Science & Technology

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 new big data study shows retweeting negative tweets may spread voter fraud conspiracies.Getty Images
Details of the study using a big data model are published in the Nature journal Humanities and Social Sciences Communications

A team of behavioral scientists using big data and a simulation-based model to analyze social media “tweets” around the 2020 presidential election found that the spread of voter fraud conspiracy theories on Twitter (now called X) was boosted by a negativity bias. Led by Mason Youngblood, PhD, a post-doctoral fellow in the Institute for Advanced Computational Science at Stony Brook University, the findings are published in Humanities and Social Sciences Communications.

The researchers simulated the behavior of around 350,000 real Twitter users. They found that the sharing patterns of some 4 million tweets about voter fraud are consistent with people being much more likely to retweet social posts that contain stronger negative emotion.

The data for their study came from the VoterFraud2020 dataset, collected between October 23 and December 16, 2020. This dataset includes 7.6 million tweets and 25.6 million retweets that were collected in real-time using X’s streaming Application Program Interface, under the established guidelines for ethical and social media data use.

“Conspiracy theories about large-scale voter fraud spread widely and rapidly on Twitter during the 2020 U.S. presidential election, but it is unclear what processes are responsible for their amplification,” says Youngblood.

Given that, the team ran simulations of individual users tweeting and retweeting one another under different levels and forms of cognitive bias and compared the output to real patterns of retweet behavior among proponents of voter fraud conspiracy theories during and around the election.

“Our results suggest that the spread of voter fraud messages on Twitter was driven by a bias for tweets with more negative emotion, and this has important implications for current debates on how to counter the spread of conspiracy theories and misinformation on social media,” Youngblood adds.

Through their simulations and numerical analysis, Youngblood and colleagues found that their results are consistent with previous research by others suggesting that emotionally negative content has an advantage on social media across a variety of domains, including news coverage and political discourse.

The model also showed that even though negative tweets were more likely to be retweeted, quote tweets tended to be more moderate than the original ones, as people tended not to amplify negativity when commenting on something.

Youngblood says that because the team’s simulation-based model recreates the patterns in the actual data quite well, it may potentially be useful for simulating interventions against misinformation in the future. For example, the model could be easily modified to reflect the ways that social media companies or policy makers might try to curb the spread of information, such as reducing the rate at which tweets hit people’s timelines.


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.

Pixabay photo

United States defense and intelligence leaders agree that climate change is a threat to U.S. national security and is affecting global stability, military readiness, humanitarian crises, and the risk of war.

Scott Mandia. Photo by Victoria Sinacori

As part of Suffolk County Community College’s Faculty Talks series, nationally recognized climate change authority and twice featured National Geographic documentary expert, Suffolk County Community College Professor of Physical Sciences Scott Mandia will speak about Climate Change & National Security Implications on Monday, September 18 at Suffolk County Community College, Kreiling Hall Room 203, 533 College Road, Selden at 11:15 a.m. (Parking lot by water tower)

Mandia, the founder of the Climate Science Rapid Response Team that matches journalists with scientists to enable the media to better explain climate change and meteorological phenomenon will cover a range of topics including:

  • Evidence of a warming planet
  • Scientific evidence of the human cause
  • Who’s emitting the most greenhouse gases?
  • Who’s impacted the most? The poorest among us.
  • Super Storm Sandy
  • The World’s regions most impacted by climate change and implications
  • Solutions and taking action

Mandia has been called upon by The White House to present research about the impact of large-scale climate change on severe thunderstorms and tornadoes after a EF5 multiple-vortex tornado struck Joplin, Missouri on May 22, 2011. The tornado killed 158, injured 1,150 and caused $2.8 billion in damages – the costliest single tornado in US history. In addition to climate change, Mandia has written about Long Island hurricanes including the New England Hurricane of 1938, known locally as the “Long Island Express” and the future vulnerability of Long Island to hurricanes. He co-authored a book with Hunt Janin titled: Rising Sea Levels that was released before Hurricane Sandy hit Long Island and warned about the devastating effects of such a storm on New York.


