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‘Salt’ by Jeanine Boubli

The Huntington Arts Council’s Main Street Gallery, 213 Main Street, Huntington, recently announced the opening of its latest exhibit, a juried art show titled Artie Techie, on view from July 2 to 18.

Artists were asked to submit their computer-embellished or computer-created art or video animation stills, or computer enhanced art of any medium.

‘Harrison’ by Kasmira Mohanty
‘Harrison’ by Kasmira Mohanty

Participants include David Benson, Stephen Bitel, Jeanine Boubli, Virginia Bushart, Elizabeth Cassidy, Robby Cusack, Emily Eisen, William Farran, Jim Finlayson, Beryl Garner, Joanna Gazzola, Diane Godlewski, Marzena Grabczynska, William Grabowski, Samantha Hernandez, Kate Kelly, Cheryl Kurman, Neil Leinwohl, Remy Lexington, John A. Lynch, Stephanie Marcus, Ron Merrick, Carol J. Miller, Jean Miller, Kasmira Mohanty, Lynellen Nielsen, Lisa Petker Mintz, Howard Prince, Alan M. Richards, Sally Shore, Mark Strodl, Irv Suss, Mac Titmus, Bobbie Turner, Debra Urso, Pamela Waldroup, and Nancy Yoshii.

The exhibit was judged by Barbara Jaffe, Professor of Fine Arts/Photography in the Department of Fine Arts, Design, Art History at Hofstra University. “The artists in ‘Artie Techie’ used a variety of image-making methods from across the artistic and technological spectrum, from manipulated digital prints, camera-generated images and completely computer-generated images evoking paintings and drawings. Others used the scanner as their main capture. Still others appear to be representational camera-generated photographs, but are, in fact, completely cameraless, a new technical twist on the trompe l’oeil photo-realist movement of the 1960s and 70s. ‘Artie Techie’ is a truly unique and innovative exhibition that opens a wide spectrum of artistic offerings,” she said.

‘Salt’ by Jeanine Boubli won first place. Kasmira Mohanty won second place for her image titled ‘Harrison,’ and ‘Sentinel’ by Jim Finlayson garnered third place. An opening reception will be held on Friday, July 10, from 6 to 8 p.m., to which the community is invited. For more information, call 631-271-8423 or visit

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Our nation suffered yet another tragedy last week when an avowed racist allegedly murdered nine people at the famous Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina, and it didn’t take long for the debates to start.

Should the Confederate flag still be flown? Does institutional racism still exist? Should the suspected shooter, Dylann Roof, be labeled as a terrorist?

The correct answer depends on whom you are speaking to. Most people already have an opinion and are sticking to it, which really doesn’t solve any of the important issues this most recent incident brings to light. Nine innocent people are still dead.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups nationwide has increased by 30 percent since 2000. In addition, antigovernment groups rose from 149 in 2008 to 874 in 2014 — numbers that jumped following the financial downturn and the election of President Barack Obama. The center also cited an influx of nonwhite immigrants as another factor.

“This growth in extremism has been aided by mainstream media figures and politicians who have used their platforms to legitimize false propaganda about immigrants and other minorities and spread the kind of paranoid conspiracy theories on which militia groups thrive,” the center said on its website.

We are lucky to live in a country that values freedom of speech and there are countless platforms to voice our opinions today as the Internet continues to connect us. But, it also gives individuals a space to spread their message with like-minded people. Our nation has a serious case of confirmation bias — the tendency to read, listen and seek out information that we agree with — and it is a big issue.

Those who condemn the killings but continue to spew vitriol are fueling a fire. The effects of the South Carolina shooting rippled throughout the country because they could happen in any community, including our own. In fact, one of the victims was a blood relative of a family from Port Jefferson.

The chilling notion that hatred and racism still persist in modern American society should not be ignored. Our freedoms come with responsibility and those who preach hatred against any group of people are wrong. As a society we need to be kinder, or at least remember the lessons we learned as children.

Let’s think before we speak, and if we don’t have anything nice to say, let’s not say it at all.

Pam White and her family speak at Sunday’s service in Setauket. Photo from Marlyn Leonard

Setauket is 830 miles away from Charleston, S.C. But on Sunday, that could not have been closer to home.

