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Brookhaven National Laboratory

Jessica Liao, a junior at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket, garnered the top spot in the 2020 Model Bridge Building Contest, held virtually and broadcast online for the first time this year by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory. 

Students from 17 Nassau and Suffolk County high schools designed and constructed a total of 190 model bridges intended to be simplified versions of real-world bridges. In this contest, efficiency is calculated from the bridge’s weight and the weight the bridge can hold before breaking or bending more than one inch. The higher the efficiency, the better the design and construction.

Student competitors typically bring their bridges to the Lab to be tested. But for this year’s competition, to help maintain social distance during the developing coronavirus pandemic, engineers at Brookhaven ran the tests and broadcast them to the students virtually.

Liao beat out the competition by building a bridge that weighed 17.25 grams and supported 59.44 pounds. Her bridge had an efficiency of 1562.98, the number of times its own weight the bridge held before breaking or bending more than one inch.

Aidan Wallace, a junior from Walt Whitman High School placed second with a bridge that weighed 17.54 grams, held 51.01 pounds, and had an efficiency of 1319.14.

Third place went to junior Michael Coppi from Ward Melville High School. Coppi’s bridge weighed 9.02 grams, held 25.01 pounds, and had an efficiency of 1271.77.

Sophia Borovikova, a senior from Northport High School won the aesthetic award for the best-looking bridge. Her bridge took 10th place in the contest, weighing 16.17 grams and holding 33.29 pounds for an efficiency of 933.83.

The construction and testing of model bridges promotes the study and application of principles of physics and engineering and helps students develop “hands-on” skills, explained Ken White, manager of Brookhaven Lab’s Office of Educational Programs. Students get a flavor of what it is like to be engineers, designing structures to a set of specifications and then seeing the bridges they build perform their function.

“These same skills are put to the test for the Lab’s engineers on projects like the National Synchrotron Light Source II and the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, both world-class research tools that operate as DOE Office of Science user facilities for scientists from all across the world, and the upcoming Electron-Ion Collider,” said White. “Preparing the next generation of engineers to work on projects like these is important to the Lab and the Department of Energy.”

Brookhaven Lab’s Office of Educational Programs coordinated the Regional Model Bridge Building Contest. Now, the two top winners — Liao and Wallace — are eligible to enter the 2020 International Bridge Building Contest in May. For this year’s contest, contestants will mail their bridges to the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, where university faculty and engineers will run the breakage tests and post the results online.

Prior to COVID-19-related school closures on Long Island, Gillian Winters, a science teacher from Smithtown High School East, conducted a bridge competition in her classroom to help students prepare for the contest at Brookhaven. She also built a bridge of her own to compete among students.

“My favorite part is to see the creativity the kids can come up with because they’re all very different,” Winters said. “Some of them have a pretty straightforward way of doing things, and some of them want to put a new twist on things. I love to see how they develop, and by the end, they really have learned a little bit about how to follow the instructions and what a specification really means.”

Borovikova said she plans to pursue civil and environmental engineering or mechanical engineering after graduation. “I really enjoyed the creative process — trying to figure out all of the different parts that are going to come together to form the bridge,” she said. “Designing the bridge was actually a pretty quick process for me because I like to try to imagine concepts right off the top of my head. Then actually letting the bridge come to fruition was really interesting for me, because I saw my design come to life.”

Wallace said he spent many hours creating his bridge and making sure it would qualify. “From this contest, I have learned more about hands-on building and the engineering of bridges,” he said. “I was happy with my results, but of course would have liked to place first!”

The award ceremony for the competition is currently pending, but the Lab hopes to hold it before the end of the academic year, according to Susan Frank, the competition coordinator and educator at the Lab’s Science Learning Center. For more information, please visit www.science.energy.gov.

From left, Kerstin Kleese van Dam, Brand Development Manager at BNL Diana Murphy, and John Hill at the Practical Quantum Computing Conference (Q2B) in San Jose, CA, Dec. 2019. Photo courtesy of Kerstin Kleese van Dam

By Daniel Dunaief

Brookhaven National Laboratory is putting its considerable human and technical resources behind the global effort to combat the coronavirus.

John Hill, the director of the National Synchrotron Lightsource II, is leading a working group to coordinate the lab’s COVID-19 science and technology initiatives. He is also working on a team to coordinate COVID-19 research across all the Department of Energy labs.

“We are proud that the tools we built at BNL, which include the NSLS II, which took 10 years to build and cost about a billion dollars,” will contribute to the public health effort, Hill said. “We feel that science will solve this problem, and hopefully soon. It’s great that BNL is a part of that fight.”

In addition to using high-technology equipment like the NSLS II to study the atomic structure of the virus and any possible treatments or vaccines, BNL is also engaging a team led by Kerstin Kleese van Dam, who is the director of BNL’s Computational Science Initiative.

According to Hill, the combination of the physical experiments and the computing expertise will provide a feedback loop that informs the efforts with each team. Kleese van Dam’s team is using supercomputers to run simulated experiments, matching up the atomic structure of the viral proteins with any potential drugs or small molecules that might interfere with its self-copying and life-destroying efforts.

