August 2016

Mechanical Engineering Professors Purwar and Ge Win NSF Award

Research Associate Professor Anurag Purwar (PI) and Professor Jeffrey Ge (co-PI) from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Stony Brook received a prestigious three-year award from the National Science Foundation for their research, “A Computational Framework for Data-Driven Mechanism Design Innovation.” Purwar is director of the Computer-Aided Design Innovation Lab at Stony Brook and Ge is interim chair of the Department and directs the Computational Design Kinematics Lab.

The research will bring together the diverse fields of reverse engineering, computational shape analysis and design kinematics to develop a data-driven paradigm for kinematic synthesis of mechanical motion generation devices. The goal is to advance the science of mechanism design, leading to practical and efficient design tools capable of solving highly complex motion generation problems faced by machine designers. Central to this research is the creation of a new computational framework for simultaneous type and dimensional synthesis of various mechanisms.

Recent trends in democratization of manufacturing capability — such as do-it-yourself hobby shops, 3D printing technology, as well as low-cost sensors, actuators, and microcontrollers — call for a corresponding democratization of design tools that can help engineers innovate and invent motion-generating devices. Motion generation is a fundamental aspect of machines, at the heart of which are kinematic mechanisms that make it possible for motions to be transmitted or transformed. A kinematic mechanism is a collection of moving pieces linked together through kinematic joints such as hinge joints and sliders.

This award supports the development of a set of web-based, data-driven design tools that unify the type and dimensional synthesis for mechanism design innovation. The planned MOOC (massive open online course) will help bring these tools to the masses and help promote interest in science and engineering including high school students and those from under-represented groups.

Watch Anurag Purwar’s TEDxSBU talk on Machine Design Innovation through Technology and Education.

9/11 First Responders Show Cognitive Impairment, Researchers Find

Stony Brook University researchers have found disturbingly high levels of cognitive impairment (CI) among 9/11 first responders. CI is considered a leading risk factor for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

A new study led by Stony Brook University researchers 15 years after the 911 WTC attacks reveals that some responders may be experiencing early cognitive impairment, perhaps triggered by PTSD.

Findings from a study published online inAlzheimer’s & Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment & Disease Monitoring reveals a CI rate among 9/11 responders of nearly 13 percent, possibly reflecting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The study assessed more than 800 WTC responders cared for at the Stony Brook University WTC Wellness Program.

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine the association of PTSD and major depressive disorder (MDD) with cognitive impairment, and to do so in a large group of civilian World Trade Center responders without head trauma,” said Sean A. Clouston, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Program in Public Health at Stony Brook University and lead author of the study, titled “Cognitive impairment among World Trade Center responders: Long-term implications of re-experiencing the 9/11 terrorist attacks.”

The researchers found out that the responders — many of whom are in their early 50s – had rates of CI that were higher than the investigators anticipated, given the age range of these responders and their educational and occupational history. The investigators also say the findings are driven by WTC responders who developed PTSD, in particular, those who report re-experiencing symptoms (e.g., flashbacks/nightmares), a key component of PTSD.

In this population of WTC responders:

  • Approximately 12.8% (104) had scores indicative of CI and 1.2% (10) had scores suggesting possible dementia.
  • Current PTSD and MDD were associated with CI.
  • Re-experiencing symptoms was consistently associated with CI.
  • Increases in other PTSD and depressive symptoms in the years prior to cognitive assessment were evident only among those with CI.

“These numbers are staggering, considering that the average age of responders was 53 during this study,” Dr. Clouston said.

Since 2002, more than 33,000 responders have enrolled in a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-sponsored WTC Health Program. According to the authors of this new study, if the findings from their study group are representative of actual prevalence of CI in the full cohort, results may translate into 3,740-5,300 individuals with CI and 240-810 individuals with dementia.

“This study indicates that the effects of the exposure to the World Trade Center attacks on the responders may be more pervasive and insidious than originally thought,” said Benjamin J. Luft, MD, Director of the Stony Brook WTC Wellness Program and co-author of the paper. “The results only support the wisdom of the passage of the Zadroga legislation, which provides continued monitoring and treatment of diseases caused by these exposures.”

Trained clinicians screened 818 responders for CI and dementia during monitoring visits at Stony Brook clinics from January 2014 to April 2015. Of those approached, 89.8% completed the screening. On average, Stony Brook responders were 52.8 years old when this sample was taken. Trained clinicians administered the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA), which consists of multiple short-form tests of reasoning, concentration, problem solving, and memory. Trained psychologists diagnosed both PTSD and MDD.

Clouston pointed out that, “Our results support research noting the importance of re-experiencing symptoms as an early marker of mental pathology.” Re-experiencing symptoms occurs when individuals react physically and emotionally to memories of past trauma that intrude during daily activities and while asleep. Sleep disturbances are fundamental to PTSD and also have been linked to cognitive decline and dementia.

