Science & Technology

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.

Represented in this illustration is the authors’ finding that DNA hypermethylation disrupts CCCTC-binding factor (CTCF) mediated boundaries which in turn lead to aberrant interactions between an oncogene and an enhancer, driving hyperproliferation and subsequently tumorigenesis from normal OPCs. Photo by William Scavone/Kestrel Studio

Study in Cell led by Stony Brook researcher provides unique analysis in a glioma model

Gliomas are incurable brain tumors. Researchers are trying to unlock the mysteries of how they originate from normal cells, which may lead to better treatments. A new study published in the journal Cell centers on epigenetic rather than genetic changes that drive normal cells to form tumors. The work reveals the precise genes that are regulated epigenetically and lead to cancer.

Genes make us who we are in many ways and are central to defining our health. Cancer is often viewed as a disease caused by changes in our genes, thus our DNA. Epigenetics is the study of how behavior, environment, or metabolic changes can cause alterations to the way genes work. Unlike genetic changes, epigenetic changes do not change one’s DNA, and they can be reversed.

“We used tumor samples and mouse modeling to discover and functionally demonstrate the role of epigenetic alterations in gliomas,” says Gilbert J. Rahme, PhD, first author and Assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmacological Sciences at the Renaissance School of Medicine, and formerly a postdoctoral fellow at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. “By doing this, we discovered genes regulated epigenetically in gliomas, including potent tumor suppressor genes and oncogenes, that drive the tumor growth.”

In the paper, titled “Modeling epigenetic lesions that cause gliomas,” the research team show in the model that epigenetic alterations of tumor suppressor and oncogenes collaborate together to drive the genesis of this brain tumor.

The authors explain that “epigenetic activation of a growth factor receptor, the platelet-derived growth factor receptor A (PDGFRA) occurs by epigenetic disruption of insulator sites, which act as stop signs in the genome to prevent aberrant activation of genes. The activation of PDGFRA works in concert with the epigenetic silencing of the tumor suppressor Cyclin Dependent Kinase Inhibitor 2A (CDKN2A) to transform a specific cell type in the brain, the oligodendrocyte progenitor cell (OPC), driving the formation of brain tumors.”

Rahme says the next step is to test whether therapies that can reverse the epigenetic changes observed in brain tumors can be helpful as a treatment.

The Atlantic horseshoe crab. Public domain photo

From the shore, they can look like odd-shaped shadows with tails, moving in and out of the surf or approaching the shoreline.

Up close, they can have a collection of barnacles attached to their shells, particularly as they age.

Horseshoe crabs, who have been roaming the oceans for over 450 million years, have attracted the admiration of researchers and the dedication of volunteers around Long Island, who not only want to ensure they continue to survive, but also would like to know more about creatures that are more related to spiders and scorpions than to the crabs their names suggest.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is look at spawning in a more comprehensive way,” said Robert Cerrato, a professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University. “We’re trying to figure out if there are specific things that [horseshoe crabs] are responding to” when they come up on the beach to lay their eggs.

A closeup of two horseshoe crabs. Photo courtesy Matthew Sclafani

Horseshoe crabs have had a steady decline in their population over the last 20 years overall. In the last three to five years, however, not much has changed in the Long Island area, scientists explained.

The population is “still very similar to where it was,” said Matthew Sclafani, senior resource educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County and assistant adjunct faculty member at SBU.

Scalafani and Cerrato have worked together for well over a decade and are hoping to address a wide range of questions related to these unusual creatures that have nine eyes and blue blood.

Apart from the fascination of scientists and volunteers, the horseshoe crab provides a critical food source for shore birds like the Red Knot, which depends on these eggs during their migration.

At the same time, horseshoe crabs and their blue blood provide a key ingredient in tests of pharmaceuticals. When exposed to endotoxins, horseshoe crab blood forms clots.

The use of horseshoe crab blood to test drugs does not occur in New York, however, as companies don’t catch these creatures in the Empire State for this specific test.

Cerrato and Scalafani explained that numerous towns have also limited or banned the harvesting of horseshoe crabs to maintain their local populations.