An openly racist gunman suspected to be 21-year-old Dylann Roof opened fire at South Carolina’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church last Wednesday, killing nine, including a relative of one North Shore family. And on Sunday, Three Village took that national tragedy and balled it up into a clear and concise community-driven message that puts love in the face of evil as more than 100 people flooded the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Setauket to show solidarity.

“What we saw was a community coming together so well that it was almost unbelievable,” said Leroy White, whose second cousin DePayne Middleton Doctor lost her life in the tragic shooting last week. “The response was so overwhelming that we were taken aback by the number of people who showed up. It showed me that this is one of the better communities in America.”

White and more than 10 other members of his family moved to Port Jefferson from South Carolina nearly five decades ago and have since been active members of the Setauket church, working as volunteers and striving to better the Three Village community. His oldest daughter Pam White was even one of the several speakers at Sunday’s service, which called on particular themes of forgiveness, love and respect, before the family headed down to South Carolina earlier this week to pay respects.

“It was powerful and packed,” said Mount Sinai resident Tom Lyon, a member of the church and longtime friend of the White family. “There was such a large contingent of folks from various parts of the community. It was very much a healing event.”

Gregory Leonard, pastor at the Bethel AME Church, referred to the White family as one of the congregation’s longest-serving families and have embedded themselves into the greater leadership of the church. He said the family’s impact on the greater North Shore community was on full display Sunday as members from groups outside of just the Bethel AME congregation came out to show support and mourn.

“What I realized is that the shooting down in South Carolina did not only affect the members of that church, or the members of the black community, but the entire community. I could see it in the faces of those people on Sunday,” Leonard said of the Sunday service. “We needed to come together to mourn and draw strength from one another.”

Other speakers at the service also included state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station).

“The sense of hatred that was calculated by a very twisted individual to inspire a race war was defeated by the response of the victims’ families, who said, ‘we forgive you,'” Englebright said. “We’ve already had a race war. It was called the Civil War. We are not going to have another race war. So how important it is, then, that the stars and bars Confederate battle flag that still flies over the South Carolina capital comes down.”

Marlyn Leonard of Bethel AME said she jumped to action in the aftermath of the hate-infused shooting last week and did not stop until Sunday’s service became reality. She said the lingering sentiments of pain and racism were immediately put to rest when she saw cars lining the streets near the Setauket church and more than 120 people packing the building to light candles for the victims.

“This happened in South Carolina, but we were hit right at home,” she said. “But the White family, like those of the other victims, was still forgiving. They are a wonderful family and we thank God the day turned out wonderfully.”

Looking ahead, Leonard said he hoped the greater Three Village community learned a lesson in the wake of the tragedy, spurring interfaith groups to come together.

Olness remembered as brilliant scientist, education advocate

John Olness with his wife Margaret. Photo from Richard Olness

He did what he loved, and was loved for it.

John William Olness, a nuclear physicist and a Long Island resident since 1961, died on Feb. 15 at the age of 85.

Olness is survived by his wife Margaret, their sons Robert, Richard, Frederick and Christopher and their daughter Kristin.

“He was a creative parent,” son Richard said in a phone interview. “I wouldn’t trade him for the world.”

Olness was born in 1929, in Saskatchewan, Canada, while his father was teaching at a junior college. The family returned to their farm in northern Minnesota when John was young, and that is where he grew up.

Olness received a doctorate in nuclear physics from Duke University in 1957 where he met Margaret. He moved to Long Island from Dayton, Ohio, in 1961, then he began his career at Brookhaven National Laboratory in 1963 where he stayed until his retirement in 2000 after 37 years of service. John and Margaret married in 1958 and moved to Stony Brook in 1968.

John Olness poses for a photo with his family and family friends. Photo from Richard Olness
John Olness poses for a photo with his family and family friends. Photo from Richard Olness

“He got to do what he wanted,” Margaret said in a phone interview. “He was one of the lucky people who loved what he did for a living. You can’t beat that.”

“John worked with many of the visiting scientists who came to BNL to use the facilities, including Sir Denys Wilkinson (Oxford University), D. Allan Bromley (Yale and, later, science adviser to President George H.W. Bush) and future Space Shuttle astronaut Joseph Allen,” son Robert said of his father’s time at BNL, in an email.

Margaret identified her husband’s passions as physics first and music second.

In his leisure time Olness was a Little League baseball coach; and a founding member and trombone player with the Memories of Swing, a big band that performed around Long Island. He also served as a vice president of the Three Village school board in 1975-76. Kristin said that his desire to be on the school board was in large part to fight for the budgets of the music, sports and arts programs that are seemingly always the first to go when money gets thin.