The computer simulations will enable researchers to narrow down the list of potential drug candidates to a more manageable number. Experimental scientists can then test the most likely  treatments the computer helped select.

Across the world, the scale of the science to which BNL is contributing is even larger than the Manhattan Project that led to the creation of the atomic bomb during World War II, said Hill.

In just three months since scientists in China produced the genetic sequence of the coronavirus, researchers around the world have produced over 15,000 research articles, some of which have been published in scientific journals, while researchers have self-published others to share their findings in real time.

Working with computer scientists from different fields at BNL, Kleese van Dam is helping researchers screen through the abundant current research on COVID-19. The number of papers is “accelerating at a rate no one can read,” Hill explained. 

Kleese van Dam and four of her scientists are setting up a natural language processing interface so scientists can type in what they want to find, such as a protein binding with a specific complex, and put it into a search engine. She is working on an initial service that she hopes to expand. Additionally, the computer science team is planning to start a project to look at epidemiological data to determine how various people might react to different treatment.

Kleese van Dam and her team are also working to build an archive in the United States that they hope will host at least the results of the Department of Energy funded projects in medical therapeutics. “[We are] convinced that this would provide a much better starting point for future outbreaks, as well as providing a near term clearing house of results,” she explained in an email.

As for the work at the synchrotron, Hill said that the high-energy x-rays can determine the specific atomic configuration of proteins in the virus.

The NSLS II, which was designed to study the structure of batteries, geology and plant cells, among other objects, can look at “small protein crystals better than anywhere else in the world.”

The virus relies on a docking mechanism that allows it to enter a cell and then insert its malevolent RNA to disrupt the cell’s normal function. Understanding how the pieces come together physically can allow researchers to look for small molecules or approved drugs that could interfere with the virus.

One of the many advantages of the synchrotron over protein crystallography is that the NSLS II doesn’t need as many copies of proteins to determine their atomic structure. Hill said protein crystallography needs samples that are about 100 to 200 microns in size, which is about the width of a human hair, which can take weeks to months to years to grow. This is a “bottleneck in the whole process” of solving protein structure, he said.

On the other hand, the NSLS II only requires samples of about a micron in size. This “greatly speeds up the process,” he added. Two different groups of researchers, from the pharmaceutical industry and from academia and national labs, are conducting experiments on the NSLS II.

Hill said he was receiving viral proteins scientists believe will bind with the virus from collaborators in the United Kingdom. The scientific process is as quick and collaborative as it’s ever been among researchers, he said. The proteins arrived recently.

That collaborative process would have “taken months to set up under normal circumstances,” Hill said. Instead, it only took a few days.

At the same time, BNL is constructing a cryo-electron microscope, which doesn’t have the same resolution as the NSLS II, but does not need crystals and can study individual proteins. Researchers need about 10,000 of them and can average the images together. The resolution is five to 10 times worse than x-rays.

BNL is accelerating the construction of the cryo EM and hope to have the first beam in mid-May. Commissioning will take some extra time, Hill said. The first structure of the coronavirus spike protein was determined by using an electron microscope.

For Hill and Kleese van Dam, who each have dedicated much of their time to these efforts, the opportunity to contribute to a project that could have implications for a public that is battling this disease is rewarding and offers reasons for optimism. 

“To be able to help at such a scale is indeed humbling and gratifying,” said Kleese van Dam. “Science is going to solve this problem,” added Hill. “That gives me comfort.”

Daniel Mazzone. Photo courtesy of BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

Like many people who hunch down when they step into cold air, many materials shrink when exposed to the frigid temperatures.

That, however, is not the case for samarium sulfide when it has impurities such as yttrium sprinkled throughout. Indeed, the material goes through negative thermal expansion, in which cold air causes it to expand.

Daniel Mazzone, a post-doctoral fellow in Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Condensed Matter Physics and Materials Science Department who is joining the Paul Scherrer Institute in May, wanted to know how this happened.

Working with synchrotrons on three different continents, at the National Synchrotron Lightsource II at BNL, the Soleil synchrotron in France and the SPring-8 synchrotron in Japan, Mazzone and a team of scientists explored the properties of this metal.

The work that led to an understanding of the properties that made the metal expand in cold temperatures could have applications in a range of industries. Some companies use materials that balance between expansion and contraction to prevent the lower temperatures from altering their configuration. 

Mazzone said the expansion properties can be fine tuned by altering the mixture of materials. With these results, he and his colleagues “bring a new material class to the focus of the community,” he wrote in a recent email.

So, what is happening with this samarium sulfide mixed with yttrium particles?

In a paper in the journal Physics Review Letters, Mazzone and his partners, including Ignace Jarrige, who is the group leader of the Soft Inelastic X-ray Scattering Beamline, described the way mobile conduction electrons screen the samarium ions, causing a fractional transfer of an electron into the outermost electronic samarium shell. Quantum mechanical rules govern the process.

Using the Pair Distribution Function beamline at NSLS-II, the researchers performed diffraction experiments. The scientists determined how the x-rays bounced off the samarium sample at different temperatures. The sample was contained in a liquid helium cooled crysotat.

