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Power of 3

Alexander Zamolodchikov Photo by John Griffin/SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

Alexander Zamolodchikov Photo by John Griffin/SBU

Stony Brook University might need to rename a wing of the C.N. Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics the Breakthrough Prize alley. That’s because theoretical physicist Alexander Zamolodchikov recently shared a $3 million prize in fundamental physics, matching a similar honor his neighbor on the floor and in the department, Peter van Nieuwenhuizen, earned in 2019.

Zamolodchikov shared this year’s award with University of Oxford Professor John Cardy for their contributions to quantum field theories which describe particle physics as well as magnetism, superconducting materials and the information content of black holes.

“I’m not working for prizes, but it’s kind of encouraging that other people think that my contribution is significant,” said the Russian-born Zamolodchikov, who joined Stony Brook in 2016 and had previously worked at Rutgers for 26 years, where he co-founded the High Energy Theory Center.

While Zamolodchikov was pleased to win the award and was understated in his response, his colleagues sang his praises.

Zamolodchikov is “one of the most accomplished theoretical physicists worldwide,” George Sterman, Director of the C.N. Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics and Distinguished Professor at Stony Brook University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, said in a statement. “He has made groundbreaking advances, with enormous impact in many physics fields, such as condensed matter physics, quantum statistical physics and high energy physics, including our understanding of fundamental matter and forces.”

Sterman added that Zamolodchikov’s insights have influenced the way theoretical physicists think about foundational concepts.

“Having such a giant in your institute is always great,” said van Nieuwenhuizen, who said the two Breakthrough Prize winners sometimes discuss physics problems together, although their fields differ.

Founded by Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, Julia and Yuri Milner and Anne Wojcicki, the Breakthrough Prizes are referred to as the “Oscars of science.”

A scientific throwback

Zamolodchikov has a “very pleasant personality” and couldn’t be a better neighbor in a corridor in which five of the offices house distinguished professors, van Nieuwenhuizen said.

Van Nieuwenhuizen, who was a deputy for C.N. Yang for six years, said the two of them often discussed whether to continue to build a theoretical physics department or to branch out into applied physics.

The direction for the department “wasn’t so obvious at the time” but the institute members decided to continue to build a fundamental physics group, which attracted the “right people. In hindsight, it was the right decision,” van Nieuwenhuizen added.

In some of his lectures and discussions, Zamolodchikov, who often pushes his glasses up on his forehead, works with equations he writes on a blackboard with chalk.

He suggested that many in the audience prefer the slow pace of the blackboard and he uses it when appropriate, including in class lectures. Having grown up in pre-computer times, he considers the blackboard his “friend.” 

“He’s a throwback,” said van Nieuwenhuizen. “I happen to think that is the best way of teaching.”

Thinking about eating bread

Zamolodchikov said he often gives his work considerable thought, which he believes many scientists do consciously and subconsciously, wherever they are and what they are doing.

When his daughter Dasha was about four years old, she asked him what he was thinking about all the time. He joked that he was contemplating “how to consume more white bread.”

Even today, Dasha, who conducts biological research, asks if he is “still thinking about white bread.”

Family commitment to physics

When Zamolodchikov’s father Boris returned from World War II, the Soviet Union built a physics institute in his town of Dubna.

His father had an “exceptional understanding” of some parts of physics, such as electromagnetic theory and he would talk in their house about science. Boris Zamolodchikov was chief engineer of a laboratory that was working on the first cyclotron.

“He convinced us that physics was something to devote the life to,” Zamolodchikov explained.

Zamolodchikov (who goes by the name “Sasha”) and his late twin brother Alexei (who was known as Alyosha) looked strikingly similar, but were never sure whether they were fraternal or identical twins. The twins collaborated on research in physics until Alexei died in 2007.

Zamolodchikov and his brother understood each other incredibly well. One of them would share a thought in a few words and the other would understand the idea and concept quickly.

“It was some sort of magic,” said Zamolodchikov. “I miss him greatly.”

Indeed, even recently, Zamolodchikov has been working to solve a problem. He recalls that his brother told him he knew how to solve it, but the Stony Brook Distinguished Professor forgot to ask him about the details.

When Zamolodchikov, who thinks of his twin brother every day, learned he had won the prize, he said he feels “like I share this honor with him.”

Description of his work

In explaining his work, Zamalodchikov suggests that quantum field theory, which was questioned for some time before the mid-1970’s, has been used to describe subatomic physics.

On a general level, quantum field theory helps explain nature in terms of degrees of freedom.

“I was trying to solve simplified versions of these field theories,” said Zamolodchikov. He provided insights into what quantum field theory can describe and what kind of physical behavior would never come from quantum field theory.

His work shed light on phase transitions, from liquids to gases. He was able to find a solution through quantum field theory that had a direct application in explaining phase transition.

Experimentalists did the experiment and found the signature he expected.

“When I make a prediction about the behavior in phase transition and they do the experiment and find it exactly as my prediction, it’s remarkable,” he said. “My prediction involves an exceptionally complicated but beautiful mathematical structure.”

Jasmine Moss. Photo by Susan Anderson

By Daniel Dunaief

As the first chemist in the history of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Professor John Moses has forged new connections at the lab, even as he maintains his affinity for and appreciation of his native Wrexham in Wales.

Indeed, Moses recently created and funded a fellowship for disadvantaged students in Wales, giving them an opportunity to visit the lab, learn about the science he and others do, and, perhaps, spark an interest in various science, technology, engineering and math fields.

Called Harbwr y Ffynnon Oer Scholarship, which means “Cold Spring Harbor” in Welsh, Moses’s laboratory recently welcomed Jasmine Moss, the first recipient, in early August.

“I hope it broadens” the horizons of those who travel to the lab, explained Moses in an email. “Wales is a small country” with a population of about three million. Coming to New York — a city with a much bigger population than Wales — “can only be an eye-opening experience.”

Jasmine Moss with postdoctoral fellow Dharmendra Vishwakarma. Photo by Theresa Morales

For Moss, who is studying for an integrated masters degree in biomedical engineering, the opportunity proved exciting and rewarding.

“I was expecting to feel intimidated” with everyone knowing so much more than she, Moss said during an interview on the morning of her third day in the lab. “I was expecting maybe a little bit not to understand everything. Everyone is amazing” and made her feel welcome.

The experience started with a walk around the campus, which included considerable information not only about the science but also about the history of the 133-year old laboratory.