The Sand Tiger Shark, shown here in the NY Aquarium, is a common species that lives and feeds in coastal New York area waters. Credit: Julie Larsen, Wildlife Conservation Society

Scientists call for more research and key steps to gathering evidence around human-shark interactions, perspective published in Journal of Fish Biology

The lack of evidence about shark biology, their prey, and changes in the ecosystems of New York area coastal waters is a driving force to expand research about sharks and their populations in the region, so say a team of scientists in an article published in the Journal of Fish Biology.

As the 2023 summer season wraps up and marine biologists look to a new season and coming summers, the perspective piece challenges an emerging view that there is a growing number of human-shark interactions in the New York Bight (a triangular coastal region encompassing ocean and bay waters from New Jersey to the NYC metro area and Long Island) – all this because of growing shark populations and their feeding habits.

Lead author Oliver N. Shipley, PhD, a Research Assistant Professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) at Stony Brook University, and colleagues describe the current knowledge of shark biology in the region and detail the misalignment between scientific knowledge and anecdotal information reported in recent years in the media about sharks in the region. They provide several critical areas for future research that they hope will promote positive attitudes of sharks and their conservation and help mitigate future human-shark conflicts.

“Shark populations are poorly studied in the New York Bight. When human-shark interactions occur, this paucity of scientific data has resulted in inaccurate messages from some mainstream media trying to assign causality to these incidents,” says Shipley. “We are calling for steps to be taken to advance scientific knowledge in order to better understand shark populations and why human-shark interactions may be occurring.”

According to the authors, population declines of sharks and their relatives have been well documented over the last several decades, globally, primarily because of targeting fishing and bycatch from commercial and recreational fisheries. Yet in the temperate waters of the New York Bight, sharks have received heighted attention due to a reported increase in their activity close to the shore. And the complex relationship between sharks and humans has been further ignited by a recent spike in human-shark interactions along the coastal New York Bight.

The authors write: “Although we acknowledge both sightings of sharks and reporting of negative human-shark interactions has increased in recent years, assigning any immediate causality would be irresponsible and risky to both sharks and human stakeholders in the absence of scientific support.”

To counter the easily perceived immediate causality to the human-shark encounters, Shipley and colleagues recommend that going forward the following research avenues are necessary to gather evidence about shark populations in the region:

There needs to be an expansion of coastwide monitoring programs in the context of climate change. They suggest shark monitoring methods can include multiple approaches, such as coastal drone surveys, environmental DNA assessments, and robust spatial analyses that quantify interactions between climate and sharks, and their prey across time.

Michael Frisk, PhD, a Professor at SoMAS and senior author on the paper, explains that such surveys would lead to novel long-term data that can be used to assess the distribution of sharks in response to prey movements and environmental conditions. It would also help to better understand the environmental conditions that increase the potential overlap between sharks and humans, and therefore help to gauge the possibilities of such encounters and potentially reduce or prevent them.

At SoMAS, several research groups are undertaking research that examines so-called “hotspots” of shark-prey interactions along southern Long Island, and where these may be impacted by warming ocean conditions.

Shipley says he and fellow researchers intend to begin systematic drone surveys at several pilot beaches to support townships and state shark monitoring initiatives, in hopes of providing new data on the probability of human-shark overlap and what conditions may drive such overlap.

Co-authors of the position paper include: Michael G. Frisk of SoMAS; Jill A. Olin of the Great Lakes Research Center, Michigan Technological University; Christopher Scott, Division of Marine Resources, New York Department of Environmental Conservation; and Merry Camhi, of the New York Seascape Program at the New York Aquarium and Wildlife Conservation Society.


Jasmine Moss. Photo by Susan Anderson

By Daniel Dunaief

As the first chemist in the history of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Professor John Moses has forged new connections at the lab, even as he maintains his affinity for and appreciation of his native Wrexham in Wales.

Indeed, Moses recently created and funded a fellowship for disadvantaged students in Wales, giving them an opportunity to visit the lab, learn about the science he and others do, and, perhaps, spark an interest in various science, technology, engineering and math fields.