“We track how the x-rays bounce off the sample to identify the locations of atoms and the distances between them,” Milinda Abeykoon, the lead scientist of the PDF beamline, said in a press release. “Our results show that, as the temperature drops, the atoms of this material move farther apart, causing the entire material to expand up to three percent in volume.”

In France and Japan, the researchers also used x-rays to explore what electrons were doing as temperatures changed.

“These ‘x-ray absorption spectroscopy’ experiments can track whether electrons are moving into or out of the outermost ‘shell’ of electrons around the samarium atoms,” Jarrige explained in a press release.

The valence electrons in samarium, which are the outermost electrons, are in a shell that is under half full. That means that they are more reactive than they would be if they the shell was full, as it is with noble gases.

The researchers observed that a fractional part of the electrons are transferred from the conduction band in the outermost samarium shell. This causes the samarium to expand, as the outermost shell needs to accommodate an extra electron. When this happens for the numerous ions in the system, this can have an important effect.

By working with Maxim Dzero, who is a theoretical physicist at Kent State University, the scientists were able to apply the Kondo effect, which was named after solid-state physicist Jun Kondo. Back in the 1960s, Kondo explained how magnetic impurities encourage electron scattering at low temperatures, which not only increases the volume of the materials, but can also increase their electrical resistance.

In the Kondo effect, electrons align their spins in the opposite direction of the larger magnetic articles to cancel its magnetism. For the samarium material, the outer shell moves around the atomic core, creating the magnetic moment of the samarium ion. 

“For some elements, because of the way the outer shell fills up, it is more energetically favorable for electrons to move out of the shell,” Jarrige explained in a press release. “But for a couple of these materials, the electrons can move in, which leads to expansion.”

A phone call among several of the collaborators led them to believe the process involved with the samarium was akin to the one that causes water to expand when it freezes. As scientists build on this understanding, they will likely need to create or search for similar but alternative materials to samarium sulfide, Mazzone said. 

Samarium sulfide is incredibly expensive. Materials scientist will need to find the right elements that can “do the same job,” he explained. “The next step is to find the materials that are cheaper and optimize it.”

Mazzone, who is currently living in his home country of Switzerland, is preparing for his next job, which is expected to start next month.

He and his wife Fabienne, who is an economist at the ski producer Stöckli, enjoyed living on Long Island during his two year post-doctoral research experience.

“Switzerland is landlocked and surrounded by mountains,” said Mazzone, who speaks German, French, English and some Italian. “Having a beach at the front door [when they lived on Long Island] was beautiful.”

Dedicated climbers, the Mazzones traveled to the Shawangunk and Adirondack mountains while they lived on Long Island to find an outlet for their passion for rock climbing.

As for his future work, Mazzone anticipates remaining in academia where he would like to continue his research and teach. He plans to conduct additional experiments on the Kondo effect. These materials also feature properties such as unconventional superconductivity and other quantum phases that may help with quantum computing.

By Daniel Dunaief

Two researchers from Brookhaven National Laboratory were stuck on a ship trapped in ice near the North Pole — and they couldn’t have been happier.

In fact, one of them, Matt Boyer, an Atmospheric Scientist at BNL, is returning to the German ship Polarstern for six of the next seven months. The Polarstern is part of a 20-nation effort that will gather information about the Arctic to understand climate change. The scientific collaboration, called MOSAiC (Multidisciplinary Drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate), started in September and will involve collecting data for a full year.

The scientists are measuring aerosols, cloud particles, and other data through conditions that are among the most challenging on the planet. Researchers aboard the Polarstern regularly endure cold temperatures, fierce winds, minimal to no sunlight and the threat of polar bears unafraid of humans.

Janek Uin, an Associate Atmospheric Scientist at BNL, is working with instruments that measure properties of atmospheric aerosol particles such as their size, the concentration of particles per unit volume of air, how the particles are affected by water vapor and how much light the particles scatter, which affects the sunlight that reaches the Earth’s surface.

Arthur Sedlacek, an atmospheric chemist with the Environmental & Climate Sciences Department at BNL, is one of a host of scientists collecting data from the Polarstern. Indeed, Sedlacek traveled to Tromsø Norway when the ship departed, where he prepared to measure the accumulation of black carbon in the Arctic. 

Caused by burning fossil fuels, emissions from distant wildfires, among other things, black carbon can cause polar ice to melt. When there is sun, the black carbon prevents the reflection of the light, which further darkens the white surface, either through exposure of the underlying ground or previously deposited black carbon.

Sedlacek, who did not travel aboard the Polarstern, said scientists around the world are “itching to see the data” from this ambitious mission. The data collection is “so unique and so important that it will not only help us better understand the current (pristine) state of the cryosphere, but it will also [allow scientists] to better understand (and quantify) how the Arctic is responding to climate change.”

Uin, who is an instrument mentor for about 30 instruments worldwide, recalled how he went out for a fire drill. Following his designated path and waiting for the signal to return, Uin decided to snap some pictures of a frozen and uneven landscape that appeared blue during much of the day, when the faint rays of the sun barely made it over the horizon. Unable to maneuver the camera to his satisfaction, Uin took off his gloves. His exposed fingers became numb in the wind. After he put his gloves back on, it took about 10 minutes for the feeling to return to his hands.