Olness loved baseball, tennis and basketball, and often spent hours on the phone discussing the Detroit Tigers baseball team with his father, who lived in Michigan. He also played football in high school and college, Margaret said.

Olness was a supportive father and husband, according to Margaret. Their children have gone on to enjoy rewarding careers in wide-ranging walks of life, thanks in no small part to that parental support.

Frederick is a professor and physics department chair at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas; Robert is a major in the Army Reserve, awaiting his next deployment; Kristin has just finished a year on Broadway in “Cabaret,” and was also a member of the cast in the show’s 1998 revival; Richard is an actuary for the Department of Defense; and Christopher is a professional trombonist on Broadway currently playing in “On the Town,” the hit musical comedy.

“Dad put emphasis on education, and he and Mom supported us in exploring the arts and recreational sports,” Richard said in an email. “And in the later years, he encouraged us each to find a career we would enjoy.”

A memorial service will be held for John Olness on Thursday, July 2, at Setauket Presbyterian Church.

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That self-described slow jogger who makes his way back and forth along Old Field Road five days a week — when he’s not in high-level meetings in Austria or Japan — just might be making everyone safer. That’s especially true for those people who live or work near nuclear power plants.

A condensed-matter physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory, Robert Bari specializes in the kinds of “what if” scenarios scientists, policymakers and government officials need to consider when building, maintaining, and running the country’s nuclear power plants.

Bari is one of 22 people on a committee studying the lessons learned from the Fukushima power plant meltdown, which occurred two years ago in March following an earthquake that triggered a deadly tsunami. The committee, created by the National Academy of Sciences, will present its findings to Congress next spring.

“I visited Fukushima last November and talked with officials from the plant, from government and with the public,” Bari said. “We had open and closed meetings as appropriate.”

A physicist at Brookhaven since 1971 (with a year at Stony Brook as a visiting professor), Bari brings his expertise in nuclear power reactor safety, security and proliferation resistance to the committee.

Recently elected as a fellow of the prestigious American Physical Society, Bari has developed a career around probabilistic risk assessment and methods for analyzing proliferation resistance. He does severe accident analysis, mainly for nuclear power plants, but also for other nuclear fuel cycle facilities. He has also performed analyses of ship safety for the Navy and electrical grid performance for the Department of Energy.

In the immediate aftermath of Fukushima, he spoke with officials at the DOE at least weekly. He contributed as a part of a briefing for the Secretary of Energy and the president’s science adviser, who attended at least two presentations.

Robert Budnitz, a physicist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at the University of California, said Bari’s role on the NAS committee is well-deserved and earned.

Bari is “an analyst who is more likely than most to come up with an imaginative answer,” Budnitz added. Bari can consider a design problem and, more effectively than most, figure it out, Budnitz said.

Bari gained experience in March of 1979, after the Three Mile Island accident. He built a risk-assessment capability for other plants. He eventually led a division of 60 people who specialized in “what can go wrong in a U.S.-type facility; what are the consequences, physical parameters and human factors involved in those types of activities,” he said.

Through his career, he said he’s been involved in studying nuclear safety and nuclear reactors through a range of responsibilities, from managing large teams to serving as associate lab director and department chair.

Budnitz said nuclear power plants are safer today than they were when many of them were built in the 1970s. The reason is that there a few dozen people worldwide who have worked to improve their design. “[Bari’s] in the middle” of that group and is “one of the most respected” contributors, Budnitz said.

A decade ago, the U.S. and 12 other countries got together to discuss the design of the next set of nuclear facilities, called Generation IV reactors. The Generation IV members discussed design plans for the commercial introduction of new nuclear plants from 2015 to 2030 and beyond.

As the co-chairman of the proliferation-resistance and physical protection group, Bari is responsible for increasing the assurance that the reactors are unattractive and the least desirable route for diversion or theft of weapons-usable materials, and to provide increased physical protection against acts of terrorism.

The Generation IV discussions started before 9/11, but took on a different urgency and design component when potential terrorism became a concern.

Bari lives in Setauket with his wife, Angela Bari, who is an instructor at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Stony Brook, where she teaches courses in physics and on the history and holdings of the Metropolitan Museum. The couple have two children, Robin Sanchez, who works in a media company, and Robert Bari, who is an agent for Aflac Insurance.

