Stony Brook University

Photo from SBU

The coronavirus pandemic is a time like no other in U.S. history. The virus, which hit the New York area particularly hard, had Stony Brook University and Stony Brook University Hospital on high alert for months on end.

The hospital not only saw the heroic actions of doctors and nurses already on Stony Brook Medicine’s staff, but was also assisted by visiting nurses; medical students who graduated early to help fight on the frontlines; doctors and researchers jumping on ways to find a possible cure as quickly as possible; and essential workers who played an integral role in ensuring every process and procedure ran as smoothly as possible.

Students on the Stony Brook University campus during the Fall 2020 semester are wearing masks as a precaution against COVID-19 spread. Photo from SBU

On the University’s main campus, 3-D shields were printed as a PPE shortage was looming; hand sanitizer was created by several chemists in the Chemistry laboratory; and a prototype of a respirator was put together by a team from the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences which could be assembled quickly and used if necessary.

Now, Stony Brook University Libraries has announced the development of “Documenting COVID-19: Stony Brook University Experiences,” a new digital archive project established to collect, preserve, and publish the institutional history of Stony Brook University during this unprecedented moment in history.

“The archive will primarily be formed from submissions received directly from students, faculty, staff, and alumni that document life during the COVID-19 pandemic. Interviews, first-hand accounts, flyers, photographs, and more will be important sources to consult in the future to study, interpret, and derive meaning from this historic time period,” said Kristen Nyitray, University Archivist and Director of Special Collections and University Archives at Stony Brook University.

All from the Stony Brook University community are invited to contribute to the archive by submitting content or participating in an interview via a dedicated web page, “Documenting COVID-19: Stony Brook University Experiences” from which the library project team will collect information, photos, videos, personal stories and other COVID-19 related information.

For more information, visit www.library.stonybrook.edu/special-library-initiatives/documenting-covid-19/.

Doctor Says People Can Be Impacted by Califorinia Fires as Far as Long Island

Stock photo

Scenes of the ash and smog from wildfires in the West Coast not only trigger sympathy for those with friends and family living in a paradise under siege, but also are a cause for concern for doctors who specialize in the lungs.

Dr. Norman Edelman. Photo from SBU

While doctors don’t know how far and wide the effects of these fires might be for those who are already struggling with their breathing, such as people with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or chronic bronchitis, physicians said the effect could spread well beyond the areas battling these blazes.

The danger is “not just at the site of the fire,” said Dr. Norman Edelman, a professor of medicine at Stony Brook University and a core member of the program in public health at Stony Brook. “I’m sure [the effect of the fire] is pretty wide.”

Indeed, at some point down the road, the small and large particles that are aerosolized during the fire could reach as far away as Long Island.

“We know quite firmly that air pollution from coal burning generator plants [in the Midwest] emits pollution that makes its way all the way to the East Coast,” Edelman said.

The current use of masks may offer some protection for residents on the West Coast.

Particulates, which are aerosolized particles that can get in people’s lungs and affect their breathing, come in various sizes. The larger ones tend to get lodged in people’s noses, throat and eyes and can cause coughing, hacking, and watery eyes. An ordinary mask can filter some of those out, although masks are not completely effective for these bigger particles.

The smaller ones are more dangerous, Edelman said. They can get further into the lungs and can exacerbate asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema. They can even contribute to increased incidence of heart attacks.

“Nobody really knows” why these smaller particles contribute to heart attacks, Edelman said. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a reduction in pollution improves the health of a population.

When New York banned smoking in all public places, the level of heart attacks dropped by 15 to 20 percent.

“This level of pollution is nothing like what we’re seeing in the area of the wildfires,” Edelman said.

Additionally, lower pollution can improve the health of people with lung problems.

At the Summer Olympics in Atlanta in 1996, officials put in alternate day driving restrictions, which allowed people to drive every other day. By cutting down the pollution from traffic, doctors noticed a 25% reduction in admission to the emergency room for asthma.

If he were a doctor on the West Coast, Edelman said he would make sure his patients had all their medications renewed and available. He would also check in with his patients to make sure they had emergency instructions in case they need to boost the amount of any pharmacological agents.

The effect of the pollutants on people with asthma or other lung issues can be more severe if they are already dealing with an inflamed airway.

“The effects of various irritants are probably synergistic,” Edelman said. “If this is your allergy season, you become much more susceptible to the inflammatory effects of air pollution.”

