Science & Technology

Buzz Aldrin signs a copy of "No Dream Is Too High" at the Book Revue on April 5. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
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Buzz Aldrin signs a copy of “No Dream Is Too High” at the Book Revue on April 5. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Buzz Aldrin, the second man to step on the Moon during NASA’s Apollo 11 mission in 1969, visited the Book Revue in Huntington on Tuesday evening to sign copies of his new bestseller, “No Dream Is Too High: Life Lessons from a Man Who Walked on the Moon.”

A large crowd gathered in the aisles of the bookstore on New York Avenue to get a glimpse of Aldrin, now 86, as well as his John Hancock.

Buzz Aldrin signs a copy of "No Dream Is Too High" at the Book Revue on April 5. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Buzz Aldrin signs a copy of “No Dream Is Too High” at the Book Revue on April 5. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Aldrin rose to prominence for his role in the first lunar landing, stepping out from the lunar module Eagle onto the Moon’s surface right after Commander Neil Armstrong, as command module pilot Michael Collins stayed behind in the spacecraft Columbia in orbit around the Moon. But Aldrin has more recently been noted for his statements and advocacy for reaching Mars, including authoring books on the subject.

In addition to signing copies of “No Dream Is Too High,” Aldrin signed copies of his children’s books.

The oldest known man in the world, Jiroemon Kimura. File photo

By Elof Carlson

The oldest authenticated woman was Jeanne Calment (1875-1997), which made her 122 years old when she died in Arles, France. The oldest authenticated man was Jiroemon Kimura (1897-2013), who lived 116 years and 54 days and died near Kyoto in Japan. That is in keeping with the finding that in all cultures women live two to five years longer than men.

This might be genetic (males are XY; so any harmful genes on the X are expressed in them) or it might be because males have usually done more dangerous work exposing them to carcinogens and mutagens or they tend to abuse their bodies more than women do with tobacco and alcohol. Both factors may play a role.

Mean life expectancy is a measure used by those who tabulate vital statistics. It is usually done on the day of one’s birth. It includes all deaths at any age. This creates a misleading number. Thus the mean life expectancy in the Stone Age when many of our ancestors lived in caves was about 20. This low number is based on studies of skeletal remains in these caves. In one study of 4000-year-old skeletons in the Orkneys just off northern Scotland, out of 342 skeletons, 63 died as teens, 24 died as toddlers, 70 died as children (2 to 12 years old), and 185 were adults (20 and older).  Many of the adults lived to their 50s.

The oldest known woman in the world, Jeanne Calment. File photo
The oldest known woman in the world, Jeanne Calment. File photo

Infant skeletons are underrepresented because they are least likely to be preserved. Infant mortality was common during all civilizations until the germ theory was introduced and the transport of foods in the last half of the nineteenth century reduced both infections (pneumonia and gastritis) and malnutrition, which were the major causes of infant mortality. Half of all children died in their first year for most of the history of humanity.

Today, virtually all of the children born in industrialized countries live to reach reproductive maturity. Even in the 20th century, these reductions in infant mortality are apparent: they were 10 percent of U.S. births in 1907, 2.6 percent in 1957 and 0.68 percent in 2007. The mean life expectancy for U.S. males was 45.6 in 1907, 66.4 for 1957 and 75.5 in 2007.   If one excludes infant mortality, there is still a better chance today of a person of 50 living to be 80 than it was in 1907, but the dramatic decline in death has been in childhood infectious diseases.

We owe that triumph to public health — especially the pasteurization of milk for infants and the use of chlorine in reservoirs to kill typhoid and other bacterial agents in drinking water.

Very likely by the end of this century most babies will have a mean life expectancy of about 90 (for females) or 87 (for males). The five-year gap between males and females is also narrowing, but at a slower rate.

While there are many attempts through diet and food supplements to extend life, the more likely outcome has been to have more people who live into their 80s and 90s. Centenarians are still relatively rare in industrialized nations. No one knows what makes a person live to 110 or more years (so rare that they are news stories when they die).

When my wife Nedra’s second cousin Grover Dawald (1884-1990), had his 105th birthday in Rochester, Indiana, he received a card of Congratulations from President George H. W. Bush. He was still living at home and danced on the day of his last birthday.