Moss, who said this was the first time she’d been in a professional chemistry lab, helped conduct an experiment in which a reaction caused a liquid to change color because of the presence of copper.

“I did the measuring and putting it together,” said Moss, who added that she was “heavily supervised.” She did some calculations as well.

Moss suggested that her interest in science originated with a proficiency in math.

If she were having a bad day in secondary school, she could turn her mood and her mentality around by spending an hour in math class.

Beyond the science

Theresa Morales, a senior scientific administrator, created a schedule of activities and coordinated Moss’s visit.

“We want to do the same thing for any scholarship awardee,” Morales said. “We want to give them the overall experience. It’s not just about the science. We invite the person to realize the culture of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory” which has a “beautiful campus and great people” who occupy its labs, attend meetings, and share scientific insights and experiences.

A postdoctoral researcher in Moss’s lab, Josh Homer suggested that Morales did “the heavy lifting” in coordinating three days of activities and opportunities for Moss. Homer, who is collaborating with Professor Bo Li to develop new opiates that are non addictive for pain treatment, appreciated Moss’s reactions to the opportunities in the lab.

“I thought [Moss’s] face lit up,” he said. When people are exposed to science in a “manageable and digestible way, they learn that they can do it.”

Indeed, Homer, who grew up in New Zealand, recalled how a high school teacher inspired his interest in science.

“My journey genuinely kick started from one good teacher” who sparked an “inquisitiveness” within him, Homer said. 

Coming from a smaller country, Homer can relate to the opportunities science has provided for him.

“Chemistry has been a fantastic way to see the world and explore,” said Homer, who conducted his PhD research at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. “Science is a universal language. Chemistry is the same in India, China” and all over the world.

A family experience

Jasmine Moss with her dad, Stephen Moss, front, with members of John Moses’s lab. Photo by Lorraine Baldwin

Moss traveled to New York for the first time with her parents Stephen and Emma, who stayed with her on campus, toured the grounds and library and attended a picnic.

While the library tour was less interesting to Moss, she said her father “really enjoyed it.”

Morales suggested that the lab “wants parents to feel just as good” and that the parents will have “the same enthusiasm for science and the experience as the scholar if they can feel they are a part” of the visit.

In addition to getting an inside look at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Moss and her parents ventured into the city, where she ate her first pizza and visited the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty. She was particularly impressed with the speed at which the Empire State Building was constructed, which took a year and 45 days.

Prior to her visit, Moss’s understanding of the city of New York came from the version she observed through the sitcom “Friends.”

As for the next phase of her life, she expressed an interest in helping people, which could be through medical engineering, biology or in some other field.

“I want to do something meaningful,” Moss said.

Next steps

Moses hopes to bring students to the lab each year, particularly those who might have had problems or difficulties or are from a disadvantaged background. Moss suffers from anxiety and feels every new experience makes similar opportunities easier.

“The team really put me at ease almost immediately,” said Moss.

Moss was surprised by the similarities between Long Island and the United Kingdom. She suggested the best parts of Wales are the countryside and beaches. If she returned the favor and hosted guests in her native Wales, she would take them to an international rugby match in Cardiff.

As for other area sports, Moses comes from the little soccer town that could in Wrexham, which is now famous for the purchase of the local team by actor Ryan Reynolds and co-owner Rob McElhenney. While the actors have brought soccer dreams to life, Moses hopes Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory might help young students realize their science dreams.

Esther Tsai is one of four scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory to be selected by DOE’s Office of Science to receive significant funding through its Early Career Research Program. Photo courtesy of BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

This is part 2 of a 2-part series.

Half of this year’s crop of recipients from New York State for Early Career Awards from the Department of Energy came from Brookhaven National Laboratory.

With ideas for a range of research efforts that have the potential to enhance basic knowledge and lead to technological innovations, two of the four winners earned awards in basic energy science, while the others scored funds from high energy physics and the office of nuclear physics.

“Supporting America’s scientists and researchers early in their careers will ensure the United States remains at the forefront of scientific discovery,” Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said in a statement. The funding provides resources to “find the answers to some of the most complex questions as they establish themselves as experts in their fields.”

The DOE chose the four BNL recipients based on peer review by outside scientific experts. All eligible researchers had to have earned their PhDs within the previous 12 years and had to conduct research within the scope of the Office of Science’s eight major program areas.

Last week, the TBR News Media  highlighted the work of Elizabeth Brost and Derong Xu. This week, we will feature the efforts of Esther Tsai and Joanna Zajac.

Esther Tsai

Esther Tsai is one of four scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory to be selected by DOE’s Office of Science to receive significant funding through its Early Career Research Program. Photo courtesy of BNL

Listening to her in-laws argue over whom Alexa, the virtual assistant, listens to more, Esther Tsai had an idea for how to help the scientists who trek to BNL for their experiments. As a member of the beamline staff at the National Synchrotron Lightsource II, Tsai knew firsthand the struggles staff and visiting scientists face during experiments.

Artificial intelligence systems, she reasoned, could help bridge the knowledge gap between different domain experts and train students and future generations of scientists, some of whom might not be familiar with the coding language of Python.

In work titled “Virtual Scientific Companion for Synchrotron Beamlines,” Tsai, who is a scientist in the Electronic Nanomaterials Group of the Center for Functional Nanomaterials, is developing a virtual scientific companion called VISION. The system, which is based on a natural language based interaction, will translate English to programming language Python. 

“VISION will allow for easy, intuitive and customized operation for instruments without programming experience or deep understanding of the control system,” said Tsai.

The system could increase the efficiency of experiments, while reducing bottlenecks at the lightsource, which is a resource that is in high demand among researchers throughout the country and the world.

Staff spend about 20 percent of user-support time on training new users, setting up operation and analysis protocols and performing data interpretation, Tsai estimated. Beamline staff often have to explain how Python works to control the instrument and analyze data.

VISION, however, can assist with or perform all of those efforts, which could increase the efficiency of scientific discoveries.

After the initial feelings of shock at receiving the award and gratitude for the support she received during the award preparation, Tsai shared the news with friends and family and then went to the beamline to support users over the weekend.

As a child, Tsai loved LEGO and jigsaw puzzles and enjoyed building objects and solving problems. Science offers the most interesting “puzzles to solve and endless possibilities for new inventions.”