“This is a problem we must solve,” said Maria Carrillo, PhD, Alzheimer’s Association Chief Science Officer. “The silver lining in these troubling new findings is that they will help us better understand the relationship between PTSD, cognition and dementia. More research is needed in this area. This is crucial so that we can provide better care for all individuals who experience PTSD.”

Get up to $150K to validate your technology! Apply to PowerBridgeNY today.

Stony Brook’s Office of Technology Licensing & Industry Relations is excited to announce that applications for Cycle 4 of PowerBridgeNY are officially open! PowerBridgeNY is a collaboration among six New York-based institutions (including Stony Brook) designed to commercialize emerging clean energy innovations via startups.

There are two opportunities for funding:

$1,000 Idea Grants – due September 16th: $1,000 grant designed to encourage researchers to apply to PowerBridgeNY. Researchers are eligible for an Idea Grant if they  

  • are new applicants to PowerBridgeNY,
  • have a technology that is not traditionally cleantech but could be redirected to the sector,
  • or have a technology applicable to a non-cleantech industry (e.g. life sciences, media, etc.) that could have significant, quantifiable energy or resource-saving impact.

Validation Grant – pre-proposal due October 7th: Grant of up to $150K for your team to conduct 100 Customer Discovery Interviews and develop a prototype or conduct in-field testing to move your technology closer to commercialization.

Interested? Check out the PowerBridgeNY website or reach out to Julia Byrd ( for more details. 

SBU’s Gobler Lab Monitoring “Rust Tide” on Eastern Long Island

From Riverhead to East Hampton, a toxic “rust tide” has spread through the Peconic Estuary as reported by the lab of Christopher Gobler, a professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University. Gobler is a marine biologist and leading researcher on the harmful algal blooms that have become increasingly common in Long Island’s coastal waters.

In Gobler’s research lab on Stony Brook’s Southampton campus, he and his colleagues have measured densities of the rust tide algae, known asCochlodinium, exceeding 3,000 cells per milliliter. Densities above 500 cells per milliliter can be lethal to marine life. While large kills have not yet been reported, prior rust tides have brought kills to populations of fish and shellfish on eastern Long Island.

“We have identified climate change and specifically warm summer temperatures as a trigger for these large, widespread rust tides,” said Gobler. “In the 20th century, summer water temperatures were significantly cooler than they are today. When we have extended summer heat as we have seen this summer, a heavy rust tide often follows.”

Professor Gobler noted that the rust tide was muted in 2013 and 2014, as water temperatures were lower.

Beyond temperature, a 2012 paper from the Gobler lab identified excessive nitrogen as a second, equally important driving factor. The study, published in the journal Harmful Algae, demonstrated that high nitrogen levels make rust tides more intense and more toxic. As nitrogen loading has increased into eastern Suffolk County waters, these events have intensified. The study also noted the flexibility of the rust tide organism with regard to nitrogen, being able to feed off of high levels in near-shore regions but also being able to persist at lower levels in more open water sites.

“The links between these toxic blooms and excessive nitrogen loading are now well established and are playing out again this year,” said Gobler. “Near-shore regions on the east end experience intense nitrogen loadings from wastewater and farms and get these events first, after which they are transported to open water regions. It is likely that the recent, intense rainfall will intensify the rust tide in the coming week.”

Experiments conducted in the Gobler Lab have demonstrated that this alga can kill fish in hours and shellfish in days. In recent years, bay scallop levels in the Peconic Estuary have trended with rust tide intensity. The last major rust tide in 2012 was accompanied by a large die-off of scallops in some regions during the rust tide. The impacts of this year’s rust tide will depend on its duration, coverage and intensity of the event.

“We anticipate the rust tide will intensify in the Peconics and spread to Shinnecock Bay in the coming weeks. Blooms typically persist into the fall or until water temperatures drop below 60 degrees,” said Gobler.


Professor Lerner Awarded BRAINS Funding to Support Autism Research

Dr. Matthew D. Lerner, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Stony Brook University, received a $2.3M Biobehavioral Research Award for Innovative New Scientists (BRAINS) from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) for his research project, “Optimizing Prediction of Social Deficits in Autism Spectrum Disorders.”

The goal of the BRAINS program is to support outstanding young scientists such as Professor Lerner in launching innovative clinical, translational, basic or services research that can profoundly transform the understanding, diagnosis, treatment or prevention of mental disorders.

Lerner is director of the Stony Brook Social Competence and Treatment Lab (SCTL), which focuses on understanding how children and teens connect to one another and make friends, with a particular focus on helping those with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

Children with these disorders have social challenges that become even more difficult as they experience the social demands of school. Current understanding of the biological and psychological processes contributing to these deficits remains limited.

Through this project, Lerner will directly examine the relation of biological and psychological factors to real-world social functioning in teens with and without ASD. He will also examine how these factors interrelate and determine which of these can best explain the social outcomes.

