Science & Technology

Rainbow over NSLS-II: Brookhaven National Laboratory’s National Synchrotron Light Source II is a state-of-the-art 3-GeV electron storage ring. Photo from BNL

Budget season brought good news for the Brookhaven National Laboratory, which may receive $291.5 million from the government to help sustain and improve two of its facilities as part of President Barack Obama’s budget request for the 2017 fiscal year.

The president requested $179.7 million of that money to go toward BNL’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider facility and the remainder to the National Synchrotron Light Source II facility. The proposed amount is $9.5 million more than what the lab received last year for the two facilities combined.

According to Brookhaven Lab spokesperson Peter Genzer, the money won’t only help the Lab’s RHIC and NSLS-II facilities run, but also help fund new experimental stations at NSLS-II. The president’s financial inquiry also includes $1.8 million for the Core Facility Revitalization project.

The project will provide the infrastructure and facilities to store data to support the lab’s growing needs, the press release said.

U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) have worked to maintain America’s science presence — and securing more federal funds for the lab helps maintain it. Schumer said he was pleased with the president’s request to increase funding for the lab, saying that an increase in funding will help keep BNL and our nation at the forefront of innovation and boost Long Island’s economy.

“We appreciate the President’s continued support for science and, in particular, Brookhaven Lab’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider and National Synchrotron Light Source II,” BNL Director Doon Gibbs said. “ We are also extremely grateful for the ongoing efforts of Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand — and the entire N.Y. Congressional delegation — on behalf of the Lab and its research mission.”

According to RHIC’s website, scientists study earth in its infancy and other areas that will help people better understand how the world works. The approximate 16-year-old ion collider is also the first machine in the world that can support colliding heavy ions.

The NSLS-II allows scientists to examine high-energy light waves in a variety of spectrums, including x-ray, ultraviolet and infrared. The RHIC and NSLS-II are BNL’s two largest facilities Genzer said.

He added that the “president’s budget request is the first step in the budget process for the fiscal year 2017.” The process begins on Oct. 1. In the best-case scenario, the government will agree on and vote to approve the final budget before the end of the end of September.

The senators will continue their fight to get increased funding for BNL as the lab “is a major economic engine for Long Island,” Gillibrand said.

Gillibrand said she was also pleased with the administration’s request for increased funds. Construction of NSLS-II began in 2009 and cost around $912 million. BNL expected construction to end last year.

Other members of BNL were unavailable for comment prior to publication.

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Mount Sinai High School comes in a close second

From left, Farmingdale High School winners Clarisse Baes, Ramin Chowdhury, Hamza Malick, Suraj Muralidharan, Jake Chammas and coach Peter Macchia pose for a photo after winning the High School Science Bowl. Photo from Brookhaven National Laboratory

Farmingdale High School students have one contest down to a science.

For the second consecutive year the team won the Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Long Island Regional High School Science Bowl in Upton on Saturday, Jan. 30. Now the students and their coach will head to Washington, D.C., on April 28 for the National Science Bowl finals. The teams were comprised of five students whose science and math knowledge were put to the test with a fast-paced jeopardy-style contest.

Farmingdale seniors Clarisse Baes, Ramin Chowdhury, Suraj Muralidharan, Jake Chammas and junior Hamza Malick beat out 19 teams for the top spot, including their toughest competitors, the Mount Sinai High School team, which came in second place. Their coach, Peter Macchia, an earth science teacher, said the team tried something new to prepare for this year’s Science Bowl competition.

“Instead of trying to win a trophy, they were preparing for college,” Macchia said. “So, they benefitted from studying together almost every day, and win or lose, they can now be successful in college.”

Coach Gina Sing led the Mount Sinai High School team to second place. The team included Andrew Rodriguez, Nick Eberhard, Danny O’Mara, Alexander Mule and Patrick Hanaj. Great Neck South and Lynbrook High School took third and fourth place, respectively.

While these three teams won’t get an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C., for the finals, the top 16 high school teams and top eight middle school teams in Nationals will win $1,000 to go toward their school’s science department. The National Finals in Washington, D.C., will be from April 28 to May 2.