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

The Comsewogue middle school robotics team poses with coaches Steven Nielsen and Jennifer Caltagirone. Photo by Alex Petroski
Steven Nielsen shows off the creation of the Robotic Raccoons, Comsewogue's middle school team. Photo by Alex Petroski
Steven Nielsen shows off the creation of the Robotic Raccoons, Comsewogue’s middle school team. Photo by Alex Petroski

Comsewogue’s John F. Kennedy Middle School robotics team captured the Long Island Championship in the FIRST LEGO Robotics Competition at Longwood High School on Feb. 28, competing against about 150 other teams. They will be moving on to nationals in Missouri in April.

The board of education honored the team for its achievement at the board’s meeting on Monday.

“I think it’s fantastic,” Superintendent Joe Rella said in an interview. “They’ve been working on this project for a while, and that’s great that they have that interest.”

The Robotic Raccoons team, coached by Steven Nielsen and Jennifer Caltagirone, is collecting bottles and cans as a means of fundraising for their trip to Missouri. Anyone who would like to help should bring their recyclables to the middle school’s main entrance lobby.

For young Northport students, creativity was in the air recently at the Invention Convention.

Gifted and Talented Parents Association, a parent group in the district, hosted the 16th annual Invention Convention at the William J. Brosnan administration building on Feb. 25, where students displayed their innovative projects.

The convention was open to kindergarten through sixth grade students in the district. About 25 projects were on display for community members, school administrators and school board members in attendance.

“The Invention Convention is focused on inspiring, encouraging and celebrating the creativity and ingenuity of our children,” a press release from the GTPA said. “Their natural curiosity and imagination are a perfect combination to create something new.”

One of the projects on display was “The Rotating House,” created by Fifth Avenue Elementary School second grader Andrew Mead, which turns a house at its foundation to allow sunlight into whichever room a homeowner desires at a given time.

“I think it would be very useful for everyone,” Mead said about his invention. “Some people may just want to take a nap or something but they can’t because the sun is shining right on them, and they might not want to wait so long for the sun to move around by itself.”

Logan Hecht, a first grader from Dickinson Elementary School, invented “Fork-A-Seal” for containers with snacks that come without plastic ware.

“I got this idea because one day I was going to have fruit salad for breakfast, but we were out of forks so I thought that this plastic piece right here could be a fork, so you’d always have a fork ready,” Hecht said. “You waste a piece of plastic that could be used for something good.”

Some other inventions included second grader Mitchell Cartwright’s “Second Life,” which turns used lunch trays into planters; first grader Jeffery Raynor’s “The Automatic Duster 5000,” which automatically cleans shelves; third grader Philip Bechtold’s “Adjustable Dish Drying Rack;” and first grade twins Liam and Jack Healy’s “Storm Glow RCI,” which are colorful lanterns for when the power goes out.

Back row, from left, coach Steven Nielsen, Anav Sandhala and Aiden Markowitz; front row, from left, Arav Sandhala, Sean Davis, Udithi Kothapalli, Ryan Anderson, Amani Hafeez and Alyssa Morturano; sitting, from left, Trisha Sandhala and Seth Osman. Photo from Jyothi Kothapalli

By Steven Nielsen

The crowd erupted in a roar as a large group of supporters could not contain their excitement at the announcement that John F. Kennedy Middle School’s Robotic Raccoons would advance to the finals. It was an exciting afternoon as team members also received the judges award for their overall combined high scores at this year’s FIRST LEGO Robotics Competition held on Superbowl Sunday at Central Islip High School. It is the second year in a row this team of 10 has qualified for the finals, which will be held Feb. 28 at Longwood High School.

This year’s tournament theme was called Trash Trek. While the students attended several field trips to the Town of Brookhaven, Maggio Sanitation, Covanta Energy Facility and the Caithness energy generation plant, they learned the ins and outs of trash to prepare for their competition presentation. In addition the team created an online survey that analyzed the recycling habits of the Comsewogue school community, which is being used to improve the recycling habits of the students at the Middle School.  Oh yeah, they had to build and program a robot too!

That’s right, in addition to field trips, research and presentation preparation, these students have been meeting in and out of school for the past several months working on the construction and programming of a LEGO robot to perform tasks relating to trash. The missions, as the programs are called, are completed on a 4-foot by 8-foot playing field, which was part of the competition. Missions such as TFM, salvage, clean-up and demolition required the team to program the robot to rescue LEGO sea animals, move a LEGO garbage truck and retrieve methane loops to name a few. The team had a blast and will be working toward improving its performance at the finals. Go JFK! More information about the competition can be found at https://www.firstinspires.org/robotics/fll.

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.