Stony Brook University

Kevin James. Photo from Staller Center

UPDATE: January 27 show sold out! Second show added on January 28 at 8 p.m. Tickets will go on sale for the second show on Sept. 21 at 10 a.m. 

It’s official! Kevin James is headed to Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts’ Main Stage for an evening of comedy on January 27, 2023 at 8 p.m. Tickets go on sale on Sept. 15 at 10 a.m. For one night only, the King of Long Island comes home in his first Staller Center appearance, blocks away from the streets that built him

“We’re thrilled to bring Kevin James to Staller Center,” says Alan Inkles, Director of the Staller Center, “I’ve been looking forward to hosting him here in his hometown for some time now, and I know this will be a really special show for our audience.”

Since performing his first Stand-up set at Long Island’s East Side Comedy Club in 1989, Kevin James has established himself as a powerhouse actor, writer, and comedian. Discovered at the 1996 Montreal Comedy Festival, he signed a deal with Paramount to develop his own sitcom, The King of Queens. Earning an Emmy nomination for his role, James starred in all nine seasons of the smash hit show, which continues to air daily in syndication. Moving from television to film, James’ iconic roles in the films Hitch, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, and Grown Ups catapulted him into stardom. He continues to dominate all of these mediums, having starred in the sitcoms Kevin Can Wait and The Crew and the new films Hubie Halloween, Home Team, and Becky, all while lending his voice to the Hotel Transylvania films.

Ranked as one of the 100 greatest stand-ups by Comedy Central, his lauded specials Sweat The Small Stuff and Never Don’t Give Up have solidified James as one of the top comics of his generation. Now, James brings that incisive, irreverent stand-up to the Main Stage in an all-out hilarious evening. Returning to his Stony Brook roots, James will have audiences doubled over in laughter as he comes home- and brings his biting, uproarious wit with him.

Tickets will be available at stallercenter.com on September 15th at 10am.

For more information, call 631-632-2787 or visit www.stallercenter.com.

From left, Chang Kee Jung, Barry Barish and Carl Lejuez. Photo by John Griffin/Stony Brook University

By Daniel Dunaief

Albert Einstein predicted gravitational waves existed, but figured interference on the Earth would make them impossible to observe. He was right on the first count. On the second, it took close to a century to create an instrument capable of detecting gravitational waves. The first confirmed detection, which was generated 1.3 billion light years away when two black holes collided, occurred in September of 2015.

For his pioneering work with gravitational waves, which now include numerous other such observations, Barry Barish shared the Nobel Prize in 2017 with physicists Rainer Weiss and Kip Thorne.

In the fall of 2023, Barish is bringing his physics background and knowledge to Stony Brook University, where he will be the inaugural President’s Distinguished Endowed Chair in Physics. Barish will teach graduate students and serve as an advisor to Chang Kee Jung, Chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy and Distinguished Professor.

From left, Barry Barish and Chang Kee Jung. Photo by John Griffin/Stony Brook University

“I’m really happy,” said Jung in an interview. “Nobel Prize winning work is not all the same. This work [Barish] has done with LIGO [the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory] is incredible.”

Jung suggested the discovery of these two merging black holes “opened up a completely new field of astronomy using gravitational waves.” The finding is a “once-in-a-generation discovery.”

Gravitational waves disrupt the fabric of spacetime, a four-dimensional concept Einstein envisioned that combines the three dimensions of space with time. These waves are created when a neutron star with an imperfect spherical shape spins, and during the merger of two black holes, the merger of two neutron stars, or the merger of a neutron star and a black hole.

Jung suggested a way to picture a gravitational wave. “Imagine you have a bathtub with a little rubber ducky,” he said. In the corner of the bathtub, “you slam your hand into the water” which will create a ripple that will move the duck. In the case of the gravitational wave Barish helped detect, two black holes slamming into each other over 1.2 billion light years ago, when life on Earth was transitioning from single celled to multi celled organisms, started that ripple.

While Barish, 86, retired after a lengthy and distinguished career at CalTech in 2005, Stony Brook has no plans to create a team of physicists who specialize in this area. “The most important thing is that people together exchange ideas and figure out what to do next that’s interesting,” Barish said in an interview. “I’ll keep doing gravitational waves.”

Instead of encouraging graduate students and even undergraduates to follow in his footsteps, Barish hopes to “help stimulate the future here and help educate students,” he said.

An important call

Jung, who became chair of the department in the fall of 2021, has known Barish for over three decades. On a periodic informal zoom call, Jung reached out to Barish to tell him Stony Brook had offered Jung the opportunity to become chair. Barish suggested he turn it down. As Jung recalled, Barish said, “Why do you want to do that?”

On another informal call later on, Jung told Barish he decided to become chair, explaining that he wanted to serve the university and the department. Barish asked him what he would do as chair. Jung replied, “‘I would like guys like you to come to Stony Brook. It took [Barish] about 10 seconds to think about it and then he said, ‘That’s possible.’”