Areas around West Meadow Beach in Old Field, for example, are closed to hand harvesting, as is Jamaica Bay and Gateway National Recreation Area.

Such policies “theoretically will allow for more eggs on the beach to hatch and for shore birds dependent on them” to find food, Sclafani said. Such closures, including some during the last two weeks in May and the first two weeks in June during the peak spawn were “significant steps for conservation,” Sclafani added.

An aerial photograph taken by a drone during a horseshoe crab survey at Pike’s Beach, Westhampton. Photo by Rory MacNish/Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County

Ongoing questions

By labeling and tracking horseshoe crabs, these researchers and a team of volunteers hope to understand whether crabs, which are capable of reproducing when they are between 8 and 10 years old, return to the same sites each year to lay their eggs.

Cerrato and Scalafani are hoping to get satellite tags they can attach to adults, so that when they come out of the water to spawn, researchers know their location.

The researchers submitted a proposal to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to do a pilot study with these satellite tags.

Juvenile horseshoe crabs also present unknowns, as they have a different diet and migrate at a much lower rate.

“We started to look at” crabs that are 3 to 10 years old, said Cerrato. Moriches Bay is an “important habitat” for them.

Volunteer passion

Volunteers who help count the horseshoe crabs count these creatures often until well after midnight.

Frank Chin has been wandering beaches, counting crabs for 15 years. When he was young, Chin wanted to be a forest ranger.

“I realized that forest rangers don’t make that much money, so I went to school for engineering, got a degree and worked as an engineer,” he said.

Chin found himself at a Friends of Flax Pond meeting, where Scalafani asked for help from the community.

“I foolishly raised my hand and they made me a coordinator,” joked Chin, who counts horseshoe crabs with his wife Phyllis.

Every year presents something new to Chin.

This year, he has run into people who fish late at night. Chin said the fishermen, who have permits, are cordial, but that he’s concerned they might be scaring crabs away from their usual spawning spots.

In addition to counting the crabs, Chin, who is the director of the lab in the Physics Department at SBU, also tags them. He once caught a crab seven years after he initially tagged it.

Chin, who will count crabs in the rain but not in thunderstorms, appreciates the dedication of his fellow volunteers, who not only count the crabs but will pick up garbage and bottles along the beach.

Chin plans to continue to “do it as long as I can walk down the beach.” Some day, he “hopes someone else will take over.”

Volunteers can sign up to join the effort at

By Daniel Dunaief

A problematic atmospheric greenhouse gases, methane comes from natural gas, agriculture, and swamps. 

John Mak

Recently, John E. Mak, a Professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University worked with an international group of scientists to demonstrate a process that removes methane from the atmosphere.

A mixture of dust from the Sahara and sea spray reacts with methane to form carbon monoxide and a small amount of hydrochloric acid.

In a recent paper published in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Mak, corresponding author Matthew Johnson, who is a Professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Copenhagen, and others showed how a novel process removes 5 percent, plus or minus 2 or 3 percent, of the methane from the atmosphere in specific areas.

“What we are showing is that some methane in the middle of the tropical Atlantic Ocean region may be removed” through this process, Mak said from the Gordon Research Conference on Atmospheric Chemistry in Sunday River, Maine.

The research validates a mechanism Mak had proposed in the late 1990’s, when he conducted studies funded by the National Science Foundation in Barbados. “When I first made the observations, I proposed that what we were seeing was a chlorine mediated removal of methane,” Mak explained.

At that time, he didn’t have the ability to make those measurements. The technology, however, has evolved over the years and researchers can now measure chlorine radical precursors such as Cl2 and other chlorine compounds.

Indeed, Maarten van Herpen, first author on the study and a member of Acacia Impact Innovation, approached Mak with a new theory and a new mechanism that he thought could explain Mak’s results from decades earlier.

“They were excited to hear that no one had solved the problem,” said Mak.

By working together through this international team, the group was able to take new measurements and utilize advances in their understanding of atmospheric processes.

