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Science

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By Elof Axel Carlson

Elof Axel Carlson

Science is a way of enlarging our knowledge about the  universe. It is not the only way to do so.  We can experience the universe through our travels, our observation of the changing seasons, our feelings of awe at a glorious sunset, or the joy of seeing a rainbow form after a passing rain shower. 

We can also experience a feeling that many call spiritual, through meditation, prayers, or reverential feelings. All societies experience these different ways of encountering the diversity of the universe and how to classify the world we experience around us. What sets science apart is its use of reason and tools to explore the universe.

Experimental science was formalized during the renaissance especially in Italy where Galileo and his students did experiments to work out the first laws of physics using inclined planes and quantitative relations to show a mathematical measure of speed and acceleration. Galileo also added the use of the telescope to explore the heavenly bodies and showed Venus had phases like the moon, the moon had craters and mountain ranges, Jupiter had 4 moons whose orbits he and his students worked out, and the sun had sunspots whose migrations allowed him to show the sun rotates on an axis.

That is not knowledge one gets from revelation or looking for bible codes in the Old Testament verses. It led to a dualism with Descartes and other philosophers seeing the universe as containing two realms – the material universe accessible to science through reason and experimentation and the spiritual or supernatural world that was accessible by revelation and scriptural interpretations of theologians. The Renaissance was also contentious, and Protestants and Catholics fought over who should interpret the Bible.

The relation between the world interpreted by science and the world interpreted by the supernatural has been an uneasy one ever since the Renaissance. Many people have no problem balancing the two ways to experience their lives. Other feel uncomfortable with the supernatural or uncomfortable with the scientific outlook expressed as atheism agnosticism, humanism, or scientism.

I am a scientist, and in that role I avoid explanations invoking the supernatural. I describe what is accessible through observation, experimentation, and the tools of science to investigate what is complex and render it interpretable through my studies. But I am also a human being who enjoys listening to music, going to museums to see great artworks and reading wonderful books of fiction and human imagination.

Science enlarged the universe I can live in and made possible the long life I have lived.  Some people, however, have a more ambivalent relation to science. They see it as destructive to their spiritual beliefs. They see it as destroyer of their children’s faith. They see it as sterile of emotions and human feelings. They see it as a rival that deprives them of the total freedom of the will to do what they want when they want. 

We see this in the  responses to the  advice offered by the nation’s epidemiologists and microbiologists who have studied infectious disease. Germs have no ideology. They have hosts. Those hosts can include you or me.

My response to a contagious disease is to follow what science recommends. I get a flu shot each year. I was immunized in my youth against smallpox, polio, and whooping cough. I had the measles and got an autoimmunity from that as was the case for mumps during the Depression years I grew up.

I am puzzled that adults can take offense at being told to  wear a facial mask to prevent spraying their germs in the streets and rooms they occupy as well as serving as a protection from those germs exhaled from our mouths and noses.

I am puzzled that people belittle scientists who measure the oceans’ temperatures and the study of the melting of glaciers around the polar regions and who keep careful records showing increases of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and a rising temperature of the atmosphere and a rising sea level and more numerous and severe climate changes around the world. The evidence is overwhelming that it is caused by a fossil fuel carbon-based civilization and that it needs regulation through international treaties.

But those who ignore or reject science do not offer an alternative to changing our habits of how we live. What is it besides “wishful thinking” or denial that they offer in response? I am not advocating that science always has good outcomes. Science, like all human activity, has to be monitored, assessed and regulated. Pollution of the land, air and waters that are essential  for our lives needs regulation. Science often lends its help to the construction of weapons of mass destruction which is just rationalized murder of the innocent who are embedded in the guilty we designate as the enemy.

In a democracy it is our obligation to debate the uses and abuses of science as well as the uses and abuses of cultural beliefs and political ideologies. It is false to believe that society and nature are always self-correcting without human involvement in how we respond to the  threats often of our own making.

Elof Axel Carlson is a distinguished teaching professor emeritus in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at Stony Brook University.

DNALC Assistant Director Amanda McBrien teaches a live session. Photo by Chun-hua Yang, DNALC

By Daniel Dunaief

Two letters defined the DNA Learning Center at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory over the last several months: re, as in rethink, reimagine, reinvent, recreate, and redevelop. They also start the word reagent, which are chemicals involved in experiments.

The 32-year-old Learning Center, which teaches students from fifth grade through undergraduates, as well as teachers from elementary school to college faculty, shared lessons and information from a distance.

At the Learning Center, students typically benefit from equipment they may not have in their schools. That has also extended to summer camps. “Our camps are built on this experiential learning,” said Amanda McBrien, an Assistant Director at the Learning Center.