Called Harbwr y Ffynnon Oer Scholarship, which means “Cold Spring Harbor” in Welsh, Moses’s laboratory recently welcomed Jasmine Moss, the first recipient, in early August.

“I hope it broadens” the horizons of those who travel to the lab, explained Moses in an email. “Wales is a small country” with a population of about three million. Coming to New York — a city with a much bigger population than Wales — “can only be an eye-opening experience.”

Jasmine Moss with postdoctoral fellow Dharmendra Vishwakarma. Photo by Theresa Morales

For Moss, who is studying for an integrated masters degree in biomedical engineering, the opportunity proved exciting and rewarding.

“I was expecting to feel intimidated” with everyone knowing so much more than she, Moss said during an interview on the morning of her third day in the lab. “I was expecting maybe a little bit not to understand everything. Everyone is amazing” and made her feel welcome.

The experience started with a walk around the campus, which included considerable information not only about the science but also about the history of the 133-year old laboratory.

Moss, who said this was the first time she’d been in a professional chemistry lab, helped conduct an experiment in which a reaction caused a liquid to change color because of the presence of copper.

“I did the measuring and putting it together,” said Moss, who added that she was “heavily supervised.” She did some calculations as well.

Moss suggested that her interest in science originated with a proficiency in math.

If she were having a bad day in secondary school, she could turn her mood and her mentality around by spending an hour in math class.

Beyond the science

Theresa Morales, a senior scientific administrator, created a schedule of activities and coordinated Moss’s visit.

“We want to do the same thing for any scholarship awardee,” Morales said. “We want to give them the overall experience. It’s not just about the science. We invite the person to realize the culture of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory” which has a “beautiful campus and great people” who occupy its labs, attend meetings, and share scientific insights and experiences.

A postdoctoral researcher in Moss’s lab, Josh Homer suggested that Morales did “the heavy lifting” in coordinating three days of activities and opportunities for Moss. Homer, who is collaborating with Professor Bo Li to develop new opiates that are non addictive for pain treatment, appreciated Moss’s reactions to the opportunities in the lab.

“I thought [Moss’s] face lit up,” he said. When people are exposed to science in a “manageable and digestible way, they learn that they can do it.”

Indeed, Homer, who grew up in New Zealand, recalled how a high school teacher inspired his interest in science.

“My journey genuinely kick started from one good teacher” who sparked an “inquisitiveness” within him, Homer said. 

Coming from a smaller country, Homer can relate to the opportunities science has provided for him.

“Chemistry has been a fantastic way to see the world and explore,” said Homer, who conducted his PhD research at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. “Science is a universal language. Chemistry is the same in India, China” and all over the world.

A family experience

Jasmine Moss with her dad, Stephen Moss, front, with members of John Moses’s lab. Photo by Lorraine Baldwin

Moss traveled to New York for the first time with her parents Stephen and Emma, who stayed with her on campus, toured the grounds and library and attended a picnic.

While the library tour was less interesting to Moss, she said her father “really enjoyed it.”

Morales suggested that the lab “wants parents to feel just as good” and that the parents will have “the same enthusiasm for science and the experience as the scholar if they can feel they are a part” of the visit.

In addition to getting an inside look at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Moss and her parents ventured into the city, where she ate her first pizza and visited the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty. She was particularly impressed with the speed at which the Empire State Building was constructed, which took a year and 45 days.

Prior to her visit, Moss’s understanding of the city of New York came from the version she observed through the sitcom “Friends.”

As for the next phase of her life, she expressed an interest in helping people, which could be through medical engineering, biology or in some other field.

“I want to do something meaningful,” Moss said.

Next steps

Moses hopes to bring students to the lab each year, particularly those who might have had problems or difficulties or are from a disadvantaged background. Moss suffers from anxiety and feels every new experience makes similar opportunities easier.

“The team really put me at ease almost immediately,” said Moss.

