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Daniel Dunaief

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.

Above, Kevin Reed at a presentation at the Montauk Lighthouse in July. Photo from Kevin Reed

By Daniel Dunaief

Hurricane Dorian has dominated the news cycle for weeks, as its violent winds, torrential rains and storm surge caused extensive damage throughout the Bahamas and brought flooding and tornadoes to North Carolina.

For Kevin Reed, an assistant professor at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences who models extreme weather events including hurricanes, Dorian followed patterns the climate scientist anticipates will continue to develop in future years.

“Two things that are current with Dorian are consistent with what we’d expect from a changing climate,” said Reed. Dorian became a Category 5 storm, which is the strongest on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Second, the hurricane slowed down, which was also a trend that Hurricanes Harvey and Florence demonstrated.

The reason a warming climate would slow a hurricane like Dorian is that the polar regions are warming more rapidly than the tropics. That can have a “huge impact on the overall circulation” within the atmosphere, Reed said.

Indeed, what controls the speed of the jet stream, which moves hurricanes and other storm systems along over the rotating planet, is the difference in the temperature between the tropics and the poles. When the poles warm up more rapidly than the tropics, the circulation in the atmosphere can slow down and that can reduce the speed of the wind that blows the hurricane.

“Hurricanes are impacted by climate” and any change in that dynamic will have an effect on storms that can and do present a threat to the homes, businesses and lives of people in their path, Reed said.

Basic research has enhanced and improved the ability of forecasters to predict where a storm like Dorian will go, allowing meteorologists and the National Hurricane Center to provide warnings to political leaders and emergency response teams.

“Our general understanding of why storms move and go where they do has improved significantly over the last few decades,” Reed said. “Part of that can be seen in the forecast.”

Most of these forecasts are informed by numerical models. That is where Reed brings his expertise to hurricane science.

“I am a numerical modeler,” he said. “I use and help develop models to understand tropical cyclones and precipitation in general.”

Using information often taken from satellites, from in situ observations, radar along the coastlines and aircraft that fly every few hours into a storm, especially when they threaten the Caribbean or the East Coast, forecasters have had a “steady improvement in these models.”

Reed likens the process of predicting the weather or tracking a hurricane to choosing a stock. As investors and companies have become more sophisticated in the way they analyze the market or individual companies, their algorithms improve.

Investors have “added more variables” to choose companies for their investments, while forecasters have added more information from enhanced observations.

As for the ongoing coverage of hurricanes, Reed said the general population seems to have a relatively good awareness of the path and destructive power of the storms. The one area, however, that may help people focus on the potential danger from a storm comes from the way people describe these hurricanes.

Often, media outlets focus on the speed on the wind. While the wind can and does topple trees, causes property damage and disrupts power supplies, much of the damage comes from the storm surge. Rising water levels, however, is often the reason state and national officials encourage people to evacuate from their homes.

“Whether a storm is a Category 2 or a Category 3 doesn’t take into account the size of the storm,” Reed said. Hurricanes can range in size fairly dramatically. Hurricane Sandy was not even a hurricane when it made landfall, but it was so big and it impacted a much wider area that it had a much larger storm surge.

After a storm blows off into the ocean or dissipates, the scientific community then spends considerable time learning the lessons from the storm.

In the case of Dorian, researchers will explore why models initially predicted a landfall in Florida as a Category 4 storm. They will look at what happened to slow it down, which will inform future versions of forecasts for other storms.

In the future, Reed hopes researchers enhance their ability to represent convective processes in the models. These involve the formation of clouds and rain, especially in the context of a storm.

“That’s something that’s constantly been a difficulty,” he said. “It’s a complex process. While we have theories to understand it, we are always improving our ways to model it.”

In the next 10 years, researchers will move past the point of trying to estimate convection and will get to the point where they run models that explicitly resolve convection, which eliminates the need to estimate it.

Reed believes investing in fundamental research is “crucial. The return on investment to society and to the country is one of the best investments you can make. We have shown that through a steady improvement in the hurricane track,” which came about because of fundamental research. “The only way to continue that improvement is through basic and applied research that leads to these outcomes.”

A native of Waterford, Michigan, which is about 45 minutes away from Detroit, Reed didn’t have any firsthand experiences with hurricanes when he was growing up. Rather than watching MTV the way his friends did, he would watch hurricane updates or tropical storm updates.

