Tags Posts tagged with "Daniel Dunaief"

Daniel Dunaief

Photo by METRO

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

With sports on hold during the pandemic, I would like to borrow from the sports channels and share a collection of sports memories.

The singing pitcher 

My daughter was pitching against a heavily favored team. In the first inning, she walked in two runs. As the coach, I raced out to the mound to check on her. She was quietly singing a song to herself. I knew there was nothing I could say that would top whatever song was entertaining her. In the final play of the game, the batter hit a ground ball to her and she raced over to first base, where she placed the ball in the glove of her teammate, starting an unlikely victory celebration.

The basketball game where we almost covered the spread

Knowing from the standings that the basketball team I coached would struggle against a team that should have been in a different league, I told my team that if they kept the other team under 50 points and we scored 30, we would have a pizza party. At the end of the game, the other team scored 49 points. We had a chance, with one last shot, to reach 30. We didn’t make it, but the referees congratulated each player on our team for fighting till the end. If they only knew …

The stampede game 

In Cooperstown, I coached a town team of 12-year-olds against a team aptly named the Stampede. Hoping to confuse their 6-foot tall hitters, I chose our softest throwing pitchers. It worked early, as they only scored one run in the first inning. In the second inning, my son hit a home run, giving us a 2-1 lead. We lost 11-4, but our players and their parents couldn’t have been happier, as we were the first team to score more than one run in an entire game and were also the first team the Stampede didn’t mercy.

Tough as nails 

Even with a face mask on her softball helmet, the fastball that hit my daughter caused the mask to give her a bloody lip. The umpire said she could come out and return later. She refused help or attention and ran to first base. She stole second, third and home, and returned to the bench with a triumphant smile.

The tiny team that did 

My daughter was on a vastly undersized volleyball team that made it to the finals against a team that, in warm ups, pummeled balls into the ground. With my daughter anchoring the back row, the other team became frustrated that their hard hits didn’t win points. They tried hitting at different angles and further away from the defense, crushing balls just out. When my daughter served the last five points for the win, I joined a collection of elated parents as we screamed and threw our arms in the air. I briefly turned my head to hide the tears of pride welling in my eyes. 

The kid who was way ahead of his time 

When my son was in pee wee ball, he watched a lot of baseball  my fault. He played shortstop in a station-to-station game, in which each player moved up one base, regardless of where the ball went and whether someone got out. With the bases loaded, a player hit a line drive to my son at shortstop. He caught the ball, ran to third to get the runner who was jogging home and tagged the runner who approached him. After his unassisted triple play, he jogged off the field and dropped the ball near the pitcher’s mound. I had to explain to him that he didn’t play that way yet, but that he would, and hopefully will again, soon.

Lijun Wu is the 17th recipient of this esteemed award. Photo courtesy of BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

Despite the pause New York and so many other states are taking to combat the coronavirus, the awards can, and will, go on.

The Microscopy Society of America gave Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Lijun Wu the 2020 Chuck Fiori Award. The Award, which started in 1993, recognizes the achievements of a technologist in the physical sciences who has made long-standing contributions in microscopy or microanalysis.

Wu is the second consecutive BNL staff member to win the Chuck Fiori award. Dmitri Zakharov took home the honors last year.

Lijun Wu during a trip to Alaska last summer. Photo from Jiangyan Fang

Wu is an engineer in the Electron Microscopy and Nanostructure Group in the Condensed Matter Physics and Materials Science Division. He works with transmission electron microscopy in quantum materials, batteries, catalysts, and other energy materials. Wu learned how to write software programs on his own. His first effort in this area involved a program that indexed electron diffraction patterns. He has also created programs for simulating microscopy images and diffraction patterns.

Wu, who is hoping to pick up the award at the Microscopy Society of America meeting in August if the meeting still takes place, said he was “excited” to receive this distinction and was pleased for the support throughout his career at BNL.

Wu “has made significant contributions to the field of electron microscopy, especially quantitative electron diffraction,” group leader and senior scientist Yimei Zhu, said in a statement. “Applying his expertise in the field and talents in computer programming, [he] has advanced electron microscopy for material characterization. He well deserves the award.”