Moss was surprised by the similarities between Long Island and the United Kingdom. She suggested the best parts of Wales are the countryside and beaches. If she returned the favor and hosted guests in her native Wales, she would take them to an international rugby match in Cardiff.

As for other area sports, Moses comes from the little soccer town that could in Wrexham, which is now famous for the purchase of the local team by actor Ryan Reynolds and co-owner Rob McElhenney. While the actors have brought soccer dreams to life, Moses hopes Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory might help young students realize their science dreams.

Andrew Young. Photo by Daniel Dunaief

By Daniel Dunaief

Andrew Young is in a similar place to the one he was in when he first met his wife Lynne over two decades ago: spending time on the water. 

This time, however, instead of living aboard a 72-foot sailboat in San Diego, Young is shifting back and forth from his new home in Setauket to a motor boat, fully equipped to form a floating office, in the Setauket harbor.

Above, Andrew Young demonstrates where a cylindrical device for drug delivery could be implanted. Photo by Daniel Dunaief

In the time between his stints aboard ships, Young, who is a native of Taranaki, New Zealand, has conducted research on gut hormones, making the kinds of discoveries that helped lead to diabetes treatments and weight loss treatments such as Ozempic and Wegovy.

When the couple first started dating in 2001, Young was working at a company called Amylin, which was named after a hormone.

For years, no one knew exactly what the hormone did. Numerous scientists believed amylin worked in opposition to the pancreatic hormone insulin, which controls glucose levels in the blood and, when absent, leads to diabetes.

Young’s job was to solve the riddle of amylin. Coming from the beta cells of the pancreas, which are the same cells that produce insulin and that responded to the same stimuli, he suspected it was involved in metabolic control, but “we got it totally wrong for about four years,” he said.

Young helped discover that amylin and insulin weren’t working in opposition: they were functioning on opposite ends towards the same goal.

Insulin accelerates the exit of glucose from the blood, while amylin slowed the entry of glucose into the blood. Amylin works on gastric emptying and suppresses appetite. The “clever little beta cell was doing two jobs,” Young said. 

Adding in the second hormone made it easier to control glucose in the blood, without big ups and downs in sugar levels.

Replacing amylin meant the body needed about 30 to 50 percent of the amount of insulin the body might otherwise need. People who take insulin alone to treat diabetes require more insulin than the body usually produces.

“It’s an orchestra of hormones that get the job done,” Young said.

That’s especially true for hormones produced in the digestive tract The discovery of the physiology of amylin made the scientific and pharmaceutical world aware of the importance of the gut in metabolic control. For most pharmaceutical companies, the lesson began with Glucagon-like peptide 1, or GLP-1, which has led to Wegovy and Ozempic.

Amylin and GLP-1 were both used for diabetes. Amylin analogs haven’t been approved for weight loss, but Young expects they will be. “The amylin story was kind of neat,” he said. “It focused our minds on the gut. GLP-1 was the next one of these gut hormones.”

A revelation on a poster

While pharmaceutical companies saw the potential benefit of stimulating GLP1, which triggered the release of insulin, they couldn’t create a drug that had an effect that lasted long enough to make a difference. 

The body makes GLP1 at about the same rate as it breaks it down, which means controlling blood sugar and appetite by altering GLP-1 was difficult. “You could get a decent anti-diabetic effect if you infused it continuously,” Young explained, as the half life of endogenous GLP-1 is about five minutes.

Young attended a poster session at the American Diabetes Association’s annual meeting in San Francisco, California in 1996.

Looking at a poster from Dr. John Eng, who works at the Bronx Veterans Administration Medical Center, Young thought he saw a solution in the form of a hormone from the reptilian Gila monster.

Eng demonstrated that the hormone, which he called exendin-4 and which he studied with his own money, stayed in diabetic mice for 24 hours. Young thought this might lead to the development of a diabetes drug.

As he was reading the poster, Young realized he was standing next to someone who worked at competitor Eli Lilly.

“I thought he had figured it out as well” and that they were in a race to understand exendin-4, Young added.