Tsai appreciates the support she received from her parents, who offered encouragement throughout her study and career. Her father Tang Tsai, who is a a retired professor in Taiwan, often thought about research and scribbled equations on napkins while waiting for food in restaurants. On trips, he’d bring papers to read and shared his thoughts. Tsai’s mom Grace, a professor in management in Taiwan who plans to retire soon, also supported her daughter’s work. Both parents read press releases about Tsai’s research and shared their experience in academia.

Tsai thinks it’s exciting to make the imaginary world of Star Trek and other science fiction stories a reality through human-AI interactions.

Joanna Zajac

From left, Joanna Zajac is one of four scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory to be selected by DOE’s Office of Science to receive significant funding through its Early Career Research Program. Photo courtesy of BNL

A quantum scientist in the Instrumentation Division, Joanna Zajac is developing a fundamental understanding of fast light-matter interconnects that could facilitate long distance quantum networks.

Zajac will design and build systems that use quantum dots to generate single photos in the wavelengths used for optical telecommunications.

These quantum dots could potentially generate photons that would work at telecommunication and atomic wavelengths, which could reduce the losses to almost nothing when quantum information travels through the current optical fibers network. Losses are currently around 3.5 decibels per kilometer, Zajac explained in an email.

By coupling quantum dot single photons with alkali vapors, the light-matter interconnects may operate as a basis for quantum information, making up nodes of quantum network connected by optical links.

“Within this project, we are going to develop fundamental understanding of interactions therein allowing us to develop components of long-distance quantum networks,” Zajac said in a statement. “This DOE award gives me a fantastic opportunity to explore this important topic among the vibrant scientific community in Brookhaven Lab’s Instrumentation Division and beyond.”

Zajac explained that she was excited to learn that her project had been selected for this prestigious award. “I have no doubt that we have fascinating physics to learn,” she added.

In her first year, she would like to set up her lab space to conduct these measurements. This will also include development experimental infrastructure such as microscopes and table-top optical experiments. She hopes to have some proof-of-principle experiments. 

She has served as a mentor for numerous junior scientists and calls herself “passionate” when it comes to working with students and interns.

Zajac, who received her master’s degree in physics from Southampton University and her PhD in Physics from Cardiff University, said she would like to encourage more women to enter the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, “as they are still underrepresented,” she said. “I would encourage them to study STEM subjects and ensure them that they will do just great.”

Elizabeth Brost is one of four scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory selected by DOE’s Office of Science to receive significant funding through its Early Career Research Program. Photo courtesy of BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

This is part 1 of a 2-part series.

Half of this year’s crop of recipients from New York State for Early Career Awards from the Department of Energy came from Brookhaven National Laboratory.

With ideas for a range of research efforts that have the potential to enhance basic knowledge and lead to technological innovations, two of the four winners earned awards in basic energy science, while the others scored funds from high energy physics and the office of nuclear physics.

“Supporting America’s scientists and researchers early in their careers will ensure the United States remains at the forefront of scientific discovery,” Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said in a statement. The funding provides resources to “find the answers to some of the most complex questions as they establish themselves as experts in their fields.”

The DOE chose the four BNL recipients based on peer review by outside scientific experts. All eligible researchers had to have earned their PhDs within the previous 12 years and had to conduct research within the scope of the Office of Science’s eight major program areas.

In a two part series, TBR News Media will highlight the work of these four researchers. This week’s Power of 3 column features Elizabeth Brost and Derong Xu. Next week, TBR will highlight the work of Joanna Zajac and Esther Tsai.

Elizabeth ‘Liza’ Brost

Elizabeth Brost is one of four scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory selected by DOE’s Office of Science to receive significant funding through its Early Career Research Program. Photo courtesy of BNL

In work titled “Shining Light on the Higgs Self-Interaction,” Brost, who is an associate scientist, is studying properties of the Higgs Boson, which was a long sought after particle that helps explain why some particles have mass. The Standard Model of Particle Physics, which predicted the existence of the Higgs Boson, also suggests that the Higgs field can interact with itself. This interaction should produce pairs of Higgs Bosons at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland, where Brost works.

A significant challenge in Brost’s work is that the production of such pairs occurs 1,000 times less frequently than the production of single Higgs Bosons, which researchers discovered to considerable fanfare in 2012 after a 48-year search.

Brost is leading the effort to use machine learning algorithms to cherry pick collision data in real time. Since these events are so rare, “it’s very important that we are able to save promising collision events,” she explained in an email.

The LHC collides protons at a rate of 40 million times per second, but the facility only keeps about 100,000 of those.

Thus far, everything Brost has seen agrees with the Standard Model of Particle Physics predictions, but “that just means we have to work harder and develop new strategies to search for new physics,” she said.

Brost earned her undergraduate degree in physics and French from Grinnell College and her PhD in physics from the University of Oregon. When she learned she’d won this early career award, she “couldn’t believe it was real for quite some time,” she wrote. “The hardest part was keeping it a secret until the official announcement.

She explained that she was only allowed to tell a few select people at BNL and close family members about the distinction, who were also sworn to secrecy. 

The award will allow her to expand the scope of the work she’s doing and to hire additional staff.

As an experienced mentor, Brost recognizes that there is “a lot of pressure to work on whatever is the newest or coolest thing in order to stand out from a crowd” at a collaboration like ATLAS [an extensive particle detector experiment at the Large Hadron Collider] which involves over 3,000 people.” She urged researchers to work on the physics they find interesting and exciting.

Derong Xu

Derong Xu is one of four scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory selected by DOE’s Office of Science to receive significant funding through its Early Career Research Program. Photo courtesy of BNL

An Assistant Physicist, Xu is working to enhance the  efficiency of the Electron-Ion Collider, a marquee tool that BNL will start building next year and is expected to be operational in the 2030’s.

The EIC will collide beams of electrons and protons or other atomic nuclei. By reducing the beam size, or packing the same number of particles into a smaller space, the EIC can increase the likelihood of these collisions.

Specifically, Xu plans to flatten the beam, which has never been used in a hadron collider. He will explore ways to reduce the interactions between beams and superconducting magnets. He will pursue a combined approach using theoretical and experimental methods, which will affect the parameters for the future EIC.

Generating flat hadron beams in existing hadron machines remains “unexplored, making our project a pioneering effort dedicated to investigating methods for maintaining beam flatness,” Xu explained in an email.