One of the most important contributions Wu, who has been at BNL since 1996, has made was in developing an electron diffraction method for measuring valence electron distribution. The valence electrons are the ones in the outermost shell of any substance or material.

Wu worked with Zhu and Johan Taftø, a visiting scientist from the University of Oslo, to develop an electron diffraction–based method for measuring valence electron distribution.

He appreciates the support and encouragement he has received from Zhu since he arrived at BNL.

Transmission electron microscopes can provide atomic-resolution images and electron-energy loss spectroscopy, Wu suggested. Through this work, scientists can determine where atoms are and what kind of atoms are present.

He would like to measure the distribution of these valence electrons through a process called quantitative electron diffraction.

By understanding how atoms share or transfer electrons, researchers can determine the physical properties of materials. Electron diffraction measurements can describe valence electron distribution from the bonds among atoms.

Wu and his colleagues developed a method called parallel recording of dark-field images. Through this technique, the scientists focus a beam above the sample they are studying and record numerous reflections from the same area. This is like studying the partial reflection of objects visible in windows on a city street and putting together a composite, three-dimensional view. Instead of cars, people, traffic lights and dog walkers, though, Wu and his colleagues are studying the distribution of electrons.

The information the scientists collect allows them to measure the charge transfer and aspherical valence electron distribution, which they need to describe electron orbitals for objects like high-temperature superconductors.

Using an electron probe, the team developed the technique to measure the displacement of atoms in crystal lattices with one-thousandth-of-a-nanometer accuracy.

To learn how to write software, Wu used several resources.

“I used literature and read books for computer programming,” he said. “I spent many, many years” learning how to write programs that would be useful in his research. He also consulted with colleagues, who have written similar programs.

Wu explained that the calculations necessary for his work far exceeded the functionality of a calculator. He also needed a super computer to handle the amount of data he was generating and the types of calculations necessary.

“If we used the older computer technique, it would take days or weeks to get one result,” he said.

A native of Pingjing in Hunan Province in China, Wu said learning English was considerably more challenging than understanding computer programming.

The youngest of nine siblings, Wu is the only one in the family who attended college. When he began his studies at the prestigious Shanghai Jiao Tong University, he said he was interested in physics and computers.

The college, however, decided his major, which was materials science.“They assigned it to me,” Wu said. “I liked it.”

He and his wife Jiangyan Fang, who is an accountant, have a 25-year-old son David, who lives in Boston and works with computers.

Wu, who started out at BNL as a Visiting Scientist, said he is comfortable living on Long Island. He said Long Island is cooler than his home town in the middle of China, where it’s generally hotter and more humid. For a week or two each year, the temperature can climb above 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

As for his work, Wu said he looks at the atomic level of substances. His techniques can explore how a defect in something like a battery affects how ions, like lithium, get in and through that.

“When you charge or discharge a battery, [I consider] how an electron gets through a defect. I always think about it this way.”

Wu has been working with Zhu and visiting scientist Qingping Meng from Shanghai Jiao Tong University, where Wu earned his Bachelor’s of Science and his Master’s in Science, on an initiative that advances the ability to determine valence electron distribution.

Wu is preparing a new publication. “I’m writing the manuscript and will introduce the method we are developing,” he said.

 

Stock photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Disclaimer: The following column is intended to provide a lighthearted response to the ongoing pandemic. In no way does it diminish or ignore the suffering or the unimaginable horror for people who have lost loved ones or who are on the front lines of the crisis. I continue to be grateful for all the help, support, and work everyone is doing to keep us safe, fed, and cared for (see last week’s column). This latest column, however, is designed to offer comic relief.

I was thinking about how life has changed in small, and largely insignificant ways. Please find below some “before coronavirus” and “after coronavirus” trivial differences for those of us fortunate enough to be inconvenienced and not irreparably harmed by the virus and when we’re not focused on the anxiety of shuttered businesses and lost income.

Where should we eat?

BC: Do you want to go to the Italian restaurant with the cool music and the frescoes on the wall, or the Chinese restaurant, with the incredible dumplings and the endless supply of hot tea?

AC: Should we go back to the kitchen, the dining room or the bedroom, where there are so many leftover crumbs that we could eat those for dinner without going to the refrigerator?