Young arranged for the staff at Amylin to buy what they could of this compound and to make some of it in house as well. The company quickly performed numerous experiments in a short period of time, even before Eng arrived in San Diego.

Eng gave a seminar about what he knew about the molecule. Young then stood up and talked about what Amylin had since learned about it. 

Eng was “dumbstruck, but he realized at that stage that we were the people he should partner with,” Young added.

The hormone amylin and exendin-4 had many of the same effects, including inhibiting gastric emptying. They did, however, have opposite effects on other actions. Exendin stimulated insulin secretion, while amylin inhibited it. 

Better than an injection

Young has continued to work for six companies in scientific leadership roles. Amid the financial crisis of 2008, Young went to work in North Carolina for GlaxoSmithKline, which is now called GSK.

In 2015, Young co-founded Phoundry Pharmaceuticals with five other former GSK coworkers. Phoundry attracted the attention of Intarcia Therapeutics. Using an invention by Alza Corp and licensed to Intarcia, the company developed a thin, implantable cylindrical device that could push as much as 160 micro liters of drugs out over six months.

In looking for a treatment for its drug delivery system, Intarcia chose Phoundry.

“The limited volume of such a small implanted pump required very potent medicines,” Young said. “Phoundry’s competitive advantage was the knowledge of how to engineer in such potency.”

After the purchase of Phoundry in 2015, Young became Chief Scientific Officer at Intarcia. The FDA, however, rejected the use of exendin from Intarcia. Through an extended appeals process, the FDA is planning to allow one final discussion about the delivery of exendin through Intarcia’s device on September 21st.

The current version of the device lasts for at least three and six months in the body. The same device could be used to deliver other medicines. The pumps have been engineered with a failsafe system that disables its osmotic engine in the event of malfunction, so the drug is not released.

The device could deliver drugs for many chronic conditions, such as hypertension and osteoporosis and is intended for frequent administration of the same drug.

Not only a scientist

As for his work in the early stages of understanding hormones that have led to drugs that are now widely used to treat diabetes and obesity, Young is pleased with his contribution.

“Obesity is probably the most deadly disease on the planet, given its high and increasing prevalence and the cardiovascular risk factors that spring from it,” Young explained.

Novo Nortis recently announced that treating obesity alone, without any diabetes, reduces the risk of death.

Young himself is taking one of these drugs and has lost 36 pounds over six months. 

Part of a process that has led to six approved products, he is working as a consultant for several companies, and believes he still has more to give. “I intend to keep doing it,” he said. “I’ve got at least one more” down the road.

Given the long drug development process, he hopes to help move one or more pieces ahead.

As for his oceanic surroundings, Young didn’t exactly sweep his future wife off her feet when they met. “He invited me on his boat for dinner,” Lynne recalls. “He was outside the marina and he had on this sweater that was dirty and oversized.”

Young suggested they have soup for dinner and proceeded to pull out a can of Campbell’s tomato soup.

She knew Young, however, was “probably the guy when I walked on the boat and he said, ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’” Other men had suggested an alcoholic drink.

Lynne, who is an attorney, also appreciated his collection of books.

The Youngs chose Setauket because they had cast a wide net, looking for a home on the water somewhere between the Canadian border and North Carolina. 

“This was it,” said Lynne, who is thrilled with the extensive art community in the area.

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.”

CBS News personality Steve Overmyer visited the St. Johnland campus recently to get residents reactions to Virtual Reality. Several residents volunteered to demo VR headsets provided by MyndVR and experienced adventures, travel, music and other virtual activities. The residents, ranging in age from the early 80s and into their 90s were able to visit Amsterdam & Paris, watch the opening scene of Lion King, catch butterflies in a net and even sky-dive!

“I always wanted to go the Europe, but it was never possible” said resident Paul Reuther who visited Amsterdam, “It feels like I’m right there. You are seeing all the sights and all the people.” Ronni Izzo, Rita Sandalena and Bill Moran joined Paul on various adventures including skydiving and going to Broadway. Just seeing the smile on their faces was proof that this new technology may someday be used in senior care facilities worldwide.

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.