As for his work, Bari recognizes that his scientific approach isn’t the typical “publish or perish” paradigm. “I like to think at the end of the day that we’re doing something that is for the public good and also creating new knowledge. I always ask myself ‘Have I created new knowledge?’”

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BNL’s team works with Fermilab to unite large electromagnet with powerful accelerator

Before they can look for undiscovered particles that may only exist for an incredibly small amount of time, they have to haul something 3,200 miles that is so sensitive that a slight movement can cause damage.

Starting in the middle of this month, scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory are shipping an electromagnet that is 50 feet in diameter from its home in Upton to the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill. The weight of that electromagnet is about 35,000 pounds — or the equivalent of almost three adult African bull elephants.

The first step, which will occur on June 10 or 11, involves removing the side of a building and securing the ring on a red, octagonal pinwheel with spokes. The structure, which Emmert International built as it manages the major move, looks like an octagonal wagon wheel with long spokes.

Traveling at night, a truck carrying the electromagnet will receive a police escort as it travels at close to five miles per hour from Upton to a barge 10 miles due south of BNL at Smith Point Marina on Bellport Bay. That trip is expected to take one night.

“The trailer has eight pairs of axles, which are all hydraulically self-leveling, so that even if it hits a pothole with one, there are many other tires” to keep the ring balanced, said Chris Polly, a project manager for Fermilab.

The ring is expected to board the barge on June 16, when it will travel around the southern tip of Florida, up the Mississippi River to Illinois. The journey, including a two-night trek from the river to Fermilab, should take about six weeks.

The reason scientists are sending such a sensitive piece of equipment over such a great distance is to explore an area of nature that might expand the world of particle physics. Back in 2001, scientists at BNL found something incredibly small but potentially revolutionary, that they couldn’t explain.

High energy interactions, such as those at the Fermilab accelerator, produce muons, which, like an electron, have negative charge but are 200 times more massive. These muons exist for only 2.2 millionths of a second. However, more than a decade ago, scientists at BNL noticed that these muons gyrated as expected — up to a point.

“We look at how these muons revolve,” said William Morse, resident spokesman for muon g-2 at BNL.

The frequency of the spin axis around a magnetic field differed, albeit in a miniscule way, from what the theory predicted.

The so-called Lande g-factor should have been 2.0023318358. In the BNL experiment, however, that factor was 2.0023318416.

If the experiments found new particles, “It would be a revolution” in physics, said David Hertzog, who was a part of the original experiment in 2001 at BNL and is now a professor at the University of Washington and a spokesman for the muon g-2 effort. “The whole motivation is to figure out what is beyond the standard model.”

The findings could cause a “rewriting of our textbooks and understanding,” Hertzog added.

Scientists suspected they were on to something, but they didn’t have a precise enough measure to know for sure. By moving the electromagnet to Illinois, they are uniting one of the world’s largest superconducting magnets to the powerful accelerators that can provide a customized beam of neutrons.

Once the electromagnet arrives in Illinois, it will start generating data in 2016 and may start producing results as early as 2017 or 2018.

Morse, who was also involved with the landmark study in 2001, said those results have generated over 2,000 references in the scientific literature.

“In my previous experiments, I would have said that 20 or 30 was a lot. We do think this is kind of a unique measurement.”

Morse, who has worked at BNL since 1976, lives in East Patchogue with his wife Sara, a teacher at Bellport Methodist preschool. They have four children: Andrew, a banker; Kathleen, who works in sustainable living; David, a physics grad student; and Rachel, a respiratory therapist. Morse is a fan of the ocean, where he enjoys swimming, fishing and crabbing.

As for the benefit of the muon experiment, Morse said it will gather basic information about the world and can train a future generation of scholars, industry leaders, and researchers.

“After the last experiment at BNL [in 2001], there were quite a number of graduate students. Many of them are off doing interesting things,” Morse said. “One of them is working on developing chambers to scan cargo ships, others are at universities and some are at national labs.”

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Using the enzyme mix in Xiaflex to treat Dupuytren’s contracture, frozen shoulders and now cellulite

It’s a nuisance during the summer months, when the weather heats up and bathing suits and shorts come out. Never a distinguishing or welcome sign, it’s the dimpled skin condition known as cellulite.

