong ball with a gun. The ping-pong ball’s size (which, in this case, is a collection of protons) resembles the diameter of a human hair. The collisions create scattered products that provide insights into the subatomic world.

JoAnne Hewett leads her first staff meeting as the new lab director at Brookhaven National Laboratory Tuesday, Aug. 8. Photo from BNL

In her first week on the job, JoAnne Hewett has been taking walks around campus — and she likes what she sees.

The first woman to lead the 76-year old Brookhaven National Laboratory, Hewett has explored a facility primarily funded by the Department of Energy that conducts groundbreaking research in Energy & Photon Sciences, Environment, Biology, Nuclear Science & Nonproliferation, Computational Sciences, Nuclear & Particle Physics and Advanced Technology Research.

The walks Hewett has taken have been “my way of learning where all the buildings are,” said Hewett in an exclusive interview with TBR News Media. “I truly love stumbling across things I didn’t know BNL had.”

One night, Hewett walked to an enormous greenhouse, which, as a gardener who enjoys growing tomatoes, chili peppers and citrus, intrigued her.

In meeting people at these facilities, Hewett has been “impressed” at “how dedicated they are to the mission and to the science that can be done here.”

Most recently the associate lab director for fundamental physics and chief research officer at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Hewett brings extensive experience in theoretical physics to BNL and Stony Brook University, where she serves as Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and Professor at the C.N. Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics.

Throughout her career, Hewett has been the first woman to serve in a host of roles. That includes as the first woman faculty member at SLAC in 1994, the first woman associate lab director and the first woman chief research officer.

“The best way to serve as a role model is to just do a good job at whatever it is you’re doing,” Hewett said.

In her many roles, Hewett has received numerous emails from students eager to meet her.

“Don’t get discouraged,” she tells them. “You’re going to get more roadblocks than others, potentially [but] hopefully not. Don’t get discouraged. Just keep working. If you love science and want to do science, if it’s the passion in your belly, just do it.”

Hewett has been successful in her career in part because she describes herself as “stubborn by nature.”

Cultural priorities

In her tenure as lab director for a facility with over 2,760 staff members, Hewett plans to emphasize the importance of creating a respectful work environment.

“It should be number one for everybody, everywhere to foster a respectful workplace environment, so that each person that comes into work in the morning or whenever they start their shift can do the very best that they can,” she said.

Additionally, she will stress the importance of safety at the Upton-based lab, where seven projects have led to Nobel Prizes.

“A good safety culture also promotes a good workplace environment,” said Hewett. “If you don’t do your work safely, you can’t do your work.”

Science vs. management

While research and management require the use of different parts of the brain, Hewett suggested her professional and administrative goals have overlapping approaches.

“In both cases, you need to be very strategic about your thinking,” she said. “When you’re doing research, you need to think about the best way to spend your time.”

She had a “ton” of ideas in theoretical physics and needed to be strategic about how she spent her time. As a manager, she also needs to be strategic about the programs she supports to ensure they are advancing.

In addition to creating a respectful and safe workplace, Hewett would like to delve into the beautification of the campus.

“I want to involve the staff” in that effort, she said.

Hewett served as a mentor from 2008 to 2011 for Rouven Essig when he was a postdoctoral researcher at SLAC.

In an email, Essig, who is now Professor of Physics at the C.N. Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics, described her as “an exceptional leader” who is “friendly and approachable” with a “clear vision.”

Essig lauded Hewett’s vision for recognizing the value of funding small-scale experiments in particle physics, which are low-cost but can enable “major discoveries,” he added. “I think this approach is having a big impact in particle physics research in the U.S. and elsewhere.”

Essig is “excited to see how she will further strengthen BNL and the connections to Stony Brook.”

Hewett has had “numerous important contributions to our understanding of physics beyond the Standard Model and how it can be discovered with experiments,” Essig added.

In her career, Hewett found it “terrifically exciting to discover something” in which she was the “only person in the world for that instant of time that knows something,” she said.

For her, that moment occurred when she was developing work on a particular theory of extra spacetime dimensions.

Collider appeal

Hewett came to BNL in part because of the ongoing construction of the Electron Ion Collider, which will study quarks and gluons in the nucleus and the strongest forces in nature.

“I did a lot of studies of potential future colliders,” said Hewett. “I’m excited to be at a lab where a collider will be built.”

John Hill. Photo from BNL

John Hill, a distinguished physicist who is widely recognized as a world leader in x-ray scattering research, has been named deputy director for science and technology (DDST) at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory, effective July 1.