A resident of Queens, Reed enjoys traveling and has a self-described “unhealthy” commitment to the University of Michigan football team. He purchases season tickets each year and takes 6 a.m. flights from LaGuardia to Michigan, where an Uber brings him to his fellow tailgaters before home games.

As for future hurricanes, Reed said the current consensus is that they will be lower in number but higher in intensity. Hurricane forecasts expect “more intense precipitation, but less frequent” storms, he said.

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Dogs are incredibly stupid. OK, now that I’ve got your attention, I realize that not all dogs lack intelligence. Lassie and Balto both saved the day.

I suspect many dogs, like mine who is now 1 year old, are only as smart as their training.

And they need something almost as often as a young child. What’s the matter, boy? You need to go out? Why are you barking, buddy? Do you see a squirrel? Is the neighbor out watering the grass again? That’s OK, you don’t need to bark at him every time he takes out the hose.

Recently, my wife made chocolate chip cookies. She says that we make them together, but my only job is to put them in the oven, wait for them to rise a bit, make sure the edges are cooked and then allow them to finish baking while they cool on the hot tray. She’s the master chef and I am the cookie flash fryer.

Anyway, the house was starting to develop that wonderful baked goods smell. My wife, son and I were eagerly awaiting the moment when I could bring the hot plate to the master bed, where we could make “mmm” noises at each other as we talked about the day and compared this batch to the ones we had a few months ago, as if we were reviewers on a cooking show.

The young dog has gotten used to the routine. He stands in the kitchen with his ears pitched forward, waiting for his best friend gravity to deliver something to him on the floor, which is, generally, his domain. He follows us back and forth to get the ingredients from the pantry and then to bring those ingredients back.

At 85 pounds, he is a large dog and his eye level has gotten closer to the mixer and the ingredients. We try to push everything to the middle of the island in the kitchen.

After doling out the hot cookies onto a plate into the shape of an edible pyramid, I left the room for a moment. When I returned, I shouted in astonishment. The dog had his front legs on the high counter and was reaching his long neck, tongue and head as far as he could. He had devoured half the plate.

After admonishing him for eating food that wasn’t his and that was dangerous, I locked him in a room without carpets and called the vet, who asked if I could give an exact number of chips he ate. Of course I couldn’t, which meant I had to bring him in, where the vet would empty the chocolate the dog had stolen.

My wife joined me for our evening adventure. After a few moments, the vet brought our surprisingly happy dog to us in a waiting room and told us he’d also eaten some plastic and a bottle cap. She allayed my embarrassment by telling me that her colleague’s dog — she’s a vet, remember — has had five operations because of the nonfood he’s swallowed that has blocked his system. Her colleague’s dog now wears a satellite dish around his head. While the reception is terrible, he doesn’t need emergency procedures anymore.

For all the frustration, the cleaning, the shedding, the wet dog smell, our dog is more than happy to have me, my family member, or the neighbor on the left with the garden hose or on the right with a howling dog, run hands through his wonderfully soft fur. He may not be the smartest or easiest dog on the block, but he is ours and we do get some perks here and there, in between rescuing half chewed flip-flops and slippers.

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

There’s just far too much going on personally and professionally to contain it within a singularly focused column. Strap yourselves in, because here we go.

For starters, how awesome is the start of the school year? Kids grumble, shuffle their feet, roll their eyes and sigh. But, come on. It’s a clean slate. It’s a chance to learn new material, make new friends and start anew with teachers who didn’t wonder what was wrong with you when your eyes were almost closed during the days before you got sick. It’s also a chance for parents to breathe a sigh of relief as the chaotic house, which was filled with friends coming and going throughout the summer, establishes a predictable routine.

I spoke with a high school senior recently who was absolutely thrilled with the start of her final year of school. Not only does she want to get her grade point average up, which she was doing with a high average in her weakest subject, but she was also incredibly enthusiastic about the opportunity to apply to her favorite college. Her energy and enthusiasm were
infectious.

Keep up: Here comes another topic. The other day, after I dropped my son off at school, I passed a father who put me and so many other parents to shame. He was pushing a fully loaded double stroller with two children who were between 2 and 4 years old. Anyone who has had to push a double stroller with bigger children knows how heavy that bus on wheels can get. He also sported a younger child in a BabyBjörn carrier. That’s not where it ended. While he was pushing and carrying three children, he was walking an enormous dog. Given the size of the dog, I wondered if he was tempted to strap a saddle on the animal and put one of the kids on top of him. Yes, I know that wouldn’t actually work, but it would distribute all that child weight more evenly and would give “man’s best friend” a job to do, other than getting rid of waste products on other people’s lawns.