That, Jung said, is how a Nobel Prize winning scientist took the first steps towards joining Stony Brook.

Last week, Barish came to Stony Brook to deliver an inaugural lecture as a part of the newly created C.N. Yang Colloquium series in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Stony Brook officials were thrilled with Barish’s appointment and the opportunity to learn from his well-attended on-site lecture.

In remarks before Barish’s packed talk at the Simons Center Della Pietra Family Auditorium, Carl Lejuez, Executive Vice President and Provost, said he hears the name C.N. Yang “all the time,” which reflects Yang’s foundational contribution to Stony Brook University. “It’s fitting that we honor his legacy with a speaker of Dr. Barish’s character who, like Yang, is also a Nobel Prize winner. It’s a really nice synergy.”

Indeed, Yang, who won his Nobel Prize in 1957, coming to Stony Brook “instantaneously raised the university profile,” said Jung, whose department is the largest on campus with 75 faculty.

Surrounded by a dedicated team of scientists, and with the addition of another Nobel Prize winner to the fold, Jung believes the team will continue to thrive. 

“If you put together great minds, great things will happen,” he said.

Seeing the bigger picture

Barish is eager to encourage undergraduates and graduate students to consider the bigger picture in the realm of physics.

“[In general] we train graduate students to do something really important by making them narrower and narrower and narrower, so they can concentrate on doing something that’s worthy of getting a thesis and is as important as possible,” Barish said. “That works against creating a scientist who can look beyond something narrow. That’s bothered me for a long time.”

The problem, Barish continued, is that once researchers earn their degree, they continue on the same path. “Why should you happen to have had a supervisor in graduate school determine what you do for the rest of your life?” he asked.

Once students have the tools of physics, whether they are experimental or theoretical, they shouldn’t be so locked in, he urged. “It’s possible to use these same tools to do almost any problem in physics,” Barish added.

His goal in a course he plans to teach to advanced graduate students (that’s also open to undergraduates) is to provide exposure to the frontiers of science.

A few years ago, Barish recalled how the New York Times ran a picture of a black hole above the fold. He taught a class how scientists from around the world combined radio telescopes to make it act like one radio telescope the size of the Earth.

Helping students understand how that happened “pays off in the long run in making our physics students that we turn out be broader and more interesting and more interested in physics,” Barish said.

When Barish arrives next September, Jung said he plans to have some assignments for interactions with undergraduates. “Undergraduate research is critically important,” Jung said. Barish will also interact with various student groups, as well as the community outside the university.

“We will create those opportunities,” Jung said.

A baby gelada foraging in Simien Mountains National Park in Ethiopia. Their early-life gut microbiome, from infancy through first years of life, are shown to be influenced by bacteria likely passed down from mom. Photo by Sharmi Sen

The bacteria that reside in the human gut (“the gut microbiome”) are known to play beneficial and harmful roles in human health. Because these bacteria are transmitted through milk, mothers can directly impact the composition of bacteria that their offspring harbor, potentially giving moms another pathway to influence their infant’s future development and health. A study of wild geladas (a non-human primate that lives in Ethiopia) provides the first evidence of clear and significant maternal effects on the gut microbiome both before and after weaning in a wild mammal. This finding, published in Current Biology, suggests the impact of mothers on the offspring gut microbiome community extends far beyond when the infant has stopped nursing.

A research team co-led by Stony Brook University anthropologist Dr. Amy Lu, and biologists Dr. Alice Baniel and Dr. Noah Snyder-Mackler at Arizona State University, came to this conclusion by analyzing one of the largest datasets on gut microbiome  development in a wild mammal.

“Early life gut microbial development is known to have a large impact on later life health in humans and other model organisms,” said Lu, Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences at Stony Brook University. “Now we have solid evidence that mothers can influence this process, both before and weaning. Although we’re not 100% certain how mothers do this, one possible explanation is that they transfer specific bacteria to their offspring.”

The research team used high throughput DNA sequencing to identify and characterize the bacteria residing in the guts of young geladas, and identified 3,784 different genetic strains of bacteria belonging to 19 phyla and 76 families. However, this diversity was not equally distributed across the developmental spectrum: similar to what is seen in humans, younger infants had the least diverse microbial communities that gradually became more diverse as they got older. These changes reflected what the infant was eating, specifically when they switched from consuming milk to consuming more solid foods. These diet-focused bacteria actually help infants process foods – for instance, milk glycans, which cannot be digested without the help of bacteria.

However, it was the team’s findings of strong maternal effects on the infant gut microbiome both before and after weaning that was the most groundbreaking.