COVID and the Lungs

As for the pandemic, Edelman said he didn’t come to the emergency room to work at the Intensive Care Unit during the pandemic.

His colleagues did, however, ask him to take care of patients who didn’t have to come in by telehealth. He’s continued to see many patients over the last three or four months.

One surprise from the data he’s seen related to the pandemic is that asthma does not seem to exacerbate the effects of COVID-19.

People with asthma “are not dying with COVID at any greater rate than the general population,” Edelman said.

He hasn’t yet seen the data for people with chronic bronchitis or COPD.

Stony Brook has set up a fund that helps students attend while dealing with small financial hurdles. File photo by Kyle Barr

Like so many other plans this year, the goal for Stony Brook University’s Student Emergency Support Fund has changed.

SBU students like Rijuta Mukim have relied on funds from the university’s emergency fund for their studies at home. Photo by Mukim

The fund, which SBU’s Dean of Students Richard Gatteau launched in January, was originally planned as an endowed source of funds that would help students in need. Amid the ongoing financial dislocation caused by the pandemic, the fund has now provided everything from money for car repairs, which some students need to get to campus, to books, iPads, or even rent.

Through July, the emergency fund provided about $935,000 in support to 1,194 students, according to the dean of students.

“Once COVID hit, we realized in March and April, the need was overwhelming,” he said. The school put in a new strategy to raise more money to expand the focus to include basic life essentials, like paying the electric bill or groceries. The university “didn’t want this circumstance to force someone to drop out.”

For some students, the financial need, especially in the current economic environment amid job losses and higher unemployment, exceeds the resources that financial aid, grants and loans can offer.

“We’re working with students on the margin,” Gatteau said. The parents of many students don’t have the financial ability to support them, either.

Many of the students who initially received money from the emergency fund  were remote learners who needed internet access or other remote support.

That included SBU junior Rijuta Mukim, who was working from her home in southern India when her computer broke down and her internet connection was unstable.

Taking classes and studying during the night and sleeping during the day to continue her education amid the time difference, Mukim was kicked off her Zoom calls for her classes within five minutes.

“I had a lot of trouble attending class,” Mukim said.

Without a fix for her computer and a better connection, Mukim, who is majoring in biology and psychology and hopes to attend medical school after she graduates, would have had to withdraw during the spring.

After she heard about the emergency fund on Reddit, she applied. Within a few hours, she received an email indicating that the school was trying to reach her by phone to make sure she was all right. She revealed her needs and received $1,000 within a week.

In the meantime, the support team explained her situation to her professors, who gave her extra time to complete her assignments.

Mukim had originally planned to work this summer at the Staller Center, but she was appreciative of the university and the donors who contributed to the fund for financial assistance, even as she worked from home several continents away.

“A thousand dollars might sound like a small amount but it helped me to ride through the spring and summer classes,” Mukim said. Having this kind of support “during a crisis is wonderful. It is satisfying to know there is a community helping you and looking out for you.”

Gatteau said other students also appreciated the calls soon after they made their requests.

Students “want an opportunity to tell their story, [to hear] a friendly voice on the other end of the call, to hear what’s going on,” he said. “Many students have faced challenging situations, with job losses and deaths related to COVID.”

A call from the emergency fund team can be as much about financial support as it is a counseling session with a student that helps them know how much the university cares about them.

As the fall semester started, the fund recently relaunched and has received between 130 and 150 applications for economic support.

The fund, which received a $75,000 donation from SBU President Maurie McInnis and is soliciting additional donations, is trying to rebuild after the earlier disbursements. 

The call for donations has just gone out to community members, prior donors, alumni, parents, faculty and staff.

“We’ve done a full marketing campaign across all of the stakeholders who donated [previously] and then we try to reach out to new people,” Gatteau said.

The dean of students said the school is collecting donations of any size.

“Small amounts have made a big difference collectively,” he said.

The school estimates that $100 supports Wi-Fi access and other online learning costs; $200 contributes to lab fees and books; and $500 helps with groceries and rent.

The fund doesn’t currently allow donors to earmark their contributions for any specific purpose. Gatteau said the top priority with any student is for academic needs.

Despite the financial hardship caused by COVID and higher unemployment, officials said Stony Brook has not had many students drop out for financial reasons.

Amid concerns nationally about students ignoring social distancing or mask-wearing rules, Gatteau endorsed the way students have complied with rules. 