In addition to leveraging flat iron beams, Xu is also considering ways to increase the beam intensity by injecting a greater number of particles into the accelerator, which would boost the collision rate. Such an approach, however, means more electromagnetic force between the beams, requiring additional effort to maintain beam flatness.

To explore these potential approaches and determine an optimal trade-off between strategies, his project will collaborate with leading experts in accelerator physics, conduct comprehensive simulations and investigate an array of techniques.

“Through pushing the boundaries of accelerator technology and exploring diverse construction and beam creation techniques, we aspire to unlock novel scientific frontiers and achieve groundbreaking discoveries in nuclear physics,” he explained.

Receiving the award filled Xu with “immense excitement and pride.” He and his wife called their parents, who are traditional farmers, in China. When he explained to them that the award is a substantial amount of money, they advised him to “try your best and not waste the money,” he shared.

At an early age, Xu showed a strong interest in math and physics. His parents rewarded him with snacks when he got high scores. 

“That was my first equation in my life: high scores = more snacks,” he joked.

To share the subatomic world with people outside his field, Xu often makes analogies. He compares the collision of an electron beam with a proton beam to shooting a flying ping-pong ball with a gun. The ping-pong ball’s size (which, in this case, is a collection of protons) resembles the diameter of a human hair. The collisions create scattered products that provide insights into the subatomic world.

By Daniel Dunaief

A problematic atmospheric greenhouse gases, methane comes from natural gas, agriculture, and swamps. 

John Mak

Recently, John E. Mak, a Professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University worked with an international group of scientists to demonstrate a process that removes methane from the atmosphere.

A mixture of dust from the Sahara and sea spray reacts with methane to form carbon monoxide and a small amount of hydrochloric acid.

In a recent paper published in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Mak, corresponding author Matthew Johnson, who is a Professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Copenhagen, and others showed how a novel process removes 5 percent, plus or minus 2 or 3 percent, of the methane from the atmosphere in specific areas.

“What we are showing is that some methane in the middle of the tropical Atlantic Ocean region may be removed” through this process, Mak said from the Gordon Research Conference on Atmospheric Chemistry in Sunday River, Maine.

The research validates a mechanism Mak had proposed in the late 1990’s, when he conducted studies funded by the National Science Foundation in Barbados. “When I first made the observations, I proposed that what we were seeing was a chlorine mediated removal of methane,” Mak explained.

At that time, he didn’t have the ability to make those measurements. The technology, however, has evolved over the years and researchers can now measure chlorine radical precursors such as Cl2 and other chlorine compounds.

Indeed, Maarten van Herpen, first author on the study and a member of Acacia Impact Innovation, approached Mak with a new theory and a new mechanism that he thought could explain Mak’s results from decades earlier.

“They were excited to hear that no one had solved the problem,” said Mak.

By working together through this international team, the group was able to take new measurements and utilize advances in their understanding of atmospheric processes.

‘New, but old’

Mak had conducted his studies towards the beginning of his time at Stony Brook University in the late 1990’s as a part of one of his first federally funded projects. 

“It’s a little unusual for people to make use of observations so far in the past,” said Mak. “It opens up a new, but old avenue of research.”

Mak, who is conducting studies in other areas including a recent project in New York to investigate air quality and air chemistry mechanisms specific to the greater New York City region, believes the research on this PNAS paper takes him almost full circle back to this earlier work.

“There’s a feeling of satisfaction that good measurements are useful for a longer period of time,” he said. 

In this study, Mak helped interpret some of the data his collaborators generated.

The reactions

The process of removing methane starts with sea spray, which is aerosolized by bubbles bursting at the contact point between the ocean and the air. The chlorine comes from that sea spray, while iron comes from the continental crust.

Saharan dust can traverse the globe, but scientists are not sure of the spatial extent of this process. They believe it could be throughout the tropical Atlantic, but it could be in other dust laden ocean regions in the Indian and Pacific Oceans as well.

That process creates what is described as a reactive chlorine species, which is on the hunt for a positively charged particle, such as one of the four hydrogen atoms attached to carbon in methane.

Once the chlorine removes a hydrogen, it creates a methyl group, or CH3, and an incredibly small amount of hydrochloric acid, or HCl, at about one part per quadrillion.

The acid, in fact, is so low that it doesn’t cause any acidification of the oceans. Ocean acidification primarily comes from the absorption of carbon dioxide gas, which reacts with seawater and eventually increases the amount of positively charged hydrogen atoms, decreasing the ocean’s pH.

Meanwhile in the atmosphere, the remaining methyl group is oxidized to carbon monoxide, which eventually becomes carbon dioxide. That is also a greenhouse gas, but is not as potent at trapping heat in the atmosphere as methane.

Now that the group has explored this process, Mak explained that the next step will involve proposing a field campaign in the tropical Atlantic with state of the art instruments.

Mak believes the journal PNAS likely found the subject matter compelling on a broader scale, particularly because this process affects weather and climate.

Outside work

When he’s not working, Mak enjoys boating and fishing. A native of Southern California, Mak is a commercial pilot, who also does some flying as a part of his research studies.

As for climate change, Mak suggested that the weather extremes from this year, which include record high temperatures in the ocean near the Florida Keys and high temperatures in areas in Arizona, are a part of a pattern that will continue.

“What we have been and will continue to observe are changes to the broad equilibrium of energy balance of the Earth ocean atmosphere system,” he explained. “There’s a lot of inertia in the system. But when you change the input by changing the forcing, you upset that equilibrium.” That, he explained, could alter the weather, which is generated as a response to differences in energy from one place to another.

Maurizio Del Poeta. File photo from SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

Maurizio Del Poeta is taking another approach to battling fungal infections that can be deadly, particularly for people who are immunocompromised.

Maurizio Del Poeta. Photo from SBU

A Distinguished Professor at Stony Brook University in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, Del Poeta has made progress in animal models of various fungal infections in working on treatments and vaccines.

After receiving an additional $3.8 million from the National Institutes of Health for five years, Del Poeta is expanding on some findings that may lead to a greater understanding of the mechanism that makes some fungal infections problematic.

The Stony Brook Distinguished Professor is studying “what makes people susceptible to fungal infections,” he said. “It’s something I’m really passionate about.”

Del Poeta explained that researchers and medical professionals often focus on the people who get sick. Understanding those people who are not developing an infection or battling against a fungus can provide insights into ways to understand what makes one population vulnerable or susceptible and another more resistant.