Researchers at Stony Brook University, however, believe they have come up with a possible injection-based cure. Using the same enzymes they’ve applied with frozen shoulder and Dupuytren’s contracture, a deforming hand condition that limits finger mobility, Marie Badalamente and Alexander Dagum have had some success in treating 10 patients in a first-round study of their injections.

Later this year, they expect to enter the Food and Drug Administration’s so-called Phase 2A trials, where they will continue to test their drug, called Xiaflex. They plan to advertise for study subjects and will likely test their remedy against a placebo (using something harmless as an injection that isn’t known to have any effect on cellulite).

In their first trial, their results showed promise. On average, patients saw a 77 percent reduction in cellulite one day after the injection. After six months, those patients still saw a 76 percent reduction. Side effects included soreness, black-and-blue areas and mild edema.

“This is the first properly controlled clinical trial of an injectable treatment that has a good chance to be FDA-approved,” said Badalamente in an interview.

Cellulite affects about 90 percent of women and 10 percent of men. Women have “more of these thin-strand fibers” in their thighs and buttocks, so the fat “kind of pushes up and through, although like a honeycomb of fibers,” said Badalamente, who is a professor of orthopedics. The result is this classic dimpling appearance in those areas.

“Patients flock to cosmetic plastic surgeons’ offices in search of treatments that may help them,” she said. “It’s very troubling to a women’s sense of herself.”

In a press release, Dr. Dagum, who is the interim chairman of surgery at Stony Brook School of Medicine, added that the “methods to remove cellulite are many, but none yet have been supported in medical literature to be effective or potentially usable as a standard practice.”

Through her work with other problems, like Dupuytren’s contracture and frozen shoulder, Badalamente had used the enzyme mixture in Xiaflex. Badalamente and Edward Wang, an associate professor of Orthopedics, are collaborating on the frozen shoulder treatments.

“The common thread is the presence of a substance called collagen,” Badalamente said. “In Dupuytren’s contracture, there’s an abnormal deposition [of collagen] from the palm to the fingers. There’s a normal collagen capsule around the shoulder. In frozen shoulder, there’s an adhesion of collagen that builds up.”

The enzyme mixture lyses, or dissolves, the collagen in frozen shoulder, freeing the shoulder to return to its normal range of motion. For frozen shoulder, these Phase 2A trials have just been completed. The treatment reduces the need for extended physical therapy or arthroscopy (surgery). Phase 2B trials will begin this summer or fall.

“It was readily apparent to me that this injectable drug, which is a combination of two collagenase enzymes, clearly had other uses in a class of disorders,” she explained. “The light bulb on the top of the head moment was that I knew about the microanatomy of cellulite.”

Although the studies with Xiaflex on cellulite are still in the early stages, the use of the enzyme mixture to treat Dupuytren’s contracture has been effective over a longer period of time. If, for example, it recurs years later, patients can get another injection.

“That might be the same for cellulite,” Badalamente said.

The researchers cautioned that safety always comes first in any new treatment, even with a procedure that has won FDA approval for other uses.

For the Dupuytren’s contracture, the process took about 15 years.

“That one probably took too long,” Badalamente said. “Each indication, as it comes forward, should take much less time.”

Badalamente said she sees firsthand the problems that affect patients.

“In the case of the hand, if you can image this disease affecting both of your hands, [there’s] misery,” she said. “It’s not cancer and it’s not going to kill you, but it’s gong to interfere with your function. If you see that misery and you’re able to potentially think about a therapy that’s less invasive than surgery, there’s nothing better in the world than getting a ‘Thank you’ from the patients.”

The male ensemble of Wood, Evan Teich, Josh Rothberg, Ben Rosenbach, Matthew Michael Urinak, Dennis Setteducati and Paul Velutis along with the females Jamila Sabares-Klemm, Diana Rose Becker, Audra Rizzo, Erin Raquel Garcia and Kate Cherichello all meshed together like the breech of a 16-inch battleship’s gun — another tribute to DiPietropolo.

This season-topper was yet again another exhibition of what the Engeman can mount in its unquestionable adherence to the highest norms of professionalism.

“South Pacific” will run at the Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport through July 14. Call 261-2900 or go to for tickets.


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Physical factors, such as exercise and even vibrating platforms may have profound health benefits

One way to shake up an immune system may be, in fact, to shake up the immune system.