Speaking of dogs, yes, my family now has a dog. He’s wonderful, soft and fluffy and is also an enormous pain in the buttocks. He has two modes of walking: He either pulls me really hard — he weighs more than 80 pounds — or he completely stops, pushing his snout into grass that he tries to eat and which upsets his stomach. Look, doggie dog, I know I can’t eat dairy because of the enormous negative consequences. Does it occur to you that eating grass, dirt, plastic foam cups and pencils is bad for your digestion? Of course not because the only cause and effect you care about relates to what goes in your mouth.

So, last weekend we went to a baseball tournament for our son. The day after the tournament, the coach sent a pointed note to the parents, reminding us to contact him if we had a problem or question, rather than going straight to management. In case you were wondering, I don’t miss coaching.

Then there’s National Security Advisor John Bolton. So, he gets fired for being a hawk? Who knew he was a hawk? Oh, wait, just about the whole world. So, that begs the question: If his hawkish views weren’t welcome or wanted, why was he hired in the first place?

One more question: When did the weather or hurricane warnings become political?

In foreground, from left, senior scientist Paul O’Connor holding an electronic board, and Science Raft Subsystem manager Bill Wahl holding a mock raft assembly. Behind O’Connor, on the left, is Sean Robinson, a technical associate, who is working on a raft in the clean room, and to the left is mechanical engineer Connor Miraval, whose image is reflected on the focal plane. Photo from BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

What’s out there? It’s a question that occurs to everyone from parents sleeping at night who hear a noise in the front yard to tourists aboard a whale watching cruise off the coast of Montauk to anyone looking up at the night sky.

Scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory recently took a milestone step in a long journey to understanding objects and forces deep in space when they completed shipment of the last of 21 rafts that will become a part of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, or LSST, in the Cerro Pachón ridge in north central Chile.

The rafts will serve as the film in a camera that will take images that cover 40 times the area of the moon in a single exposure.

The telescope, which will be the world’s largest digital camera for astronomy, will allow researchers and the general public to view asteroids at great distances. It will also provide information about dark energy and dark matter, changes in the night sky over the course of a decade of collecting data, and data that can build on knowledge about the formation and structure of the Milky Way.

Paul O’Connor, a senior scientist at BNL’s Instrumentation Division who has worked on the LSST for 17 years, expressed appreciation for the efforts of people ranging from area high schoolers to senior scientists on the project.

“It was just a joy to see the dedication from everyone to get what needed to be done,” he said in an email. “It takes a team like that to complete a project like this.”

The LSST, which is funded in part by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy, involves researchers from institutions all over the world who have each played a role in moving the unique telescope toward completion.

While the rafts that will function as the film for the 3.2-gigapixel sensor array are completed, O’Connor will continue to work on commissioning the telescope, which should occur gradually until it begins providing data in October of 2022.

O’Connor said the construction of the 21 raft modules containing a total of 200 16-megapixel sensors involved “moments of drama, both good and bad.”

The first time the team brought the system into its operating temperature range of about 100 degrees below zero Celsius, some of the cool-down behavior “differed from our predictions,” he explained.

That required quick thinking to make sure the equipment wasn’t damaged. This was especially important not only because the operation needed to stay on schedule but also because the rafts are expensive and the team was operating on a budget. “Each of these rafts has an enormous cash value” and involved considerable labor to build, O’Connor added.

Bill Wahl, the science raft subsystem manager of the LSST project since 2015, described how one of the challenges involved packing and shipping such sensitive electronic materials.

“We came up with a very elegant and somewhat low-cost approach,” he said, which involved shipping these rafts in a pressurized vessel that avoided damage during any shocks in transit.

The rafts, which each weighs about 25 pounds, had a shipping weight that included protective fixtures of over 100 pounds.

Additionally, the BNL team had to deal with cleanliness, as particulates can and did cause problems. Some of the rafts didn’t function the way they should have after shipping. The BNL team went through a complete refurbishing over six months, where they took all the rafts apart and cleaned them. They upgraded the design to limit the amount of particulates, Wahl said.

While BNL built the requisite rafts, it has an additional two rafts that can replace any of those in the telescope if necessary.