Expanding such an approach outside the realm of fungal infections could also provide key insights for a range of infections in the future.

Indeed, the awareness of specific signals for other infections could help protect specific populations, beyond those who had general categories like underlying medical conditions, who might be more vulnerable amid any kind of outbreak.

“It’s possible that the study we are doing now with fungi could stimulate interest” in other areas of infectious disease, Del Poeta said.

He suggested that this was “pioneering work” in terms of fungal infections. At this point, his lab has produced “strong preliminary data.”

An important drug treatment side effect as a signal

This investigation arises out of work Del Poeta had done to understand why some people with multiple sclerosis who took a specific drug, called fingolimid, developed fungal infections during their drug treatment.

Del Poeta observed that the drug inhibits a type of immunity that involves the movement of lymphocytes from organs into the bloodstream.

Fingolimid mimics a natural lipid, called a sphingolipid. Del Poeta showed that this sphingolipid is important to contain the fungus Cryptococcus neoformans in the lung. When its level decreases, the fungus can move from the lung to the brain.

Indeed, Fingolimid mimics sphingosin-1-phosphate (S1P) and binds to several S1P receptors.

Del Poeta believes that the pathway between S1P and its receptor regulates the immunity against Cryptococcus. Blocking a specific receptor is detrimental for the host and may lead to reactivation of the fungus.

Putting a team together

Nathália Fidelis Vieira de Sá. Photo by Futura Convites studio

Del Poeta has been working with Iwao Ojima, a Distinguished Professor and the Director of the Institute of Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery in the Department of Chemistry at Stony Brook, to create compounds that energize, instead of block, the target of fingolimid.

Del Poeta has recruited two scientists to join his lab in this effort, each of whom has educational experience in nursing.

Nathália Fidelis Vieira de Sá, who is a registered nurse at the Federal University of Minas Gerais and a chemistry technician at Funec- Contagem City, will join the lab as a technician in the second week of September.

Fidelis Vieira de Sá, who currently lives in her native Brazil, is an “expert on collecting and analyzing organs for mice,” explained Del Poeta in an email.

For her part, Fidelis Vieira de Sá is thrilled to join Del Poeta’s lab at Stony Brook. “I’m very excited,” she said in an email. She is eager to get started because the research is “of such great relevance to public health” and is occurring at such a “renowned institution.”

Fidelis Vieira de Sá believes this is a public health issue that could have a positive impact on people with immunodeficiency conditions who need effective treatment so they live a better, longer life. When she was a peritoneal dialysis nurse, she had a few patients who had fungal infections.

“This is very serious and challenging, detection is difficult, and the life expectancy of these patients drops dramatically with each episode of infection,” she explained. 

Fidelis Vieira de Sá, who has never lived outside Brazil, is eager for new experiences, including visiting Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, and the One World Trade Center Memorial.

As for the work, she hopes that, in the near future, Del Poeta will “be able to explain this mechanism deeply and to develop new drugs that will act on this receptor.”

Dr. Marinaldo Pacífico Cavalcanti Neto

Dr. Marinaldo Pacífico Cavalcanti Neto, who is an Assistant Professor at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, will be arriving at Stony Brook University on August 6. Dr. Neto earned his bachelor of science in nursing and has a PhD in biochemistry from the Medical School of Ribeirão Preto at the University of São Paulo.

Del Poeta described Dr. Neto as an “expert on animal handling and genotyping,”

Dr. Neto recognizes the burden of fungal infections around the world and hoped to work with someone with Del Poeta’s credentials and experience in immunology and infection.

Understanding how cells eliminate infection, how cells might have a lower capacity to control an infection, and looking for how cells respond to treatments such as fingolimid could be a “great strategy to understand why these are so susceptible,” he said.

While Dr. Neto’s background is in immunology, he hopes to learn more about molecular biology.

Unlike Fidelis Vieira de Sá, Dr. Neto, who will live in Centereach, has worked previously in the United States. He has experience at the National Institutes of Health and at the University of California at San Diego and has been attending Del Poeta’s lab meetings from a distance for about a month.

Dr. Neto, whose interest in science increased while he watched the TV show Beakman’s World while he was growing up, is eager to work in an area where he can apply his research.

He appreciates that his work may one day “be used in the generation of protocols in a clinic.

From left, graduate students Thomas Reilly and Hanxiao Wu with Weisen Shen. Wu and Shen are holding two of the 183 sensors they will place in the Antarctic. The team is shipping the sensors in the black container, which will travel through Port Hueneme, California and New Zealand before reaching the South Pole. Photo by Maeve McCarthy/ Angela Gruo

By Daniel Dunaief

While it’s easy to see and study materials in valleys or on the tops of bare mountains, it’s much more difficult to know what’s beneath 2.7 kilometers of ice. Turns out, that kind of question is much more than academic or hypothetical.

At the South Pole, glaciers sit on top of land that never sees the light of day, but that is relevant for the future of cities like Manhattan and Boston.

The solid land beneath glaciers has a strong effect on the movement of the ice sheet, which can impact the melting rate of the ice and sea level change.

Weisen Shen, Assistant Professor in the Department of Geosciences at Stony Brook University, recently received over $625,000 over the course of five years from the National Science Foundation to study the unexplored land beneath the East Antarctic Ice Sheet at the South Pole.

The subglacial water and hydrosystems, together with geology such as sediment or hard rocks, affect the dynamics and contribute to the movement speed of the ice sheet.

Once Shen provides a better understanding of the material beneath the ice, including glacial water, he can follow that up with other researchers to interpret the implications of ice sheet dynamics.

“We can predict better what’s the contribution of the Antarctic ice sheet to the sea level change” which will offer modelers a way to gauge the likely impact of global warming in future decades, he said.

Using seismic data

Starting this November, Shen and graduate students Siyuan Sui, Thomas Reilly and Hanxiao Wu will venture for two months to the South Pole with seismic monitors.

By placing 183 seismic nodes and installing an additional eight broad-band seismic stations, Shen and his team will quantify the seismic properties and, eventually, use them to infer the composition, density and temperature structure of the crust and the uppermost mantle.

The temperature when they place these monitors will be 10 to 30 degrees below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. They will need to do some digging as they deploy these sensors near the surface.

While the South Pole is believed to be geologically stable, signs of sub-glacial melting suggest the crust may bear a higher concentration of highly radioactive elements such as uranium, thorium and potassium.