BNL started hosting the LI Regional Competition for the National Science Bowl in 1991. U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz said the Science Bowl “continues to be one of the premier academic competitions across the country, and prepares [American] students for future success in some of the world’s fastest growing fields in research and engineering.”

For more information about BNL’s Science Bowl, call 631-344-2345.

Money will fund the purchase of a cataloging program

Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe’s new grant will help the center document important information and provide a temperature controlled-storage unit to house artifacts. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe rang in the new year with another grant.

On Jan. 5, the center announced that it received a grant from the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation. The news comes just two days before the anniversary of Nikola Tesla’s death, which was on Jan. 7, 1943.

The money from the grant will fund the purchase of a cataloging program and storage unit. While the new unit allows the center to store artifacts and collections, the program, PastPerfect, will help the center record and document those artifacts and collections.

The organization applied for the $3,800 grant in October and was approved the following month. Although it received the grant in December, the organization was unable to buy the program at the time. But the news that they received the full $3,800 grant was a surprise.

The Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation supports and aims to preserve New York State history, particularly in Suffolk County. The foundation is known for meeting organizations halfway on an approved grant.

“We support [the organizations],” said Kathryn Curran, president of the foundation. “But they also need to find ways to be sustainable.”

Organizations applying for a grant must be able to fund half the money it requests on the application. Curran said Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe received the full grant they applied for because the organization wasn’t requesting a significant amount of money and because, when it comes to fundraising, Curran said, the center is one of the best. Although Tesla Science Center applied for the grant in hopes of purchasing the program, Treasurer Mary Daum said the program hasn’t been installed yet, but will be soon.

In 2012, the center raised $1.37 million dollars in one month from a crowdfunding campaign. Daum said this was the organization’s first real fundraising campaign. The money they raised helped purchase the Tesla Science Center property at the time. As Nikola Tesla’s last and only existing laboratory, Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe is world-renowned, leaving them with thousands of followers. Some followers are active donors, while others like to keep up with the center’s newsletter.

Although the organization didn’t use crowdfunding to help raise money for its last fundraiser, they raised around $17,000 during its six-week campaign.

“We’ve done so much work on construction or improving the grounds, and that’s not the kind of thing the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation supports,” Daum said. “But what they do support is preserving Long Island’s historic legacy.”

While it was the first time the center applied for a grant from the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, it wasn’t the first time the foundation gave an organization the full grant it applied for. The foundation wants to know that organizations like the center at Wardenclyffe are meeting their fundraising goals.

It will be a few years before the center achieves its main goal of establishing a science center and museum, but Jane Alcorn, president of Tesla Science Center, said it recently purchased a collection of historic electrical equipment that are similar to tools Tesla may have used during his lifetime and other artifacts the center can catalog.

“We feel very fortunate that the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation provided funding for us to start our collection on the right foot,” Alcorn said. “We’re grateful to their foresight in providing grants to us and local institutions.”

The Tesla Science Center laboratory site in Shoreham is blocked off while it’s under redevelopment. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Science doesn’t come cheap.

So it was a pleasant surprise for the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe when the New York State Regional Economic Development Councils announced the center will receive two grants totaling $700,000. While the center has yet to receive the grants, the NYSREDC’s 2015 awards notice for Long Island is proof the grants are forthcoming. The state agency did not reply to messages prior to publication.

The center is slated to receive $200,000 through the Market New York grant program, which tackles public relations and increasing tourism, among other responsibilities. The remaining $500,000 will go toward the center’s Wardenclyffe site. The center is currently redeveloping this property and plans to establish the Nikola Tesla Museum and Science Center. The site is the last remaining laboratory of Tesla, a prominent inventor in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

According to Tesla Science Center President Jane Alcorn, the center applied for the grants this past July. Alcorn added applying for the grants is a competitive process as there are many applicants for these grants.

“It’s very exciting to have funds to promote our project and to work on the redevelopment of Wardenclyffe,” Alcorn said in an email.