“Infants of first-time moms showed slower development of their gut microbiota, meaning that their guts were specialized toward milk digestion for longer compared to kids from other moms. This may put offspring of newer moms at a slight developmental disadvantage,” said Baniel. “In addition, even after infants were weaned, their microbiome community was more similar to mom’s than to other adult females in the population, suggesting that mom’s may be sharing microbes with their offspring.”

According to Snyder-Mackler, “these early life changes might have far-reaching consequences–impacting the health and survival of these offspring once they become adults.”

Future work from this research team will focus on examining how differences in the gut microbiome during infancy influence other aspects of development, such as growth, the maturation of the immune system, or the pace of reproductive maturation. Because they are continuing to study the same infants as they age, they expect to eventually be able to link the infant gut microbiome and the early-life maternal effects to health, reproduction, and survival in adulthood.

The research was funded by several grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Geographic Society, the Leakey Foundation, and from the University of Michigan, Stony Brook University, and Arizona State University.

OLLI members during a tour of SBU on Aug. 31. Photo from OLLI

Joining children and college students across the Island going back to school to study, adult learners also returned to a local campus on Sept. 6.

OLLI members returned to in-person workshops on Sept. 6. Photo from OLLI

After five semesters, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute’s members have returned to the Stony Brook University campus. The program, better known as OLLI, offers a variety of noncredit workshops designed to appeal to people over 50. During the spring semester of 2020, OLLI switched to virtual workshops via Zoom due to COVID-19 shutdowns. The program this fall will once again offer in-person workshops, as well as virtual and hybrid options.

Breanne Delligatti, OLLI at SBU program director, said members had the opportunity to attend an orientation on Aug. 31. More than 100 people were in attendance. This semester there will be more than 600 learners with over 100 courses, lectures and events planned.

Jane Cash, curriculum committee co-chair and workshop leader, described the orientation as extraordinary. A recently retired nurse, she joined OLLI during the pandemic and has only attended via Zoom.

“To see more than people’s heads and shoulders, and to meet them in person, it was really lovely,” Cash said.

Ella Nyc, executive council president, said it was also exciting to see people return who decided not to participate via Zoom either due to lack of technical savviness or proper equipment. 

“They’re still coming back and returning and so excited to be back on campus again,” Nyc said.

While it was good to see each other in person again, Karen DiPaola, curriculum committee co-chair and workshop leader, a member since 2017, said it was amazing how the workshops were quickly made available on Zoom in 2020 considering it was something that couldn’t be anticipated. She took several workshops via the platform.

“It was almost like having them in your room, and now to see them again in person at the orientation was just a delight,” DiPaola said.

Delligatti said they were one of the first Osher institutes to be fully operational with virtual learning. Before the pandemic, virtual workshops were not offered.

OLLI members attend an orientation at SBU on Aug. 31. Photo from OLLI

“Within two weeks of leaving the campus, we had over 50 workshops converted to virtual on Zoom, and that remained and increased every semester for the subsequent five semesters that came,” Delligatti said.

After the Aug. 31 orientation, held in the theater at the univesity’s Charles B. Wang Center, SBU students led the OLLI members on a tour of the more popular spots on campus and where workshops will take place. They also showed the adult learners where they could relax between their workshops.

Delligatti said the members then headed to the computer lab at Research & Development Park where OLLI learners will have access to new computers. The SBU students helped OLLI members set up their credentials to get on Wi-Fi, something members may need if they decide to participate in a virtual workshop while on campus.

Nyc said she is looking forward to members interacting in person again, especially in discussion workshops.

“It’s difficult to have a discussion when you have to wait to be recognized in the waiting room, it’s going to be so much better,” she said. “It’s more impromptu, it’s more fun.”

DiPaola said there were some workshops they could not do remotely, such as ones about board games. She added she enjoys walking between workshops and getting a bite at the cafeteria on campus.

“I also love about OLLI that it’s a place on a college campus, and it’s very energizing to see all of the young students,” DiPaola said.

Cash said it’s interesting meeting people who you have not met otherwise.

“You pass people in the supermarket, and you don’t know anything about them except how they look, but when you get to know them as people and see them as people with great experience and expertise and charming also, I think that’s the beauty of OLLI.”

According to Delligatti, OLLI members raised more than $50,000 over the last couple of years which enabled the program to outfit two classrooms at SBU with new equipment for the members to use.

Image from Stony Brook Athletics
Gift from inaugural football team member to support comprehensive excellence within Department of Athletics

Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis and Director of Athletics Shawn Heilbron announced that the University has received a $3 million gift from the Kehoe Family Foundation to support comprehensive excellence within the Stony Brook Department of Athletics.
 
The gift was made by the Kehoe Family Foundation which is comprised of Stony Brook football alumnus Kevin Kehoe ’77; his wife Lorraine; brothers Brian, Tim, Michael, and Jeremy; sister Deirdre Chanis; and daughter Julia.
 