Boyer, meanwhile, who spent more of his time working outside than Uin, helped set up the meteorological site about 1 kilometer away from the ship and is monitoring the size and concentration of organic and inorganic aerosol particles.

The size and concentration of the particles determines how they behave in atmospheric processes, Boyer explained. The size of the particle influences its light scattering ability, how long it stays in the atmosphere, the human health impact and its ability to form clouds, among other properties.

The process of working near the North Pole requires a high level of patience. A task that might take two hours in a lab, for example, might require as long as four days to complete in Arctic conditions.

Boyer described how the moisture from his own breath sometimes froze in his face. “I prefer not to wear goggles” because they fog up, he explained. When he exhaled, the water vapor in his breath caused his eyelids to freeze shut. “You have to constantly close your eyes and pull the ice off your eyelids.”

Boyer had to hold onto a piece of metal when it was well below 0 degrees Fahrenheit and windy. Placing the bolts, nuts and screws into a hole with a glove on is “almost impossible,” Boyer said, although once those items are in place, holding a wrench with gloves on is manageable

Each time people work outside, polar bear guards constantly watch the horizon to make sure the carnivorous creatures don’t approach scientists. While the ship is not a cruise vessel, it offers pleasant amenities, including a small pool, a sauna, an exercise room and nourishment Uin and Boyer, who were roommates aboard the Polarstern, appreciated.

“The food was excellent,” Uin said. “Working long hours in extreme conditions in close quarters, the food has to be good. If it’s bad, morale plummets.” The scientist has been on three ice breakers and the food has always been high quality. 

Uin appreciated the opportunity to take the journey and to conduct the scientific research. “I am reminded how lucky I am that people trust me to do this,” he said.

Uin enjoys the opportunity to look at the ice, which appears blue because of the low light. “People think it’s all white,” he said. “There’s a constant twilight and an all-encompassing blue.” He is excited to look at the information the instruments collect and is “certain that the data will help to bring new insights into the very complex processes governing Earth’s climate and help better predict future trends.”

Boyer, who plans to leave BNL this month to pursue his PhD at the University of Helsinki, said he appreciated the opportunity to be a part of a multi-national team. “I’m one of the luckier people on the planet,” Boyer said. “Not many people will see the Arctic and the Antarctic and I’ve seen both,” adding that there is a satisfaction at being involved with something that is “much larger than myself. I’m a part of a community that works together towards a common goal. It’s nice to be a part of an international team working with people from places and countries who put aside their differences.”

All photos from Janek Uin

Stock photo

*Update* This post has been amended to reflect new cases of coronavirus in Suffolk County as well as new info from town and county sources.

In the same week the World Health Organization called the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, Suffolk County recorded its first six positive tests for COVID-19.

The first four people to have the virus contracted it through community transmission, which means that none of them traveled to countries where infections are more prevalent. The patients include a Brookhaven Town man in his 20s who is in isolation at Stony Brook University Hospital, a Southold resident who is in her 20s and is under home isolation, a man in his 80s who is in isolation at St. Catherine’s Hospital and a man in his 40s who is in isolation Stony Brook Southampton Hospital. 

At the same time, eight people were under mandatory quarantine while the New York State Department of Health is monitoring 72 people under precautionary quarantine because of their travel abroad, according to officials from the Suffolk County Health Department.

Dr. Gregson Pigott, commissioner of the county Department of Health Services, said the patient is “getting better” and expected that he will “be fine.” 

Pigott said several area facilities have developed the ability to test for COVID-19, including LabCorp and Northwell Health Labs, which received state and federal approval to start manual testing for the virus. Northwell is seeking U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to use semi-automated testing within the week, which could boost the number of tests to the hundreds per day and into the thousands in the near future, the health lab said.

Pigott said Suffolk County was “on top of” the virus “for now” but that the circumstances could change, which is why several facilities have taken steps to protect various populations.

Stony Brook University told students this week that it would transition to all online classes starting on March 23, according to a letter sent out to students. The online version of the classes will continue through the end of the spring semester. Stony Brook is one of several colleges throughout the country that is taking steps to protect students through online versions of their classes. Princeton University, Stanford University, Harvard College and the University of Washington, to name a few, are also teaching classes online. Hofstra University canceled classes this week as well.

On March 10, Stony Brook’s Staller Center canceled all events for March “out of an abundance of caution” due to the coronavirus, according to a release.

Meanwhile, the New York State Education Department and the State Department of Health issued updated guidance to school and community health officials, which includes requiring schools to close for 24 hours if a student or staff member attended school prior to being confirmed as a positive COVID-19 patient. Additionally, during that period the school is expected to disinfect the building or buildings where the person had contact prior to testing positive. The departments also urged schools to work with community feeding organizations to plan for distribution of food to students who rely on the two meals served at schools each day.

The local health department will notify schools if and when they are required to close because of the virus and when they can reopen. Schools are not expected to decide about closing or canceling events on their own.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has canceled all public events, including lectures and on-site visits, through April 30.