“We’re very lucky,” he said. Students are motivated to prevent closures. “They want [the school] to stay open,”

Students whose financial need exceeds whatever the emergency fund can provide may be able to update their Free Application for Federal Student Aid — or FAFSA — forms, to see if they are eligible for additional financial assistance.

Meanwhile, students can apply to the Student Support Team at www.stonybrook.edu/commcms/studentaffairs/studentsupport. Students provide basic information and discuss their specific issues and challenges on a call.

Three Village Historical Society’s Director of Education Donna Smith and historian Beverly C. Tyler at last year’s event. Photo from TVHS

Margo Arceri first heard about George Washington’s Setauket spies from her Strong’s Neck neighbor and local historian, Kate W. Strong, in the early 1970s. Arceri lights up when talking about her favorite spy, Anna Smith Strong.

“Kate W. Strong, Anna Smith Strong’s great-great-granddaughter, originally told me about the Culper Spy Ring when I used to visit her with my neighbor and Strong descendant Raymond Brewster Strong III. One of her stories was about Nancy (Anna Smith Strong’s nickname) and her magic clothesline. My love of history grew from there,” she said.

Seven years ago Arceri approached the Three Village Historical Society’s President Steve Hintze and the board about conducting walking, biking and kayaking tours while sharing her knowledge of George Washington’s Long Island intelligence during the American Revolution.

Today, Arceri runs Tri-Spy Tours in the Three Village area, which follows in the actual footsteps of the Culper Spy Ring. “I wanted to target that 20- to 60-year-old active person,” she said.  “I have to thank AMC’s miniseries ‘Turn’ because 80 percent of the people who sign up for the tour do so because of that show,” she laughs.

It was during one of those tours that Arceri came up with the idea of having a Culper Spy Day, a day to honor the members of Long Island’s brave Patriot spy ring who helped change the course of history and helped Washington win the Revolutionary War.

“Visiting places like the Brewster House, which is owned by The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, the grave site of genre artist William Sidney Mount at the Setauket Presbyterian Church cemetery (whose paintings are at The Long Island Museum) and the Country House, which was built in the 1700s,” Arceri thought “there has to be a day designated to celebrating all these organizations in the Three Villages and surrounding areas; where each of us can give our little piece of the story and that’s how Culper Spy Day developed.”

After a successful five-year run, plans were underway for the sixth annual Culper Spy Day when the pandemic hit. At first the event was canceled out an abundance of caution but now has been reinvented and will be presented virtually on Facebook Live on Sept. 12 and 13 to be enjoyed from the comfort of your home.

The Three Village area is full of hidden intrigue and stories of how America’s first spy ring came together secretly to provide General George Washington the information he needed to turn the tide of the American Revolution.

Over the course of the weekend, you will have the chance to visit many of the cultural organizations from years past who will share their story, including the Three Village Historical Society, Tri-Spy Tours, Ward Melville Heritage Organization, Special Collections and University Archives at Stony Brook University, Preservation Long Island, Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, Drowned Meadow Cottage, Caroline Church of Brookhaven, Ketcham Inn Foundation and more in a virtual format.

Join Margo Arceri from Tri-Spy Tours live from the Village Green on Saturday at 9 a.m.

Meet Big Bill the Tory live at the Sherwood-Jayne House.

Take a Virtual Spies! exhibit tour with TVHS historian Bev Tyler.

Visit the famous Brewster House with Ward Melville Heritage Organization Education Director Deborah Boudreau.

View a resource guide to everything Culper Spy Day courtesy of Emma Clark Library.

Watch a short film on Long Island’s South Shore from the Ketcham Inn Foundation.

Make your very own periscope with Gallery North.

Read up on the Revolutionary War History from the Caroline Church of Brookhaven.

Look back at the festivities from 2016 Culper Spy Day.

Don’t miss the five part virtual spy tour series with historian Bev Tyler.

Listen to the lecture “Spies in the Archive: A history of two George Washington Culper Spy Ring letters presented by Kristen Nyitray Special Collections, Stony Brook University Libraries.

Learn about SBU’s two Culper Spy Ring letters and access images and transcripts Special Collections, Stony Brook University Libraries

Dive into George Washington & the Culper Spy Ring A comprehensive research and study guide Special Collections, Stony Brook University Libraries

Find out who Agent 355 was from historian Bev Tyler.