“I really enjoyed my years at Stony Brook and playing on the original club football team. I’ve been fortunate in my career to build a couple of businesses which has given me the opportunity to start the Kehoe Family Foundation.
 
You can’t help but take enormous pride in seeing how far Stony Brook Athletics – and the football program specifically – have come. When I looked at where the program is now and where it can be in the future, I saw a great opportunity to make a difference. I’m happy to be even a small part of what will be an amazing journey,” said Kevin Kehoe as he reflected on what Stony Brook means to him and why he was compelled to have his foundation make this gift.  
 
The gift from the Kehoe Family Foundation is the third-largest in department history. The foundation’s donation will fund the replacement of both the north end zone video board and south end zone scoreboard in Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium, launch an Athletics facilities master planning project, support the renovation of the football locker room, and provide operational support to Athletics Career Development & Leadership programming.
 
Through these priorities, the Kehoes’ gift will directly support the department’s vision to positively transform the life of each student-athlete and its mission to elevate the national profile of the University by winning championships; inspiring school pride; and fostering transformational experiences for student-athletes, alumni, and the Long Island community.
 
“I have been inspired to learn about the Kehoe Family Foundation’s approach to generational giving, and Stony Brook University is incredibly grateful for their generosity,” said President McInnis. “The growth of Stony Brook Athletics over the past six decades has been breathtaking, and I’d like to thank Kevin and his family for this meaningful gift, for this wonderful demonstration of team spirit, and for proving, as we like to say at Stony Brook…once a Seawolf, always a Seawolf.” 
 
In recognition of the Kehoe family’s generosity, we are proud to submit to the Stony Brook Council and SUNY Board of Trustees the recommendation that the Kehoe name be displayed within Stony Brook Athletics’ facilities where we plan to name the entryway of Island Federal Arena as the “Kehoe Family Atrium” and the south end zone scoreboard in LaValle Stadium as the “Kehoe Family Scoreboard.”
 
“This is a time of tremendous optimism and opportunity for Stony Brook Athletics, and I’m exceedingly grateful to the Kehoe family for their generous commitment at a time when investment is so critical. This gift addresses several vital needs for our department while providing significant momentum as we enter our first year as an all-sport member of the CAA. As a student-athlete when Stony Brook’s football program was in its infancy, Kevin is now graciously contributing to its continued elevation. I am indebted to him and his entire family for their trust and belief in what we are building,” said Director of Athletics Shawn Heilbron.
 
“We are grateful for the vision and generosity of Kevin Kehoe and the Kehoe Family Foundation. Not only are they strengthening the foundation of Stony Brook Athletics, but as an alumnus and former student-athlete, Kevin’s leadership will go a long way toward inspiring the next generation of Stony Brook students and alumni,” said Vice President for Advancement and Executive Director of the Stony Brook Foundation Justin Fincher. “We look forward to the family’s continued partnership as our Athletics program begins this exciting new phase in its evolution.”
 
Kehoe earned his bachelor’s degree at Stony Brook in 1977 and was a founding member of the university’s football team. As members of the inaugural football team at Stony Brook, Kevin and his teammates were pioneers who laid the foundation for what the program has become 45 years later.  
 
Kehoe was born in New York City but lived much of his life in Southern California, with stops in Florida and Texas. He began his business and consulting career with Coopers & Lybrand in 1984. Nearly a decade later in 1993, he launched his own consulting firm, Kehoe & Co., where he worked until he founded The Aspire Software Company in 2014. In 2021, he sold Aspire to Service Titan, where he retains a position as a consultant.
 
In addition to his successful business career, Kevin is a published author of his memoir, One Hit Wonder: The Real-Life Adventures of an Average Guy and the Lessons He Learned Along the Way.
 
Today, Kevin and his wife of 20 years, Lorraine, live in Arizona.
 
About Stony Brook Athletics:
Stony Brook University’s Athletics Department sponsors 18 varsity intercollegiate athletic programs that compete at the NCAA Division I level. Their world-class facilities include the 12,300-seat Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium, and a sports complex housing the 4,000-seat Island Federal Arena, which opened in the Fall of 2014. All of Stony Brook’s men’s and women’s programs offer athletic scholarships. For more information about the Stony Brook Seawolves, visit stonybrookathletics.com.

Coach Ashley Langford. Photo from SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Parents, coaches and teachers offer words of wisdom, guidance and advice.

At the same time, however, they also have opportunities to learn, particularly after the end of one year and the start of another.

And so it is for Stony Brook University women’s basketball coach Ashley Langford.

A year after she took her first head coaching job at Stony Brook, Langford took stock of her experience, while contemplating the next steps.

“I’m still high energy and enthusiastic,” Langford said at 3 p.m. .on the first day of school from her car as she headed to a late lunch. “I’m still excited to be head coach.”

A self-described “high achiever” who “wants to be the best,” Langford acknowledges that she may be an over achiever as well.