DNALC Educator Dr. Cristina Fernandez-Marco, teaches a Genome Science Virtual Class. Photo by Sue Lauter, DNALC

While that part of the teaching experience is missing, the center adapted to the remote model, shifting to a video based lessons and demonstrations. Indeed, campers this year could choose between a live-streamed and an on-demand versions.

Dave Micklos, the founder of the Learning Center, was pleased with his staff’s all-out response to the crisis.

“The volume of new videos that we posted on YouTube was more than any other science center or natural history museum that we looked up,” Micklos said. “It takes a lot of effort to post content if you’re doing it in a rigorous way.” During the first few months of the lockdown, the Learning Center was posting about three or four new videos each day, with most of them produced from staff members’ homes.

As for the camps, the Learning Center sent reagents, which are safe and easy to use, to the homes of students, who performed labs alongside instructors. In some camps, students isolated DNA from their own cells, plant or animal cells and returned the genetic samples to the lab. They can watch the processing use the DNA data for explorations of biodiversity, ancestry and detecting genetically modified organisms.

The Learning Center has been running six different labs this summer.

The virtual camps allowed the Learning Center to find a “silver lining from a bad situation” in which students couldn’t come to the site, McBrien said. The Learning Center developed hands-on programs that they sent throughout the country.

McBrien said the instructors watched each other’s live videos, often providing support and positive feedback. Some people even watched from much greater distances. “We had a few regulars who were hysterical,” McBrien said. “One guy from Germany, his name is Frank, he was in all the chats. He loved everything we did” and encouraged the teachers to add more scientific lessons for adults.

McBrien praised the team who helped “redevelop a few protocols” so high-level camps could enable students to interact with instructors from home.

A DNA Barcoding Virtual Camp featuring DNA Learning Center Educator Dr. Sharon Pepenella, with her virtual class. Over Pepenella’s shoulder is a picture of Nobel Prize winners Francis Crick and James Watson. Photo by Sue Lauter, DNALC.

Using the right camera angles and the equipment at the lab, the instructors could demonstrate techniques and explain concepts in the same way they would in a live classroom setting. To keep the interest of the campers, instructors added polls, quizzes and contests. Some classes included leader boards, in which students could see who answered the most questions correctly.

This summer, Micklos and Bruce Nash, who is an Assistant Director at the Learning Center, are running a citizen science project, in which teams from around the country are trying to identify ants genetically throughout the United States.

Using a small kit, one reagent and no additional equipment, contributing members of the public, whom the Learning Center dubs “Citizen Scientists,” are isolating DNA from about 500 of the 800 to 900 species of ants.

In one of the higher level classes called metabarcoding or environmental DNA research, teachers collected microbes in a sample swabbed from their nose, their knees, tap water, and water collected from lakes.

The Learning Center supports this effort for high school research through Barcode Long Island, which is a partnership with the Hudson River Park to study fish in the Hudson. High school interns and the public help with sampling and molecular biology.

“Much like barcoding, we aim to democratize metabarcoding,” Nash explained in an email. A metabarcoding workshop that ended recently had participants in Nigeria, Canada, Antigua and distant parts of the United States, with applicants from Asia.

After teaching college faculty on bar coding, Micklos surveyed the teachers to gauge their preference for future courses, assuming in-person meetings will be possible before too long.

When asked if they would like in-person instruction only, a hybrid model, or classes that are exclusively virtual, none of the teachers preferred to have the course exclusively in person. “People are beginning to realize it is more time efficient to do things virtually,” Micklos said.

Nash added that the preference for remote learning predated the pandemic.

Micklos appreciates the Learning Center’s educational contribution. “To pull these things off with basically people talking to each other via computer, to me, is pretty amazing,” he said.

Around four out of 10 students who enter college who have an interest in pursuing careers in science continue on their scientific path. That number, however, increases to six out of 10, when the students have a compelling lab class during their freshman year, Micklos said.

Lab efforts such as at the Learning Center may help steady those numbers, particularly during the disruption caused by the pandemic.

The longer-term goal at the Learning Center, Micklos said, is to democratize molecular biology with educational programs that can be done in the Congo, the Amazon or in other areas.

As for the fall, the leadership at the center plans to remain nimble.

The Learning Center is planning Virtual Lab field trips and will also continue to offer “Endless Summer” camp programs for kids and parents looking for science enrichment.

The Center also hopes to send instructors for in-person demonstrations at schools, where they can host small groups of student on site.

“We are supporting as many people as possible through our grant-funded programs and our (virtual) versions of camps and field trips,” Nash said. “These will be adapted to support schools and others to progressively improve them through the fall, with the hope of reaching all those we would normally reach.”

