July 2017

Stony Brook Plays a Role as Historic Neutrino Experiment is Launched

An extraordinary gathering of scientists and dignitaries broke ground on July 21, 1017, for the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE), a leading-edge, international experiment for neutrino science and proton decay studies in which Stony Brook University will play an important role.

Discoveries over the past half-century have put neutrinos, the most abundant matter particles in the universe, in the spotlight for further research into several fundamental questions about the nature of matter and the evolution of the universe — questions that DUNE will seek to answer.

Stony Brook University’s Nucleon Decay and Neutrino (NN) research group, led by SUNY Distinguished Professor Chang Kee Jung, has been playing a leading role in the nucleon decay and neutrino physics community for two decades in the realization of next-generation NN experiments.

Starting in 2014, Prof. Jung played a major role in the reformulation process of the Long Baseline Neutrino Experiment (LBNE) to the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE)/Long Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF). He was a member of the interim International Executive Board (iIEB), and chaired the committee that drafted the governance section of the DUNE Collaboration document. During 2015-2016, he served as DUNE Resource Coordinator, and currently serves as a DUNE Executive Committee (EC) member.

Earlier, the Stony Brook group worked on the 35t prototype of the planned DUNE far detector, a liquid argon Time Projection Chamber (TPC). Currently the group is involved in the DUNE far detector and ProtoDUNE-SP at CERN in the areas of cold electronics and field cage (led by Assistant Prof. Michael Wilking), and in the near detector design studies (Profs. Jung and McGrew).

DUNE will consist of two neutrino detectors placed in the world’s most intense neutrino beam. One detector will record particle interactions near the source of the beam, at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois. A second, much larger, detector will be installed more than a kilometer underground at the Sanford Underground Research Laboratory in Lead, South Dakota — 1,300 kilometers downstream of the source. These detectors will enable scientists to search for new subatomic phenomena and potentially transform our understanding of neutrinos and their role in the universe.

DUNE prototype detectors are under construction at the European research center CERN. The Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility will provide the neutrino beamline and the infrastructure that will support the DUNE detectors.

Study Sheds Light on Dog Origins

Scientists have traced the emergence of the modern dog to the domestication of a population of gray wolves that took place in Europe between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago.

By analyzing the DNA of two prehistoric dogs from Germany, an international research team led by Krishna R. Veeramah, PhD, Assistant Professor of Ecology & Evolution in the College of Arts & Sciences at Stony Brook University, has determined that their genomes were the probable ancestors of modern European dogs. The finding was published in Nature Communications.

Dogs were the first animal to be domesticated by humans. The oldest dog fossils that can be clearly distinguished from wolves are from the region of what is now Germany from around 15,000 years ago. However, the archeological record is ambiguous, with claims of ancient domesticated dog bones as far east as Siberia. Recent analysis of genetic data from modern dogs adds to mystery, with some scientists suggesting many areas of Europe, Central Asia, South Asia and the Middle East as possible origins of dog domestication.

Department of Ecology and Evolution Assistant Professor Krishna Veeramah with colleagues Shyamalika Gopalan and Dean Bobo.

In 2016, research by scientists using emerging paleogenomics techniques proved effective for sequencing the genome of a 5,000-year-old ancient dog from Ireland. The results of the study led the research team to suggest dogs were domesticated not once but twice. The team from Oxford University also hypothesized that an indigenous dog population domesticated in Europe was replaced by incoming migrants domesticated independently in East Asia sometime during the Neolithic era.

“Contrary to the results of this previous analysis, we found that our ancient dogs from the same time period were very similar to modern European dogs, including the majority of breed dogs people keep as pets,” explained Dr. Veeramah. “This suggests that there was no mass Neolithic replacement that occurred on the continent and that there was likely only a single domestication event for the dogs observed in the fossil record from the Stone Age and that we also see and live with today.”