“Even when I reach my goal, for me, you’re supposed to,” she said. “There were times [last year] when we would win and I wouldn’t be happy. I want us to be our best.”

Langford, however, recognizes that emphasizing ways to improve, even after winning a game, was not ideal for her players.

“They are 18- to 23-year-olds,” she said. “They need to enjoy that win, regardless of how it looked. They need to be praised right in the moment.”

That doesn’t mean teaching and improving ends after a win. The next day, she said she felt more comfortable talking about how to avoid the possibility of letting a game slip away.

In her second year, Langford hopes she, her coaches and the team become more visible to the community, particularly because the team plays a “fun brand of basketball.”

Her debut season involved ongoing restrictions related to the pandemic, preventing her from connecting with the community.

“I need to be more visible,” Langford said. “It’s important that Long Island knows who we are.”

She is eager to go into schools and engage with members of the community.

“Community service is a huge piece of that,” Langford said. “It’s us going to schools and reading” or interacting in other ways with residents.

This summer, the basketball program ran an elite camp for players who were not at a recruitable age. Participants in the camp can come back to games for free, which, Langford hopes, can encourage other spectators to join them.

“Maybe they’ll bring a friend or two,” she said.

The Seawolves coach is excited for the opportunity to compete in the Colonial Athletic Conference. After participating in the America East conference since 2001, the Stony Brook Athletic Department decided to move to the CAA starting this season.

Langford will rely on some of her knowledge of her competition. Prior to arriving at SBU, Langford spent four years at James Madison University, which is a member of the CAA.

“I know the DNA of certain teams,” Langford said. She recognizes, however, that teams change, which means that the Seawolves have to be “ready to pivot.”

As she prepares the team, which includes four transfer students, for the upcoming season, she believes Stony Brook will be competitive in a demanding conference.

“We’re not in a league where you can have an off night and think you’re gong to win,” she said. “We’ve got to be ready to give our best.”

Thoughts from a former player and her father

Former fifth-year player India Pagan, who is preparing to play professional basketball in Germany this winter (see story in Arts and Lifestyles), remains connected to her former team.

“I’m really proud that we made it to another league,” she said. “We have to elevate our level, our intensity. I say, ‘We,’ like I’m still on the team.” Pagan said she still feels committed to a team she helped lead to consecutive conference championships.

Thinking back to the beginning of his daughter’s college basketball experience, India’s father Moises Pagan cited Stony Brook’s eagerness to recruit her.

“The fact that they put this powerpoint together, it blew us away,” Pagan said. “We walked away saying, ‘Stony Brook really wants our daughter.’”

Arjun Venkatesan is testing an enhanced coagulation approach to treat contaminated water. Photo by John Griffin/Stony Brook University

By Daniel Dunaief

One person’s toilet flush is another’s pool of information.

Arjun Venkatesan, Associate Director for the New York State Center for Clean Water Technology at Stony Brook University, has gathered information from wastewater plants to search for traces of opioids and other chemicals.

Such monitoring is a “great tool” and relies on the sensitivity of the method, Venkatesan said.

Indeed, other scientists, including Professor Christopher Gobler, Endowed Chair of Coastal Ecology and Conservation at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook, have used wastewater monitoring to collect information about the prevalence of Covid-19 in a community.

Gobler explained that such monitoring has proven to be an “ideal way to track community infections. Through early to mid 2022, positive test rates and wastewater virus levels tracked perfectly. Since then, people began home testing and now, wastewater epidemiology is probably our best sign of community infection rates.”

In a joint effort through the Center for Cleanwater Technology, Venkatesan’s team monitors for chemicals, including opioids and other drugs. Such tracking, which college campuses and local governments have done, does not involve gathering information from any specific home. Instead, the scientists take anonymous samples from a larger dorm or a neighborhood, hoping to track changes in the presence of chemicals or a virus to enable health care mitigation efforts.

Venkatesan has been looking at common over-the-counter drugs and anti-viral treatments that residents used to treat Covid-19 infection, particularly before the development and distribution of several vaccines. He noticed an increase in over the counter use that matched the increase of Covid cases, which suggested that the infected people took these pain medicines for their symptoms first.

Venkatesan’s group monitored the use of these drugs over the last two years to confirm the trends. This baseline allowed him to “see increasing trends” in usage, he said. The increase “clearly indicates something more than what the drugs are regularly used for.”

Opioids

Venkatesan’s group has been working with the Department of Health to develop standard protocols to measure drugs at these sewage treatment plants. The testing needs to be updated to account for changes in consumption of new drugs that are being synthesized.

Each sample Venkatesan and his colleagues collect typically has hundreds of thousands of people in it, because the treatment plants process sewage for a large collection of communities. “This keeps anonymity,” he said. “We don’t want to dig up [information] from a single family home.”