Kahille Dorsinvil. Photo courtesy of BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

The show must go on, even in science.

After 70 years of bringing residents into their high tech facility to see some of the cutting-edge technology for themselves and to interact with the scientists from around the world who ask questions about the nature of matter, the universe, energy, weather and myriad other questions, Brookhaven National Laboratory plans to continue the tradition of Summer Sundays, albeit virtually.

Starting this Sunday, Aug. 16, with a virtual explanation video and question and answer session with several scientists, the Department of Energy laboratory will welcome those curious about their labs back, albeit virtually. The first session will begin with a video about the National Synchrotron Lightsource II, a facility that cost close to $1 billion to construct and that has numerous beamlines that enable researchers to see everything from the molecules of a battery in action to cutting edge interactions in biochemistry.

This week’s session, which will run from 3:30 to 5 p.m. will be available on BNL’s YouTube channel. Participants who would like to ask questions during the session can submit them in writing through the lab’s social media accounts or by sending an email to [email protected] A moderator will direct questions to a panel. The other programs are on August 23rd for the Center for Functional Nanomaterials and August 30th for the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider.

“Summer Sundays are a large public event and clearly that’s not something anyone is doing right now,” said Kahille Dorsinvil, Principal Stakeholder Relations Specialist and Summer Sundays Coordinator at BNL, who has been working at BNL for 14 years. “People probably thought they’d see us in 2021, [but] we’re still doing science and we’re still trying to share what we’re doing.”

The virtual event has the advantage of allowing the lab to serve as a host for a much larger group of people, who aren’t limited by seats or by social distancing rules. “We tried to make it so there was no limit to who could watch or participate with us online,” explained Dorsinvil.

Participants will watch a short video tour and will then have an opportunity to interact with panelists. The videos will include footage shot from numerous angles.

The participants during a typical in-person Summer Sundays event range across the age spectrum, as BNL promotes the effort as a family event.

Summer Sundays appeal to residents who have already attended similar events in prior years. Indeed, when the lab asks visitors if this is their first time, about half have been to the site before. “Some are our best friends come every year,” Dorsinvil said.

Dorsinvil grew up on Long Island, visiting the lab when she was in ninth grade at Newfield High School in Selden. Through the program, and apprenticeship program, which currently exists as STEM prep for rising tenth graders, she focused on a different science topic each week, including basic chemistry and the environment.

Dorsinvil was already interested in science, but visiting BNL “made a difference in how I continued” in the field, she said.

Sleep researchers say students who get even 30 minutes more sleep a night will see huge effects on overall performance. Stock photo

By Kyle Barr and Rita J. Egan

Come September, middle and high school students across the North Shore will wake up to the harsh sound of alarms, sometimes hours before the sun will rise.

Some will wake up late, and rush in and out of the shower, sometimes not having time to eat before they make it to the bus stop, often in the dark where the cicadas continue to buzz and the crickets chirp.

Port Jefferson high schoolers will shuffle through the front doors before 7:20 a.m. Students at Ward Melville High School will hear the first bell at 7:05, while Comsewogue students will be in their seats at 7:10.

Some scientists across the North Shore have said that needs to change.

The science

Brendan Duffy has worked in St. Charles Hospital’s Sleep Disorders Center for nearly a decade, coming out of working at Stony Brook University as a sleep technician. As he worked in the field, he started seeing significant connections between the effectiveness of individuals during the day and how much sleep they got the night before. For teens, he said, the importance is all the greater. Sleep, he said, has a direct impact on risk-taking versus making smart choices, potential drug use, obesity and depression.

“The science is irrefutable,” he said. “Basically, anything you do, whether it’s mentally or physically — it doesn’t directly cause [these harmful decisions], but there’s connections and links.”

While some parents would simply tell their kids to get off their phone or computer and go to bed, scientists have said the bodies of young people, specifically teenagers, have internal clocks that are essentially set two hours back. Even if a young person tries to fall asleep at 9 p.m., he or she will struggle to slumber. Duffy said scientists call it the delayed sleep phase, and it directly affects the timing of the body’s melatonin production.

During sleep, the body enters what’s called “recovery processes,” which will regulate certain hormones in the brain and effectively flush all waste products from daily brain activity. Without enough sleep, these processes do not have time to work.

“The science is irrefutable.”

— Brendan Duffy

That is not to mention rapid eye movement sleep. REM sleep is a period during the night where heart rate and breathing quickens, and dreams become more intense. Lauren Hale, a sleep researcher and professor of preventive medicine at Stony Brook University, called this period critical to sleep. The longest period of REM happens in the latest part of the sleep cycle, the one deprived by waking up early. 