What should we wear?

BC: We could take the newly pressed suit that’s back from the dry cleaner, the slightly wrinkled suit that we wore a few days earlier, or the jeans and casual shirt that works on a casual Friday.

AC: We could take yesterday’s sweatpants, the ripped jeans that don’t smell too bad, or stay in the pajamas we wore to bed.

What should we do when we see people we know on the sidewalk?

BC: We slow our walk, smile, shake hands or hug and ask how they are doing.

AC: We run across the street, yell in their general direction and wave as we make the same joke we made the day before about the need for social distancing.

How do we start emails?

BC: We might dive right in, ask an important question or ease into it, hoping all is well.

AC: We often start emails by hoping the person we’re writing to and their family are safe.

How should we check on our college-age children?

BC: We can call them or FaceTime to see how they are doing and listen attentively as they share the excitement about school.

AC: We can call or FaceTime them from behind their locked door in our house and ask them how they are doing.

What do we do about the polarizing president?

BC: If we love him, we can find others who admire him. If we hate him, we can blame him for climate change, relaxing regulations, and changing the tone of discourse in Washington.

AC: If we love him, we can thank our lucky stars that he’s leading us and the economy out of this pandemic. If we hate him, we can blame him for our slow reaction and hold him to account for everything he and his administration haves said or didn’t say in connection with the COVIDcovid-19 response.

What do we do if someone sneezes?

BC: We offer a polite “God bless you” or, if we’re fans of “Seinfeld,” we say, “You are so good looking.”

AC: We drop anything we’re carrying and race across the room. When we’re a safe distance, we turn around scornfully, particularly if the person didn’t sneeze into anhis or her  elbow.

What do we think is funny?

BC: We follow our own sense of humor, reserving the right to laugh only when we feel compelled.

AC: We look at a picture of Winnie-the- Pooh and Piglet. We see Winnie telling Piglet to “Back the f$#@$ off,” and we laugh and send it to everyone who won’t get in trouble for receiving an email in which someone curses, after we ask if they and their family are safe.

SBU team member Steve Forrest scales the rock face as chinstrap penguins look on. Photo by Christian Åslund

By Daniel Dunaief

The canary in the Arctic coal mines, chinstrap penguins need more ice. These multitudinous flightless birds also depend on the survival and abundance of the krill that feed on the plankton that live under the ice.

With global warming causing the volume of ice in the Antarctic to decline precipitously, the krill that form the majority of the diet of the chinstrap penguin have either declined or shifted their distribution further south, which has put pressure on the chinstrap penguins.

Indeed, at the end of December, a team of three graduate students (PhD students in Ecology and Evolution Alex Borowicz and Michael Wethington and MS student in Marine Science Noah Strycker) from the lab of Heather Lynch, who recently was promoted to the inaugural IACS Endowed Chair of Ecology & Evolution at Stony Brook University, joined Greenpeace on a five week mission to the Antarctic to catalog, for the first time in about 50 years, the reduction in the number of this specific penguin species.

The team boarded Greenpeace’s ship, the Esperanza, for a five week mission. Photo by Christian Åslund

The group, which included  private contractor Steve Forrest and two graduate students from Northeastern University, “saw a shocking 55 percent decline in the chinstrap on Elephant Island,” Lynch said. That drop is “commensurate with declines elsewhere on the peninsula.”

Elephant Island and Low Island were the targets for this expedition. The scientific team surveyed about 99 percent of Elephant Island, which was last visited by the Joint Services Expedition in 1970-1971.

The decline on Elephant Island is surprising given that the conditions in the area are close to the ideal conditions for chinstraps.

In some colonies in the Antarctic, the declines were as much as 80 percent to 90 percent, with several small chinstrap colonies disappearing entirely.

“We had hoped that Elephant Island would be spared,” Lynch said. “In fact, that’s not at all the case.”

While many indications suggest that global warming is affecting krill, the amount of fishing in the area could also have some impact. It’s difficult to determine how much fishing contributes to this reduction, Lynch said, because the scientists don’t have enough information to understand the magnitude of that contribution.

The chinstrap is a picky eater. The only place the bird breeds is the Antarctic peninsula, Elephant Island and places associated with the peninsula. The concern is that it has few alternatives if krill declines or shifts further south.