Listen to the story of Nancy’s Magic Clothesline, written by Kate Wheeler Strong, and told by Margo Arceri.

No registration is necessary. For more information, visit www.tvhs.org/virtualculperday.

The film festival kicks off tonight with a screening of 'Dreamfactory.'

If the pandemic of 2020 has done anything, it has made us realize how small the world truly is – and how alike we all are in our hopes, dreams, fears and failings. This year, more than ever, thought-provoking and innovative films introduce us to inspiring characters and transport us to new worlds, all from the comfort and safety of our homes.

For the first time in its 25-year history, the Stony Brook Film Festival, presented by Island Federal, moves from a 10-day live event to a 12-week virtual festival starting tonight, Sept. 10, at 7 p.m. and closing with a live Awards Ceremony on Dec. 15.

The films, which can be watched on all platforms and devices in your home including FireTV, AndroidTV, AppleTV, Roku, Chromecast and GooglePlay, feature 24 new and independent premieres from a dozen countries including the United States, Israel, Germany, Hungary, Poland, France, Switzerland, New Zealand, Canada and Portugal. Each feature is preceded by a short film.

The exciting lineup offers stories of every genre: comedy, coming of age, romance, drama and documentaries with many of the films sharing a theme of life interrupted, a universal topic many can relate to as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In these very uncertain and precarious times we find ourselves in we hope the mix of these socially conscience films balanced with uplifting, often fun and joyous stories, with spectacular performances, will provide the stimulation and entertainment we are all so desperately craving,” said festival director Alan Inkles.

The Festival kicks off tonight with the American premiere of Dreamfactory, the romantic story between two movie extras who are torn apart when East Germany closes its border and erects the Berlin Wall. An epic tale told against the backdrop of history, this film is part comedy, part musical, part romance, and a pure joy from beginning to end.

Tickets are available as an all-access, 12-week pass for $60 or may be purchased as a single ticket for each film for $6. The pass for 24 films allows 72 hours each week for viewers to watch and re-watch the weekly line-up. It also includes exclusive filmmaker interviews and Q&As with directors, cast and crew, as well as behind-the-scenes footage and back stories. For more information, visit stonybrookfilmfestival.com or call 631-632-ARTS [2787].

Film schedule:

September 10

FEATURE: Dreamfactory (Germany)

SHORT: Extra Innings (United States)

September 17

FEATURE: The Subject (United States)

SHORT: Corners (United States)

September 24

FEATURE: Those Who Remained (Hungary)

SHORT: Sticker (Macedonia)

October 1

FEATURE: Of Love and Lies (France/Belgium)

SHORT: Generation Lockdown (United States)

October 8

FEATURE: When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit

(Germany/Switzerland)

SHORT: Walk a Mile (New Zealand)

October 15

FEATURE: The Art of Waiting (Israel)

SHORT: Waterproof (United States)

October 22

FEATURE: Higher Love (United States)

SHORT: A Simple F*cking Gesture (Canada)

November 5

FEATURE: Long Time No See (France)

SHORT: Touch (Israel)

November 12

FEATURE: Submission (Portugal)

SHORT: They Won’t Last (United States)

November 19

FEATURE: Relativity (Germany)

SHORT: Forêt Noire (France/Canada)

December 3

FEATURE: On the Quiet (Hungary)

SHORT: Jane (United States)

December 10

FEATURE: My Name is Sara (United States)

SHORT: Maradona’s Legs (Germany/Palestine)

December 15

CLOSING NIGHT AWARDS CEREMONY LIVE 7 p.m.

* Please note: All films in the Stony Brook Film Festival are premiere screenings and have not been rated. Viewer discretion is advised. Films are available to begin streaming at 7 p.m. on Thursdays.

Stony Brook University said the 17 students who were positive with COVID-19 were spread across campus with limited possibility of contact. File photo by Kyle Barr

Stony Brook University unveiled it is currently tracking 17 positive cases of COVID-19, with officials saying all are asymptomatic and have been quarantined.

In a release on the university’s website published Sept. 2, SBU said the 17 cases were as a result of testing of more than 3,000 students on West Campus since Aug. 11 by Student Health Services. The new confirmed cases, as of Wednesday, were in addition to the one other confirmed case officials identified Aug. 28.

All 18 positives are being retested to identify any false positives. The students have been asked to go into quarantine, along with any close associates who were asked to self-isolate.

The fall 2020 semester started Aug. 24 for undergrads.