‘New, but old’

Mak had conducted his studies towards the beginning of his time at Stony Brook University in the late 1990’s as a part of one of his first federally funded projects. 

“It’s a little unusual for people to make use of observations so far in the past,” said Mak. “It opens up a new, but old avenue of research.”

Mak, who is conducting studies in other areas including a recent project in New York to investigate air quality and air chemistry mechanisms specific to the greater New York City region, believes the research on this PNAS paper takes him almost full circle back to this earlier work.

“There’s a feeling of satisfaction that good measurements are useful for a longer period of time,” he said. 

In this study, Mak helped interpret some of the data his collaborators generated.

The reactions

The process of removing methane starts with sea spray, which is aerosolized by bubbles bursting at the contact point between the ocean and the air. The chlorine comes from that sea spray, while iron comes from the continental crust.

Saharan dust can traverse the globe, but scientists are not sure of the spatial extent of this process. They believe it could be throughout the tropical Atlantic, but it could be in other dust laden ocean regions in the Indian and Pacific Oceans as well.

That process creates what is described as a reactive chlorine species, which is on the hunt for a positively charged particle, such as one of the four hydrogen atoms attached to carbon in methane.

Once the chlorine removes a hydrogen, it creates a methyl group, or CH3, and an incredibly small amount of hydrochloric acid, or HCl, at about one part per quadrillion.

The acid, in fact, is so low that it doesn’t cause any acidification of the oceans. Ocean acidification primarily comes from the absorption of carbon dioxide gas, which reacts with seawater and eventually increases the amount of positively charged hydrogen atoms, decreasing the ocean’s pH.

Meanwhile in the atmosphere, the remaining methyl group is oxidized to carbon monoxide, which eventually becomes carbon dioxide. That is also a greenhouse gas, but is not as potent at trapping heat in the atmosphere as methane.

Now that the group has explored this process, Mak explained that the next step will involve proposing a field campaign in the tropical Atlantic with state of the art instruments.

Mak believes the journal PNAS likely found the subject matter compelling on a broader scale, particularly because this process affects weather and climate.

Outside work

When he’s not working, Mak enjoys boating and fishing. A native of Southern California, Mak is a commercial pilot, who also does some flying as a part of his research studies.

As for climate change, Mak suggested that the weather extremes from this year, which include record high temperatures in the ocean near the Florida Keys and high temperatures in areas in Arizona, are a part of a pattern that will continue.

“What we have been and will continue to observe are changes to the broad equilibrium of energy balance of the Earth ocean atmosphere system,” he explained. “There’s a lot of inertia in the system. But when you change the input by changing the forcing, you upset that equilibrium.” That, he explained, could alter the weather, which is generated as a response to differences in energy from one place to another.

This graphic shows how per unit water saving by dry cooling increases carbon emissions by each power unit globally, a significant issue for example in areas of India. Qin et al., 2023. Nature Water

Study published in Nature Water suggests integrating planning may reduce carbon emissions in the future

Water scarcity and climate change is a threat to energy security, as carbon emission reduction from water and dry cooling of power plants remains a major challenge worldwide. An international collaboration of scientists including Gang He, PhD, of Stony Brook University, used global power plant data to demonstrate an integrated water-carbon management framework that bridges the gap to coupling diverse water carbon-mitigation technologies with other methods. Their findings are detailed in a paper published in Nature Water.

Thermal electric power generation uses substantial amounts of freshwater primarily for cooling of power plants, amounting to 40 to 50 percent of the total water withdrawal in the U.S. and 40 percent in Europe. Meanwhile, power generation accounted for approximately 36 percent of the energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions across world economies in 2019. The authors note that consequently, the power sector has a high dependence on freshwater resources and demonstrates intrinsic water-carbon interconnections that have critical implications on reliable electricity output and energy security, particularly under climate change.

In “Global assessment of the carbon-water tradeoff of dry cooling for thermal power generation,” they conclude such integrated planning is crucial to address the complex interactions between water and energy systems. The team constructed a global unit-level framework to assess the impact of dry cooling—a vital water mitigation strategy—alongside alternative water sourcing and carbon capture and storage (CCS) under different scenarios.