These extra rafts will be stored at the observatory.

Along with the challenges and some anxiety from building such sensitive equipment, the instrumentation unit also had several high points.

In January of 2017, BNL tested one of the rafts in the clean room. Scientists constructed an image projector and projected that onto the raft with enough detail to show that every pixel was functioning correctly. O’Connor made a printout of that image and taped it to his office door.

The day of the successful test was one that the team had been anticipating for “over 10 years. When the first image was delivered, it was very gratifying to see the system was working,” he said.

While O’Connor isn’t a cosmologist, he is particularly interested in the search for dark energy. “It has been puzzling the theorists and as experimentalists, we hope to take measurements that will one day lead to a resolution of this fundamental question,” he explained.

Several teams are working on the LSST in different locations. One of them is constructing the telescope in Chile, while another is assembling the camera in California.

At this point, technicians have installed about half the rafts into the main camera cryostat. Researchers will conduct a preliminary test before populating the rest of the focal plane with all the rafts later this year, O’Connor explained.

As the LSST catalogues four billion galaxies, it will “literally be impossible” to look at these areas item by item. Informatics tools will be necessary to extract all the information, O’Connor said.

Wahl suggested that the LSST could become an important educational tool for budding astronomers.

“I’m not an astronomer or physicist,” said Wahl, who will become the chief operating officer of an instrumentation group at BNL on Oct. 1, “but from my point of view, what I find absolutely amazing is that everyone relies heavily on Google Earth to look at where they are going. In a similar way, [people] are going to do that in the sky. It’s going to give them the opportunity to be junior astronomers unlike they’ve ever been able to do.”

Indeed, the LSST will help people figure out what’s out there.

Stock photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

You know that summer camp game where two or more teams line up with a spoon? The objective is to carry a tablespoon of water across a small lawn to the other side, dump whatever you can keep on the spoon into the cup on the other side, and race back with the spoon so that the next person can bring as much water as quickly as possible to your cup.

For me, parenting is about battling the urge to sprint at top speed, hoping that there’s at least some water to dump into the cup on the other side.

I had one of those moments when I wanted to share all the right pieces of advice for our daughter as we drove her to college. Would she even hear the pearls of wisdom I was trying not to drop from the spoon?

My first thought was to tell her that, “You get out of it what you put into it.” Of course everyone who passes the requisite classes gets a degree. What differentiates one set of experiences from another is the amount of energy, effort and dedication from the student. I scratched that one off the list because she’d heard it too many times before. If that lesson were going to make it into the cup, it had plenty of time to do so.

Then, it occurred to me to tell her to study smarter and harder, in that order. I wanted her to put in genuine effort — see the previous piece of unspoken advice — but I also felt that she needed to focus her efforts on specific chapters or concepts. Exams don’t tend to demand total recall of every word on every page in a textbook. Try to figure out, perhaps with some help from upper-class people or your resident adviser, what are the most important ideas for each class.

I considered telling her to appreciate and learn from her mistakes. I had suggested that homily in her academic life, on an athletic field and in her social interactions. I couldn’t possibly say that on the ride to college because her response, at best, would be some version of, “Daaaaaaaddd!” No, clearly, telling her to learn from her mistakes would be a mistake.

Maybe, just as I contemplated another recommendation, the clear skies on the drive ahead were a sign that I was on the right track. I wanted to tell her to get to know her professors, regardless of the size of the class. In fact, the larger the class, the greater the need to walk up to her teachers, introduce herself and express an eagerness to learn about a subject this person had spent a professional career teaching.

Maybe I should also tell her not to fall behind. Catching up becomes a regular struggle when the professor has moved away from the lessons you’re trying to process and commit to memory.

By the time we arrived at school, I hadn’t shared any of those words of wisdom or fortune cookie advice, depending on your perspective, because our daughter slept during much of the car ride. Carrying boxes, bins and bags up the stairs became the primary focus, as did trying not to sweat too profusely over everything I was lugging into her room.

As she was scrambling to figure out how to attach pictures of her friends to a wall, it was clear the timing wasn’t ideal to offer advice. Maybe it’s best this way: She’s now reached an age and a stage in life when she’s got to figure out how to fill her own cup with water.