The method is also cost effective when a single sample represents a larger population. This kind of information, however, could help public health professionals monitor the presence of drugs broadly in a community, providing them with a way to track the prevalence of addictive and potentially harmful drugs.

Venkatesan is developing methods to track fentanyl, a highly addictive drug linked to numerous deaths throughout the country and the world. Studies in other regions have demonstrated elevated levels of this drug.

Venkatesan said New York State responded to the pandemic by developing surveillance over the last few years. The approach was not well known and was limited mostly to illicit drugs. The pandemic made a significant impact, which helped officials appreciate the value of such a tool.

The state could also theoretically monitor for any chemicals that are stable enough in sewage.

While Venkatesan hasn’t measured traces of alcohol at sewage treatment plants, researchers and public health officials could create a screen to measure it. He was involved in a study that monitored for alcohol and nicotine consumption in many cities. “We could get interesting trends and understand community and population health in a better way,” he said. The pandemic has “helped establish the importance of this network.”

Surveys in which people call and ask about the consumption of drugs or alcohol can contain self-reporting error, as respondents may not know exactly how much they drink or may be reluctant to share those details.

Wastewater monitoring could capture trends, including whether communities have a spike in the use of drugs or alcohol on Friday nights or on weekends.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention created standardized methods for monitoring Covid-19 in the wastewater of cities and states.

Wastewater monitoring techniques are different for detecting viruses compared to chemicals. Venkatesan’s group is developing different method to screen for opioids. “We are excited about it,” he said. “Hopefully, next year, we should be able to monitor communities.”

As long as the sampling doesn’t cross any predetermined ethical line, monitoring could provide an effective way of looking at the trends and data, he said.

With so much water flowing through pipes and treatment plants, one of the biggest challenges in these efforts is to understand variables that affect what the scientists are monitoring.

The time between when a toilet is flushed in an apartment to the time when it reaches a plant can vary, depending on numerous variables, which creates uncertainty in the data.

To reduce this variability, scientists could do some sampling in manholes, between treatment plants.

Scientific roots

Venkatesan took an elective at the end of college in environmental science when he attended Anna University in Chennai, India. It was the first time he observed a wastewater treatment plant.

Fascinated by the process, he earned a Master’s in Environmental Engineering at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and then went on to get a PhD at Arizona State. He also did his post doctoral research in Arizona.

Stony Brook was looking for a scientist to screen for contaminants in drinking water, including PFAS chemicals, which is a group of chemicals that are stable, hard to break down and are linked to thyroid cancer, among others.

PFAS chemicals are used in cleaners, textiles, fire-fighting foam and other applications.

Venkatesan leads drinking water efforts, while waste water epidemiology remains an ongoing project of interest.

Gobler hired Venkatesan five years ago to help run and then to exclusively run the drinking water initiative at Stony Brook.

Through the process, Venkatesan has “brought new insights and research programs related to wastewater epidemiology, bisolids and many other topics,” Gobler explained. Venkatesan has “exceeded expectations,” as he transitioned from a postdoctoral researcher to become Associate Director for Drinking Water Initiatives.”

Gobler called his colleague a “complete professional” who is “very positive and a good person to work with.”

In his research, Venkatesan develops technologies to remove these PFAS chemicals, while monitoring is also a part of that effort. Activated carbon filters can remove these chemicals from groundwater. These filters, however, require frequent replacement. Venkatesan is exploring ways to improve the life of the carbon filter.

PFAS chemicals make rain water unsafe to drink. Removing PFAS chemicals is an “important research topic locally and globally.”

India Pagan at Stony Brook University with her parents at graduation.

By Daniel Dunaief

With sneakers on her feet and a ball in her hand, India Pagan will circle the globe in a landmark year.

India Pagan
Photo from tStony Brook University

First, she earned a Master’s Degree in coaching at Stony Brook University, completing a five-year stint in which she also received her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology. After a brief journey home to New London, Connecticut to visit with her family and celebrate, she and her family took a long-awaited cruise to Honduras and Mexico. 

Now, the 6-foot,1-inch power forward, who completed a distinguished basketball career at Stony Brook, is practicing with the Puerto Rican National team, with whom she also traveled to the Olympics last year in Tokyo. Pagan and the team will travel to Serbia for a scrimmage and then to Australia to play in the World Cup.

But that’s not the end of her journey. After the World Cup, Pagan, 23, will fulfill a professional goal, as she signed a one-year contract to play professional basketball in Germany with the BC Pharmaserv Dolphins in Marburg, Germany. North of Frankfurt and east of Dusseldorf, Marburg is home to the Marburger Schloss (Marburg castle) and numerous medieval churches.

“It’s always been my dream to play overseas, so it’s a dream come true,” said Pagan, who is listed as a starter for the Division 1 German team. “To get paid to do what I love is really cool.”