Brookhaven National Laboratory, responding to guidance from the U.S. Department of Energy, has suspended all international business travel, with an exception for mission-essential international travel. Staff returning from China, Iran, South Korea and Italy are required to self-quarantine for 14 days. Staff will also have to self-quarantine if a household member traveled to those countries. All in-person visits of people from those countries are postponed.

Meanwhile, county Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. (D) suspended all contact visits with prisoners. Noncontact visits can still be scheduled in advance, while visiting hours will be 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and will be limited to 30-minute sessions.

To protect the most vulnerable population, the U.S. State Department also made recommendations to senior facilities. Following those guidelines, Affinity Skilled Living in Oakdale started screening staff and visitors earlier this week, which includes taking their temperature. The facility also has restricted visiting hours.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has halted all public events until April due to the Coronavirus. File photo

With six cases of coronavirus Covid-19 in New York state confirmed as at March 4, state, local institutions are preparing for the potential spread of the virus.

New York lawmakers earlier this week passed a $40 million spending bill. The funds will allow the Department of Health to hire staff, purchase equipment and gather additional resources to address a virus for which a travel ban no longer seems sufficient to ensure containment.

A 50-year old Westchester man tested positive for the virus, even though he didn’t travel to areas of contamination, which include China, South Korea and Italy, and didn’t have known contact with anyone who has traveled to those areas. Through the so-called community spread of the virus, which has a mortality rate of more than 3 percent, can infect a wider range of people.

Northwell Health Labs said earlier this week it expects to begin testing for Covid-19 within a week. The health facility, which announced the future testing at a news conference March 2 with U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), said manual testing could involve 75 to 100 tests each day. After it automates the tests, the facility could process hundreds and even thousands of tests on a daily basis. Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson is part of Northwell Health group.

Meanwhile, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Stony Brook University have made recommendations to staff who might travel to areas of infection.

BNL is following the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and the State Department regarding health notices and travel advisories. The U.S. State Department has a do-not-travel restriction on trips to China and Iran, along with specific areas of Italy and South Korea, while it also recommends reconsidering travel to Italy, South Korea and Mongolia.

Also, BNL is asking visiting scientists if they traveled to China or live with someone who visited China within 14 days. If the answer to either question is “yes,” these individuals have to complete a 14-day period away from China without symptoms before returning to the lab.

BNL canceled the International Forum on Detectors for Photon Science conference, which was scheduled for March 29 through April 1 at Danfords Hotel in Port Jefferson. The conference was expected to have 40 participants.

CSHL has canceled or postponed all upcoming conferences and courses bringing participants to campus through April 5th. The laboratory will reevaluate future offerings on a rolling basis.

Also, CSHL is cleaning common areas including bathrooms, counters and dining areas more frequently, is providing more hand sanitation stations, is enhancing the readiness of its Center for Health & Wellness and is providing secure transfer protocols for at-risk people with potential symptoms of the virus.

SBU discouraged school-related and personal travel to China, Italy, Iran and South Korea. The school also created a mandatory preapproval requirement for all publicly funded university-sponsored travel plans to China, Italy, Iran and South Korea. SBU has not canceled the Florence University of the Arts program, since the university is continuing classes as usual and the Tuscany region doesn’t have any reported cases of the virus.

On a national level, the Federal Reserve, in a move similar to decisions from other central banks, cut interest rates by half a percentage point, the biggest cut since the financial crisis of 2008. The cut was designed to stave off an economic slowdown caused by business disruptions from the coronavirus.

“The coronavirus poses evolving risks to economic activity,” the Federal Reserve said in a statement.

Updated March 5 to reflect most current CSHL procedures regarding conferences and courses.

Members of the team at Brookhaven Lab’s Accelerator Test Facility from left, Mark Palmer, Dejan Trbojevic, Stephen Brooks, George Mahler, Steven Trabocchi, Thomas Roser, and Mikhail Fedurin. Photo from BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

Scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory and Cornell University have tested and developed a new “green” accelerator. Capturing and reusing the energy from electrons that are decelerating, the newly designed model, called CBETA, will have uses in everything from computer chip manufacture to medicine to missile defense to basic science.

Employing permanent magnets, which require no energy to operate, and superconducting material, these researchers brought to fruition an idea first formulated in 1965 by Maury Tigner, professor emeritus at Cornell University.

“It was talked about for many years,” said Thomas Roser, who just completed his 10th year as chairman of the Collider-Accelerator Department at Brookhaven National Laboratory. “To put everything together in an energy efficient way could have a significant impact for the future.”

Indeed, the new design could lower the energy needs of a future facility like the Electron Ion Collider, which BNL plans to complete in 2030.

“We all have a responsibility to contribute to the well-being” of the planet, including in efforts to reduce the energy consumption of devices used to unlock the mysteries of the universe and produce future technology, said Roser.

Schematic of the Cornell-BNL
ERL Test Accelerator.
Image courtesy of Cornell University

One of the many advantages of the new accelerator design, which was tested in the early morning hours of Dec. 24 at Cornell, is that it captures and reuses the energy in a multi-turn particle accelerator. The idea of the accelerator was to enable beams of different energy to travel through the same magnets on slightly different paths in an oblong structure. 