Hill’s appointment comes after an international search that began in March 2022, when current DDST Robert Tribble announced his plans to step down after eight years in the position.

“John Hill offers vision, institutional knowledge, and a track record of sound leadership,” said JoAnne Hewett, who was named the next director of Brookhaven Lab in April. “I look forward to working with him and the entire Brookhaven Lab community at the forefront of science.”

Jack Anderson is serving as interim director until Hewett joins the Lab later this summer.

In his new position, Hill will work closely with Hewett, the Lab’s science leaders, and the Brookhaven Science Associates (BSA) Board of Directors and its committees in charting the Laboratory’s future research directions (BSA, a partnership between Stony Brook University and Battelle, manages and operates the Lab on behalf of the DOE Office of Science).  More than 2,600 scientists, engineers, technicians, and professionals at Brookhaven are currently working to address challenges in nuclear and high energy physics, clean energy and climate science, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, isotope research and production, accelerator science and technology, and national security.

“I am incredibly excited to be taking on this role,” said Hill who is a resident of Stony Brook. “Brookhaven Lab has a long history of carrying out world-leading science for the benefit of the Nation and I am honored to be chosen to help lead the Lab as we continue that tradition and seek to answer some of the most important scientific questions facing the world today.”

Hill, a long-time employee of Brookhaven Lab, joined its Physics Department as a postdoc in 1992. He progressed through the ranks and has been director of the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), a DOE Office of Science User Facility located at Brookhaven, since 2015.

NSLS-II is one of the most advanced synchrotron light sources in the world. It produces ultra-bright x-rays for researchers to study materials for advances in energy, quantum computing, medicine, and more.

In addition, Hill has served as deputy associate laboratory director for energy and photon sciences since 2013. He also chaired Brookhaven Lab’s COVID-19 science and technology working group and represented Brookhaven as a member of DOE’s National Virtual Biotechnology Laboratory, a consortium comprising all 17 national laboratories working to address challenges in the fight against COVID-19.

Hill’s research has focused on using resonant elastic and inelastic x-ray scattering to study magnetic and electronic phenomena. He has authored more than 120 articles published in peer-reviewed journals and has been recognized with both a Presidential Early Career Award and a DOE Young Independent Scientist Award. He was elected a fellow of the American Physical Society. Brookhaven Lab awarded Hill its Science and Technology Award—one of the Lab’s highest accolades—in 2012.

Hill earned a Ph.D. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from Imperial College in London.


Brookhaven celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2022 and is home to seven Nobel Prize-winning discoveries and countless advances. Its 5,322-acre site attracts scientists from across the country and around the world, offering them expertise and access to large user facilities with unique capabilities. Each year, Brookhaven hosts thousands of guest researchers and facility users—in-person and virtually—from universities, private industry, and government agencies. The Lab’s annual budget is approximately $700 million, much of which is funded by the DOE and its Office of Science.

Brookhaven National Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit

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How does the temperature of a magnet affect its strength? Why does honey come in different colors? Are permanent markers really permanent? Curious students from schools across Suffolk County shared questions they explored using the scientific method at the 2023 Elementary School Science Fair hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory on June 10.

“Students from kindergarten to sixth grade who participate in the science fair use the fundamental skills that are the basis of the science conducted here at Brookhaven National Lab,” said Bernadette Uzzi, manager for K-12 programs in the Lab’s Office of Educational Programs (OEP). “Our goal is to develop today’s students into tomorrow’s scientists and engineers.”

After going virtual for three years, the competition returned to an in-person showcase at the Lab where students were ready to share their results and attend an awards ceremony for their grade level.

From delving into the physics behind speedy lacrosse tosses to studying how different materials react in salt water to crafting a codable maze, student’s experiments connected to the basics of wide-ranging research happening at Brookhaven’s world-class facilities. Many students opted to tackle clean energy solutions, including experiments that tested solar cars, asked whether food waste can produce energy, and showed how hydrogen can be produced through water electrolysis for a clean fuel option.

Cameron Casey, a first grader from Charles E. Walters Elementary School, hypothesized that light energy changes based on location. He used machines equipped with small solar panels and topped with clear plates that would spin if powered with enough energy from the sun. The only plate that spun was attached to a solar cell place directly in the sunlight.

Casey said his favorite part of participating in the science fair was that it led him to Brookhaven Lab, a place he’d been wanting to visit for a while. “I’m really proud of it,” he said. “It worked so well that it got me all the way to here.”