“For decades, scientists have known young people are sleep deprived,” she said. “It’s not that they can get by on six or seven hours of sleep … teenagers are the most at risk of not getting the sleep they need.”

Of course, it is not to say modern technology has not affected young people. Duffy said phones and computers have meant the brain is never given time to rest. Even in downtime, minds are constantly active, whether it’s playing video games or simply scrolling through Facebook.

“They’re not given a break,” Duffy said. “Their brains are constantly processing, processing, processing.”

Sleep and sports

“I looked at all the school athletic programs that have been decimated by changing their start times, and I couldn’t find anything,” Duffy added. “It’s hard for athletes to perform or recover if they’re not sleeping well at the high school level.”

In research, college football teams looked at which kids were likely to be injured, and those who received less than eight hours of sleep were 70 percent more likely to be injured, according to Duffy.

That research led him to find Start School Later, a nonprofit national advocacy group to change the minimum school start time to 8:30 a.m., at a minimum. Duffy communicated with the nonprofit to provide data on the effect lack of sleep has on players. He has become its athletic liaison.

He points to professional sports teams, many of which have sleep professionals whose jobs are to set sleep schedules for their players and help reach peak effectiveness.

History of sleep and schools

Dr. Max Van Gilder is a retired pediatrician and coordinator for the New York branch of Start School Later. He said that while most schools traditionally started at 9 a.m. for most of the 20th century, the move toward earlier start times was relatively recent, only beginning around 1975 with busing consolidation. Schools started doing multiple bus runs for different grade levels, and high school students would be the first ones on these routes.

For decades, the early start became more and more established. Start School Later was created little more than a decade ago, but it’s only recently that some states have started to try later times.

In 2016, Seattle passed a law moving start times from 7:50 to 8:45 a.m. A study of the effects of that change showed students got an average of 34 more minutes of sleep a day or several hours over the course of the week. It also showed an improvement in grades and a reduction in tardiness. The study gave examples that in some classes average grades were up 4.5 points more than previous classes at the earlier start times.

“We need to work with the superintendents.”

— Max Von Gilder

In California, a bill that would have moved minimum start times to 8:30 a.m. was supported by both houses of the state Legislature before being vetoed by the governor last year. A similar bill is currently going through the legislative process again. Other states like Virginia and New Jersey have started to experiment with later start times.

On Long Island, very few districts have made significant increases in start times. Van Gilder said two-thirds of the high schools in New York state (excluding NYC) start before 8 a.m., with an average start time around 7:45. Only 2 percent of high schools start after the recommended time of 8:30, according to him.

The main difficulty of encouraging later start times is due to districts being so largely independent from both the state and each other. While this gives each district particular freedoms, it also means cooperation is that much harder. A district that changes start times would have to renegotiate with bus companies and find ways to navigate scheduling sports games between schools with different start times.

“The state constitution makes it very difficult for the State of New York to pass a law to say when you can start,” Van Gilder said. “We need to work with the superintendents.”

However, proponents of late start said the benefits easily outweigh the negatives.

“There are ways around it and, to me, this is a strong evidence base for opportunity to improve adolescent medical health, physical health, academic outcomes, safer driving — there is such a positive range of outcomes,” said Hale of SBU.

Parents working together

In the Three Village Central School District, more than two dozen parents filled a meeting room in Emma S. Clark Memorial Library Aug. 23. Barbara Rosati, whose daughter is an eighth-grader in P.J. Gelinas Junior High School, organized the meeting to discuss the benefits of teenagers starting school later in the day.

Rosati, a research assistant professor at SBU’s Renaissance School of Medicine in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics, said during conversations with Van Gilder she discovered there are only four high schools in New York that begin school as early or earlier than Ward Melville’s 7:05 start time. Because of their internal clocks, she described the teenagers as constantly being jet lagged.

“Older kids — adolescents, high schoolers, junior high school students — for them it’s much more difficult to get up early in the morning, and this has a physiological
basis,” Rosati said.

The goal of the Aug. 23 meeting was to go over studies, create an action plan and then put that plan into motion. The professor pointed toward the studies that show teenagers who are sleep deprived can be more susceptible to mood swings and drowsiness, and it can affect academic and athletic performance as well as cause long-term health problems such as anxiety, diabetes, eating disorders and cardiovascular problems.

“We’re spending a lot of money in this district to make our schools better and improve their performance, and then we undermine the kids with things like sleep deprivation,” Rosati said. “We undermine not only their health but academic performance.”

“We’re doing this because we care about our children’s mental health and academic achievement.”

— Barbara Rosati

Parents at the meeting agreed they need to be sympathetic to the school board, and Rosati added that she believed, based on prior experience, that the board would be willing to help.