According to He, a co-author and Assistant Professor in the Department of Technology and Society at Stony Brook University, the research team collected unit-level power plant data, which included basic power generation unit information such as fuel and engine types, installed capacity, cooling technologies and other details. Then they estimated carbon emissions and water withdrawal based on what is known of emission factors at plants and water intensity by the cooling technologies, fuel types and local meteorology.

He says that from their global data the CO2 emission and energy penalty from dry cooling units were found to be location and climate specific, and ranged from 1 to 15 percent of power plant output. Additionally, efficiency losses were high under climate changes scenarios.

On a positive note, the team discovered potentially promising solutions to alleviate water scarcity around the power plants – such as increasing accessibility to wastewater and brine water that can provide viable alternatives to dry cooling and reduce energy and CO2 penalties.

Additionally, He and coauthors concluded that CCS emerged as a valuable tool to offset CO2  emission tradeoffs associated with dry cooling, especially when alternative water sourcing alone is insufficient in certain power plant regions.

However, He stresses that the issue is complicated globally, as CCS could demand more energy and thus more emissions, and wastewater could be useful but has its limitations and may not be available near some power plants.

The authors are concerned about the potentially increasing water-carbon tradeoffs with dry cooling.  They write: “Facing increasing water concerns, dry cooling has been and may continually be promoted as an emerging freshwater mitigation technique in some major economies in the next few decades along with renewable energy transitions.”

He says the research leading to the paper underscores the urgency of integrated power sector planning in the face of dual water-carbon challenges and “highlights the importance of considering climate-specific factors and interconnected systems to achieve sustainable energy solutions.”

The work was led by Dr. Yue Qin of Peking University. He’s research contributing to the paper findings is supported by the Global Energy Initiative at the ClimateWorks Foundation.


Maurizio Del Poeta. File photo from SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

Maurizio Del Poeta is taking another approach to battling fungal infections that can be deadly, particularly for people who are immunocompromised.

Maurizio Del Poeta. Photo from SBU

A Distinguished Professor at Stony Brook University in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, Del Poeta has made progress in animal models of various fungal infections in working on treatments and vaccines.

After receiving an additional $3.8 million from the National Institutes of Health for five years, Del Poeta is expanding on some findings that may lead to a greater understanding of the mechanism that makes some fungal infections problematic.

The Stony Brook Distinguished Professor is studying “what makes people susceptible to fungal infections,” he said. “It’s something I’m really passionate about.”

Del Poeta explained that researchers and medical professionals often focus on the people who get sick. Understanding those people who are not developing an infection or battling against a fungus can provide insights into ways to understand what makes one population vulnerable or susceptible and another more resistant.

Expanding such an approach outside the realm of fungal infections could also provide key insights for a range of infections in the future.

Indeed, the awareness of specific signals for other infections could help protect specific populations, beyond those who had general categories like underlying medical conditions, who might be more vulnerable amid any kind of outbreak.

“It’s possible that the study we are doing now with fungi could stimulate interest” in other areas of infectious disease, Del Poeta said.

He suggested that this was “pioneering work” in terms of fungal infections. At this point, his lab has produced “strong preliminary data.”

An important drug treatment side effect as a signal

This investigation arises out of work Del Poeta had done to understand why some people with multiple sclerosis who took a specific drug, called fingolimid, developed fungal infections during their drug treatment.

Del Poeta observed that the drug inhibits a type of immunity that involves the movement of lymphocytes from organs into the bloodstream.

Fingolimid mimics a natural lipid, called a sphingolipid. Del Poeta showed that this sphingolipid is important to contain the fungus Cryptococcus neoformans in the lung. When its level decreases, the fungus can move from the lung to the brain.

Indeed, Fingolimid mimics sphingosin-1-phosphate (S1P) and binds to several S1P receptors.

Del Poeta believes that the pathway between S1P and its receptor regulates the immunity against Cryptococcus. Blocking a specific receptor is detrimental for the host and may lead to reactivation of the fungus.