Other students incorporated their pets and demonstrated their passion for nature and the environment through their projects.

It was her love of the ocean and surfing that inspired Tatiana Panuthos, a fifth grader from South Bay Elementary School, to investigate microplastic pollution. “When I’m out there, I see all the plastic and garbage in the ocean, so one day, I came home and was researching the plastics I saw in the ocean,” she said. “But then I found the bigger problem and we can’t even see it: microplastics.”

After learning that much of the microplastic pollution in our oceans comes from fabric and clothing, Panuthos chose to build an inexpensive and easy-to-install filter to capture microplastics streaming out of laundry cycles.

Charlie Furman, a second grader at Fifth Avenue Elementary School asked: Can pinecones predict the weather? “My hypothesis was that I think pinecones can predict the weather because they contain a living thing,” he said. He collected pinecones and compared how they reacted to different temperatures and humidity. He found that in the cold, pinecones closed to protect their seeds, but opened as temperatures warmed up. It’s a test-the-weather project anyone can try out at home, he said.

Brookhaven Lab staff and local teachers volunteered as judges and event help.

“I love that the students are learning the scientific method,” said Kathy Haack, a science fair volunteer who teachers K-5 science at Westhampton Beach Elementary School. “They learn the difference between experiments and demonstrations, and the difference between an engineering project and an experiment.”

Science Fair awards

The following students earned first place in their grade level:

◆ Kindergartener Cameron Wallace of Clayton Huey Elementary School, Center Moriches School District for “The Best Way to Ship a Chip.”

◆ First grader Siena Roseto of Cutchogue East Elementary School, Mattituck-Cutchogue School District for “Standing Tall Backpacks and Gravity.” 

◆ Second grader Vincent Calvanese of Pines Elementary School, Hauppauge School District for “5 Second Rule-Breaker.” 

◆ Third grader Juliana Gianmugnai of Ridge Elementary School, Longwood Central School District for “Which One is the Best Filter Feeder: Oysters or Clams?”

◆ Fourth grader Emma Kowalik, of Ruth C. Kinney Elementary School, East Islip School District for “Loaded Diapers.” 

◆ Fifth grader Aditri Arun of Bretton Woods Elementary School, Hauppauge School District for “How to Keep Batteries from Draining in Extreme Weather.” 

◆ Norah Sobral of Babylon Memorial Grade School, Babylon School District for “Do Peanuts Make Bigger Eggs?” 

Honorable mentions

Kindergarten: Ava D’Alsace of Riley Avenue Elementary School, Riverhead Central School District; Michael DeLuca of Forest Brook Elementary School, Hauppauge School District

First Grade: Rebecca Tyler of Miller Avenue School, Shoreham-Wading River School District; Advika Arun of Bretton Woods Elementary School, Hauppauge School District; George Miyagishi of Park View Elementary School, Kings Park Central School District

Second Grade: Leah Cook of Riley Avenue Elementary School, Riverhead Central School District; Isla Loudenslager of Hampton Bays Elementary School, Hampton Bays Public Schools; Clayton Roberts of Sunrise Drive Elementary School, Sayville Union Free School District

Third Grade: Taran Sathish Kumar of Bretton Woods Elementary School, Hauppauge School District; Kendall Harned of Wenonah Elementary School, Sachem Central School District; Kensley Chojnacki of Park View Elementary School, Kings Park Central School District

Fourth Grade: Margaret O’Callaghan of Laddie A. Decker Sound Beach School, Miller Place School District; Declan Floyd of Sunrise Drive Elementary School, Sayville Union Free School District; John Kreuscher of Cherry Avenue Elementary School, Sayville Union Free School District; Isabella St. Pierre of Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School, Rocky Point Union Free School District; Isabella Maharlouei of Raynor Country Day School; Aubrey Urbaniweicz of West Middle Island Elementary School,  Longwood Central School District

Fifth Grade: Ethan Behrens of Tangier Smith Elementary School, William Floyd School District; Laia Balcells, Raynor Country Day School; John Locke of Love of Learning Montessori, Centerport

Sixth Grade: Mihir Sathish Kumar of Hauppauge Middle School, Hauppauge School District; Ben DeSantis of Cutchogue East Elementary School, Mattituck-Cutchogue School Distric

The 2023 Brookhaven National Laboratory Elementary School Science Fair was sponsored by Brookhaven Science Associates, which manages and operates the Lab on behalf of Department of Energy, and Teachers Federal Credit Union. For more information, please visit


Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis, left, shakes hands with New York City Mayor Eric Adams. Photo by John Griffin/Stony Brook University

With a vision to turn parts of Governors Island into a world-class center that blends into the surrounding greenery, Stony Brook University won the highly competitive process to create a climate solutions center.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D) and the Trust for Governors Island earlier this week named Stony Brook the lead in teaming up with other universities, nonprofits and businesses to create a $700 million facility that will start construction in 2025 and open in 2028.