“We have to show them our support, and at the same time we have to make sure they are willing to do this and feel committed to such an effort, because this is not something that you do halfheartedly,” she said.

Frances Hanlon, who has a sixth-grade student in Setauket Elementary School, agreed that the parents can work with the board trustees and that it wasn’t an us-versus-them issue.

“We can’t be, ‘We know better than you and why aren’t you?’” Hanlon said. “We all have to work on this together and that’s what’s going to make a change.”

Rosati and those in attendance are set to survey how many families are in the district and, when the school year begins, will start a petition for those in favor of late start times to sign.

Among the suggestions parents had were bringing the late school start presentation that Rosati created to the school board and PTA meetings throughout the district, with further plans to record and send it by email to parents. One mother also suggested that high school students join the parents at BOE meetings. Rosati said she would also like to have experts such as Van Gilder and Hale present a talk for the board trustees.

“We can use the help of these professionals to inform the board that there is really solid scientific evidence, and we’re not just doing this because we’re lazy and don’t want to get up early in the morning,” Rosati said. “We’re doing this because we care about our children’s mental health and academic achievement.”

Reaction from districts

Both of Duffy’s kids are already graduates of the Port Jefferson School District, and he has yet to present in front of the school board, saying he wants to gain more traction in the community before bringing it to school officials. He has been trying to get support through posts on social media.

“It really can’t come just from me, it has to come from the community,” he said.

Though Hale has gone in front of school boards at Shoreham-Wading River and a committee in Smithtown, she lives in Northport and has two young girls at elementary school level. She has also written editorials in scientific journals about the topic.

When Rosati attended a Three Village board of education meeting in June, she said a few trustees told her that starting high school later in the day could lead to eliminating some of the music programs while teams may not be able to compete against neighboring schools in sporting games.

After her appearance before the school board, she said she researched a number of schools on Long Island, including Jericho High School which starts at 9 a.m. and saw that they could still manage to have music programs and play schools at sports with different start times.

A statement from the Three Village School District said it had commissioned a lengthy discussion regarding school start times, but while it was in support of the research, it identified negative impacts to the athletic programs, transportation, BOCES offerings and elementary music.

“You don’t have to look hard to see the benefits of this.”

— Lauren Hale

 

The district said it also conducted an informal survey of a small portion of the student population, who said they were not in favor of later starts, but Three Village added it was only used to gather anecdotal information.

There are a few things parents can do to aid their child’s sleep beyond the later start. Rosati offered some tips, including regular bedtimes, providing balanced meals, curfew on screen times, and limiting extracurricular activities and the intake of sugar and caffeine in the evening hours. She and her husband have tried their best to follow those guidelines, but she said they still kept their daughter home multiple days due to sleep deprivation last academic year.

“We should not be put in the position to choose between education and health for our kids,” Rosati said.

When asked, Shoreham-Wading River, Port Jefferson and Northport school districts all said they were not currently looking into later
start times.

Still, Hale said despite her frustrations with the reaction from some districts she’s continuing to argue for later start times.

“We need to work together with communities so that parents and teachers and school board members understand this is for the benefit of the students and the community,” she said. “You don’t have to look hard to see the benefits of this.”

Rosati plans to host another meeting Sept. 10 at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket from 7:30 to 9 p.m.

Tiny nematodes like this one were found to be unexpectedly hardy, reviving after thousands of years frozen in Arctic ice. Stock photo

By Elof Axel Carlson

Elof Axel Carlson

Back in 1968 I gave a futuristic public lecture at UCLA in which I predicted that the mummified tissue of long dead people could be used to reconstruct their genotypes and, if the chemical tools became available, this could lead to what I called “necrogenetic twinning.”

That got on the wire services and I got clippings with headlines like “King Tut may become a papa.” I also got letters from the public including one irate lady who said, “If you were my son, I’d beat you with a broomstick.” Well there is a field of paleogenetics today, and it is being used to work out the genomes of Neanderthal ancestors and may some day be used to bring back old favorites like passenger pigeons and dodos.

But there is a more immediate source of bringing back a few of the presumed long dead that are present in permafrost. The term was coined in 1943 in a report carried out by the U.S. Army. It is an acronym for permanently frozen soil. That is not ice in waterlogged soil. When permafrost is subject to warm temperatures, it thaws. It does not melt. But from that thawed material the organic matter can be isolated and dated by carbon-14 techniques to get the age. 