The design is akin to a relay race on a running track. Each lane has runners that move at their own speeds. When it is time for one of the runners to slow down and leave the track, she shares the energy from her sprint with an intermediary, which drives the next runner forward at a rapid pace, while she decelerates in a nearby loop.

In the case of the accelerator, the intermediary is a superconducting radio frequency cavity.

A key design feature is that multiple beams recirculate in these cavities four times. This cuts down on future construction costs and reduces the size of an accelerator from about a football field to a single experimental hall, according to information from Cornell.

A fresh electron beam allows researchers to get a better quality beam than in the traditional way of operating an accelerator, in a ring that would circulate continuously. 

“The beam is always refreshed, and what gets recirculated is the energy,” Roser said.

The high quality, bright beam creates bright lasers that companies may be able to use to manufacture new chips for computer or phone technology. These accelerators could also make infrared lasers that could melt objects. This type of application could help with defense department efforts to thwart an incoming missile. While BNL is taking steps to work on applications in other areas, the Department of Energy laboratory is not involved in such missile defense applications.

In the medical arena, this kind of accelerator could enable the construction of smaller, simpler and lighter devices for proton therapy to treat cancer. The multi-energy beam transport of CBETA would allow the building of more compact and less expensive gantries that deliver beams to the patient.

Using different energies at the same time, doctors could “treat cancers at different depths inside the body,” Roser said. “That’s an application for this unique transport.” Proton therapy could become cheaper and available in more hospitals with this approach, he asserted.

For Dejan Trbojevic, the principal investigator on the CBETA project and a senior physicist from BNL, the successful test of the concept was a validation of over 20 years of work.

“You can do a lot of simulations assuming realistic errors,” but the actual experiment demonstrating the concept “makes a big difference,” he explained in an email.

The BNL scientist was at Cornell in late December, where he and his colleagues celebrated the results with champagne.

Trbojevic, who had developed the concept of using a single beamline instead of multiple beamlines, hopes to use the new design to create a less expensive design to proton therapy treatment for cancer

“I’m trying to make this cheaper so more hospitals can have it,” Trbojevic said. He has already made contact with companies and a professor in Europe who hopes to use the design concept. He has also requested funding from the Department of Energy.

Beyond the excitement of the recent collaboration with Cornell on the new accelerator design, Roser reflected on his first decade as chairman of the Collider-Accelerator Department.

The BNL department is leading the world in many accelerator technologies and is collaborating closely with CERN, which was founded in Europe seven years after BNL.

Indeed, this year marks numerous celebrations for the department. The Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, or RHIC, has been operating for 20 years and will become a part of the new Electron Ion Collider. At the same time, the Alternating Gradient Synchrotron, where research for three Nobel Prizes was conducted, marks its 60th year of generating scientific results.

And, to top off the historical trifecta, Ernest Courant, a former BNL Scientist who teamed up with Stanley Livingston and Hartland Snyder to create the strong focusing principle, turns 100 in March. Courant, who worked with Trbojevic on a paper describing the single beamline concept in 1999, helped provide a critical step for modern particle accelerators.

As it did 10 years ago, the department is rolling these three celebrations into one in June.

Courant can’t attend the event because he lives in a retirement home in Ann Arbor, Michigan near his son. BNL will likely show photos and video from Ernest’s birthday at the celebration.

As for the recently completed collaboration with Cornell, Roser believes the work is an important step.

“It’s a new concept and a new type” of accelerator, Roser said. “That doesn’t come around very often. There are cyclotrons and there are linear accelerators. This is a combination of a circular and linear accelerator put together in a new way.”

 

Robert Cushman Murphy Jr. High School (team one), from left, coach Jillian Visser, Jayden Chandool, Michael Melikyan, Michaelangelo Scialabba, Rithik Sogal, Kevin Shi and coach Emily Chernakof

On Thursday, Jan. 30 and Friday, Jan. 31, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory held two back-to-back installments of the Long Island Science Bowl, a regional branch of DOE’s 30th annual National Science Bowl®. In this fast-paced question-and-answer showdown, teams of students from across Long Island were tested on a range of science disciplines including biology, chemistry, Earth science, physics, energy and math.

On Thursday, Team One of Great Neck South Middle School garnered first place in the middle school competition, earning their school three years of consecutive wins. Team Three of Great Neck Middle School captured second place; Robert Cushman Murphy Jr. High School (team one) of Stony Brook won third place; and Commack Middle School (team one) placed fourth.

On Friday, top honors went to Great Neck South High School, who competed against 19 other teams in the high school competition. High school runners-up included Wheatley School in Old Westbury (second place); Ward Melville High School in E. Setauket (third place); and Comsewogue High School in Port Jefferson Station (fourth place). 

As first place winners, Great Neck South Middle School (team one) and Great Neck South High School have won all-expenses-paid trips to the National Finals near Washington, D.C., which will begin on April 30. They’ll be joined by the winners of all 112 regional competitions held across the country.

“The National Science Bowl® continues to be one of the premier academic competitions across the country, preparing America’s next-generation for future success in the ever-expanding fields of science, technology, and engineering,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette. “The Department of Energy is committed to fostering opportunities for our nation’s students, and we congratulate Great Neck South in advancing to the National Finals, where they will continue to showcase their talents as the top minds in math and science.”