“Chinstraps have been under-studied in the last few decades, in part because so much attention has been focused on the other species and in part because they nest in such remote and challenging places,” Lynch explained in an email. “I hope our findings raise awareness of the chinstraps as being in serious trouble, and that will encourage everyone to help keep an eye on them.”

While these declines over 50 years is enormous, they don’t immediately put the flightless waterfowl that tends to mate with the same partner each year on the list of endangered species because millions of the sea birds that feel warm and soft to the touch are still waddling around the Antarctic.

Researchers believe that the biggest declines may have occurred in the 1980s and early 1990s, in part because areas with more regular monitoring showed reductions during those times.

Still, where there are more recent counts to use as a standard of comparison, the declines “show no signs of abating,” Lynch explained.

The evidence of warming in the Antarctic has been abundant this year. On Valentine’s Day, the Antarctic had its hottest day on record, reaching 69.35 degrees Fahrenheit. The high in Stony Brook that day was a much cooler 56 degrees.

“What’s more concerning is the long term trends in air temperature, which have been inching up steadily on the Antarctic Peninsula since at the least the 1940’s,” Lynch wrote in an email.

At the same time, other penguin species may be preparing to expand their range. King penguins started moving into the area several years ago, which represents a major range expansion. “It’s almost inevitable that they will eventually be able to raise chicks in this region,” Lynch suggested.

The northern part of the Antarctic is becoming much more like the sub Antarctic, which encourages other species to extend their range.

Among many other environmental and conservation organizations, Greenpeace is calling on the United Nation to protect 30 percent of the world’s oceans by 2030. The Antarctic was the last stop on a pole to pole cruise to raise awareness, Lynch said.

One of the many advantages of traveling with Greenpeace was that the ship was prepared to remove trash.

“We pulled up containers labeled poison,” Lynch said. Debris of all kinds had washed up on the hard-to-reach islands.

“People are not polluting the ocean in Antarctica, but pollution finds its way down there on a regular basis,” she added. “If people knew more about [the garbage and pollution that goes in the ocean], they’d be horrified. It is spoiling otherwise pristine places.”

Lynch appreciated that Greenpeace provided the opportunity to conduct scientific research without steering the results in any way or affecting her interpretation of the data.

“We were able to do our science unimpeded,” she said.

Counting penguins on the rocky islands required a combination of counting birds and nests in the more accessible areas and deploying drones in the areas that were harder to reach. One of Lynch’s partners Hanumant Singh, a Professor Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at Northeastern University, flew the drones over distant chinstrap colonies. The researchers launched the drones from land and from the small zodiac boats.

The next step in this research is to figure out where the penguins are going when they are not in the colony. “Using satellite tags to track penguins at sea is something I’d like to get into over the next few years, as it will answer some big questions for us about where penguins, including chinstraps, are trying to find food,” Lynch said.

METRO photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

You know those glasses you wear at the eye doctor when you have to identify images that stand out on the card in your hand? These days, I feel as if I’m wearing them everywhere I go.

Take, for example, my trip to the supermarket. Before coronavirus, I often nodded to the people who stock shelves and chatted with the cashiers, acknowledging them but perhaps not appreciating them sufficiently. Nowadays, the entire food services crew stands out.

The people who worked on the farms that grew the products, the ones who went to the factory that refined it, the drivers who transported it to the stores and, eventually, the residents of our community who placed it on the shelves are making it possible for us to feed our families.

Each time I shop, I would walk around giving the local supermarket workers a hug, but that would violate social distancing, and would be pretty awkward.

Then, there are the pharmacists, who stand in their white lab coats mixing our medicines. We need them, now more than ever, to ensure we get the right amount of the right drugs.

Of course, even when I’m not seeing the doctors, nurses, police, and other first responders, I’m well aware of the front line in the battle against the pandemic. Each one of these people is putting their lives on the line when they interact with people who may carry an infection for which their bodies have no resistance, no matter how much coffee they drink or how much they hope they are invincible. With coronavirus glasses, I see them perform their heroic jobs each day, despite the concerns they may have about bringing the disease home to their families or limiting their contact with their relatives.