In the paper, titled “Ancient European dog genomes reveal continuity since the Early Neolithic,” Veeramah and colleagues used the older 7,000 year old dog to narrow the timing of dog domestication to the 20,000 to 40,000 years ago range.

They also found evidence of the younger 5,000 year old dog to be a mixture of European dogs and something that resembles current central Asian/Indian dogs. This finding may reflect that people moving into Europe from the Asian Steppes at the beginning of the Bronze Age brought their own dogs with them.

    Genetics PhD Candidate Wins Prestigious NIH Awards

    Genetics PhD candidate Alex Bott is ready to take his place in the front ranks of the fight against cancer, and he has the grants to prove it.

    Genetics PhD candidate Alex Bott

    This past year, Bott was recognized with two prestigious and highly competitive awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH): the F31 (Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award) and the newly-established F99/K00 — the Predoctoral to Postdoctoral Fellow Transition Award, which is designed to encourage and retain outstanding graduate students who have demonstrated potential to pursue careers as independent cancer researchers.

    Bott’s research focuses on Myc, a regulator gene amplified in a wide range of cancers, particularly breast cancer. Since Myc is known to contribute to the genesis of many human cancers, scientists hope that understanding the gene could lead to breakthrough therapies aimed at inhibiting tumor growth.

    Bott’s early success is fueled not only by his enthusiasm for research and innovation, but also by a commitment to effective science communication. In order to improve his skills in this area, he worked with Stony Brook’s Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, which coaches scientists to talk about their research in a clear, vivid, and engaging way.

    “Writing grants isn’t easy,” Bott said. “The act of sitting down, thinking, and explaining why your research matters is absolutely essential, even if you don’t want to make your career in academia. If every student could talk about their work in the simplest terms, without jargon, we’d have a tremendous effect in promoting scientific literacy.”

    Bott also received help and advice from the Integration of Research, Education, and Professional Development (IREP) Office. According to Jennifer Green, IREP’s External Fellowships Advisor, her office seeks to create a culture where SBU students and postdocs consider applying for nationally competitive fellowships early in their careers.

    “There is a great deal of support for students pursuing external awards, particularly those offered by the NIH,” Green said.

    “Examples include the ‘Writing to Win’ workshops offered by IREP and the Center for Inclusive Education (CIE), as well as the application incentives offered periodically by the SUNY Research Foundation,” she said.

    Green said prospective applicants should contact the IREP Office at irep@stonybrook.edu for more information.

    Asked his advice for other graduate students pursuing awards of this caliber, Bott emphasized the importance of learning to think critically about one’s own work, for instance by asking questions like: “Why is this important and who can it help?”

    Bott also stressed the importance of persistence. His initial attempt at the F31 was unsuccessful, but then he went on to receive the award on his second attempt and utilized the feedback to tailor his successful F99/K00 application.

    Could Concrete Help Solve the Problem of Air Pollution?

    New research reveals that sulfur dioxide, a major contributor to air pollution, is removed from the air by concrete surfaces. Stony Brook University researcher Alex Orlov, PhD, and colleagues discovered how concrete interacts and eliminates sulfur and nitrogen oxides. Their findings, published in the July edition of the Journal of Chemical Engineering, could be a significant step toward the practice of using waste concrete to minimize air pollution.

    Alexander Orlov, PhD

    According to the World Health Organization, as many as seven million premature deaths of people worldwide may be linked to poor air quality and pollution. Sulfur dioxide emissions are among the most common pollutants into the air globally, with power plants emitting the most sulfur dioxide. Cement kilns also produce approximately 20 percent of all sulfur dioxide industrial emissions.

    “Even though producing concrete causes air pollution, concrete buildings in urban areas can serve as a kind of sponge adsorbing sulfur dioxide to a high level,” explained Dr. Orlov, Associate Professor of Materials Science and Chemical Engineering in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and a faculty member of the Consortium for Inter-Disciplinary Environmental Research at Stony Brook University. “Our findings open up the possibility that waste concrete coming from building demolitions can be used to adsorb these pollutants.”