Putting a team together

Nathália Fidelis Vieira de Sá. Photo by Futura Convites studio

Del Poeta has been working with Iwao Ojima, a Distinguished Professor and the Director of the Institute of Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery in the Department of Chemistry at Stony Brook, to create compounds that energize, instead of block, the target of fingolimid.

Del Poeta has recruited two scientists to join his lab in this effort, each of whom has educational experience in nursing.

Nathália Fidelis Vieira de Sá, who is a registered nurse at the Federal University of Minas Gerais and a chemistry technician at Funec- Contagem City, will join the lab as a technician in the second week of September.

Fidelis Vieira de Sá, who currently lives in her native Brazil, is an “expert on collecting and analyzing organs for mice,” explained Del Poeta in an email.

For her part, Fidelis Vieira de Sá is thrilled to join Del Poeta’s lab at Stony Brook. “I’m very excited,” she said in an email. She is eager to get started because the research is “of such great relevance to public health” and is occurring at such a “renowned institution.”

Fidelis Vieira de Sá believes this is a public health issue that could have a positive impact on people with immunodeficiency conditions who need effective treatment so they live a better, longer life. When she was a peritoneal dialysis nurse, she had a few patients who had fungal infections.

“This is very serious and challenging, detection is difficult, and the life expectancy of these patients drops dramatically with each episode of infection,” she explained. 

Fidelis Vieira de Sá, who has never lived outside Brazil, is eager for new experiences, including visiting Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, and the One World Trade Center Memorial.

As for the work, she hopes that, in the near future, Del Poeta will “be able to explain this mechanism deeply and to develop new drugs that will act on this receptor.”

Dr. Marinaldo Pacífico Cavalcanti Neto

Dr. Marinaldo Pacífico Cavalcanti Neto, who is an Assistant Professor at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, will be arriving at Stony Brook University on August 6. Dr. Neto earned his bachelor of science in nursing and has a PhD in biochemistry from the Medical School of Ribeirão Preto at the University of São Paulo.

Del Poeta described Dr. Neto as an “expert on animal handling and genotyping,”

Dr. Neto recognizes the burden of fungal infections around the world and hoped to work with someone with Del Poeta’s credentials and experience in immunology and infection.

Understanding how cells eliminate infection, how cells might have a lower capacity to control an infection, and looking for how cells respond to treatments such as fingolimid could be a “great strategy to understand why these are so susceptible,” he said.

While Dr. Neto’s background is in immunology, he hopes to learn more about molecular biology.

Unlike Fidelis Vieira de Sá, Dr. Neto, who will live in Centereach, has worked previously in the United States. He has experience at the National Institutes of Health and at the University of California at San Diego and has been attending Del Poeta’s lab meetings from a distance for about a month.

Dr. Neto, whose interest in science increased while he watched the TV show Beakman’s World while he was growing up, is eager to work in an area where he can apply his research.

He appreciates that his work may one day “be used in the generation of protocols in a clinic.

John Hill. Photo from BNL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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From left, graduate students Thomas Reilly and Hanxiao Wu with Weisen Shen. Wu and Shen are holding two of the 183 sensors they will place in the Antarctic. The team is shipping the sensors in the black container, which will travel through Port Hueneme, California and New Zealand before reaching the South Pole. Photo by Maeve McCarthy/ Angela Gruo

By Daniel Dunaief

While it’s easy to see and study materials in valleys or on the tops of bare mountains, it’s much more difficult to know what’s beneath 2.7 kilometers of ice. Turns out, that kind of question is much more than academic or hypothetical.

At the South Pole, glaciers sit on top of land that never sees the light of day, but that is relevant for the future of cities like Manhattan and Boston.

The solid land beneath glaciers has a strong effect on the movement of the ice sheet, which can impact the melting rate of the ice and sea level change.

Weisen Shen, Assistant Professor in the Department of Geosciences at Stony Brook University, recently received over $625,000 over the course of five years from the National Science Foundation to study the unexplored land beneath the East Antarctic Ice Sheet at the South Pole.