Fortunately, we are not so isolated that most of us can’t see important people in our lives through FaceTime. Many people contributed to the development of the phones that have become an extension of our bodies. The ones who made the futuristic Jetsons’ notion, in the animated sitcom, of seeing people as we talked to them have made it possible for us to connect from any distance, even if the ones we wish to hug are waiting out the storm in their living room next door.

Scientists throughout the world are working tirelessly to figure out the best ways to treat people lined up in hospitals or to create a vaccine that will protect us in the future. I am privileged to talk to scientists every day, although I haven’t spoken to any of the ones working on a treatment or vaccine. These researchers come from everywhere, are indifferent to national borders, and often are driven to make new discoveries, help humanity and make a difference in the world. Those of us who receive treatments or a vaccine for which they made a contribution can assure them that what they do matters.

The entire team involved in heating, cooling and lighting my home also stand out, as do the ones who created magnificent and inspiring films, books, and home entertainment.

Each day, people like Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) and County Executive Steve Bellone (D) work tirelessly and visibly on our behalf. On Bellone’s daily media calls, he has remained level-headed, determined, and focused during the difficult balancing act of trying to protect our health while working to revive the economy, once the crisis clears.

I’m sure I’ve left many people off the list who deserve appreciation. In fact, if you, the reader, would like to share a few of the people whose work and dedication you appreciate, please write in and share your thoughts to [email protected]

Above, from left, Kenneth Kaushansky, Dean of the Renaissance School of Medicine; Anissa Abi-Dargham; Henry Tannous; Ute Moll; and Michael Bernstein, Interim President of SBU.

By Daniel Dunaief

A heart and lung doctor, a researcher who works on imaging for schizophrenia and a scientist working with a mutation that affects cancer last month received endowed inaugural chair positions at Stony Brook University.

Ute Moll is the Renaissance Endowed Professor in Cancer Biology, Anissa Abi-Dargham is the Lourie Endowed Chair in Psychiatry and Henry Tannous is the General Ting Feng Cheng Endowed Chair in Cardiothoracic Surgery.

In addition to adding the prestigious titles and winning support from local benefactors and philanthropists, the three researchers will each receive annual financial support from their positions that will sustain their research and education efforts. TBR News Media is highlighting the research from each of these standout scientists.

Ute Moll

Ute Moll

A native of Germany, Ute Moll, who is studying the six most common mutated forms of the highly researched p53 gene, is grateful for the donors, the funds and the recognition. “It’s pretty prestigious to have an endowed chair or professorship attached to your name or title,” she said 

Moll described the p53 mutations as the “most common mutation in cancer.” She has been working with a mouse model. The p53 R248 hotspot is the single most common variant in all p53 altered tumor types, which occurs in about 66,000 newly diagnosed cancer patients in the United States each year.

If these mice also have a gene called Myc, they get either liver or colon cancer. By receiving an estrogen derivative drug called Tamoxifen, which is used in breast cancer, the active, mutated version of the p53 gene is turned off when another gene called Cre recombinase is activated. By removing the p53 gene, the mice live two to three times longer than they would have.

In a typical mouse, cancer can cause over 100 tumor nodules, leaving almost no normal liver. When Moll and her colleagues turned off the mutant gene, the size of the cancer is much more limited, with only a few remaining nodules.

One particular mouse lived for more than two months, eventually dying of an unrelated lymphoma. The liver, however, which had an infection across the entire organ, didn’t show a single trace of a tumor. It was completely normal, despite the ubiquitous tumor nodules before treatment.

Thus far, targeting this mutated p53 is a concept Moll and her colleagues have developed in pre-clinical mouse models of lymphoma, colon and liver cancer, but it doesn’t yet have a clinical application. 

Liver cancer used to be relatively rare in the population, driven largely by infection from hepatitis B and hepatitis C, as well as through alcoholism. Amid an epidemic of obesity, people are developing a chronically inflammatory liver condition, which increases the incidence of liver cancer.

Anissa Abi-Dargham

Anissa Abi-Dargham

A specialist in Positron Emission Tomography (or PET) imaging for schizophrenia, Anissa Abi-Dargham is pleased with the opportunity to deploy the funds for her work at her discretion.