Backed by a $100 million donation from the Simons Foundation, a $50 million gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies and $150 million from the City of New York, Stony Brook will create a unique 400,000 square-foot facility.

The center will house research laboratories and host community discussions, train 6,000 people to work in green energy jobs per year, provide educational opportunities and search for climate solutions, including those that affect low-income communities of color.

“Climate change is here and the danger is real,” Adams said at a press conference on Governors Island unveiling the winner of the competition. “I am proud to announce that we have selected a team led by Stony Brook University to deliver the New York Climate Exchange.”

Adams suggested the Stony Brook team, which includes local partners like Pace University, New York University and the City University of New York, will protect the city’s air and water.

The Trust for Governors Island also anticipates the site, which will include a “semester abroad” on-site, fellowships and internship programs, will host scientific symposiums that can bring together leaders in a range of fields.

In an email, Simons Foundation President David Spergel hopes the center will “nucleate new business that generates jobs in the region, invest in new technologies and advance solutions.”

The foundation is helping to recruit other benefactors to meet the financial needs for the site both by the example of its commitment and through personal interactions, Spergel said.

Stony Brook, meanwhile, which has a deep pool of researchers at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences investigating climate-related issues, doesn’t plan to wait until the buildings are refurbished and constructed to start the conceptual and educational work.

During phase zero, the university will “work with our partners immediately” on developing programs for kindergarten through grade 12 outreach, on scaling up green workforce development and on developing collaborative research projects across institutions, SBU President Maurie McInnis said in a town hall discussion with the campus community.

Left to right: Deputy Mayor Maria Torres-Springer, Simons Foundation president David Spergel, SBU President Maurie McInnis, New York City Mayor Eric Adams, Harbor School student Leanna Martin Peterson and Trust for Governors Island President Clare Newman. Photo by John Griffin/Stony Brook University

Practice what it preaches

In addition to providing space that will generate and test out ideas for solutions to climate change, the New York Climate Exchange buildings will minimize the carbon footprint.

There will be 230,000 square feet of new space and 170,000 square feet of refurbished existing structures. The plans, which were created by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, involve creating the biggest mass-timber building in New York City. As an alternative to concrete and steel, mass timber has a lower carbon footprint and is lighter.

Mass timber uses “less material and in a more efficient way,” said Keith O’Connor, principal at SOM, who runs the city design practice in New York and Washington, D.C., in an interview.

SOM designed the tops of the buildings with 142,000 square feet of solar cells, which will generate more than enough power for the site, enabling the center to provide all of its electricity needs and to send some energy to the city.

“We wanted to work really hard to avoid having a field of solar panels sitting off to the side” or sticking solar panels on each roof, O’Connor said. Instead, the solar panels, which will be at slightly different angles from each other, track the topography of the structures without creating a glaring field of reflected light.

Guests who arrive at Governors Island will notice a solar canopy that is “front and center,” O’Connor said. “It’s about a message for everyone who is visiting — it says that energy generation is critical.”

SOM wanted to find a way to create a warm and welcoming aesthetic that provides energy, O’Connor added.

All of the nondrinking water will come from rainwater and treated wastewater.

The site anticipates diverting 95% of waste from landfills, making it one of the first in the country to achieve true zero-waste certification.

“The concept of the physical structure is astonishing,” David Manning, director of Stakeholder Relations at Brookhaven National Laboratory, which will serve as an adviser on the center, said in an interview. “You want to attract the best and the brightest. You do that with programming. It doesn’t hurt that [the design and the facilities] are also cool.”

An aerial rendering of the island after construction, which will also include 4.5 acres of new open space, looks more like a park than a typical research station.

Governors Island, which hosts about a million visitors each year who arrive on ferries that run every half hour, plans to double the ferry service, with trips traveling every 15 minutes during the day starting next year. Also in 2024, the city will start using a hybrid electric ferry to reduce emissions.

Considerable collaborative support

McInnis expressed her gratitude to the team at Stony Brook and to her partners for putting together the winning proposal.

McInnis suggested that the university’s commitment to studying, understanding and mitigating climate change, coupled with national and international collaborations, would unite numerous strengths in one place.