Recently, Russian scientists studying thawed permafrost discovered samples (one 32,000 years old and the other 42,000 years old) that produced live nematodes that had been frozen for a very long sleep. They began moving a few weeks after removal and eating bacteria and protozoa on a petri dish. These are roundworms related to vinegar eels as they are called, which can be seen in organic vinegars served in restaurants. Hold such a cruet of vinegar to the light and you will see what look like tiny flakes jittering about in the vinegar.

It is not just cold temperature that can preserve life for centuries. Date palm seeds that are more than a thousand years old have been planted and produced fruit bearing dates. The record of the deepest sleep, however, goes to bacterial spores isolated from salt crystals in rock that was present 250 million years ago. They hatched from their protected state and formed bacterial colonies.

I would not be surprised to find future core samples from ocean cores taken in rock that may be as old as the first life-forms on Earth (viruslike) whose sequences might reveal the first genotypes capable of sustaining life in the organic soup thought to be present when the lifeless Earth was formed. That is a speculation that appeals to the imagination. But we humans can also imagine other possibilities that are less charming than alarming.

What if these early life-forms, whether from permafrost or ocean dredgings, contain pathogens that find humans a suitable host? Ancient viruses would not be treatable by antibiotics, and vaccines might be needed to check their spread. Ancient bacteria might be contained by present-day antibiotics, but some might not.

But is that not true of humans who have explored Earth? Many have come down with diseases they did not know existed in the ruins of ancient civilizations. When Darwin was in the Amazon, he contracted Chagas disease, which made him sickly in his later life. My father was in the Merchant Marine in his youth and came down with malaria and had summer chills when the sporozoans decided to celebrate.

That is why my wife Nedra and I had to get several vaccinations when we traveled on Semester at Sea. When we approached equatorial countries, we had to take anti-malarial medication to prevent coming down with a life-threatening malaria infection. Life is full of risks and not all are predictable, but using knowledge often thwarts unknown threats we may encounter.

Elof Axel Carlson is a distinguished teaching professor emeritus in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at Stony Brook University.

Many who attended the 4th annual Eastern Long Island Mini Maker’s Faire in Port Jefferson were first greeted to was a bear — hulking, rusted statue of a bear with arms of wood and corroded steel, a torso of used tires and organs made from oil filters and oil sumps. In the center of his chest was a cow heart suspended in formaldehyde.

“Bear” the sculpture by local team Dirt People Studios, was just one of many demonstrations of science, art and ingenuity at the fair, hosted by the nonprofit Long Island Explorium.

Scientists demonstrated the dangers of storm surges on Long Island, while robotics teams from Stony Brook University and other local high schools showed off what they have worked on for the past year.

Local DiYers like Jim Mason of LB Robotics, a maker of strange and interesting robotics, showed his work with a 3D printer and his projects using parts and tools he has found around his home.

“The music, the sun, the fun and play, see ya next year, Robo say,” Mason posted to his Facebook page.

Nikola Tesla, depicted in statue at top, was a Serbian-American inventor who had a lab built in Shoreham, where the statue sits. Photo by Kyle Barr

Centuries of scientific experimentation and exploration will be preserved in Shoreham.

Concluding months of nail-biting anticipation, the Wardenclyffe property in Shoreham, made famous as the last standing laboratory of famous 19th- and 20th-century scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla, finally made it onto the U.S. National Register of Historic Places July 27.

The designation is the culmination of hard work by the nonprofit Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe to get the site listed on local, state and national lists of historic places.

Marc Alessi, the science center’s executive director, said the site landing on these historic registers helps to guarantee that the property will survive through future generations.

“Listing on the National Historic Register not only helps preserve Nikola Tesla’s last remaining laboratory, but it allows us to move forward with renovations and plans to develop Wardenclyffe into a world class science and innovation center,” Alessi said. “[The] listing also opens doors for funding, as many grants require official historic status.”

Members of Tesla Science Center spent close to a year gathering data on the historic nature of the site located along Route 25A in Shoreham. They hired a historic architecture consultant to document which parts of the 16-acre property were historical and which were not.

The property was considered for historical site status by the New York State Historic Preservation Office June 7 after receiving 9,500 letters of support from people all over the world. The property passed that decision with a unanimous vote of approval, and it was then sent to the National Park Service for a decision to place the property on the national register.

“We hope that this will remind people of the importance of Tesla and his work at Wardenclyffe,” Tesla center President Jane Alcorn said.

The Shoreham property was home of one of Tesla’s last and most ambitious projects of his career. His plan was to build a tower that could, in theory, project electricity through the ground as a way of offering free energy to everyone in the area. Creditors seized upon his property after it was learned there would be limited ways of monetizing the project.

Tesla spent his remaining years for the most part in solitude and obscurity until his death in 1943. Recent decades have shown a resurgence of interest in Tesla for his groundbreaking technologies such as the Tesla Coil, a 19th-century invention used to produce high-voltage alternating-current electricity, and Alternating Current which is used in most electronics today.