Initially, the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe was known as Friends of Science East Inc. While its name changed, the not-for-profit mission to develop Tesla’s only existing laboratory site into a science center and museum remained the same.

In 2009, when Brookhaven Town Superintendent of Highways Dan Losquadro was a Suffolk County legislator and former state Assemblyman Marc Alessi was still in office, the two announced plans to acquire the 16-acre property. Former town supervisor, Mark Lesko, and state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) were also part of this effort to acquire and preserve the property on behalf of the state and town, according to an article on the Tesla website.

Alessi emphasized its importance as the last Tesla lab in the world. He added that the site was culturally and historically significant as a result.

“We need to ensure that it is protected so that future generations can continue to enjoy this landmark,” Alessi said in the article.

Regardless of these officials’ plans, Friends of Science East purchased the property in 2013. The organization also hoped to preserve the site and make improvements.

Tesla built his facility in Shoreham in 1901-03. It was a small brick building no bigger than a schoolhouse. Yet behind the building was a 187-foot tower that Tesla intended to be a wireless power transmission station, which Tesla claimed would produce wireless electricity.

Now years later, the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe is looking forward to a brighter future for the site, and hopes to be able to do even more.

“We hope to apply for additional grants in the future [that] will assist in the continuation of progress toward the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe opening day,” Alcorn said.

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By Elof Carlson

Science explores the unknown. I love the history of science because it reveals how science has changed our way of seeing the universe. It rejects the supernatural as an explanation. This has led to the formation of the major fields of science — physics, astronomy, geology, chemistry and biology.

Combinations of these fields are used to explore other fields like oceanography, meteorology or paleontology. Those sciences require data gathering, associations, experimentation and the invention of instruments to obtain data not detectable with our own senses.

Telescopes, microscopes, centrifuges, cyclotrons, cameras, chromatography, space probes, computers, electronic sensors and hundreds of other devices are used in different fields of science to give us information about other planets, stars and galaxies. These tools allow it to smash atoms, sequence DNA or work out how an organism shifts from a fertilized egg to a crying newborn. 

There is another lesson I learned from studying the history of science. We don’t know as much as we think we do. Almost all of modern science from the origin of starlight to the cellular composition of our bodies was unknown before the existence of the right tools and level of understanding of how things worked.

A college science textbook is complete only for the generation of students reading it. It becomes outdated within five years and new texts are required. The new material comes from new tools introduced, new experiments revealing unexpected outcomes and chance findings from sifting through data.

In my own field I would identify as a major unknown the composition and functions of the cytoplasm of the cell. This is the material in which the cell nucleus and membrane-bound organelles are located (the mitochondria, Golgi, endoplasmic reticulum and lysosomes are examples). But the “glop” around them is a gel of sorts and has some cytoskeletal components. What is not known are the component molecules and the structural arrangement of the molecules in the cell cytoplasm that makes it unique to the species. 

You cannot put a fertilized mouse cell nucleus in an enucleated egg of a fish or toad or rabbit. That inability may be a consequence of the products of nuclear genes stored in the cytoplasm that are essential for turning genes on or off after fertilization. Lots of experiments will have to be done to see what’s going on.

That is the challenge of science.  Each new generation of students looks at things in fresh or original ways. The old way of describing and interpreting things gives way.  Sometimes it is rapid, such as the field of molecular biology after the discovery of nucleic acids as the hereditary material. 

Often it is slow.  The discovery of new organs or tissues in the human body is relatively slow.  About once every 20 years or so, I read an article that a new tendon or region of the brain, or some new function of a gland, has been discovered.

No new continents on Earth have been discovered since the polar regions were explored in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Our technology for photographing Earth makes such a finding virtually impossible. We can predict what we can infer from the known knowledge of our fields, but we cannot predict what is totally unknown to us.

Some seek refuge in such areas of the unknown because they hope to tuck their supernatural beliefs into reality, but it is not reality until that area is fleshed out with data, functions and a comprehension of how things work and can be tested for their predictions and claims.

