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AAAS Fellow

Dr. Bettina Fries. Photo by Jeanne Neville/Stony Brook Medicine

Bettina Fries, MD, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, Professor of Medicine, and Molecular Genetics and Microbiology in the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, has been named a 2022 fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The AAAS is dedicated to elevating the quality of science and technology across the world for the benefit of humankind, and its fellows represent members of the association who have made exceptional contributions to that mission.

Dr. Fries is a nationally recognized physician-scientist who specializes in mycology and also conducts research of antibodies in relation to  vaccine development. Under her leadership, the Division of Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook has greatly expanded and rose to combat the COVID-19 Pandemic and lead clinical care and research throughout the pandemic and its changing circumstances.

From expanding clinical and basic research and improving patient care to allocating essential resources and protecting health care providers, Dr. Fries’ work in healthcare and infectious disease research  has impacted both Stony Brook and other institutions.

In addition to her appointment as an AAAS fellow, the East Setauket resident is also a fellow of the Academy of Microbiology of America, a fellow of the Infectious Disease Society, and a fellow of the American College of Physicians. She has served as President of the Medical Mycological Society of the Americas, and the Infectious Diseases Society of New York.

Dr Fries’ work spans a wide range of disciplines, but her research chiefly investigates the pathogenesis of chronic fungal infections and the development of monoclonal antibodies against multidrug-resistant bacteria.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Bettina Fries was one of TBR News Media’s 2022 People of the Year.  

Braving the bugs, Alistair Rogers (right) and his colleague Stefanie Lasota collect leaf samples in Alaska for analysis. Photo by Roy Kaltschmidt

By Daniel Dunaief

Alistair Rogers lives, thinks and works on opposite extremes.

At the same time that he gathers information from the frigid Arctic, he is also analyzing data from the sweltering tropical forests of Panama and Brazil. He visits both regions annually and, within one eight-day span, saw a Polar Bear in Utqiaġvik (formerly known as Barrow), Alaska and a tarantula in Brazil.

Alistair Rogers. Photo from BNL

That’s not where the extremes end. Rogers is also studying plants at the physiological level to understand how best to represent processes such as photosynthesis, respiration and stomatal conductance in climate models.

The leader of the Terrestrial Ecosystem Science & Technology Group in the Environmental and Climate Sciences Department at Brookhaven National Laboratory, Rogers recently was honored as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The AAAS has named fellows every year since 1874 to recognize their contributions to the advancement of science. Previous honorees included astronaut and former Johnson Space Center Director Ellen Ochoa, a founding member of the NAACP and scholar W.E.B. Du Bois and inventor Thomas Edison.

Lisa Ainsworth, Research Leaders of the Global Change in Photosynthesis Unit for the USDA Research Service, nominated Rogers, who served as a mentor for her when she conducted her PhD research.

“[Rogers] is one of the world’s authorities on understanding how plants respond to atmospheric change and in particular rising carbon dioxide concentration,” Ainsworth said. He’s an experimentalist who “built a bridge to the scientific computational modeling community.”

Ainsworth suggested she would not have the career she developed if it weren’t for the support she received from Rogers.

Rogers, who the Department of Energy recognized as an Outstanding Mentor three times and has been at BNL since 1998, “makes you believe in yourself when you don’t have any reason to do that. He believes in you before you know you should believe in yourself,” Ainsworth said. For his part, Rogers is “delighted to be honored and recognized as a fellow.”

Carbon dioxide sinks

For all the extremes in his work, Rogers has been collecting data from plants to address a range of questions, including how they will react to and affect environmental changes caused by global warming.

Through photosynthesis, plants are responsible for absorbing about a third of the carbon dioxide humans produce through the burning of fossil fuels.

The uptake of carbon dioxide by plants and oceans has limited warming so far to 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-Industrial temperatures. Without such carbon dioxide removal by oceans and plants, the temperature would already be 3 degrees warmer.

The models his work informs are trying to understand what will happen to the carbon dioxide subsidy in the future.

“In order to work out how warm it’s going to get, you need to know the carbon dioxide concentration and the climate sensitivity (how much warmer it will get for a given amount of carbon dioxide),” he explained in an email.