“We knew we had the right team to lead this effort,” said McInnis at the announcement on Governors Island. “We also knew we needed a diverse set of partners” in areas including environmental justice, in the business sector and in philanthropic communities.

Other partners include Georgia Tech, University of Washington, Duke University, Rochester Institute of Technology and University of Oxford, England.

BNL’s Manning appreciated the opportunity to attend the kickoff of the project on Governors Island. 

Near the tip of Manhattan amid a “stunning blue sky,” the gathering was the “perfect setting” to announce and create solutions that were “this future focused,” Manning said.

Above, conceptual rendering of the proposed Center for Climate Solutions on Governors Island. Photo from New York City

The New York City Mayor’s Office and the Trust for Governors Island may soon announce the winner for the global competition to create the Center for Climate Solutions.

In October, Stony Brook University was announced as a finalist for the ambitious project. Northeastern University and the City University of New York and the New School were the leaders of the other bids.

A multidimensional environmental effort designed to educate the public, offer climate solutions and ensure equitable climate solutions, the competition, which was launched in 2020 by former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), is expected to create over $1 billion in economic impact and create 7,000 permanent jobs.

The winner or winners will create a space on the island that features views of the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge with several key features. The center will provide a way to study the impacts of climate change, host a living lab that provides entrepreneurs and nonprofits that can test and showcase their climate solutions, serve as an urban center for environmental justice organizations, feature dormitories and housing and provide space for New Yorkers and visitors to discuss climate change.

Partners on the Stony Brook proposal include Brookhaven National Laboratory, International Business Machines, Georgia Institute of Technology, Pace University, Pratt Institute, University of Washington, Duke University, Moody’s Corporation, Rochester Institute of Technology, SUNY Maritime College, Oxford University, URBS Systems, General Electric and other business, nonprofit and on-Island partners.

The proposals offered ways to support interdisciplinary research focused on urban adaptation, urban environments, public policy, environmental justice and public health.

At the same time, the finalists offered educational programs for students all the way from K-12 through graduate and adult education.

The center will provide workforce training opportunities, incubators and accelerator spaces for nonprofits and entrepreneurs working on climate and public programming.

The selection committee that is choosing the winners includes representatives from the Trust for Governors Island, Mayor Eric Adams’s (D) Office of Climate and Environmental Justice, the Mayor’s Office of Equity and the New York City Department of City Planning.

“New York City is facing some of the most complex climate adaptation challenges in the world,” Kizzy Charles-Guzman, executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Climate and Environmental Justice, said in a statement when the finalists were announced last October. “The Center for Climate Solutions will bring together actionable science, community-based partnerships and innovative and equitable solutions to communities on the frontline of the climate crisis.”

Awards Ceremony for Bridge Contest 2023
High school students become model bridge engineers in annual contest

Jacqueline Seifert, a senior at Commack High School, won first place in the 2023 Bridge Building Competition hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory on March 30.

The annual contest puts model bridges constructed by Long Island High School students to the ultimate pressure test. Students apply physics and engineering principles to build basswood structures to a set of specifications. Then, their bridges are judged based on efficiency, which is calculated using the mass of the bridge and the amount of weight it can support before breaking or bending more than one inch.

“This competition is an introduction to the world of engineering,” said Scott Bronson, manager for K–12 programs at the Lab’s Office of Educational Programs (OEP). “At Brookhaven Lab, engineers of all types support our science goals at world-class facilities and the DOE mission. We hope this contest inspires students to explore paths in science, technology, math, and engineering and to return to the Lab as interns and future employees.”

OEP received a total 142 bridges, of which 91 qualified for testing, captured below.

An awards ceremony to honor the winners was held at Brookhaven Lab on April 6. The top two winners in this regional competition qualify to compete in the International Bridge contest on April 29 in Chicago, IL.

Seifert, who earned second place in last year’s local competition and placed 16th in the previous international contest, designed a bridge that weighed 23.47grams and recorded an efficiency of 1342.22. As the testing machine slowly added more and more weight to Seifert’s W truss design, the Science Learning Center erupted in impressed “oohs” as the load hit close to 70 lbs. Retired Brookhaven Lab engineer and longtime competition supporter Marty Woodle noted right away “that’s an international contender.”

Seifert, who will pursue civil engineering at Vanderbilt University, said it was rewarding to watch her design hit that high bridge load. “The most exciting part was the experimentation and seeing what works and what doesn’t, finding the weak points in my bridge so I could continue to make it better,” she said. “I’ll see how it goes in the international competition.”