“The beauty of these funds is that they are totally flexible,” she explained, adding that she plans to use the funds to pursue new research ideas that might not otherwise get funding until she can use data to prove a concept or principal. 

“This is really a great honor because it means that the institution believes in you and wants to invest and retain you,” she said.

In her work, Abi-Dargham has been using imaging to see what is causing dopamine dis-regulation, either with too much or too little of the neurotransmitter. 

She is looking at two systems that may explain the imbalance: the cholinergic system and the kappa opioid system.

Abi-Dargham had been at Columbia University for 20 years before joining Stony Brook over three years ago. She appreciates the school investing in a state-of-the-art imaging center. “The people in charge of this imaging center are very much investing in promoting imaging for neuroscience and psychiatry,” she said.

Based on her findings in schizophrenia, other investigators in the United Kingdom have documented dopamine levels before schizophrenia symptoms begin.

She hopes her research discovers biomarkers that can be used to predict who is going to convert to having schizophrenia.

Patients do better when the onset of symptoms is later in their lives because their more mature brain has fostered better organized life, skill sets, and relationships.

She is also testing whether other markers, such as a neuromelanin, which is a metabolite of dopamine and binds iron-like materials, will show up on a Magnetic Resonance Imaging scan before the disease.

Henry Tannous

Henry Tannous

Henry Tannous joined Stony Brook University in 2016 and is excited to be a part of the current team and to help shape the future of clinical practice and research.

Tannous called the endowed chair position an “absolute honor.” It will not only allow him to continue with his current work, but it’s also going to enable him to expand his research. He will also use some of the funds to provide continuing education for his staff.

The financial support will allow him to hire research assistants and access national databases. Tannous and his research team of cardiothoracic and lung scientists use registries from the New York State Department of Health registry and the Society of Thoracic Surgeons, each of which provides the data for a price.

With his lung work, Tannous focuses on state 1 lung cancer. Traditionally, he said, people have received a diagnosis late in the development of the disease. Over the past few years, doctors have diagnosed patients at an earlier point.

Earlier diagnoses became more prevalent after Medicare approved lung cancer screening in 2015, which picked up more cases while patients were still in the earlier stages, when the cancer might otherwise be asymptomatic.

“We would like to know more about how the disease affects [patients] and their quality of life,” Tannous said. His lab has a collaboration with Mount Sinai Hospital to learn more about the effect of the disease on the lives of the patients.

With his heart research, he’s focusing on aortic disease and is testing the limits of the Trans Catheter Aortic Valve Replacement.

Photos courtesy of SBU

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

Photo from METRO

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Welcome to the home office. I have been working from home for years and would like to offer a few tips.

For starters, pets are generally awesome. They can reduce the stress from deadlines and from abrasive calls. Much more often than not, they seem absolutely delighted to see us and to give and receive positive attention.

The wag, wag, wag of a dog’s tail is almost as wonderful as the squeal of a happy toddler when he sees the ice cream on his plate or learns about a trip to the store — ah good times, remember when stores were open? — or to a visit with a favorite relative.

But then there’s the dark side. My big dog offers quiet companionship most of the time. He does, however, have an uncanny knack of barking at what appears to be absolutely nothing outside when I’m on the phone with someone who is coming to the point of a long and deeply moving anecdote.

Nothing takes the professional veneer off an interview with a Nobel Prize winning scientist, the chairman of a department or the head of a medical school faster than the unwelcome sound of a dog barking.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I have exacerbated that dilemma. You see, I thought I hit the mute button on my phone and shouted unpleasant words at my wonderful four-legged companion, only to discover that, in my haste, I missed the button, giving my professional contact an earful of seemingly out-of-my-mind comments. 

So, there are two lessons: Keep your barking dogs far from the phone when possible, and make absolutely sure you push the mute button before breaking character and insisting that your beloved buddy stops barking at the squirrel that tortures him — and you — during important calls.