In 2012 the science center worked with The Oatmeal comic website to launch a successful Indiegogo campaign that raised $1.37 million to purchase the land. Since then the nonprofit has renovated the property with plans to turn the site into a museum and incubator for technology-based business startups.

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The air buzzed with electricity in Shoreham Saturday as community members and Tesla aficionados attended the second annual Tesla Birthday Expo: Neon 2018 at Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe in Shoreham.

The July 14 event was held on the famous 19th- and 20th-century scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla’s 162nd birthday. Both adults and kids stood in wonder as they interacted and played with some of Tesla’s most notorious inventions, like the Tesla coil, a 19th-century invention used to produce high-voltage alternating-current electricity. Participants also got to interact with electric Tesla vehicles, robots from local robotics teams and learn the history of the location itself.

The Wardenclyffe site was home to one of Tesla’s last experiments, a tower that would have transferred free electricity wirelessly through the earth itself.

“Tesla had enormous dreams,” Tesla center President Jane Alcorn said. “We’re standing here where Tesla’s ambitious project to impact the world with the wireless transmission of messages was embodied by the tower that once
stood here.”

The center bought the property in 2002 after a successful online crowdfunding campaign. The nonprofit group is now looking to turn the site into a museum, science exhibition center and incubator for science-based projects. The science center hopes to have the first part of a functioning museum up and running by the end of next year, as currently the buildings on the site are not open to the public.

This post was updated July 17 to correct the name of the event to the Tesla Birthday Expo: Neon 2018.

Im not a scientist and I don’t play one on TV. Nonetheless, I think science is undervalued in America. I believe the typical American takes science for granted, thinks science owes them something and figures they’ll never understand what scientists are saying.

Wrong, wrong and wrong.

For starters, science isn’t just about trying to create the best iPhone, the highest quality and thinnest televisions, or medicines that act like magic bullets, destroying evil in our cells or our DNA without damaging the healthy ones.

Science often starts with a question. Why or how does something work? And, perhaps, if we change something about the way it works, does it get better or worse? The conclusions scientists draw when they solve one puzzle leads to the next set of questions.

It’s as if a child asks his parent if he can go west and the parent says, “No, don’t go west, but here are the keys to the car.”

The answer may seem like a non sequitur, but it’s also a way to navigate somewhere new, even if, for whatever reason, the car isn’t supposed to go west. Maybe, by learning more about the car and where it can go, the child also learns what’s so forbidding about going west, too.

We want science to succeed and we’re annoyed when science doesn’t solve our problems. We can’t get something to work or we can’t get ourselves to work and we blame scientists. After all, if we can send a man to the moon, why can’t we conquer the morning rush hour or the common cold?

Then again, how does the study of dark matter — neutrinos or sphingolipids — affect our morning commute? We may not understand these areas, but that doesn’t mean basic knowledge can’t or won’t lead to advances we can’t anticipate.

Knowledge, as we know, is power. If we know, for example, that an enemy is planning an attack and we know where and how that attack will occur, we can defend ourselves, even if that enemy exists at a subcellular level.

Learning the playbook of the enemy takes time, which technological innovation, dedicated researchers and people battling against a disease often don’t have.

Worst of all, though, science is somehow too hard to understand. That is a defeatist conclusion. Yes, scientists use technical terms as shorthand and, yes, they may not be selling ideas or themselves in the kind of carefully crafted tones often reserved for CEOs or politicians.

That, however, doesn’t mean they are planting a keep-out sign in front of them or their ideas. While scientists reduce a question to an attainable goal, they also often keep a larger goal in mind.

A few years ago, my daughter had to draw a picture of what she thought a scientist looked like. Rather than imagine a person in a white lab coat with one pocket full of pens and the other holding a radiation badge, she drew a baby.

Science may be frustrating because scientists often come across as uncertain. For example, they might say, “We believe that the shadow in our telescope may be caused by an exoplanet orbiting a star that’s outside the solar system, and which is the same distance from its nearest star as Earth is from the sun.”

Scientists can be wrong, just as anyone can be wrong in their job, in their opinions or in their conclusions. That, however, doesn’t make science wrong. Scientists are often most excited when a discovery they make defies their expectations or bucks conventional wisdom.

Just because conventional scientific wisdom changes doesn’t mean every part of it is wrong.

Science doesn’t have all the answers and it never will. The most likely person to tell you that, though, should be a scientist, not a journalist.