Port Jefferson Station LIRR depot

By Daniel Dunaief

The development of steel highways beginning in the early 1800s has had an enormous impact on our society, especially on Long Island, where the Long Island Rail Road was chartered in 1834. To commemorate the 185-year history of trains in Suffolk and Nassau counties, the Port Jefferson Village Center will host a new exhibit titled Railroads: Tracking the History on Long Island from Sept. 5 to Oct. 30.

Sponsored by the Port Jefferson Harbor Education and Arts Conservancy and the Incorporated Village of Port Jefferson, the unique show perfectly captures generations of railroad history with unique photos of trains, tracks and commuters from the Village of Port Jefferson archives, the Long Island Railroad Museum and the Queens Public Library’s Digital Collection.

Port Jefferson Station LIRR depot

In addition to the numerous images, the exhibit, which was curated by Port Jefferson village historian Chris Ryon, will also feature artifacts and a 50-foot time line, starting in 1834, that shows the history of a railroad that is the oldest in the country operating under its original name and with its original charter.

Currently, the train system carries over 350,000 commuters back and forth around the area each day, ranking it first among railroads in shuttling commuters.

According to Don Fisher, the president of the Railroad Museum of Long Island, laborers came from numerous countries to build the railroad. Initially, many of the workers were English and German, said Fisher. As more immigrants arrived, the workers included people of Italian and Irish descent as well as African Americans.

The railroad was originally designed to help people travel from New York to Boston. The trains brought people to Orient Point, where they took the ferry to Connecticut, which was harder to cross because many of its rivers didn’t have bridges.

Port Jefferson Station LIRR depot

One of the featured artifacts is a huge lantern that has its own serendipitous story. A resident of Wading River donated the lantern three years ago to the railroad museum. Initially, the railroad experts at the museum weren’t sure where it came from or how old it was. Later, they received a call from a resident of Toms River, New Jersey, who had a picture of a steam engine from the late 1800s. The picture features a kerosene, whale oil-burning lantern that looked incredibly similar to the one donated.

“While this is not the exact same lantern, it likely came off a locomotive like this, so we could make the story come to life,” said Fisher who suggested that the LIRR is “our railroad, which we love to hate.”

While he thinks typical commuters who ride the trains each day may not be as drawn to the exhibit, Fisher expects families with young children enthralled by Thomas the Tank Engine or by stories and photos of railroads may find numerous train treasures at the upcoming exhibit. He also expects that some senior residents will come and reminisce about everything from the horror of a snowstorm to a ride aboard a steamy train without air conditioning on a hot day to stories about friends they met aboard the train.

Port Jefferson Station LIRR depot

“The history of the Long Island Rail Road is the history of Long Island,” said Stephen Quigley, president of the Long Island Sunrise Trail Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, who added that one of the many noteworthy railroad riders includes President Theodore Roosevelt who frequently took the LIRR to Oyster Bay while in office.

Quigley said he plans on contributing memorabilia to the exhibit, including a Dashing Dan logo, which is a popular feature from the 1950s trains. The typical Dashing Dan logo featured a commuter running with a briefcase, with half of his striped tie flying behind his head, as he’s checking his watch. The tagline on the logo was: The Route of the Dashing Commuter, which appeared above an LIRR placard.

The exhibit will also include numerous other versions of the Dashing Dan family, including a Dashing Sportsman, a Dashing Dottie and a Dashing Dan Weekend Chief, which features a commuter heading out aboard the train on the way to the beach.

Fisher and Quigley each have numerous stories about the history of the railroad and of their time aboard the trains.

In more modern times, Fisher said the Oakdale Station has featured at least two weddings. The LIRR has also been the setting for movies. The Mark Wahlberg film “Broken City,” which also stars Russell Crowe and Catherine Zeta-Jones, included scenes filmed aboard a train going back and forth from Long Island City to Montauk. During the filming, the LIRR added two extra cars, Fisher said.

Quigley recalled how one commuter, who had become friends with several other riders during his trek back and forth from Babylon to Mineola, had a baby shower on board the train.

Fisher added that many people are aware of some of the stories related to the Transcontinental Railroad, which involved moving Native Americans and gerrymandering properties. What people don’t often know, however, is that the “shenanigans with Congress and political bodies, the payoffs to get property so the railroad could be built, the sweetheart deals with companies, all happened here [on Long Island] first.”

Railroads, Fisher said, were the “dot.com of the time. Anybody with a few bucks wanted to invest. It was a hot commodity. More people worked for the railroad than any other industry. It was an economic generator.”