Photosynthesis is less efficient at higher temperatures, but is also more efficient amid an increased amount of carbon dioxide. Drier air also reduces the efficiency of the process as plants close their stomata to conserve water, which restricts carbon dioxide supply to their chloroplasts.

The transfer of water from land to the atmosphere most often occurs through stomata, so understanding the way these pores open and close is important in predicting cloud formation and other land-atmosphere interactions.

Ainsworth described how a typical day of field work gathering data could last for 16 hours. She appreciated how Rogers worked and played hard — he is a cyclist and a skier — while keeping the work fun. Indeed, Ainsworth said Rogers, on regular calls with two other professors, blends discussions about grants and work decisions with their first choice for their guesses at the New York Times wordle game.

Leadership roles

In addition to his leadership role at BNL, Rogers is also part of the leadership teams for the Next Generation Ecosystem Experiment — Arctic and the Next Generation Ecosystem Experiment —Tropics.

Rogers said the Arctic is seeing the biggest increase in temperature relative to anywhere else on the planet faster because of climate feedback. When ice and snow melt, it reveals surfaces that absorb more heat.

The tropics, meanwhile, have been more stable, although the region is expected to experience hotter, drier temperatures in the coming decades as well.

Alistair Rogers. Photo from BNL

The Department of Energy is studying these biomes because they are climatically sensitive, globally important and poorly represented in climate models.

Rogers is working with other scientists at BNL and around the world to understand these processes to feed his data collection and analysis into global models.

Using an analogy for developing these models, Rogers suggested trying to predict the time it would take to get to the airport. A traveler would need to know the distance and the mode of transport — whether she was walking, biking or riding in a car.

A model predicting the travel time would make assumptions about how fast a person could go in a car, while factoring in other data like the weather and traffic density at a particular time to anticipate the speed.

If the traffic model wasn’t sure of the maximum possible speed of a vehicle, the error associated with predicting the arrival time could be large, particularly when considering the difference between traveling in a steamroller or a Lamborghini on empty roads.

Climate models use a similar process. By studying the species of plants, Rogers can tell the models whether the plants are the equivalent of sports cars or steamrollers.

Big picture

The worst case scenario of earlier models is highly unlikely, although the scenario of a drastic reduction in carbon dioxide also hasn’t occurred. The models, however, still suggest that changes in human behavior are critical to protecting the future of the planet against the effects of climate change.

Rogers is encouraged by the declining cost of solar energy and the work developing countries have done to bypass some of the more polluting sources of energy from the industrial revolution. He is also pleased by the commitment from the Department of Energy to look for climate change solutions.

These elements “represent great opportunities for scientists like me” to work on these problems.

Abhay Deshpande with a group of students at Stony Brook University. Photo from SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

The American Association for the Advancement of Science recently named physicist Abhay Deshpande a Fellow.

Abhay Deshpande. Photo from SBU

Deshpande, who thinks big about small matter, has distinguished himself with his discoveries, ideas, leadership, innovation, and mentorship. The Director of Electron Ion Collider Science at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) and SUNY Distinguished Professor at Stony Brook University will become a fellow as part of an online ceremony on Feb. 19.

“I was really pleasantly honored” to be a part of a group that includes so many leaders in science, including actor and science advocate Alan Alda, who founded the eponymous Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook, said Deshpande.

Deshpande’s collaborators and scientific colleagues said Deshpande deserved the AAAS honor, which the society has given since 1874.

“Everything [Deshpande] has been doing is advancing science,” said Haiyan Gao, Associate Laboratory Director in Nuclear and Particle Physics at BNL.

Fundamental questions

A physicist who earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Bombay, which is now called the University of Mumbai, his Master’s degree from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur and his PhD at Yale University, Deshpande has put his academic and intellectual talents to work answering fundamental questions about atoms.

In his research, Deshpande studies protons in the nucleus.

Inside protons and neutrons are quarks and gluons, which are fundamental particles. Gluons have no mass and bind the quarks together, which suggests that the mass of protons must come from quarks — except that it doesn’t.

“The surprise is that all quarks together only account for about one percent of the proton’s mass,” Deshpande explained in an email.