OK, so the next tip is fairly obvious, but bears repeating. The refrigerator is not calling you. While you’re home, you will undoubtedly have competing impulses that you might not have indulged in at the office with a trip to the kitchen. One of them is to fill the momentary lull between calls, or the period when you might otherwise chat at the watercooler about the latest sports games — ah, remember when we used to watch sports in real time? The kitchen is fine and doesn’t need a visit, especially given the dwindling supply of basic items that might be harder to get the next time you go to the supermarket — ah, remember the good times. OK, you get the idea.

Create signals with the rest of the family, who are home with you or back in the nest to alert them to the most important work-related tasks of your day. If you are on a conference call with people who are signing up for off-site responsibilities for the next few weeks, the last thing you want to do is have someone come to your work space and ask if you’ve seen the blue sock to match the one he’s holding with an exasperated look at your door.

Finally, remember that the kind of things you might say in the context of gossip or jokes don’t always translate through texts and emails. No matter how some emojis might indicate that you’re joking — a winking circular blob, perhaps or a shrugging face — the person on the receiving end of your witticisms might not get it and might not find your brilliance so charming, especially if she’s still upset at the words she screamed at her barking dog earlier in the day.

Photo from YouTube

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

We take so much of our life for granted. In some ways, it’s natural and necessary. After all, if we got up and stared out our window and marveled at the combination of sun and shade on the branches rocking in the wind, bent down to admire the dew clinging to the grass and breathed deeply of the newly blossoming trees every morning, we might never get our kids to school and ourselves to work.

And yet, all the news about the spread of this new virus and the ensuing reaction to protect the population — from closing schools to avoiding subways to staying away from large crowds — gives us an opportunity to appreciate the things, people and sensory experiences we take for granted.

No one will miss the scent of urine wafting up through the subways during a hot summer day when switching problems make everyone stand four, five and six deep on the platform, waiting for the next overcrowded and overheated subway car to arrive.

Still, we may miss so many other sensory, social and everyday experiences if and when we have to lock ourselves in our homes, waiting for the “all clear” sign.

So, what are some of those experiences? It depends on whom you ask and what time of year the question arises.

I appreciate the joy of people watching. After living in Manhattan for decades, I’ve learned to swing my eyes across the street inconspicuously, while I seemed lost in thought or even pretended to be on an invisible phone. Times Square, with its superabundant tourists speaking uncountable languages, wearing unrecognizable colognes and walking in all manner of shoes, is a great place to start.

But then, the line for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island offers a similar variety of people from all over the world. Instead of billboards of half-naked and incredibly tone and muscular bodies advertising Broadway shows and underwear, the backdrop for the people watching at the ferry lines includes the unpredictable waves of the Hudson River, which has its own personality, ranging from near stillness to foaming white caps.

Closer to home and nearer to summer, West Meadow Beach blends the natural with the call of the seagulls across the enormous intertidal zone and the salty, wind-carried scent; and the anthropogenic with the plaintive cry of babies overheated by the hot sun, the sound of music vibrating from sound systems and the sight of happy teenagers taking their first lick of their soft-serve ice cream cones.

I enjoy watching the end of a hard-fought tennis match, when two or four people come to the net and exchange pleasant handshakes and share thoughts about a good match or a good game.

The crowds at sporting events, many of whom we might not choose from a potential lineup of friends, become a part of memorable games and evenings, as we exchange high fives with inebriated strangers, share insights about what we would do if we were the manager of the team, or congratulate the parent of one of the players on our daughter’s team for the improvement in her game.

Despite the fact that I tend to avoid a crowded elevator car, an overstuffed subway or even an escalator with too many tired bodies waiting for a machine to bring them to the top, I will miss the chance to share some of these experiences with the random strangers who might become friends, the fellow sports fans who might offer a game-within-a-game entertainment, or the chance encounter with a long-lost friend whose winsome smile is the same as it was decades ago in an eighth-grade math class.

Maureen O’Leary. Photo courtesy of SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

Like the great white shark that needs to keep swimming to stay alive, scientific databases that provide resources to researchers from all over the world can’t stay still or they risk losing their usefulness and reliability.

The directors of these resources need to find funds that will ensure that the data remains accessible and that users, who range from high school students conducting work for a class to the chairman of research departments at colleges, can benefit from the availability of information.