On Aug. 27 Gov. Andrew Cuomo updated the state’s guidelines for universities and colleges reopening. If colleges have 100 cases or if the number of cases equal 5% of their population or more, they must go to remote learning for two weeks. After that time if things do not improve, the school could potentially be closed to in-person learning for the rest of the semester.

On Thursday, Sept. 3, SUNY Oneonta announced they were cancelling in-person classes for the rest of the Fall after close to 390 students were tested positive for COVID-19.

Stony Brook said the 17 positive cases were spread all throughout the campus, and that none were roommates and there was at least one positive case in each resident hall. Six of the students who tested positive for COVID-19 are taking only online classes and of the 12 students who tested positive and were attending in-person classes, the university said none were in the same classroom environment. According to the University’s COVID-19 dashboard, only 19% of students are registered for in-person classes.

The university said in the news statement it was continuing to test. 

“If there is a need to shift to an operating status of fully online instruction for a 14-day period or longer, we will communicate with the community directly and promptly,” the statement read.

 

COVID-era Human Language Analysis Lab Meeting in July, top row from left, MZ Zamani, Matthew Matero, Nikita Soni ; bottom row from left, Adithya Ganesan, Oscjar Kjell, Linh Pham and H. Andrew Schwartz in the middle. Photos taken July, 2020

By Daniel Dunaief

Computers might not be able to tell you how they are doing, unless they run a diagnostic test, but they might be able to tell you how you are doing.

Using artificial intelligence, a team of scientists at Stony Brook University recently received a $2.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study how social media posts and mobile phone data may be able to predict excess drinking among restaurant workers.

By using data from texting, social media and mobile phone apps, these researchers, led by Andrew Schwartz, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science, are hoping to use artificial intelligence to predict excessive drinking.

According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, unhealthy drinking involves seven drinks a week for women and 14 for men.

Schwartz said the study hopes to be able to address whether the researchers, including Richard Rosenthal, the Director of Addiction Psychiatry at Stony Brook Medicine and Christine DeLorenzo, Associate Professor in the Departments of Biomedical Engineering and Psychiatry, could “say what the mood predicts how much participants will be drinking in the future.”

By analyzing the content of texts and social media posts, Schwartz and a team that also involves scientists from the University of Pennsylvania will explore whether an increase in stress is more likely to happen before an increase in drinking.

The researchers will study the effect of empathy, which can be health promoting and health threatening. “We believe AI-behavior-based measures will work better than questionnaires for detecting an unhealthy style of empathy,” Schwartz explained in an email. The AI will search for non-obvious patterns of social media posts and texts to determine which type of empathy a person might demonstrate and whether that empathy could lead to a drinking spiral.

Empathy theoretically may add to stress for bartenders and restaurant workers as they often listen to customers who share their tale of woe with food service professionals and are also in a social job.

Indeed, amid the pandemic, where levels of stress are higher during periods of uncertainty about public health and in which restaurant workers might be more likely concerned about their employment, this study could provide a way to understand how increases in alcohol consumption develop potentially to inform new ways to interrupt a negative spiral. “The extra stress of job security is heightened right now” for restaurant workers, among others, Schwartz said.

By validating AI against accepted tools, the researchers hope to gauge the AI-decoded link between emotion and unhealthy drinking behavior by aligning what an individual is expressing in social media with indicators of their emotional state and drinking.

Participants in the study are filling out brief surveys several times a day.

In the long run, the scientists hope this kind of understanding will allow future public health professionals to offer support services to people without the cost of having to administer numerous questionnaires.

The researchers had received word that their proposal had received the kind of score from the NIH that suggested they would likely get funded last July. They could have received positive funding news any time from November through May, which was when they learned that they had secured the financial support to pursue their research.

The topic of study is “extremely relevant,” he added, amid the current uncertainty and the potential for a second wave in the fall or winter.

“We’re interested in studying how unhealthy drinking develops and how it plays out in people’s daily lives,” Schwartz said.

Social media provides a window into the emotional state of the participants in the research.

To be sure, the researchers aren’t looking at how people post about drinking, per se, online. Instead, the scientists are looking at how people in the study answer questions about their drinking in the regular questionnaires.

The researchers came together for this effort through the World Well Being Project, which is a research consortium in collaboration with scientists at the University of Pennsylvania, Stony Brook University and Stanford.