Clinton Rubin, the chairman of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Stony Brook, has been studying the effects of low intensity vibrations as substitutes for physical activity on bone growth in animal models. He’s found, for example, that older sheep standing on a platform that’s vibrating at a level that’s barely noticeable show bone growth.

His latest finding is that these same slightly moving platforms can also raise the level of immune cells, including T cell and B cell levels, in an obese mouse.

While it’s early to extend this to humans, the findings present the possibility that these small vibrations may help contain or even prevent significant health problems that often threaten or damage the lives of people who are significantly overweight.

“Obesity makes you susceptible to a number of disorders,” explained Rubin, who is also the director at the Center for Biotechnology. “We hope that some day, if we are able to extrapolate these findings in mice to people, that these low magnitude mechanical signals can help mitigate the health complications that arise in those that are obese.”

Rubin cautioned that these signals would not be a substitute for a healthy diet, exercise and active interaction with a physician’s advice.

Ever since he arrived at Stony Brook University in 1987, Rubin has been studying how physical factors influence the musculoskeletal system, to understand, for example, how exercise can generate a profound health benefit. He has also looked at how the removal of these physical factors, through bed rest, extended time in space, and spinal cord injuries, can affect these systems. These low intensity vibrations have served as surrogates for typical mechanical loading signals.

Recently, he has studied the effects of these small vibrations on mesenchymal stem cells (or MSC). These cells can become bone cells, cartilage or fat cells. Low intensity vibrations for as little as 10 minutes a day can bias these cells away from becoming fat cells.

Rubin suggests the process may involve a signaling pathway that mimics the way muscles move bones. Muscles are generally inefficient motors, shaking as they contract (as anyone who has challenged themselves to do a few extra push ups or do a few more reps with weights can attest). The vibrations from these plates may provide a substitute signal for the muscle vibrations.

Rubin is the chief scientific advisor for a company called Marodyne Medical, which hopes to translate his science into a medical device that can address such problems as bone wasting, muscle wasting, obesity and diabetes.

Rubin readily recognizes he has a potential conflict of interest because of his involvement with a company he hopes will one day sell a product that could offer a nonpharmaceutical alternative for people with various bone or muscle challenges.

“Do I look at this stuff with rose-colored glasses?” he asked. “As a scientist, I hope not. I try to insulate myself as much as possible from the subjects in evaluating the data.”

Rubin said the university helps him address these concerns by ensuring he provides full disclosure, in publications, grants and lectures and by informing any human subject who participates in his studies of his dual roles.

He does not interact with potential subjects in his studies and all his scientific methods are performed in a double blind fashion. That means he doesn’t know which animal received which treatment when he records results.

As for the immune system response, the benefit from these low intensity vibration is through another class of cells, called the hematopoietic stem cells (HSC).

“If these bone marrow are influenced by mechanical signals, why not HSCs?” Rubin reasoned.

Rubin and his wife, Jennifer Sigler, live in Port Jefferson with their 16-year-old son Jasper. Sigler works as an architect for the building department in their village. Jasper, meanwhile, has kept his own musculoskeletal system active by playing right defensive back for the Port Jefferson Royals, who have won back-to-back New York state class C soccer championships.

Rubin, who has been at Stony Brook since 1987, said he struggles on the Port Jefferson golf courses, but that hasn’t kept him from the links.

Rubin appreciates the support and talent of his colleagues at Stony Brook, including Assistant Professor Meilin Ete Chang and senior doctoral students Danielle Green and Ben Adler.

His work, he said, suggests that even supporting weight can send the right signals to their bodies.

“When people ask me what they should do if they can’t run or walk, I tell them stand up,” he offered.


Cast call

Cast is sought by Star Playhouse, Suffolk Y JCC, 74 Hauppauge Road, Commack for their upcoming play, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” All roles are open; ages 17 and up. Prepare to sing 32 bars of contemporary theater music. Bring sheet music in the proper key and be prepared for dance audition. Call 462-9800, ext. 136, or go to for further information.

Free Irish language classes

The Gerry Tobin Irish Language School will be offering free Irish language classes beginning on Wednesday, Feb. 6, at the Ancient Order of Hibernians Hall, 27 Locust Ave., Babylon. Classes include “Mommy, Daddy and Me,” for young children and their parents. Classes for new and advanced students are also available. Call 521-1227 or go to for further information.