Those natural elements “produce heat all the time,” said Shen. 

The process and analysis of seismic waves works in the same way it would for the study of a prism. Looking at the refraction of light that enters and leaves the prism from various angles can help researchers differentiate light with different frequencies, revealing clues about the structure and composition of the prism.

Earth materials, meanwhile will also cause a differentiation in the speed of surface waves according to their frequencies. The differentiation in speeds is called “dispersion,” which Shen and his team will use to quantify the seismic properties. The area has enough natural waves that Shen won’t need to generate any man-made energy waves.

“We are carefully monitoring how fast [the seismic energy] travels” to determine the temperature, density and rock type, Shen said.

The water beneath the glacier can act like a slip ’n slide, making it easier for the glacier to move.

Some large lakes in Antarctica, such as Lake Vostok, have been mapped. The depth and contours of sub glacier lakes near the South Pole, however, are still unclear.

“We have to utilize a lot of different methods to study that,” said Shen.

The Stony Brook researcher will collaborate with colleagues to combine his seismic results with other types of data, such as radar, to cross examine the sub ice structures.

The work will involve three years of gathering field data and two years of analysis.

Educational component

In addition to gathering and analyzing data, Shen has added a significant educational component to the study. For the first time, he is bringing along Brentwood High School science teacher Dr. Rebecca Grella, A PhD graduate from Stony Brook University’s Ecology and Evolutionary Biology program, Grella will provide lectures and classes remotely from the field.

In addition to bringing a high school teacher, Shen will fund graduate students at Stony Brook who can help Brentwood students prepare for the Earth Science regents exam.

Shen is working with Kamazima Lwiza, Associate Professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook, to bring Earth Science, including polar science, to schools in New York City and on Long Island with a bus equipped with mobile labs.

Lwiza, who is the Principal Investigator on the EarthBUS project, will work together with Shen to build a course module that includes a 45-minute lecture and exhibition.

Shen feels that the project will help him prepare to better educate students in graduate school, college, and K-12 in the community.

He feels a strong need to help K-12 students in particular with Earth Science.

As for students outside Brentwood, Shen said he has an open door policy in which the lab is receptive to high school and undergraduate students who would like to participate in his research all year long.

Once he collects the first batch of data from the upcoming trip to the South Pole, he will have to do considerable data processing, analysis and interpretation.

While Shen is looking forward to the upcoming field season, he knows he will miss time in his Stony Brook home with his wife Jiayi Xie, and his four-and-a-half year old son Luke and his 1.5 year old son Kai.

“It’s a huge burden for my wife,” Shen said, whose wife is working full time. When he returns, he “hopes to make it up to them.”

Shen believes, however, that the work he is doing is important in the bigger picture, including for his children.

Record high temperatures, which are occurring in the United States and elsewhere this summer, will “definitely have an impact on the dynamics of the ice sheet.” At the same time, the Antarctic ice sheet is at a record low.

“This is concerning and makes [it] more urgent to finish our work there,” he added.

Timothy Glotch. Photo from SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

It’s almost easier to figure out what makes Earth unique among the planets than it is to list the ways humans are unique among Earth’s inhabitants. Earth is, after all, the only blue planet, filled with water from which humans, and so many other creatures, evolved. It is also the only planet on which seven enormous plates deep beneath the surface move. These unique features have led scientists to expect certain features that give Earth its unique geological footprint.

Not so fast.

According to a recent paper in the high-profile journal Nature in which Timothy Glotch, Professor of Geosciences at Stony Brook University, was a co-author, the moon has a vast swath of over 50 kilometers of granite in the Compton-Belkovich Volcanic complex, which is on the its far side. 

Usually formed from plate tectonics of water bearing magma, the presence of this granite, which appears in greater quantities around the Earth, is something of a planetary mystery.

“Granites are extremely rare outside of Earth,” said Glotch. “Its formation process must be so different, which makes them interesting.”

The researchers on this paper, including lead author Matt Siegler, a scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, suggest a range of possibilities for how the granite formed. Over three billion years ago, the moon, which, like the Earth, is over 4.5 billion years old, had lava that erupted to form the Compton-Belkovich Volcanic Complex, or CBVC. Researchers think most volcanic activity on the moon ended about two billion years ago.

This illustration shows the Compton-Belkovich Volcanic Complex (CBVC) on the Moon’s far side and the boxed area indicated a large granite zone, which could not be picked up by topography. Image courtesy of Matthew Siegler/Planetary Science Institute/Nature

The magma formed as a result of a melting of a small portion of the lunar mantle. Melting could have been caused by the addition of water or the movement of hot material closer to the surface. Scientists are not completely sure about the current nature of the lunar core.

As for the granite, it might have come from fractionation, in which particles separate during a transition from different phases, in this case from a hot liquid like magma to a solid.

Additionally, the presence of granite could suggest that some parts of the moon had more water than others.

“There are other geochemical arguments you could make,” Glotch said. “What we really need are to find more samples and bring them back to Earth.”

The analysis of granite on the moon came from numerous distant sources, as well as from the study of a few samples returned during the Apollo space missions. The last time people set foot on the moon was on the Apollo 17 mission, which returned to Earth on Dec. 19, 1972.

A 10-year process

The search and study of granite on the moon involved a collaboration between Glotch and Siegler, who have known each other for about 18 years. The two met when Glotch was a postdoctoral researcher and Siegler was a graduate student.

In 2010, Glotch published a paper in the journal Science in which he identified areas that have compositions that are similar to granite, or rhyolite, which is the volcanic equivalent.

Since that paper, Glotch and others have published several research studies that have further characterized granitic or rhyolitic materials, but those are “still relatively rare,” Glotch said.

Long distance monitoring

Led by Siegler and his postdoctoral researcher Jiangqing Feng, the team gathered information from several sources, including microwave data from Chinese satellites, which are sensitive to the heat flow under the surface.

The team also used the Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment, which is a NASA instrument on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, that measures surface temperatures.

Part of the discovery of the silicic sites on the moon comes from the identification of the element thorium, which the Lunar Prospector Gamma Ray Spectrometer found. Similar to uranium or plutonium, thorium is radioactive and decays.

Another piece of data came from the Grail mission, which measures the lunar gravity field.