The project involves groups of computer scientists, psychologists and statisticians to develop new ways to measure psychological and medical well-being based on language in social media, according to the group’s web site, which describes “Authentic Happiness.”

In a recent study, 75,000 people voluntarily completed a personality questionnaire through Facebook and made their status updates available. Using these posts, the researchers were able to predict a user’s gender 92 percent of the time just by studying the language of their status updates.

Researchers in substance use approached the World Well Being Project, which Schwartz is a part of, about the topic of unhealthy alcohol use.

The Artificial Intelligence methods Schwartz is developing and that the scientists are testing through this grant are aimed at understanding how a person is changing their language over time through their digital footprint.

In the future, Schwartz believes this approach could contribute to personalized medicine.

“When someone is most at risk, apps that are validated [may be able to] detect these sorts of patterns,” he said. While this study doesn’t provide a personalized patient app, it should provide the tools for it, he explained.

Optimizing this work for false positive and false negatives is a part of this study. The researchers need to create the tools that can make predictions with minimal false positives and false negatives first and then hope it will be used to interact with patients.

In this type of artificial-intelligence driven work, researchers typically need about 500 words to come up with a conclusion about a person’s emotional state. A goal of this work is to get that number even lower.

Fotis Sotiropoulos, the Dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, offered his enthusiastic support for this effort.

Schwartz is blazing a trail in advancing AI tools for tackling major health challenges,” Sotiropoulos said in a statement. “His work is an ingenious approach using data-science tools, smart-phones and social media postings to identify early signs of alcohol abuse and alcoholism and guide interventions.”

University Says Students Who Violated Housing Health Policy Given Housing Suspension Pending Review

Maurie McInnis was named SBU's sixth president. Photo from SBU

Stony Brook University will not let the actions of some students derail the on-campus living and learning experience for the majority.

This past weekend, days before the start of an unusual fall semester Aug. 24 amid ongoing concerns about the pandemic, the university found a “small number of violations” of the university’s COVID-19 health policy. Several students have been put on interim housing suspension for violations pending the conclusion of a conduct case, Maurie McInnis, who became the sixth president of SBU in July, said in an interview. The students in question have not been suspended from their academic studies.

McInnis said the school would suspend other students “if that is necessary.” She added that it is “very important that we give the students who are acting responsibly the opportunity for the in-person residential experience that they are working hard to protect.”

The school’s disciplinary actions follow similar measures taken by other universities such as Syracuse University and the University of Connecticut, which are trying to provide students with an opportunity to benefit from an on-campus experience while protecting faculty, staff and students from the spread of COVID-19.

McInnis added she appreciated the chance to be a part of the excitement that comes from the first day of what is likely to be one of the most challenging in the school’s 63-year history.

“It feels so great to have students back on our campus,” she said. “While, yes, it is under circumstances that are different than we’re used to, the same energy and excitement is there.”

The new university president said she enjoyed meeting students and their families as they moved onto the campus prior to the first day of classes.

The new president, who is a cultural historian and author of “Slaves Waiting for Sale: Abolitionist Art and the American Slave Trade,” said she feels confident in the school’s ability to navigate through the challenges of on-campus living and learning.

Students “understand that the way we are all going to have a great semester” is to act “personally responsible, wearing our masks and being socially distant,” she said.

SBU has created a dashboard that will track the number of tests the school is conducting on campus and the number of positive cases, if there are any. So far, the school has only had negative tests.

The dashboard is available at: www.stonybrook.edu/commcms/irpe/covid-19.phpleadership. It shows that the hour in the week in which the number of students registered for in-person classes is the highest is Tuesday, between 11 a.m. and noon, when 2,721 students were registered for in-person classes. In that same hour in the fall of 2019, 13,836 students took in-person classes.

The university will monitor its dashboard closely and will alter its policies as necessary to protect the campus community.

McInnis said the school was preparing for a possible second wave of the pandemic in the fall, as well as the possibility of the coincident timing of an outbreak of the flu.

“We are watching and monitoring all that carefully,” she said, which includes having enough personal protective equipment and a plan in place for health care personnel, among other measures.

McInnis said it is “too soon to speculate on” what the university policy might be if and when researchers develop a vaccine for COVID-19.

“As a part of SUNY and a public institution, we would be working with state partners and the [New York] Department of Health in making any sort of decision” about a vaccination for students or faculty, she said.