Researchers don’t know how the components of quarks and gluons and their energies contribute to the proton’s mass. At the same time, Deshpande wants to know about the origin of a proton’s spin. 

Quarks constitute about a quarter of a proton’s spin and gluon’s another quarter, which suggests that the remaining spin should come from their orbital angular momentum.

Deshpande never thought about the mass deficit until a few years ago because of his focus on a proton’s spin. “The same rotational motion of the quarks and gluons could not only explain the spin, but hopefully explain the mass,” Deshpande said. Such a solution to both unanswered questions would be “elegant,” he said.

EIC champion

A $2 billion Electron Ion Collider, which the Department of Energy awarded BNL in 2020, will take measurements that will study the origin of the remaining spin and mass. BNL will start building the EIC, which will take eight years to construct, in 2024.

Dmitri Kharzeev, Distinguished Professor and Director in the Center for Nuclear Theory at Stony Brook University, helped nominate Deshpande to become a AAAS fellow in part because of his work developing BNL’s EIC bid.

Deshpande “really played a major role in bringing this project to Long Island,” Kharzeev said. “It means a lot for BNL, and it also means a lot for Long Island as a whole. A lot of people will be hired to work on it.”

Kharzeev said Deshpande is the leader of the science effort at the EIC “precisely because of his status in the scientific community.”

Kharzeev said some of Deshpande’s papers are “among the highest-cited papers in experimental nuclear physics,” which is considered a reflection of the importance of the work.

Gao credited Deshpande and other key leaders in the community for preparing a “white paper which laid out the science in a very convincing and powerful way,” which helped make the EIC a reality.

In addition to Deshpande’s accomplishments as a scientist, Kharzeev lauded his colleague’s leadership. Deshpande brought together researchers from BNL and Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Virginia, which were originally competing for the rights to build the EIC. He helps researchers “put science first and scientific politics second,” which is a “spectacular achievement,” Kharzeev said.

Throughout his career, Deshpande has sought to find complementary strengths among his colleagues.

He is the founding director of the Center for Frontiers in Nuclear Science, which is a joint operation between BNL and SBU and is passionate about sharing the excitement of research with people who work outside science.

“The science we do, the excitement we feel, needs to be talked about to high school students, to college students, to their parents” and to others, Deshpande added. 

Decision-makers in the government need to understand the benefit of the research, as well as the general public, whose taxes ultimately fund future discoveries, he said, and believes communicating science requires connecting with a range of audiences.

Science communicator

Deshpande’s colleagues gave him high marks for encouraging productive collaborations. He is “able to make very good, easy connections with people,” Gao said and is “approachable and easy to work with.”

Ciprian Gal, Assistant Research Professor at Mississippi State and Visiting Scholar at the Center for Frontiers in Nuclear Science, was a graduate student in Deshpande’s lab from 2010 to 2014

While he appreciated Deshpande’s intellectual acumen and knowledge of physics, Gal admired his mentor’s accessibility and eagerness to share his passion for science.

“He’s always very open” to everyone, Gal said, including students of any age. During Summer Sunday events at BNL, Deshpande spoke at length with middle school students and their parents.

“He instills a desire to communicate in all of us,” said Gal, who also appreciated how Deshpande made himself available to the graduate students in his lab during off hours and on weekends.

Engaging audiences

While he was interested in science during his formative years in high school in Mumbai, India, Deshpande also participated in several dramatic productions that were in Marathi, his native language. Typically, the plays tried to convey messages such as the importance of literacy and education or against blind faith and misinformation. Deshpande sees a benefit to using the techniques of drama to engage the audience.

He believes the EIC will provide precise knowledge of properties of the proton and the nuclei. “I promise that we will learn lots of new things,” he said.

Kindergarten connection

The celebrated physicist is married to Arati Deshpande, who works at American Health Pharmaceuticals. The couple, who met when they were in kindergarten and now live in Miller Place, have a daughter, Pooja, who is a graduate student at the Gillings School of Public Health in Chapel Hill, N.C. and a son, Ameesh, who is in high school.

As for his advice to students, Deshpande urges them to “identify a good scientific problem and pursue it no matter the cost or time.”