Katherine Liang, a junior at Ward Melville High School, who garnered first place in two previous contests and 9th and the last international competition, placed second this year with a design that realized an efficiency of 1094.44.

Third-place winner Jonathan Thomas, a junior at Walt Whitman High School, constructed a bridge that recorded an efficiency of 1048.18. After conducting bridge demos in a physics lab at school, Thomas learned his design needed more horizontal support and looked to previous competition winners for potential engineering ideas.“It’s definitely a career path I want to go into,” he said.

Aidan Quinn, a junior at Smithtown High School East won this year’s aesthetic award. Quinn’s double arch design was neat with clean lines, inspired by a photo his father showed him that captured a historical moment when a pilot flew a biplane under a bridge that once crossed the Niagara River.

“I would love to major in biomedical engineering,” Quinn said. “I’m glad I was able to participate in the competition. It was a great experience.” 

JoAnne Hewett has been named the new BNL director. Photo from SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

For the first time in its over 75-year history, Brookhaven National Laboratory named its first female lab director.

JoAnne Hewett, associate lab director for fundamental physics and chief research officer at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, California, will take over the top job at BNL this summer.

Hewett will also join Stony Brook University as a tenured faculty member in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and the C.N. Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics.

Hewett “is not only incredibly qualified and talented, but will also make history as the first woman to serve in this critical role,” Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), who is the first woman elected governor of the Empire State, said in a statement. “The lab has developed innovative ways to deliver on New York’s top priorities, from battling disease to acting on climate change, that are making a difference today and for the future of New York.”

Hewett, who was the first woman member at SLAC in 1994, conducts research as a theoretical physicist, exploring the fundamental nature of space, matter and energy. Her work in physics focuses on efforts beyond the Standard Model of particle physics.

Stony Brook University Distinguished Professor and Director of the C.N. Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics George Sterman described her hire as a “wonderful turn of events.”

In an email, Sterman wrote that her work “as a theoretical physicist has earned wide admiration, and her leadership has helped shape the national program in fundamental particles.”

Sterman suggested Hewett’s research “continues to influence experiments worldwide, and her perspectives will be greatly valued by her new colleagues at Stony Brook.”

With over 2,800 scientists, engineers, technicians and professionals and an annual budget of about $700 million, the researchers at BNL tap into the site’s state-of-the-art technology, including the National Synchrotron Lightsource II. These researchers, and the many scientists from around the country and the world, work in fields including nuclear and high energy physics, clean energy and climate science, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, photon sciences, isotope production, accelerator science and technology and national security.

Hewett is coming to BNL as it prepares to begin construction on the Electron-Ion Collider, or EIC. Estimated to cost between $1.7 billion and $2.8 billion, the EIC will allow researchers to look inside the nucleus at the protons and neutrons. The research will reveal the arrangement of quarks and gluons that make up the protons and neutrons of nuclei.

Discoveries from the EIC could lead to future technologies.

“I am head-over-heels excited to build the EIC in partnership with Jefferson Lab to unlock the mysteries of the force that binds Nature’s building blocks, to strengthen connections to industry and the community with Discovery Park, and to advance the multi-program missions of the lab,” Hewett said in a statement. “And I’m very much looking forward to working with everyone at Brookhaven, Stony Brook and the DOE to usher the lab into its next successful chapter.”

The lab is also building a new welcome center, the Science and User Support Group, which is the first building planned for Discovery Park.

Maurie McInnis, president of SBU and co-chair of the BSA Board of Directors, which is a partnership between SBU and Battelle, welcomed Hewett, who will start this summer, to BNL.

Hewett’s “capable leadership, experience and future-forward vision complements Brookhaven National Laboratory’s continued focus on scientific innovation and discovery,” McInnis said in a statement. “The University is pleased to bring her expertise to the Physics and Astronomy Department and to the C.N. Yang Institute of Theoretical Physics, both of which have had “long-standing and critical connections to many major physics achievements at BNL.”

The next few months

Hewett takes over the top job at the lab from Doon Gibbs, who had been in that position from 2013. Gibbs is retiring on April 17.

“I am grateful to [Gibbs] for his outstanding leadership of Brookhaven and his long legacy of building and strengthening the lab for advancing scientific discovery,” Hewett said in a statement.

Jack Anderson, BNL’s deputy director for operations, will serve as the interim lab director until Hewett joins the lab.

Tom Daniels, the current ALD for Facilities and Operations will serve as interim deputy director.