The reality of becoming a professional basketball player started to sink in after she told family members she had signed a contract. When she shared the news with her mother Carmen Pagan, her mom “flipped out,” Pagan recalled. Her sisters Melody and Taina and family friends were similarly excited and “freaked out” about Pagan becoming a professional basketball player.

Reaching such a dream requires familial “teamwork,” said Carmen Pagan. “Any family member that is part of that group, everybody has to be committed to be there and support the child in different ways,” including emotionally, financially and academically.

When Pagan started playing basketball at the age of 11, the family made a “huge commitment” that included missing a “lot of birthdays, and a lot of family functions. We were always on the road, traveling throughout the United States” said India’s father Moises Pagan, who credits his daughter’s willingness to seize any opportunity to play as a catalyst for her basketball career.

One Friday night years ago, India received a call about a high school showcase in Queens. Despite heavy rush hour traffic and a five-hour commitment, she “didn’t even twitch,” he recalled. She said, “Dad, I want to go.” That’s where Stony Brook’s previous basketball head coach Caroline McCombs, who led the team from 2014 to 2021, saw her play.

Pagan is one of a few former Seawolf women to become a professional basketball player, joining Kaela Hilaire and Shania “Shorty” Johnson, who have also played in Europe.

Professional connection

After a solid showcase following her season, Pagan received numerous offers from agents to represent her. Choosing an agent was “like picking a school all over again,” she said. “I just had to see who was the right fit.”

Pagan selected Stephanie Stanley, president and founder of Merit Management Group who also represents one of Pagan’s favorite WNBA players, Washington Mystics Guard Natasha Cloud. That, however, was only one of several reasons she chose Stanley. The down-to-Earth Pagan thought Stanley was “like an old auntie. She had me laughing.”

Stanley, whose clients sometimes call “Momma Steph,” said she appreciated Pagan because she “likes players who hustle, play hard and look like they’re having fun out there on the court.”

Stanley also offered advice about the kinds of things to be prepared for when playing overseas. A team told one of Stanley’s clients they would provide transportation. When the player arrived, the team gave her a bicycle. “Lesson learned,” laughed Stanley. The player, however, realized that everyone used bicycles to get around in the country and appreciated the chance to lose a few pounds by pedaling back and forth to practice.

Another client had a choice of prepared meals or a financial allowance for food. The player sent Stanley pictures of food neither of them could identify. Stanley said these rookie contracts cover the cost of living and playing basketball. Rookies are “going to learn how to budget,” she said.

In the bigger picture, Stanley said the overseas market, particularly with Americans no longer comfortable playing in Russia amid the imprisonment and nine-year sentence of Brittney Griner, is having a “rough year.” Players who might have played for a top tier Russian team are heading to Turkey, Italy, Spain or France. The dislocation is affecting leagues around the world at every level. “Any player that signed now is impressive,” Stanley said. “It’s a rough year.”

Stanley added that rookies typically sign for one year in any league as players look to advance to more competitive leagues where they might also earn more money.

Pagan, who will be sharing an apartment with three other players when she arrives in Germany a day or so before the team’s first game, is excited for the opportunity and feels like the team and coach Patrick Unger, who lived in the United States for a year, support her. Unger has reached out to her on FaceTime. 

At the same time, the team, which consists of several German players, includes players who speak English. The team pays for utilities, housing and transportation and is providing money for groceries.

While Pagan is excited to get on the floor and start playing with her new teammates, she knows she needs to contribute. “I have to prove myself,” she said.

SBU contributions

India Pagan
Photo from the Pagan family

If Pagan finds the same kind of success in professional basketball that she had at the college level, she could be starting a promising career. She ranks eighth on the all-time scoring list at Stony Brook University, second in career field goal percentage and eighth in total rebounds.

Ashley Langford, head coach of a Seawolves team that won the America East conference championship last year in her debut season, was pleased for Pagan. “It’s awesome,” Langford said. “It’s what she’s been striving for her whole career.”

Langford appreciated the contributions on and off the court that Pagan made and the work her former basketball stand out put into enhancing her game. On the court, Pagan was “always really skilled,” said Langford. In the last year, she asserted herself more physically, moving closer to the basket and drawing contact from defenders, Langford said. She enjoyed watching Pagan show emotion on the court, flexing after she created contact and heading to the free throw line for a chance at a conventional three pointer.

Off the court, Langford admired the leadership role Pagan took in welcoming newer teammates, showing them around campus, offering advice about college athletics and helping them feel like a part of the Seawolves family and basketball program.  “That’s not me or anyone else telling her, ‘You need to connect with freshman.’ That’s her doing it on her own. That’s who she is. She wants everyone to do well,” said Langford.

Pagan encouraged her new teammates to snack because players don’t always have time for a structured meal and encouraged them to “use academic advisors wisely,” she said. “They’re there for a reason.”