    He added that concrete remains the most widely used material in the world and is inexpensive.  Because of this, Dr. Orlov emphasized that “the strategy of using pollution causing material and turning it into an environmental solution could lead to new thinking in urban design and waste management.”

    This electron microscopy image of concrete includes a model of sulfur dioxide interactions with concrete surface – represented by the colored spheres. (photo: Marija Illoska)

    Dr. Orlov cautioned that the capacity for concrete to adsorb pollutants diminishes over time as the material ages. Crushing concrete, however, can expose new surfaces and restore its pollution removing properties.

    The researchers used various cement and cement-based building materials to conduct their experiments, details of which are in the paper, titled “Reactions of SO2  on hydrated cement particle system for atmospheric pollution reduction: A DRIFTS and XANES study.” They employed Diffuse Reflectance Infrared Fourier Transform Spectroscopy (DRIFTS) and X-ray absorption Near Edge Spectroscopy (XANES) to identify the levels of sulfur dioxide adsorption on the materials.

    Experiments were conducted at Stony Brook University, Brookhaven National Laboratory’s National Synchrotron Light Source and Center for Functional Nanomaterials, and the National University of Singapore.

    Co-authors on the paper are Girish Ramakrishnan and Qiyuan Wu of Stony Brook University, and Juhyuk Moon at the National University of Singapore.

    The research was supported in part  by the National Science Foundation CMMI program.

    Graduate Student Awarded Fellowship for Linguistics Research

    Stony Brook Linguistics PhD candidate Paola Cepeda has been recognized with a 2017 Mellon/American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Dissertation Completion Fellowship for her thesis research entitled “Negation and Time. Against expletive negation in temporal clauses.” Cepeda is an international student from Peru.

    Scholars previously thought that this type of negation, which is present in a variety of natural languages, had no meaning (e.g., a speaker saying, “I missed not seeing you last summer” when he/she actually missed was “seeing you” and not “not seeing you”). Cepeda’s groundbreaking research suggests otherwise. In addition to addressing an open question in her field, her findings could have broader impacts on language processing by artificial personal assistants like Siri or Cortana.

    Cepeda’s advisor, Professor Richard Larson from the Department of Linguistics, explains further: “The artificial languages of logic and computer science have the property that expressions written in them are meaningful in all their parts — they contain no extraneous symbols. As such, one might describe such artificial languages as ‘perfectly’ interpreted. They show a perfect match up between form and meaning. Cepeda’s results suggest that when speakers say a ‘not’ they really do convey a negative meaning, even when it doesn’t seem so. If she is correct, then speakers are more logical and systematic, and natural language more perfect, than initially appears.”

    It is a great honor for Cepeda — and Stony Brook — to be recognized with this prestigious award. Only 65 fellows were selected from a pool of more than 1,000 applicants through a rigorous, multi-stage peer-review process. The fellowship offers promising graduate students a year of support to focus their attention on completing projects that form the foundations of their careers and that will help shape a generation of humanistic scholarship. The program, which is made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, also includes a faculty-led academic job market seminar, hosted by ACLS, to further prepare fellows for their postgraduate careers.

    “The fellows are completing their degrees at 36 different US universities, and their work represents the broad range of disciplines that this program supports, including literature, philosophy, media studies, ethnic studies, linguistics, sociology, and archaeology,” said ACLS Program Officer Rachel Bernard.

    When asked what advice she has for other graduate students pursuing prestigious awards, Cepeda emphasized the importance of crafting one’s proposal with a particular audience in mind. “It’s a delicate balance,” she said, “you want to appear knowledgeable while still ensuring that the subject is approachable for non-experts.” Cepeda carefully tailored her application materials so that a panel of humanists and social scientists unfamiliar with her topic could grasp the significance of her research.

    Click here for more information about the Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship.

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