Elof Axel Carlson is a distinguished teaching professor emeritus in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at Stony Brook University.

SCCC Biology Professor Peter Smith demonstrates the Anatomage Table. Photo by Victoria Pendzik, SCCC

It’s the most technologically advanced anatomy visualization system in the world, according to its manufacturer, and Suffolk County Community College’s Selden campus is the only college in New York State to have one. Welcome to teaching and learning in the 21st century.

The Anatomage virtual dissection table is being adopted at leading medical schools and institutions to allow lifelike and never-before-available interaction and visualization of the human body and its systems.

The table — about the size of a hospital bed, with a touchscreen surface — uses three-dimensional imagery from digitally scanned specimens to allow students to perform a lifesize, virtual dissection via touchscreen interface. The table can render limitless views of the human body in flawless detail.

Students can zoom in on or rotate different structures and virtually remove individual organs, according to SCCC Professor of Biology Dr. Peter Smith.

“The table is a remarkable technological tool that provides students with a 360-degree view of anatomical structures and their relationship to one another,” said Smith.

“We can look at the body through three dimensional visualization and all of the body’s structures can be annotated. This is what teaching anatomy in the 21st century is all about,” he added.

“The Anatomage Table is a true 21st century teaching tool. It permits Biology students not only to study Human anatomy, but it is a good addition to general biology classes that include animal anatomy. It includes, in its programming, the possibility of virtual dissection of cats and dogs. The table will help to reduce the use of preserved specimens, a more humane and sustainable approach to the study of vertebrate anatomy,” said Suffolk County Community College Biology Department Chair Dr. Rosa Gambier.

The technology allows students to visualize skeletal tissues, muscles, organs and soft tissue, and further customize the interaction by virtually slicing, layering and segmenting the anatomy. The selections can be rotated or flipped to accommodate any viewpoint.

Work with an actual cadaver requires many chemicals, there needs to be a facility to house them (SCCC was the only community college in New York with a cadaver lab), there is a great deal of regulation in working with cadavers, and there are recurring costs associated with them.

With the Anatomage Table, countless students have the ability to work with a body, enlarge or rotate systems and bisect and remove parts.

“The table,” explained Suffolk County Community College President Dr. Shaun L. McKay, “while advanced, is also a natural extension of what students are familiar with because it functions much like a tablet computer. We are extremely proud to bring this new tool to our college and to our students while fulfilling our mission of incorporating innovative teaching and learning strategies into our classrooms.”

Tenants of early stage businesses at work in LaunchPad Huntington. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Early stage businesses on the North Shore should set their sights high.

A state program that offers tax breaks, technical aid, legal advice and more is now more accessible to startup businesses, thanks to both Long Island High Technology Incubator in Stony Brook and LaunchPad Huntington.

The Innovation Hot Spot Support Program is a smaller version of the New York State-wide program Start-Up New York, which aims to empower more up-and-coming businesses with the tools they need to prosper. Hot Spot does not offer all of the benefits that Start-Up NY offers, but it is less restrictive and has fewer mandates than the former.

Start-Up New York requirements include a 10-year commitment strictly at an incubator location, and hiring a certain amount of employees.

Hot Spot was created to support companies that are in the early stages of development for the purpose of creating successful businesses in state. In order for a company to get approved for this program, they need to be recommended by a certified Start-Up New York member.

The benefits of being in the Hot Spot program include technical assistance, mentorship, entrepreneurial education, development services and tax breaks.  Phil Rugile, director of LaunchPad Huntington, said that businesses in Hot Spot are eligible for state tax breaks, corporate tax breaks, are free of sales tax, and can receive legal advice for issues like patents.

As of this month, Launchpad is a designated approval site for the Hot Spot program and can now nominate companies to be considered for it, as long as they are tenants of one of LaunchPad’s five locations, according to Rugile.

“We want to help startups,” Rugile said. “I’m excited. This is a good program.”

One of the reasons LaunchPad is now part of the Hot Spot program is because the Long Island High Technology Incubator located at Stony Brook University supports them. It’s required for every Hot Spot to be affiliated and supported by a college, university or research institution.