All participating students received a Science Bowl T-shirt and winning teams also received trophies and medals, and the top four high school teams received cash awards. Prizes were courtesy of Teachers Federal Credit Union and Brookhaven Science Associates (BSA), the event’s sponsors. BSA is the company that manages and operates Brookhaven Lab for DOE.

For more information, visit https://energy.gov/science. 

Interns Nylette Lopez (rear) and Stephanie Taboada characterize catalysts as they attempt to convert carbon dioxide and methane into synthesis gas this past summer at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Photo from BNL.

By Daniel Dunaief

This article is part two in a two-part series.

Local medical and research institutions are aware of the challenges women face in science and are taking steps to ensure that women receive equal opportunities for success in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (or STEM). Times Beacon Record News Media reached out to members of each institution and received an overview of some initiatives.

Brookhaven National Laboratory 

The Department of Energy-funded research facility has created a number of opportunities for women, including Brookhaven Women in Science. This effort has been active for over four decades and its mission, according to Peter Genzer, a BNL spokesman, is to support the development of models, policies and practices that enhance the quality of life for BNL employees and emphasize the recruitment, hiring, promotion and retention of women.

BWIS offers annual awards, outreach events and various networking opportunities in the lab and community, while the lab’s Talent Management Group partners with BWIS to bring classes and speakers to discuss issues specific to women.

In October, the group hosted Kimberly Jackson, a vice chair and associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Spelman College, who gave a talk titled “Realigning the Crooked Room in STEM.”

The Leona Woods Distinguished Postdoctoral Lectureship Award at BNL, meanwhile, celebrates the scientific accomplishments of female physicists, physicists from under-represented minority groups and LGBTQ physicists and to promote diversity and inclusion. BNL awarded the lectureship this year to Kirsty Duffy, a fellow at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.

For the past five years, BNL has also partnered with a local chapter of Girls Inc., which helps to “encourage young women towards careers” in STEM, Genzer explained in an email.

BNL has also collaborated with the Girl Scouts of Suffolk County to organize a new patch program that encourages Girl Scouts to work in scientific fields. As of September, county Girl Scouts can earn three new Brookhaven Lab patches, and the lab hopes to extend the program nationwide across the Department of Energy complex.

BNL also provides six weeks of paid time off at 100 percent of base pay for a primary caregiver after birth or adoption and one week of full pay for a secondary caregiver. BNL is exploring plans to enhance support for primary and secondary caregivers, Genzer said.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has taken several recent steps as part of an ongoing effort to encourage gender diversity.

In October, a group of four CSHL administrators traveled to the University of Wisconsin in Madison to discuss mentoring. The goal was to train them on how to design and deliver mentoring training regularly to the faculty, postdocs and graduate students on campus, said Charla Lambert, the diversity, equity and inclusion officer for research at CSHL. The first version of the training will occur next spring. The ultimate goal is to ensure the research environment at CSHL emphasizes good mentoring practices and is more inclusive for all mentees.

CSHL has also hosted a three-day workshop in leadership practices for postdoctoral researchers and junior faculty since 2011. The workshop, which is run through the Meetings & Courses Program, trains about 25 postdoctoral researchers and junior faculty each year and has about one per year from CSHL, addresses how to hire and motivate people, while providing constructive feedback.

Lambert said family-friendly policies were already a part of CSHL policies, which include a child care facility. Members of the faculty receive extra funding when they travel to conferences to provide additional child care.

Lambert, who is a program manager for extramural Meetings & Courses overseeing diversity initiatives, has worked to get the demographic data for participants centralized, analyzed and used in developing policies. She believes this kind of data centralization is an area for potential improvement in the research division, where she is working to ensure an equitable distribution of resources among CSHL scientists.

Throughout her nine-year career at CSHL, Lambert said she has worked with the meetings and courses division to make sure the 9,000 scientists who visit the facility each year include women as invited speakers. She also works to reach course applicants from a wide range of institutions, including outside of prestigious research schools.

Ultimately, Lambert is hoping to help change the culture of science among the researchers with whom she interacts from a wide range of institutions. She feels that those people who leave the STEM fields because something about the culture of science didn’t work for them represent a “huge loss” to the field and creates a “survivorship bias.”

Stony Brook University 

For Stony Brook, gender diversity is “very important,” said Latha Chandran, the vice dean for Academic and Faculty Affairs at the Stony Brook University Renaissance School of Medicine. 

Chandran said more men entered the field of medicine 14 years ago. That has completely changed, as women have outnumbered their male counterparts in medicine for the last three or four years.

Chandran cited a number of statistics to indicate changes at the medical school. For starters, women faculty constituted 38 percent of the total in 2011. This April, that number climbed to 48.1 percent. That puts Stony Brook in the top 79th percentile of medical schools in terms of female representation.

While the overall numbers are higher, women are still underrepresented in the top tiers of the medical school, as 18 percent of the department chairs are women. She hopes more women can lead departments and that they can serve as role models that others can aspire to follow.

As for harassment, Chandran said Stony Brook was above the national mean in 2011. For almost all categories, Stony Brook is now below the national mean.