Hundreds of residents gather at the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational & Cultural Center to learn about Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

More than 100 years after his great-grandfather designed and oversaw the construction of Nikola Tesla’s Wardenclyffe laboratory in Shoreham, Sebastian White, a renowned physicist and St. James native, filled a local lecture hall to discuss all things surrounding the Serbian-American inventor.

White, whose famous ancestor Stanford White’s architectural achievements include Washington Square Arch, the original Madison Square Garden and what is now the Tesla Science Center, took time out of his busy schedule as a particle physicist for CERN — the European Organization for Nuclear Research — to engage a roomful of science lovers Aug. 27.

The presentation was in conjunction with the center’s summer-long Tesla exhibit in Stony Brook and ended with a screening of clips from “Tower to the People,” a documentary made by a local filmmaker about the laboratory.

The physicist, and chairman of the Tesla Science Center’s Science Advisory Board, examined the litany of Tesla influences in modern-day technology and the late-19th century culture that helped shape his genius.

Dr. Sebastian White, the great-grandson of Nikola Tesla’s architect Stanford White, discuss the importance of inventor Nikola Tesla and his work. Photo by Kevin Redding

“Today it’s very clear that Tesla is trending in much of the science that’s showing up, such as wireless transmission of energy, which is a new field, and the Tesla car, but I think we shouldn’t only remember him for what he did, but also the incredible time in America he became part of,” White told the 130 residents packed into the lecture hall on the top floor at The Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational & Cultural Center. “I think the story of Tesla, who many of my colleagues don’t even know, is an important one as it tells us how we got to where we are.”

White explained how Tesla’s grand vision for wireless transmission of energy, which eventually culminated in a torn-down tower on the Shoreham site in 1917, remains a much-pursued concept.

“There’s a very lively industry happening today, mostly because people keep forgetting to charge their iPhones and they want to find a way to do it without needing cords,” he said.

Through a process called energy harvesting, industry scientists are actively working on ways to charge cellphones while they sit inside pockets by capturing energy just from the environment.

“It’s an enormous field now — new companies are very interested in it and a lot is happening,” White said, pointing out other examples of wireless power transmissions over the years. “In 1964, on the Walter Cronkite TV show, a guy named William C. Brown demonstrated a model of an electric helicopter powered by a microwave. The United States, Canada and Japan have experimented with airplanes powered by radio waves. I would say, probably, if Tesla were around today, he’d be more happy about all the things people are inventing with new techniques rather than always quoting him and saying, ‘Well, Tesla said this.’”

White said Tesla’s emergence as one of the most influential scientific minds of all time coincided with what he referred to as “an incredibly important time” in the late 1800s, a period referred to as the American Renaissance.

Among the prolific figures with whom Tesla interacted were writer Mark Twain, physicist Ernest Rutherford, American businessman John Jacob Astor IV, and, of course, Stanford White. The physicist said a huge year for Tesla was 1892, when he lectured and demonstrated his experiments at the Institution for Electrical Engineers at the Royal Institution in London.

Residents eagerly listen and learn about the life of invetntor Nikola Tesla during a lecture. Photo by Kevin Redding

Speaking on his great-grandfather and Tesla’s friendship, which proved itself through many projects prior to Wardenclyffe, White referred to one particular exchange.

“Stanford White [once] invited Tesla to join him for an outing with William Astor Chanler, an explorer,” he recounted. “Tesla said, ‘I’m busy in the lab.’ White kept pushing him and then wrote to him, ‘I’m so delighted that you decided to tear yourself away from your laboratory. I would sooner have you on board than the Emperor of Germany or the Queen of England.’”

David Madigan, a Tesla Science Center board member, said after the lecture that having White’s perspective on this near-and-dear subject was integral.

“It’s important having Dr. White give the talk, who’s a physicist himself and whose grandfather was Stanford White, who was intimately involved in Tesla’s advancement of his many ideas both as an investor and also as an architect,” Madigan said. “It’s a good triangulation of today’s event, the Tesla exhibit, and Dr. White bringing in the scientific and family history.”

White said he has always felt a strong connection with his great-grandfather, who had a home in Smithtown, since he was  young.

“He was part of our life for sure,” he said. “We all felt very close to him. My son is an architect, my aunt and uncle were architects, my grandfather was an architect, and even continued in the same firm.”

East Setauket resident Michael Lubinsky said he was drawn to the lecture through a lifelong interest in Tesla.

“I always felt that Tesla was not appreciated that much in his time,” Lubinsky said, laughing that much of the lecture went over his head with its scientific terms.

Paul Scala, a software engineer living in Centereach, said he too gravitated to the event to explore more of Tesla’s story.

“I think [Dr. White] did a very nice job,” he said. “It’s very cool seeing that in the tech world they’re still trying to harness wireless energy.”