Long Island High Technology Incubator is a non-profit business that supports early-stage companies much like LaunchPad. In its 16 years of service, it has housed more than 70 companies and is an official Start-Up New York member. Now LaunchPad joins Long Island High Tech in supporting new businesses and recommending them for programs like Hot Spot.

Ann-Marie Scheidt, director of economic development at Long Island High Tech and an adjunct professor at Stony Brook University, said in a phone interview that the council wants to make sure all places they support “represent a innovative family on Long Island that will help startups grow and stay on Long Island.”

She said that LaunchPad exposes new companies to “an enormous range of expert resources that are so valuable for an early-stage business.”

LaunchPad has already successfully nominated a tenant of theirs to join the Hot Spot program — Nomorobo, a company that shields customers from telemarketers and robot callers.

Aaron Foss, founder of Nomorobo, said that LaunchPad wanted any company they nominated to be able to contribute to the community. Ross is also a professor at Molloy College and works with students from Molloy, Stony Brook and Hofstra University to develop their business ideas.

Foss said the financial benefits of the program are fantastic.

“I have about a $50,000 monthly phone bill, with added costs for sales tax,” Foss said in a phone interview. “That’s thousands of dollars I can use elsewhere, to hire employees or spend on advertising.”

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By Elof Carlson

In 2013, South African cave explorers were told of a chamber with what looked like human bones in the Rising Star Cave system in South Africa. The Sotho language uses “naledi” for its word for a star. When a preliminary examination of some of the bones revealed this was a new species of humans, the formal species name naledi was attached to the genus name to give us Homo naledi. 

Over the next two years, three areas within the chamber were excavated, yielding 1,413 bones or bone fragments, 137 isolated teeth, and 53 jawbones with teeth. They belong to 15 different individuals, all of the same species, H. naledi. 

Their brain size is about that of human ancestors who lived two to four million years ago. Their hands and feet are more human-like than ape-like. Their teeth are remarkably human-like. Their torso, shoulders and pelvis, however, are chimpanzee-like. They were small (four to five feet tall) and, most remarkably, they set aside their dead in a special chamber in the cave. Until this find, no other animal but our own species, Homo sapiens, has been known to provide a special resting place for the dead. 

The digging will continue over the next few years, and many more (perhaps dozens) of fossil members of this species will be uncovered and analyzed. It is rare to have human fossils in such abundance. Where these humans fit in the many branched human, ape and monkey family tree will be worked out as these bones are studied by paleontologists and anthropologists in the years to come.

I look forward to the associated findings that will be explored in the cave and in a careful study of the many bones available.

For those who like the scientific description of a human, we are of the order Primates, the suborder Anthropoides, the superfamily Hominoidea, the family Hominidae, the tribe Hominini, the genus Homo and the species sapiens. Replace that last word with naledi and you see how close we are despite being separated, in all likelihood, by some two to four million years.

It has been satisfying to see the many new fossil humans, apes and related ancestors over the four generations I have lived and to reflect on how the ancestral connections are emerging. It is a story that will continue with more surprises as paleontologists continue exploring the places where humans have resided in the distant past.

Pessimists will see the extinction of humans from natural catastrophes, from human neglect of the world we live in or from alien or supernatural invasion. But four million years have passed and yet another connection to that past is revealed. If the average species runs about two million years, our species, Homo sapiens, has a long way to go before it is just a fossil memory.

Elof Axel Carlson is a distinguished teaching professor emeritus in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at Stony Brook University.

The LaunchPad Huntington STEAM Innovation Conference will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 17. File photo by Rohma Abbas

LaunchPad Huntington is sponsoring a conversation between technology companies, educators and students in the hopes that it will spark creative collaborations and future Long Island-based jobs.

The conference will be both a showcase of emerging technologies and services and an in-depth panel discussion with education and industry leaders working to prepare students and adults for new employment opportunities.

The event, dubbed a STEAM Innovation Conference will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 17, at LaunchPad’s Huntington office from 3:30 to 8 p.m.