Seamanship course

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 2204 will be offering a boating and seamanship course beginning on Thursday, Feb. 7, at 7 pm. Classes will be held at the Smithtown Library, 1 North Country Road, Smithtown, and runs for seven sessions.

Upon completion of the course a certificate will be awarded, satisfying the Suffolk County boaters requirements and the New York PWC operators certificate; this also covers the young boaters requirements for those under 18 years of age. Additionally, boat owners may be eligible for an insurance discount.

The course is free; there is a nominal charge for course materials. Family participation is encouraged. Call 732-3562 for further information and to register.

Pysanky Easter egg workshop

The third annual traditional Ukrainian Easter Egg (Pysanky) decorating workshop will be held on Sundays, March 10 and 17, at the Resurrection Byzantine Catholic Church, Edgewater and Mayflower avenues, Smithtown. All levels of experience are welcome. Cost of the class is $20; each participant must bring a candle in holder, pencils and roll of paper towels. Registration is required by Feb. 8. Call 246-5669.


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BNL’s Chang-Jun Liu works experiments with plants to more easily make biofuel

Plants build a biological fortress around one of their most important jewels: sugars. They fortify a wall with a substance called lignin, whose name in Latin means wood.
When scientists want to turn plants into biofuel, their first step is to delignify the plant, or, as Ronald Reagan might say, to “tear down that wall” to free up the sugars. The process is expensive and reduces the energy efficiency of using plants for biofuel.

Brookhaven National Laboratory biologist Chang-Jun Liu has been working for over four years to figure out how to get plants to produce less lignin, i.e., to produce walls that would be weaker, making it easier to get at those precious sugars.

Liu, Kewei Zhang, Mohammed-Wadud Bhuiya and Yuchen Miao, along with a team from the University of Wisconsin, needed to figure out how to reduce the amount of lignin in the walls without destroying a plant’s ability to grow. Lignin, after all, is necessary to help a plant maintain its structure and climb toward the light.

Liu and the team of scientists looked for ways to send a signal to the plant that the work of putting lignin together was done before the walls of the lignin fortress became too strong. The process of building a complex polymer like lignin involves putting many steps together. What Liu created was a premature “good to go” signal so that the plant produced walls with less lignin.

The scientists tested over a thousand different classes of enzymes that might interfere with the process of forming lignin. By 2009, they had found that an enzyme that naturally occurs in plants but has a different function might do the trick. If they mutated (or genetically altered) two key amino acids in the enzyme, it would change the lignin in such a way that would prevent the molecules from coupling to form a tight bond.
While the amino acid changes worked outside the plant in lab experiments, they didn’t work when used in a live plant. Using BNL’s National Synchrotron Light Source to determine the enzyme’s crystal structure, they discovered more amino acid mutations that worked.

The new enzyme reduced lignin by 24 percent, leading to a 21 percent increase in the release of cell wall sugars.

At the same time, though, the reduced lignin didn’t affect the plant’s ability to develop and grow, a key consideration in the development of biofuel.

“You can’t see any difference in the plant,” Liu explained.

Liu remained aware of the delicate balance between weakening the lignin to gain easier access to the cellulose sugars in the cell wall and the need to leave enough for the plant to survive.

Lignin is involved in water transportation, allowing the leaves at the top of the plant to receive water delivered from the soil. Lignin also provides a physical barrier to prevent a plant from becoming too susceptible to damage from changes to the environment or from insect attacks.

“Within a certain range, the plant can still survive well,” Liu offered. “We think our method compared with others is an advantage.”

Liu has inserted his enzyme into poplar trees to reduce lignin. He is seeking collaborators to test whether the lignin reduction will help in promoting the conversion of wood into bioethanol with laboratory scale fermentation. He is discussing this with scientists at SUNY Syracuse.

Liu recognizes the benefit of contributing to improving the nature of biofuel production.

“Biofuel is one of the solutions to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels,” he explained. “Currently, our ability to convert to biofuel is low.”

Natives of China, Liu and his wife Yang Chen, who works as a special education aid at Rocky Point Middle School, moved to Oklahoma in 1999. That’s where their children, who now attend the middle school and elementary school in Rocky Point, were born.

After a brief stopover in California, Liu joined BNL in 2005. He enjoys hiking and walking in the state park with his family.

As far as his research, Liu hopes it will benefit his children’s generation.

“We have to find a way to secure our energy future,” he explained. “We have to find alternative sources of energy to meet our needs.”