Maureen O’Leary. Photo from SBU

Maureen O’Leary, a Professor and Graduate Program Director at the Department of Anatomical Sciences at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, is looking to ensure that Morphobank, a web application and database that allows scientists around the world to share raw data on the structure of various organisms to help determine their evolutionary links, receives funds that sustain its mission.

O’Leary helped start MorphoBank in 2000 to encourage researchers to share data and propel science forward and is currently the director. By making observations of the structures of organisms available in one place online, she hoped to help advance the field of phylogenetics — the relationships among organisms in a family tree — while cutting down on the need to reproduce data from the same fossils at museums or other sites.

Up to this point, O’Leary has found financial support for the effort through grants from the National Science Foundation, the American Museum of Natural History and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

Looking to the future, however, O’Leary wanted to create a financial plan that would ensure ongoing funding for a database that has not only helped researchers explore data, but has also enabled collaborators to share information privately in a non-public area of MorphoBank.

O’Leary has been working with Phoenix Bioinformatics, a nonprofit group based in Fremont, California that has developed funding models for databases. Phoenix started its operations in 2013 after the staff of TAIR, a curated database for plant genome information, lost its grant funding.

The business is in the early stages of helping O’Leary with Morphobank, said Eva Huala, the Executive Director of Phoenix and a founding member of TAIR.

Phoenix has helped construct a financial model that is similar to the way university libraries and scientists pay for subscriptions to journals. The prices vary depending on the database the library subscribes to and the amount of usage of that database from the university. 

Huala said Phoenix is providing software that helps recruit members. The company is also enabling users to see whether their institution is supporting MorphoBank. So far, the Executive Director is “encouraged by the response. We know that this often takes several months or longer for libraries to decide” to lend financial support, she said.

The cost of running MorphoBank is connected to the time people spend curating as well as fixing bugs or managing computer-related challenges. Without software patches and fixes, the databases can run into problems.

Universities often require their researchers to make sure the data they collect is available to the scientific community, Huala explained, adding that MorphoBank can give scientists a way to “demonstrate the impact of their research” by offering download and viewing statistics for their data.

Mike D’Emic, an Assistant Professor in Biology at Adelphi University and a member of the Executive Committee of MorphoBank, has used the database for over seven years.

D’Emic suggested that MorphoBank “saves people from reinventing the wheel in doing science” by providing free, raw data. Scientists don’t have to travel to museums or other sites to gather the same information.

An early career researcher or student might have a small grant to visit three or four museums. These scientists can “supplement that data set with information from MorphoBank that’s multiple times the value of a grant they would have gotten,” D’Emic noted.

Scientists can freely use data from MorphoBank that would have taken tens of thousands of dollars to acquire. This includes photographs of a dinosaur skull from distant countries or CT scans that can be expensive to produce.

D’Emic, who helped convince the Adelphi library to provide financial support for the database, said MorphoBank addresses bug reports quickly, fixing problems with a few days.

Prior to O’Leary’s effort to start MorphoBank, a researcher might need to search through the appendices or the published reports from other scientists in their field to access raw data for tree building, sometimes retyping by hand large spreadsheets of numerical scores.

MorphoBank has been “invaluable and transformative in terms of the way people access and replicate science,” D’Emic said.

Some journals have started urging authors to publish their data online. The Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology strongly recommends uploading dataset, character descriptions and images to an online repository.

“For not too much money, MorphoBank has a huge impact on science,” D’Emic said, who said it was a cost effective boost to evolutionary biology and related fields

Scientists have changed significantly in their approach to sharing information. Around 30 years ago, some researchers wouldn’t always share their raw data. Other scientists would then have to spend thousands of dollars to travel to places like Thailand, Australian and Madagascar.

“People have come around” and are more comfortable exchanging data, sometimes as they produce it, D’Emic said. “MorphoBank has been an integral venue for convincing people you should share.”

O’Leary believes researchers have evolved in the way they think about the information they collect as a part of their studies.“We have reached a social transition where scientists get used to not only writing a paper and walking away, but making sure the data content is in a digitally reusable format,” she said.

O’Leary feels fortunate to have received funding for over two decades for MorphoBank. She plans to remain the director when MorphoBank moves to Phoenix. It’s an “important and dynamic tool” and she feels a “responsibility to allow its continuity.”