Phil Rugile, director of LaunchPad Huntington, said the conference is meant to combine science and the arts, to “merge two different parts of the brain.”

“My hope is to get a conversation started in media, education and business communities,” he said. “We need people to start thinking outside the box.”

The event starts with a 90-minute opening for public school students to browse exhibits set up by technology companies. A solar energy company and a virtual reality company are some of the businesses that will showcase exhibits at the conference.

“The really important question on Long Island is how do we get the students and the employers together,” Rugile said. He said that the skillsets of someone with a great sense of creativity and technology are really needed at a local level.

Originally this conference was designed to target professors and their curricula to produce more innovative thinkers.

Following the exhibits, there will be a networking hour, complete with dinner and music, where businesses and educators are encouraged to bounce ideas off each other.

The final part of the conference is a discussion by a panel of experts. Kenneth White, manager of Office of Educational Programs at Brookhaven National Laboratory, will moderate the talk. Panelists will include Victoria Hong, associate chairperson and assistant professor for the St. Joseph’s College Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, Andrew Grefig, director of curriculum and content at Teq and Nancy Richner, museum education director at the Hofstra University Museum.

“We’re constantly losing kids to Brooklyn and New York City,” Rugile said. “Let’s change the conversation. We need to provide opportunities.”

Northport-East Northport school board members are looking into whether or not the district should buy iPads for trustees to be used at meetings instead of paper agendas. Stock photo

Northport-East Northport school board members earlier this month discussed whether the district should pay for iPads that trustees could use during meetings.

The idea was introduced by board member David Stein as a way to reduce costs of paper. The idea, however, was sharply denounced by the board’s Vice President David Badanes.

“I am really unhappy about any money being spent on board members for iPads,” Badanes said at the Oct. 8 board meeting. “I think it’s outrageous.”

Badanes, who was the lone naysayer, said he doesn’t have a problem with board members bringing their own iPads or electronic devices to meetings — he just doesn’t want the district to pay for them, he said.

According to District Clerk Beth Nystrom, there is currently no district policy that finances electronic devices for members of the school board’s use exclusively. She did say that board members are welcome to use district-owned electronic devices at board meetings, but presently none do.

Other board members said that while it may be fine for Badanes to have his own personal opinion, it’s not something he should hold everyone else to.

“Personal convictions are fine but each person should be given the right to decide,” Trustee Jennifer Thompson said. “It should not impugn the rest of us.”

Trustee Lori McCue said she felt it was unfair to tell board members who wanted to use an electronic device to bring one from home.

“I don’t know if it’s appropriate,” McCue said. “What if you don’t already own one of these devices?”

Stein claimed it’s more cost effective for the board to use electronic devices instead of getting paper agendas and other documents sent to their homes before each meeting.

“We spend nearly $800 worth of paper every year [on each board member],” Stein said. “If individuals want to embrace it, they’re saving $800 in taxpayer money.”

Stein said regular agendas are also not the only documents that are printed for board members every year.

“Based on 24 scheduled meetings per year, and an average of six specially called meetings plus the budget season, which can produce budget documents several times the size of a regular weekly package,” Stein said in an email. “The regular board member could receive anywhere from 22,000 pages during the course of a year.”

According to Nystrom, the cost is quite low to send board members paper agendas to their home annually.

“The approximate cost the district pays per board member to send printed copies of the agenda to their houses before meetings is approximately $35 per year,” Nystrom said in an email.

Board President Andrew Rapiejko encouraged board members to try and find the best way to serve the district.

“Everyone wants to do this job as effectively and efficiently as possible,” Rapiejko said. “They shouldn’t be criticized for trying to get the right tools. If the district can provide this tool, I think it should be discussed.”

Rapiejko also said that it is not for the board’s personal benefit to use these devices. “The district isn’t giving these out to board members,” Rapiejko said. “These are purchased for the district’s use.”

Trustee Regina Pisacani said she has been to other district board meetings where board members using electronic devices.

Rapiejko said the board could resume discussing this topic during budget season.