In 2011, Stony Brook created We Smile, which stands for We can Eradicate Student Mistreatment in the Learning Environment. The goal of this program is to educate people about harassment and to ensure that any mistreatment is reported. Through this effort, Stony Brook medical students are aware of the policies and procedures surrounding reporting.

Stony Brook is also addressing any bias in admission procedures by prospective applicants, who receive a standardized scenario to address with an admissions officer. In 2025, admissions officers will not have any information about the qualifications of the individual and will evaluate his or her response during interviews only based on response to scenarios.

Stony Brook University has almost finalized its search for a chief diversity candidate. Chandran expects that the medical school will “continue to make progress.”

Viviana Cavaliere. Photo courtesy of BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

The United States has been the site of important life events for Italian-born Viviana Cavaliere. When she was in high school, she went to Montana, where she changed her mind about her life — she had wanted to become an architect — and decided that science was her calling.

Later, when she did a summer student program at Fermilab near Chicago, she met her future husband Angelo Di Canto, who is also a physicist.

While Cavaliere has been an assistant physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory since 2017, she has been living in Switzerland, where she has been working at CERN. She is preparing for a move this month to Long Island, where she hopes to find new physics phenomena, including new particles, using the Atlas detector at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.

Viviana Cavaliere during a trip to Bhutan. Photo by Angelo Di Canto

Cavaliere will return to the United States with a vote of confidence in her potential and some financial support. The Department of Energy recently announced that she was the recipient of $2.5 million over five years as a part of the Office of Science’s Early Career Research Program.

“I am very honored,” said Cavaliere, who will use the funds to support the research of postdoctoral scientists in her lab, to buy equipment and to travel to conferences and to CERN.

At the heart of her research is a desire to search for new particles and new phenomena that might build on the Standard Model of particle physics.

Cavaliere is coordinating a group of about 400 physicists who are looking for new particles. Her role is to analyze the data from the Large Hadron Collider.

Indeed, officials at the Department of Energy said that Cavaliere was one of only three recipients in the Energy Frontier Program from a pool of 23 applicants because of her role at CERN.

The award “requires those who have shown leadership capability,” said Abid Patwa, program manager for the Energy Frontier Program and special assistant for International Programs in the DOE Office of High Energy Physics. Cavaliere has “already been participating and leading” studies.

Michael Cooke, who is a program manager in the Office of High Energy Physics in the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, said Cavaliere’s work fits the description of a “high risk and high reward” proposal that could “steer the field in new directions.”

By using new software, Cavaliere will mine data produced in a microsecond, which is 10 to the negative sixth of a second, for ways to filter specific events.

Patwa suggested that his office urges principal investigators to be as “quantitative as possible” in their work, so that they can show how their efforts will be successful.

Viviana Cavaliere during a trip to Macchu Picchu. Photo by Angelo Di Canto

Cavaliere is not only conducting scientific research but is also part of the technological innovations.

“It helps a person’s career that they understand all aspects of what is involved in running these major experiments,” Patwa said.

Collaborators are encouraged to have balanced roles in research and hardware operations or upgrade activities, Patwa explained in an email.

Cavaliere was at CERN when the elusive Higgs boson particle was discovered in 2012. The particle, which is called the “God” particle, had been proposed 48 years earlier. The Higgs boson explains why particles have mass.

“It was a very exciting day, you could feel the joy in the corridors and I believe it was one of those days where nobody could concentrate on work waiting for the official release of the news,” Cavaliere recalled. “At the time, I thought it would be great if we had more days like those, with the excitement of the discovery.”

Cooke said that extending the work from the Higgs boson could offer promising new clues about physics. He described how Cavaliere is making high precision measurements of particle interactions involving the Higgs boson. Any discrepancy between what she finds and the predictions of the Standard Model could be a hint of new particles, he explained in an email.

“Not only will her analysis advance the field by improving the search for new physics, but the new tools she creates to capture the best data from the [Large Hadron Collider] will be applicable much more broadly,” Cooke said.

Patwa, who worked at BNL as a postdoctoral research associate and then as a staff scientist from 2002 to 2012, explained that he is “encouraged by the talented researchers joining BNL as well as other DOE national laboratories and universities.” He believes the award is a testament to her past accomplishments and to her current objectives.

When she was growing up in a town near Naples in southern Italy, Cavaliere had to choose whether to attend a classical high school or a school focused on math and physics. Particularly interested in history, she decided to study at a classical school.

During her senior year of high school, she traveled on an exchange program to Montana, where she did experiments in the lab with a “very, very good teacher. I started liking science and was undecided between chemistry and physics.”

The travel experience to the Big Sky state “opened my mind, not only about what you do in the future, but also gives you a taste of a different culture.”

When she attended the Sapienza University of Rome, she had to catch up to her colleagues, most of whom had learned more math and physics than she. It took a year and a half to reach the same point, but she graduated with her class.

When she did her postdoctoral work in Chicago, she met Di Canto, who grew up about 100 kilometers away from her in Italy as well. “My mom always makes fun of me,” Cavaliere said, because she “found her husband in the United States.”

As for work, she is inspired to use the funds and the recognition from the DOE to build on her developing career.

“There’s always some hope you’ll find something new,” she said.