The subglacial water and hydrosystems, together with geology such as sediment or hard rocks, affect the dynamics and contribute to the movement speed of the ice sheet.

Once Shen provides a better understanding of the material beneath the ice, including glacial water, he can follow that up with other researchers to interpret the implications of ice sheet dynamics.

“We can predict better what’s the contribution of the Antarctic ice sheet to the sea level change” which will offer modelers a way to gauge the likely impact of global warming in future decades, he said.

Using seismic data

Starting this November, Shen and graduate students Siyuan Sui, Thomas Reilly and Hanxiao Wu will venture for two months to the South Pole with seismic monitors.

By placing 183 seismic nodes and installing an additional eight broad-band seismic stations, Shen and his team will quantify the seismic properties and, eventually, use them to infer the composition, density and temperature structure of the crust and the uppermost mantle.

The temperature when they place these monitors will be 10 to 30 degrees below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. They will need to do some digging as they deploy these sensors near the surface.

While the South Pole is believed to be geologically stable, signs of sub-glacial melting suggest the crust may bear a higher concentration of highly radioactive elements such as uranium, thorium and potassium.

Those natural elements “produce heat all the time,” said Shen. 

The process and analysis of seismic waves works in the same way it would for the study of a prism. Looking at the refraction of light that enters and leaves the prism from various angles can help researchers differentiate light with different frequencies, revealing clues about the structure and composition of the prism.

Earth materials, meanwhile will also cause a differentiation in the speed of surface waves according to their frequencies. The differentiation in speeds is called “dispersion,” which Shen and his team will use to quantify the seismic properties. The area has enough natural waves that Shen won’t need to generate any man-made energy waves.

“We are carefully monitoring how fast [the seismic energy] travels” to determine the temperature, density and rock type, Shen said.

The water beneath the glacier can act like a slip ’n slide, making it easier for the glacier to move.

Some large lakes in Antarctica, such as Lake Vostok, have been mapped. The depth and contours of sub glacier lakes near the South Pole, however, are still unclear.

“We have to utilize a lot of different methods to study that,” said Shen.

The Stony Brook researcher will collaborate with colleagues to combine his seismic results with other types of data, such as radar, to cross examine the sub ice structures.

The work will involve three years of gathering field data and two years of analysis.

Educational component

In addition to gathering and analyzing data, Shen has added a significant educational component to the study. For the first time, he is bringing along Brentwood High School science teacher Dr. Rebecca Grella, A PhD graduate from Stony Brook University’s Ecology and Evolutionary Biology program, Grella will provide lectures and classes remotely from the field.

In addition to bringing a high school teacher, Shen will fund graduate students at Stony Brook who can help Brentwood students prepare for the Earth Science regents exam.

Shen is working with Kamazima Lwiza, Associate Professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook, to bring Earth Science, including polar science, to schools in New York City and on Long Island with a bus equipped with mobile labs.

Lwiza, who is the Principal Investigator on the EarthBUS project, will work together with Shen to build a course module that includes a 45-minute lecture and exhibition.

Shen feels that the project will help him prepare to better educate students in graduate school, college, and K-12 in the community.

He feels a strong need to help K-12 students in particular with Earth Science.

As for students outside Brentwood, Shen said he has an open door policy in which the lab is receptive to high school and undergraduate students who would like to participate in his research all year long.

Once he collects the first batch of data from the upcoming trip to the South Pole, he will have to do considerable data processing, analysis and interpretation.

While Shen is looking forward to the upcoming field season, he knows he will miss time in his Stony Brook home with his wife Jiayi Xie, and his four-and-a-half year old son Luke and his 1.5 year old son Kai.

“It’s a huge burden for my wife,” Shen said, whose wife is working full time. When he returns, he “hopes to make it up to them.”

Shen believes, however, that the work he is doing is important in the bigger picture, including for his children.

Record high temperatures, which are occurring in the United States and elsewhere this summer, will “definitely have an impact on the dynamics of the ice sheet.” At the same time, the Antarctic ice sheet is at a record low.

“This is concerning and makes [it] more urgent to finish our work there,” he added.