Glotch suggested that the study involved a “daisy chain of observations.” In his role, he tried to identify sites that might be rich in granite, while Siegler applied new data to these areas to learn more about the underground volcanic plumbing.

In addition to doing long distance monitoring, Glotch engages in long distance recreational activities. The Stony Brook professor is preparing for a November 11th run in Maryland that will cover 50 miles. He expects it will take him about 10 or 11 hours to complete. 

Looking at other planets

By analyzing granite on the moon, which could reveal its early history, geologists might also turn that same analysis back to the Earth.

“Can we use the results of this study to take a more nuanced view of granite formations on Earth or other bodies in our solar system?” Glotch asked. “We can learn a lot, not just about the moon, but about planetary evolution.”

NASA is planning a DAVINCI+ mission to Venus in the coming decade, while a European mission is also scheduled for Venus. Some researchers have suggested that Venusian terrains, which are referred to as Tesserae, might be granitic.

“If Venus has continent-like structures made of granite, that’s interesting, because Venus does not appear to have plate tectonics either,” Glotch said.

Closer to Earth, some upcoming missions may offer a better understanding of lunar granite. The first is a small orbiter called Lunar Trailblazer that will have sensitive remote instruments. The second is a part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, which will include a small lander and rover that will land on the Gruithuisen Domes.

Conference in Italy

In the shorter term, Glotch and Siegler plan to attend the 10th Hutton Symposium in Italy.

Glotch is eager to discuss the work with researchers who are not planetary scientists to “get their take on this.”

He is excited by the recent planetary decadal survey, which highlighted several priorities, which include lunar research.

In his opinion, Glotch believes the survey includes more high priority lunary science than in previous such surveys.

Countries including India, China, Israel and Japan have a renewed national interest in the moon. South Korea currently has an orbiter at the moon.

All this attention makes the moon a “really good target for U.S. science to maintain our leadership position, as well as providing a tool for geopolitical cooperation,” Glotch added.

Clare Flynn conducts a census count of gentoo penguins at Neko Harbour in Antarctica in January 2023.

By Daniel Dunaief

Humans may have nothing on penguins when it comes to viral marketing. Almost immediately after the Covid pandemic shut down tourism in parts of Antarctica, some gentoo penguins likely altered their choice of nesting sites.

Clare Flynn with her award- winning poster at the Pacific Seabird Group annual meeting in Feb. 2023. Photo by William Kennerly

As if the penguins got an avian email alert indicating that tourists eager to send a post card from the only post office in Antarctica weren’t coming, these flightless birds quickly divvied up desirable real estate, which, for a gentoo penguin, means bare rock on which they make nests out of pebbles.

“Antarctica is seen as a mostly pristine place where humans have very little impact,” said Clare Flynn, a PhD student in the lab of Heather Lynch, the Institute for Advanced Computational Sciences Endowed Chair for Ecology & Evolution at Stony Brook University.

Flynn used a combination of ground counts from researchers and drone footage to tally the nests during the Covid years. Based on these numbers, she concluded that tourism has been “depressing the population sizes at Port Lockroy” and nearby Jougla Point.

The study suggests that even limited human visits to remote locations can alter decisions by wildlife, affecting the kind of reproductive choices that could, over time and with greater numbers of people coming, affect population sizes.

Pomona College Biology Professor Nina Karnovsky, who is an undergraduate thesis advisor and mentor for Flynn but didn’t participate in this research, suggested that this kind of analysis highlights the need for greater awareness of human influence.

“It shows that people even visiting the colony can have impacts,” Karnovsky said. “Tourism is a double-edged sword. You want people to experience Antarctica and see how precious life there is.” At the same time, researchers don’t want any such visits to have negative side effects.

Nest numbers

The number of penguin nests in Port Lockroy surged to 978 in the 2021/ 2022 breeding season. That is considerably higher than the 535 nesting pairs in the 2018/2019 season, according to data compiled and analyzed by Flynn. What’s more, when the post office returned to normal operations, bringing back tourists in 2022 and 2023, the nest number at Port Lockroy returned to its earlier levels, at 529.

The overall number of nesting gentoo penguins didn’t change dramatically in a cluster of gentoo penguin colonies around Wiencke Island during Covid, as many of these birds likely shifted their breeding locations from nearby sites that don’t have as much human activity, such as Damoy Point.

“It’s shocking how quickly [the changed nesting sites] happened,” Flynn said, occurring over the course of two years, not generations. “Tourism is just ramping up when the penguins are choosing nesting sites.” The shifting nest sites accounted for most of the increase in Port Lockroy and Jougla Point. Some of the gentoo penguins who may have skipped a breeding season, however, also might have decided to give it a go amid the pandemic closure.

Post office attraction

Flynn and Lynch have a few theories about what caused these nesting patterns.

Flynn suggested the nesting sites at Damoy Point and Dorian Beacon, where the number of nesting colonies declined during the lockdown, may have been close to carrying capacity, which means that prospective penguin parents found the equivalent of No Vacancy signs when they searched for places to build their nest.

Sites near the post office were not at carrying capacity prior to the pandemic. From visual inspection of the drone images, these sites had available bare rock, which is a limiting factor for gentoo penguins.

Flynn believes that pedestrian traffic may have dissuaded penguins from creating nests.

Human disturbance

Boat traffic may also be dissuading gentoo penguins from nesting. While there is a limit to the number of people who can land at any given time, people often cruise around the area in zodiacs, which increases the noise and could create a physical barrier for swimming penguins.

Last month, Lynch brought Flynn’s analysis of nesting numbers during the pandemic to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in Finland. Policy makers are considering implementing a no-wake zone in Port Lockroy harbor as a first step to reduce disturbance.

While the number of nests typically varies by year at these sites, the dramatic increases and decreases lie outside that normal range, Flynn said. She called the numbers “eye popping,” as Port Lockroy had the largest population size ever recorded in 2021/ 2022 and Jougla Point saw the largest population size in 2021/2022 in over 20 years. Damoy Point and Dorian Beacon, by contrast, had huge drops.

Understanding the effects of tourism is becoming increasingly important, particularly as the appetite for travel to this area increases.

While gentoo penguins are doing well overall, an increase in the kind of tourism that exists at Port Lockroy could affect their breeding success.

“We need to understand how increasing levels of tourism affect these species so that the effects in conjunction with climate change effects don’t cause a disaster” for several penguin species, Flynn added.