The community is invited to an opening reception of the new exhibit on Thursday, Sept. 12 from 6 to 9 p.m. Ryon said he hopes to have a panel discussion featuring railroad experts at the reception and is in the process of reaching out to a number of train executives.

The Port Jefferson Village Center, located at 101A East Broadway in Port Jefferson, is open seven days a week, except holidays, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.. For more information, call 631-802-2160.

Photos  from the Kenneth Brady Collection

Above, Leila Esmailzada, executive director of BeLocal observes a traditional charcoal making process in Madagascar. Photo from BeLocal

By Daniel Dunaief

BeLocal has progressed from the drawing board to the kitchen. The nonprofit group, which was started by the husband and wife team of Mickie and Jeff Nagel as well as data scientist Eric Bergerson, has been working to improve and enhance the lives of people living in Madagascar.

BeLocal, which started in 2016, has sent representatives, including Laurel Hollow resident Mickie Nagel and executive director Leila Esmailzada, to travel back and forth to the island nation off the southeast coast of the African continent.

Working with Stony Brook University students who identified and tried to come up with solutions for local challenges, BeLocal has focused its efforts on creating briquettes that use biomass instead of the current charcoal and hardwood, which not only produces smoke in Malagasy homes but also comes from cutting down trees necessary for the habitat and the wildlife it supports.

Biochar briquettes reduce the amount of hardwood Malagasy residents chop down to provide fuel for cooking. Photo from BeLocal

“In the summer of 2018 we figured out that we had something that works,” said Mickie Nagel. “We had all the agricultural waste and could turn it into fuel. Our goal is to start thinking about how to bring it into communities and into the daily lives” of people in Madagascar.

In January of this year, Esmailzada partnered up with Zee Rossi to introduce the new briquettes to residents of three villages, who were interested in the BeLocal process and offered feedback.

Rossi worked in Madagascar for three years as a part of the Agricultural Food Security Advisory Section of the Peace Corps, until he recently joined the staff at BeLocal.

At this point, BeLocal has helped create four working production sites for the briquettes, all of which are on the outskirts of the Ranomofana National Park, which Stony Brook Professor Patricia Wright helped inaugurate in 1991.

The biochar briquettes solve several problems simultaneously. For starters, they reduce the amount of hardwood Malagasy residents chop down to provide fuel for cooking. The biochar briquettes are made from agricultural waste, such as corn husks and cobs, rice stalks, leaves, small sticks and even unusable waste from the production of traditional charcoal.

The briquettes also produce less smoke in the homes of the Malagasy. At this point, BeLocal doesn’t have any data to compare the particulates in the air from the briquettes.

One of the current briquette makers is generating about 2,000 of the circular fuel cells per month. As a start-up effort, this could help with several families in the villages. Nagel estimates that it takes about 12 briquettes to cook a meal for a family of four. The families need to learn how to stoke the briquettes, which are slightly different from the cooking process with the charcoal and hardwood.

Esmailzada and Rossi had planned to return to Madagascar in July, where they hoped to understand how people are using these sources of energy.

Esmailzada has taught and workshopped with the Malagasy on how to make the briquettes. Since returning to the United States, where she recently completed a master’s program in public health with a focus on community health at Stony Brook University, she was eager to see how much progress has been made.

BeLocal has continued to refine the technique for creating these briquettes. Working across the border with Stony Brook graduate student Rob Myrick, Malagasy residents have tried to char the biomass in a barrel, instead of digging a pit.

“Hopefully there will be movement” with the barrel design, Nagel said.

Myrick is working on refining the airflow through the pit, which could enhance the briquette manufacturing process.

Myrick will “work on techniques [at Stony Brook] and [Rossi] will work on the process with the villagers over there,” Nagel explained in an email. Myrick has been “such a helpful and great addition to BeLocal.”

Esmailzada and Nagel are delighted that Rossi joined the BeLocal effort.

“It’s such a natural partnership,” Esmailzada said. “He built this incredible trust with this group of really dynamic people. Having him be the liaison between us and the community really came together nicely.”

Rossi explained some of the challenges in developing a collaboration that works for the Malagasy. “One of the biggest barriers is being a foreigner,” he said. “With any new thing you present to a farmer, you have to sell yourself first. It’s really important that you connect with a farmer on a person-to-person level.”