While Pagan is excited about the next stage in her life, she is grateful for the time and opportunities she had at Stony Brook. “Eventually, that chapter had to end,” she said. The Stony Brook team will “always be a family.”

Growing fame

Pagan, who joined the Puerto Rican women’s team at the delayed 2020 Olympics last year in Tokyo, has started to develop an international fan following. Recently, she was at a WalMart in Puerto Rico and someone walked up to her and asked to take a picture with her. While Pagan was born and raised in Connecticut, she plays for Puerto Rico because both her parents are from Puerto Rico.

She  was also recently eating at a Chili’s restaurant with her teammates when an interview she did appeared on TV screens around the restaurant. “The waiter was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s you,’” Pagan said. Her teammates enjoyed the excitement.

Pagan has also received and responded to messages in German on social media. Once her professional season starts in Germany, Pagan will be far from home, where her parents can’t take the Bridgeport or Orient Point ferry to come see her the way they did at Stony Brook, a place the entire family still feels at home.

Indeed, one of the more emotionally challenging moments during her world-traveling basketball journey occurred when she played in Chile for three weeks. At 17, Pagan found it difficult to be so far from family, Moises Pagan recalled. That experience prepared her for her current plan to travel to Germany. “It makes the transition [to Germany] so much easier,” he said. FaceTime and a commitment to basketball have allowed Pagan to focus on her sport. “She just wants to make everyone proud, playing the game she loves,” he added

Yusuf Hannun is constantly working to improve his team of dedicated researchers with the hopes of curing complicated diseases. File photo

Stony Brook University’s Dr. Yusuf Hannun, an internationally recognized scientist and a leader at the school for a decade, is stepping down as head of the Stony Brook Cancer Center, Dr. Hal Paz, chief executive officer of Stony Brook Medicine announced in an email.

In the email addressed to SBM leaders, Paz thanked Hannun for his leadership, recognizing his contributions to cancer research and to the Stony Brook Cancer Center.

Paz suggested that Hannun would continue to serve as director until the university, which is conducting a national search, finds someone to assume that responsibility.

SBM officials maintained in a statement that the “mission remains the same: to provide our patients with optimal treatment and care.”

Stony Brook is seeking a candidate with “exceptional leadership skills, an illustrious career in cancer research, and who is at the forefront of cancer medicine,” SBM officials added.

Paz shared his gratitude to Hannun for his “dedication to our mission and for shepherding [the cancer center] on the first leg of its journey to attaining [National Cancer Institute] status,” he wrote in his email.

Stony Brook will continue to seek NCI designation. The National Cancer Institute recognizes centers that “meet rigorous standards for transdisciplinary, state-of-the-art research focused on developing new and better approaches to preventing, diagnosing and treating cancer,” according to the NCI web site.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has such a designation.

Paz indicated in the email that Hannun, who has earned numerous accolades and has blazed a trail in the field of sphingolipids, inflammation and cancer therapeutics, would remain as a part of the Stony Brook Medicine faculty.

Hannun previously worked at the Medical University of South Carolina, serving as senior associate dean and distinguished university professor of Biomedical Research and chairman of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology for 14 years.

TBR News Media honored the work of Hannun and his late wife, Lina Obeid, in a People of the Year issue in 2015.

Tony Futerman, the Joseph Meyerhoff professor and chair of biochemistry at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, said Hannun “pushed the field into the modern age” and suggested he had been “innovative for 30 years.”

Hannun recruited numerous faculty to Stony Brook since his arrival, many of whom shared their appreciation for the opportunity to work with and for the well-regarded scientist.

Earlier this year, Mehdi Damaghi, assistant professor in the Department of Pathology at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, said he chose Stony Brook because of the depth of cancer sciences, citing the work of Hannun, Laufer Center Director Ken Dill and Pathology Department Chair Ken Shroyer.

Paz wrote that Hannun has been “instrumental in building the infrastructure to support the growth of the [cancer center], and his impact will be felt for years to come.”

Hannun holds numerous National Institutes of Health grants and has an H index of 148, which is “an exceptional metric that evaluates the cumulative impact of an author’s scholarly output and performance.”

An H index measures how much other scientists cite a researcher’s work.

“We are grateful that Dr. Hannun will remain in his leadership role as we search for a successor,” SBM officials added.

The Center for Italian Studies at Stony Brook University, 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook offers Italian classes for the community from October, 2022 to April, 2023. The informal studies program for adults is designed to expose participants to the Italian language and culture.  On-line courses using video conferencing and distance learning technologies are offered in Beginner, Elementary, Intermediate, and Advanced Italian; each level offered in a 22-2 hour series of classes  (44 hours of instruction). Cost per course is $300.  For additional information/registration form, class dates, times and schedule view www.stonybrook.edu/italianstudies or call 631-632-7444.