McInnis, who shared a detailed and open letter with the community and the public about the university’s difficult financial condition, said the budget remains a “fluid situation.” She added that the university “needs to get to work straight away as a community” in an “open and collaborative fashion to bring the best ideas for collaborating and working together better for leveraging opportunities, for efficiencies on our campus” and to develop ways to generate new revenue.

Meanwhile, the university has spent the summer “significantly improving” the quality of the remote and distance learning for students engaged with the online platform, she said.

In addition to being the new university president, McInnis is also a parent of a college-age son. Her son’s school was going entirely nonresidential and remote, so he decided to take a gap year.

At Stony Brook, the total number of students registered is 26,130, which is about 200 fewer than last year, suggesting that deferrals haven’t affected the matriculation rate much this fall.

McInnis said she appreciated the ongoing support of the university and surrounding communities.

“What we have been hearing, again and again, is, ‘How can we help?’” she said. “It is so great as president to be part of the community that clearly has the devotion of so many people.”

This article has been updated Aug. 25 to give more info on the nature of students violations and their interim suspension. 

From left, Private First Class Alex Vroman of the New York Army National Guard and Josh Miller, MD, MPH, Assistant Dean for Clinical Integration and Medical Director of Diabetes Care for Stony Brook Medicine, at the coronavirus testing site on Stony Brook University’s campus, where more 48,000 people were tested from March through July. Photo from SBU

By Carol Gomes

Carol Gomes

The pandemic crisis has revealed who we are at Stony Brook Medicine, and we are truly “Stony Brook Strong.”

On Monday, March 2, Stony Brook University Hospital (SBUH) instituted our Hospital Incident Command System (HICS) to manage our response to the pandemic. Today, more than five months later, the system remains in place, operating seven days a week.

It is truly amazing how far we have come. At the height of the pandemic, on April 14, Stony Brook had 359 COVID-positive patients in the hospital. As of last Friday, we had only seven.

Now all our care sites are back in operation, using new safety and cleaning protocols. Our Emergency Departments remain open 24/7 for medical emergencies across Long Island, and we resumed elective procedures at SBUH effective June 1, after meeting state requirements.

From March through Aug. 2, SBUH treated 1,653 COVID-positive inpatients. The four hospitals in the Stony Brook Medicine hospital system formed the backbone of the response across Suffolk County, which had the lowest patient mortality rate across Downstate New York.

To manage the surge in patients, the hospital opened 300 additional inpatient beds, including 180 additional ICU beds. Stony Brook also collaborated with the New York State Department of Health to establish a drive-through coronavirus testing site on Stony Brook University’s campus, testing more than 48,000 people from March through July.

Adjacent to the testing site, Stony Brook set up a Field ER to care for patients referred from the hospital’s main Emergency Department. From March 24 to May 4, the site treated more than 1,885 patients.

Since the pandemic began, our Hospital Purchasing Department has been on top of the issue, scouring the nation and world for supplies. Over a three-month period, we received nearly 10 million gloves, more than 700,000 gowns, more than 750,000 surgical masks, more than 75,000 N95 respirators and nearly 30,000 face shields. We were one of the first hospitals in the nation to reprocess N95 respirators with Battelle Laboratories, with more than 8,000 masks reprocessed for future use if needed.

We know we must remain vigilant, as this pandemic is not yet over, and we face an uncertain future, with a possible second wave, for which we are well prepared. But we also know this much with certainty: we have successfully bent downward the curve of COVID-19 cases across Suffolk County.

Thank you for your continuing efforts to keep the coronavirus in check by following fundamental public health protocols: social distancing, masks and hand hygiene. Together, we will emerge from this pandemic even stronger than before, because together we are “Stony Brook Strong.”

Carol A. Gomes, MS, FACHE, CPHQ, is Chief Executive Officer at Stony Brook University Hospital.

Joel Hurowitz before the PIXL launch at the end of July. Photo by Tanya Hurowitz

By Daniel Dunaief

For six years, Joel Hurowitz worked as Deputy Principal Investigator on a team to build an instrument they would send to another planet.

Joel Hurowitz

An Assistant Professor of Geosciences at Stony Brook University, Hurowitz and the team led by Abigail Allwood at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory created an instrument that would search for evidence of life that is likely long ago extinct on Mars.

The team designed a 10-pound machine (which will weigh less than four pounds in Mars’s lower gravity environment) that is about the size of a square lunchbox and houses x-ray equipment that can search along the surface of rocks for life that may have existed as long as three to four billion years ago.