Numerous farmers are skeptical of the ongoing commitment foreign groups will have. Many of them have experience with a foreigner or a local nongovernmental organization coming in, doing a program and “not following up,” Rossi added.

Nagel is putting together a nongovernmental organization conference to get the organizations “working on projects in the same room,” she said.

Through this effort, BeLocal hopes to create new partnerships. The organization continues to work with Stony Brook’s VIP program, which stands for vertically integrated projects.

Students from sophomore year through graduate school can continue to work on the same projects. The goal is to enable a continued commitment, which the school hopes will lead to concrete results, instead of one-year efforts that often run into obstacles that are difficult to surmount in a short period of time.

Ultimately, Nagel believes the process of building briquettes could translate to other cross-border efforts and suggested that these goals should include the kind of information crowd-sourcing that benefits from other successful projects.

BeLocal is receptive to support from Long Islanders and elsewhere.

Nagel added that projects like the briquette effort keep the context and big picture in mind.

“Helping Patricia Wright save this rain forest and the lemurs will always be a goal and we know the only way to do that is to help with alternatives to food and fuel sources, and better farming techniques so they don’t have a need to slash and burn more rain forest to add more farming fields,” Nagel said.

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

You know Murphy’s law, right? Whatever can go wrong will go wrong. Well, it seems that we need to update Murphy’s law. To that end, please find a few of my experiential and observational corollaries.

• Your kids know more about electronics than you do. Yes, I know there are information technology people who are keeping up with the latest apps, some of whom may actually write the apps. But most of those people stop using their phones or looking at their work when they go home. Your kids are using them all the time. They are professional app users, while you likely know one app extremely well.

• You will receive a message from your airline when it doesn’t help. I appreciate how airlines, and even Expedia, offer to send you updates on your flights. Most of the time, however, the text that the plane is delayed two hours will arrive just after the car that’s brought you to the airport pulls away from the curb.

• Following the rules at the doctor’s office, the DMV or anywhere else you might be a captive audience rarely works. I recently went to a doctor’s office half an hour early because the email requested that I arrive then for my first appointment. I waited more than an hour for a consultation that lasted a few minutes.

• You’re likely to leave out a critical word at a critical time in a critical email. Let’s say someone proposes an idea at work that you find wholly objectionable and unworkable. You respond: “I can agree with this idea.” Forgetting the word “not” then means that your boss, who proposed the idea in the first place, now gives you ownership of a process that is even worse than it seemed when you first read the email through your sleep-deprived eyes.

• The cute baby that made you smile in the airport or the bus station will be sitting behind you for hours. In the few moments when he’s not screaming, he’s kicking your chair right behind your head, rendering the noise cancellation headphones you bought utterly useless.

• In the world of TMI (too much information), you’re likely to hear something that makes you wish you had a plastic bubble. Someone near you on a subway will be talking to his friend on the phone about a strange rash that’s spreading everywhere while coughing violently into the air.

• The cable or appliance repair person who gave you a four-hour window when he might arrive at your house will come at the beginning of the window, the end of the window or in those three minutes you stepped out to get a cup of coffee just down the street. When you return to find the note indicating how sorry he was that he missed you, you have an adult tantrum which terrifies the neighbors and their kids, who will no longer come to your house during Halloween.

• Complaining about the performance of an athlete who never seems to live up to his or her potential means that athlete will do something incredible within moments of your most vocal complaint. That will be the case unless you’re complaining because you secretly believe that will lead to a winning effort. In that case, the athlete will meet your low expectations.

• The year you move to a place where you’re assured there are no hurricanes, you watch the familiar sight of wind tearing through your backyard, as a hurricane fells trees you have owned for all of two weeks. Ah, cypress tree, we hardly knew you.

Peter Van Nieuwenhuizen

By Daniel Dunaief

Peter van Nieuwenhuizen was sitting at the kitchen table, paying an expensive dental bill, when he received an extraordinary phone call. After he finished the conversation, he shared the exciting news — he and his collaborators had won a Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for work they’d done decades earlier — with his wife, Marie de Crombrugghe.

The prize, which is among the most prestigious in science, includes a $3 million award, which he will split with Dan Freedman, a retired professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University, and Sergio Ferrara from CERN.

De Crombrugghe suggested he could use the money “for a whole new set of teeth,” if he chose.