Rewarding pivot

Flynn hadn’t intended to study the effects of Covid on the gentoo penguin. Instead, she was using drone images to identify whether penguins nested in the same place from one year to the next.

While Flynn was annotating images from 2018 through 2021, Lynch noticed the changes at Port Lockroy during those years. After Flynn took a deeper dive into the numbers, she made a new poster just one week before presenting her results at the Pacific Seabird Group annual meeting in February.

The “exhausting” effort, as Flynn put it, paid off, as she won runner up honors for best PhD poster at the conference. She has since sent the results out to Biological Conservation for publication.

Ecology spark

Flynn grew up near Baltimore and attended Pomona College, where she anticipated exploring her interest in math. She switched her focus to ecology. An ecology and evolution class she took with Karnovsky cemented her decision and brought her into the world of seabirds.

Karnovsky recalled how Flynn “loved collecting data,” which, in Southern California is “not a walk in the park, literally.” Flynn had to contend with cactus and poison ivy on an owl project.

Karnovsky believes her former student could “go on and do great things in this field.”

At one point about five years ago, Karnovsky told Flynn she might “go to Antarctica one day to study penguins,” Flynn recalled. At the time, Flynn thought the idea sounded “crazy.”

Karnovsky’s suggestion about Flynn’s future was less crazy than it was prescient.

When she’s not following her research calling, Flynn enjoys following recipes. She makes baked goods and is particularly fond of a blueberry muffin recipe she found in Bon Appétit magazine. Instead of putting in too many blueberry, which sink in the muffin, she makes a blueberry compote and sprinkles lemon zest sugar on top.

As for her future, Flynn hasn’t decided on a post PhD plan. This could include becoming a professor or pursuing a data science career.

“I could see her becoming a really wonderful professor because she also sees mentoring as really important,” Karnovsky said.

By Daniel Dunaief

This is part 2 of a two-part series.

Cancers not only compromise human health, but they can also suppress the body’s immune response. A little studied small protein called cystatin C, which is secreted by numerous cells, may render the immune system less effective in its response to tumors.

Sam Kleeman, a PhD student in Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Assistant Professor Tobias Janowitz’s lab, recently published results in the journal Cell Genomics that demonstrate a link between elevated levels of this protease inhibitor, the suppression of the immune system, and the development of cancer.

Kleeman was able to demonstrate a potential role “Cystatin C might play in damping down the immune response to tumors,” he said.

Cystatin C is a known cysteine protease inhibitor, but the biological and organ-level relevance of this has not been characterized in detail. This protein could be one of many mechanisms by which glucocorticoids can reduce the effectiveness of the immune system.

Cystatin C could drive the progression of the disease, which could explain why Kleeman has found evidence that higher levels coordinate with worse outcomes.

Starting with the data

Pursuing an interest in data- driven research, Kleeman, who has a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery from New College at the University of Oxford, searched the UK Biobank, which provides health data for numerous people in the United Kingdom. 

In this Biobank, Kleeman, who joined Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in August of 2020, found that cystatin C was the best prognostic indicator of cancer deaths.

“I was a little surprised by this,” Kleeman said as he had heard of cystatin C as a marker of kidney function, but was not aware of any association with cancer mortality. Some studies had found evidence for this previously, but those were in small cohorts and were poorly understood, he explained.

A healthy kidney clears most proteins quickly, pumping it out into urine. A kidney that’s not functioning optimally, however, allows it to accumulate.

In his research, Kleeman removed cystatin C selectively in cancer cells, causing the tumors to grow more slowly. The main changes in the architecture of the tumor was that it reduced the frequency of macrophages with expression of a protein called Trem2. While the exact mechanism is not known, it’s likely that immune control of the tumor increases without cystatin C.

Kleeman also demonstrated a similar effect on the connection between levels of Covid-19 and mortality in a paper published in iScience.

The biological mechanism explaining the correlation is nuanced. Patients with higher levels of glucocorticoids can be associated with poor outcomes. It is not a simple relationship, he said, which makes causality difficult to assess.

Kleeman believes cystatin C secretion in response to glucocorticoids has context dependency. Not all cells posses inducible cystatin C secretion.

The research primarily found that only macrophages and cancer cells can secrete cystatin C in response to glucocorticoids.

He describes a “two hit” model, by which glucocorticoids plus an inflammatory stimulus recruit macrophages. The model applies to all inflammatory stores, but is co-opted in the case of cancer.

At this point, drugs aren’t available to inhibit or reduce cystatin C. Instead, Kleeman suggested that a viable research target route might involve creating a specific antibody.

Some researchers have created so-called knockout mice, which don’t have this protein. These mice can survive without it, although eliminating all cystatin C creates other problems.

Kleeman speculated that the protein could play a role in preventing significant immune reaction against sperm.

Indeed, this protein is secreted at high levels in the testes. Males without it have lower sperm function and production.

Kleeman hopes this work acts as a starting point to understand the mechanism better by which glucocorticoids modify immune response to cancer, and to investigate cystatin C as a possible therapeutic target.

Long standing partnership

As an undergraduate, Kleeman took a class with Janowitz, which kicked off a mentorship that now spans two continents.

Kleeman appreciates the comfort level Janowitz has in working on higher-risk, higher-reward topics or on ideas that haven’t already attracted considerable attention from other scientists.

“There’s a tendency in science towards group think,” Kleeman said. In the history of medicine and science, many widely accepted theories turn out to be wrong. “Patients undoubtedly benefit from a diversity of thought in science and medicine,” he explained.

When he completes his PhD, Kleeman said it would be a “dream to have a dual appointment” in which he could conduct research and work in the clinic with patients. To get there, he knows he needs to establish his research profile that includes a genuine track record of achievement while demonstrating that he can function as a reliable and effective clinician.

Kleeman’s thesis research lies outside the field of cystatin C, which started out as a curiosity and developed into the recent publication. He wanted to “understand what UK Biobank could teach us about cancer patients.” With Janowitz and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Professor Hiro Furukawa, Kleeman is working to understand how a specific type of cancer could cause an auto-immune disease.

A resident of Forest Hills, Kleeman lives about 45 minutes from the lab. Outside of work, he enjoys visiting national parks. He has visited 10 so far, including Yosemite National Park, Zion and Rocky Mountain National Park. 

Professionally, Kleeman feels it is a privilege to be a PhD student. He appreciates that he can explore his interests without too many restrictions and is eager to make the most of the opportunity.