Mars’s surface environment became less hospitable to life starting around three billion years ago, when the planet lost most of its atmosphere, causing the surface to dry out and become extremely cold. Surface life at this point likely became extinct.

Called the Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry, or PIXL, the instrument was one of seven that lifted off at the end of July as part of a Mars 2020 mission. The Perseverance rover will land at the Jezero Crater on the Red Planet on February 18th, 2021.

After all that work, Hurowitz had planned to watch the launch with his family in Florida, but the pandemic derailed that plan.

“I got to watch the launch with my family,” Hurowitz said. He was on two zoom conferences, one with the Mars 2020 team and the other with members of the Department of Geosciences at Stony Brook. “It was a really special experience” and was the “best teleconference of the last six months,” he said.

As the rocket makes its 35.8 million mile journey to Mars, the JPL team will turn on the PIXL to monitor it, run health checks and do routine heating of the components to make sure it is operating. After the rocket lands, the rover will go through a commissioning period. Numerous subsystems need to be checked out, explained Hurowitz.

The first test for the PIXL will be to analyze a calibration target the researchers sent to Mars, to make sure the measurements coincide with the same data they collected numerous times on Earth. This ensures that the instrument is “working the way we want it to. That’ll happen in the first 40 sols.”

A sol is a day on Mars, which is slightly longer by about 40 minutes than a day on Earth.

Once it passes its calibration test, the PIXL can start collecting data. Hurowitz described the instrument as “incredibly autonomous.” It sits at the end of the rover’s arm. When the scientists find a rock they want to explore, the PIXL moves an inch away from the surface of the rock and opens its dust cover. The scientists take pictures with a camera and a set of laser beams. These beams help determine whether the PIXL is an optimal distance from the rock. If it isn’t, the instrument manipulates itself, using struts that allow it to extend or retract away from the rock.

Once PIXL gets in the right position, it fires an X-ray beam into the rock. The beam is about the diameter of a human hair. The x-ray that hits the rock is like wind going through chimes. Rather than make a familiar sound, the elements in the rock emit a specific x-ray signal as the atoms return to their ground state. Putting together the signals from the rock enables Hurowitz and the PIXL crew to determine its chemistry.

Even though the rocks are likely a combination of numerous elements, they “separate themselves cleanly in our spectra,” Hurowitz said. The SBU Geosciences expert expects the elements in the rocks to have different proportions than on Earth. Mars, for example, has more iron than sodium. A granite rock on Earth would likely have considerable sodium and some potassium, with a little iron.

Hurowitz and the PIXL team will be looking for rocks that may have evidence of prokaryotic organisms that are Mars’s versions of similar species found in undisturbed areas of Western Australia, where researchers discovered ancient fossilized life.

The rocks in Australia contain the oldest accepted fossilized forms of life, which are about 3.5 billion years old and are considered the best analogues for what the PIXL team might find on Mars.

In Australia, which is where Allwood grew up, scientists discovered microbial mats, which are single-celled organisms that build up, one layer after another, into a colony. These mats worked together to build up towards the sunlight, which fuels their metabolism. They use raw chemicals in the environment like dissolved sulfur, iron and manganese.

The Martian mats, if they find them, likely had to adapt to considerably different conditions than on Earth. The Martian environment may not have had large oceans or river systems and craters filled with lakes.

The scientists won’t be able to look for an individual microbe, but rather for indirect signals, such as laminated structures that formed in ways that are unique to microbial communities.

Hurowitz, Allwood and the PIXL team are looking for clues from an unusual lamination in the rock that they would likely associate with a microbial mat. By looking closely at the lamination, they may be able to develop hypotheses about whether a mat was taking chemicals out and depositing it to make a mineralized home for itself.

If they find rocks of interest, the rover’s drill will collect a sample and hermetically seal it in a tube.

A future mission to Mars, planned for 2026, could retrieve some of these samples, which, when they return, could confirm the presence of life on Mars. PIXL will continue to operate as long as the filament in the x-ray tube lasts, which should be between 1,300 and 1,400 uses.

Allwood, who shared an office with Hurowitz when they worked together at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said she approached him when she started assembling a team.

Finding life on Mars would answer a question that has intrigued those on Earth for thousands of years, Allwood said. Such Martian life would indicate that “we’re not alone. There was life and it was next door,” she said.