Van Nieuwenhuizen, Freedman and Ferrara wrote a paper in 1976 that extended the work another famous physicist, Albert Einstein, had done. Einstein’s work in his theory of general relativity was incomplete in dealing with gravity.

Freedman, who was at Stony Brook University at the time, van Nieuwenhuizen and Ferrara tackled the math that would provide a theoretical framework to include a quantum theory of gravity, creating a field called supergravity.

From left, Peter van Nieuwenhuizen, Sergio Ferrara, and Dan Freedman in 1980.

After 43 years, “I didn’t expect” the prize at all, said van Nieuwenhuizen. It’s not only the financial reward but the “recognition in the field” that has been so satisfying to the physicist, who continues to teach as a Toll Professor in the Department of Physics at SBU at the age of 80.

“To have one’s work validated by great leaders has just been wonderful,” added Freedman, who worked at SBU through the 1980s until he left to join MIT. He treasures his years at Stony Brook.

Freedman believes a seminal trip to Paris, where he discussed formative ideas that led to supergravity with Ferrara, was possible because of Stony Brook’s support.

The physics trio approached the problem of constructing a way to account for gravity by combining general relativity and particle physics, which were in two separate scientific communities at the time. Even the conferences between the two types of physics were separate.

Einstein’s theory of general relativity has infinities when scientists add quantum aspects to it. As a result, it becomes an inconsistent theory. “Supergravity is not a replacement of Einstein’s theory, it is an extension or a completion if one is bold,” van Nieuwenhuizen explained.

The Stony Brook professor suggested that supergravity is an extension of general relativity just as complex numbers are an extension of real numbers. He added that it’s unlikely that there are other extensions of general relativity that theoretical physicists have yet to postulate.

Supergravity is “confirmed by its finiteness,” he said, adding that it suggests the existence of a gravitino, which is a partner to the graviton or the gravity-carrying boson. At this point, scientists haven’t found the gravitino.

“Enormous groups have been looking” for the gravitino, but, so far, “haven’t found a single one,” van Nieuwenhuizen said. The search for such a particle isn’t a “problem for me. That’s what experimental physicists must solve,” he said.

The work has already had implications for numerous other fields, including superstring theory, which attempts to provide a unified field theory to explain the interactions or mechanics of objects. Even if the search for a gravitino doesn’t produce such a particle, van Nieuwenhuizen suggested that supergravity still remains a “tool able to solve problems in physics and mathematics.”

Indeed, since the original publication about supergravity, over 11,000 articles have supergravity as a subject.

Collaborators and fellow physicists have reached out to congratulate the trio on winning the Special Breakthrough Prize, which counts the late Stephen Hawking among its previous winners.

The theoretical impact of supergravity “was huge,” said Martin Roček, a professor in the Department of Physics at Stony Brook who has known and worked with van Nieuwenhuizen for decades.

Whenever interest in the field wanes, Roček said, someone makes a new discovery that shows that supergravity is “at the center of many things.”

He added that the researchers are “very much deserving” of the award because the theory “offers such a rich framework for formulating and solving problems.”

Roček, who worked as a postdoctoral researcher in Hawking’s laboratory, said other researchers at Stony Brook are “all delighted” and they “hope some of the luster rubs off.”

Van Nieuwenhuizen’s legacy, which is intricately linked with supergravity, extends to the classroom, where he has invested considerable time in teaching.

Van Nieuwenhuizen is a “wonderful teacher,” Roček said. Indeed, he received the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching in 2010 based on teaching evaluations from graduate students. Roček has marveled at the way van Nieuwenhuizen prepares for his lectures, adding, “He doesn’t give deep statements and leave you bewildered. He explains things explicitly and he does a lot of calculations without being dull.”

Van Nieuwenhuizen recalled the exhilaration, and challenge, that came from publishing their paper in 1976. “We knew right away” that this was a seminal paper, he said. “The race was on to discover its consequences.”

Prior to the theory, the three could work in relative calm before the physics world followed up with more research. After their discovery, they knew the “happy, isolated life is over,” he said..

Van Nieuwenhuizen has no intention to retire from the field, despite the sudden funds from the prize, which is sponsored by Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan, Mark Zuckerberg, Pony Ma, Yuri and Julia Milner and Anne Wojcicki.

“The idea that I would stop abhors me,” he said. “I wouldn’t know what on earth I would be doing. I consider it a privilege to give these courses, to work and be paid to do my hobby. It’s really unheard of.”