According to Lerner, “Humans are a fundamentally social species, yet there are many ways the development of subtle, complex social ability can go awry. At the Stony Brook SCTL, we strive to better understand how this happens, and help create a more accessible, rewarding social world for kids and teens, whether they have ASD or not. This BRAINS award shows that the NIMH is similarly committed to helping those who struggle socially in this way, and will dramatically accelerate and improve our ability to provide answers to those who need them most. I am so grateful to receive this award, and will work hard to ensure the scientific insights it yields translate into real, tangible benefits for the families with whom we work.”

Findings from this study will help uncover the basic processes leading to social challenges, which is a crucial step toward developing improved, precision treatments for youth with ASD.

Minghua Zhang Appointed Editor in Chief of JGR-Atmospheres

Dr. Minghua Zhang, Dean and Director School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS), has been appointed Editor in Chief of the prestigious academic journal JGR-Atmospheres.

Atmospheres is a publication of the American Geophysical Union, the leading organization for geophysicists, focusing on the organization and dissemination of scientific information in the field.

Dr. Zhang received his PhD at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He joined Stony Brook in 1988 as a postdoctoral scholar. He later became an Assistant and Associate Professor, then Professor and Director of the Institute for Terrestrial and Planetary Atmospheres for ten years, and Associate Dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences for eight years before he became Dean of SoMAS. He is also the Director of the Marine Sciences Research Center.

Dr. Zhang’s research focuses on numerical modeling of climate and global climate change. It includes development and analysis of physical parameterizations in general circulation models, diagnostic study of feedback processes in the climate system, understanding of past and future climate changes, by using models and measurements from satellites and other sources. His research on model development focuses on moist processes related to clouds, radiation, convections, boundary layer turbulence, and their interactions, with the goal of improving global models to more accurately predict climate change on a wide range of time and spatial scales. He has also participated in several field large-scale atmospheric field experiments and developed a variational method to integrate heterogeneous measurements from multiple measurement platforms with results used by most major climate modeling centers in the world. He also does research on the dynamics of large-scale atmospheric waves, such as their excitation, propagation, dissipation, and interaction with atmospheric circulations.

Dr. Zhang is Principal Investigator of the US Department of Energy’s Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Program (ARM) and the Climate Change and Prediction Program (CCPP), Principal Investigator of the NASA Modeling and Analysis Program (MAP), and a past recipient of the Early Faculty Award of the National Science Foundation. He has authored or co-authored more than100 papers and two books on climate and atmospheric sciences. He has served on many editorial boards, including as Editor of the Journal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems (JAMES). He also serves on many advisory and professional committees, including the Advisory Committee of the US Department of Energy on Biological and Environmental Research (BERAC), the Steering Committee of the International Global Water and Energy Cycle Program (GEWEX), and the Scientific Steering Committee of the Global Change Program of the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST). He is an elected member of the Eurasian Academy of Sciences, Fellow of American Meteorological Society, and a co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

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Biomedical Engineering Professor Wins SUNY Funding to Enhance Virtual Labs

M. Ete Chan, an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME) at Stony Brook University, received a SUNY Innovative Instruction Technology Grant (IITG) for her research, “Lab-in-a-Cube Hands-on Lab Learning with an Automatic Feedback.” IITG funds campus innovations and initiatives in instructional technology that have the strongest potential to be replicated across all SUNY campuses.

The team that collaborated on the Lab-in-a-Cube project.

When it comes to online learning programs, how to handle courses with lab requirements remains a challenge. Lab-in-a-Cube explores virtual access to labs with hardware that acts as a remote control to allow students realistic, hands-on experiences, which includes elements of “gamification” to engage learners with direct feedback on their performance.

“Visually, virtual lab has become more and more realistic nowadays, but many crucial lab components such as tactile skills, decision ­making for preparation and execution of the lab are still missing,” said Chan. “Also, to familiarize students with the sequential steps in a protocol, current virtual labs only require the user to click through the steps without any active decision making. Using the concept of ‘gamification,’ our proposed solution addresses these two issues by adding a hardware component that can interact with software to provide feedback and suggestions to users.”

Similar to video game playing, users can find out how well they perform without any actual expensive equipment. The Lab-in-a-Cube hardware incorporates key shapes and buttons of real lab tools (micropipette, pipette guns, flasks and timers) to give students a realistic experience in their own home.

Dr. Chan acknowledges the contribution of her collaborators and students — especially Richard McKenna from the Department of Computer Science and Wei Lin from Biomedical Engineering — to the success of this proposal, and strong support from BME Chair Clinton Rubin, Associate Provost of Online Education Wendy Tang, and College of Engineering and Applied Sciences Dean Fotis Sotiropoulos. The Teaching, Learning + Technology Media Lab at Stony Brook will be a new partner to help with the long-term success of the project.

“This competitive grant program continues to position SUNY as a leader in innovative instructional practices while enabling us to take programs that work well at one campus and expand them across SUNY to benefit more of our students, faculty and staff,” said SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher.

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