February 2018

SBU Takes Giant Step Toward Cleaner, Greener World With Gas Institute

When the Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center (AERTC), a New York State-designated Center of Excellence, was founded several years ago at Stony Brook University, its goal was to foster collaboration between the brightest minds in academia and industry leaders in energy.

Launching the Institute of Gas Innovation and Technology are, from left, Devinder Mahajan, PhD; Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr.; SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson: Ken Daly, President of National Grid New York; and Robert Catell, Chairman of the Advanced Energy Center.

Its interdisciplinary research program and state-of-the-art laboratories have since kept the University at the leading edge of discovery, resulting in new technologies that impact residential and commercial energy use worldwide.

Stony Brook recently took another step in its commitment to a future that protects the environment with efficient, sustainable energy management. The University announced on Friday, Feb. 16, the formation of a new Institute of Gas Innovation and Technology (I-GIT), a consortium of industry and academic leaders focused on the development of new energy technologies designed to promote sustainability and save the environment.

University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. joined State University of New York Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson, other University leaders, and representatives from National Grid New York for a ribbon-cutting ceremony Feb.16 at the Institute’s new offices, at AERTC in Stony Brook’s Research and Development Park. The ceremony marks Chancellor Johnson’s first visit to Stony Brook following her appointment in September 2017.

Devinder Mahajan, PhD, a professor of chemical engineering, graduate program director in the Materials Science and Chemical Engineering Department, and expert and accomplished researcher in advanced clean energy technologies, with will serve as Director of the Institute.

“I-GIT embodies three of the four themes I spoke of at my first State of the University System address: innovation, sustainability and partnership,” Chancellor Johnson said. “This institute is a strategic partnership between Stony Brook University and National Grid for research and development of sustainable energy usage innovation, but the Institute doesn’t stop there. All parties are coming to this venture with an open mind to what can be accomplished for the communities we serve, the researchers, faculty and students who will come through these doors, and future partnerships. Congratulations to Stony Brook and the community. We couldn’t be prouder to be a part of this exciting opportunity.”  

During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, President Stanley thanked Chancellor Johnson for her continued support.

“Stony Brook’s outstanding faculty is happy to collaborate with partners at SUNY and not only work with the energy center, but work across the campus to bring other disciplines involved to address key issues in gas research,” President Stanley said. “Thank you, Chancellor Johnson, for your leadership. We look forward to working with you and watching the consortium grow.”

The University has partnered with National Grid, one of the largest investor-owned energy companies in the world, to launch I-GIT. National Grid serves communities in Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island and the United Kingdom, and it boasts robust policies and programs focused on environmental protection. Sustainability plays a key role in the company’s values and decision making.

“As a leading clean energy company, National Grid is proud to be a founding partner of the Institute, which will support clean gas technology development and deployment for homes and businesses through academic-industry collaboration,” said Ken Daly, President of National Grid New York. “The consortium’s innovative approach will help provide our customers and the local communities that we proudly serve with a 21st century clean energy economy.”

National Grid is sponsoring a research project to be developed by the consortium that includes a review of energy usage data. The data will be used to identify new methods to improve gas energy efficiency and safety.

I-GIT is focused on finding clean, affordable energy solutions to meet the nation’s growing energy demands and challenges. It will also serve as an independent source of information and analysis on gas technology and related policies, and support advanced concepts in gas technology development and deployment for homes and businesses.

The Institute is overseen by an advisory board of University researchers and leaders from founding organizations, including National Grid. Devinder Mahajan, a professor of chemical engineering and graduate program director in the Materials Science and Chemical Engineering Department in Stony Brook’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and an expert in natural gas technology, will serve as director of the Institute.

“The establishment of the Institute comes at a crucial time as global gas supplies are now projected to last over 200 years at the present rate of consumption,” Mahajan said. “Natural gas burns cleanly because its principal component, methane, contains 25 percent hydrogen by weight. This large amount of hydrogen contributes greatly to the hydrogen economy. By adding renewable gas or other technologies to the mix, the hydrogen content will further increase, which is central to the Institute’s commitment to promoting ‘decarbonizing’ fuels.”

The formation of I-GIT comes on the heels of SUNY’s participation in the newly formed University Climate Change Coalition (UC3), announced Feb. 6 during a higher education summit on climate change, at which President Stanley was a featured speaker representing the SUNY system. Stony Brook University represents the 64 institutions of SUNY in the UC3, which comprises 13 leading research universities in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

“[SUNY] has some of the largest energy demands of any system in the country, and so we’re very interested in being a part of this coalition. We believe that research universities are the place that can tackle these kinds of issues,” President Stanley said during remarks at the summit. “We have the diversity and multidisciplinary approaches to help us find those technical solutions. The partners that have been brought together as part of this coalition have both the innovative approaches and the scope and scale needed to really make a difference in our world.”

The goal of the coalition is to aid local communities in the transition to a low-carbon, eco-friendly lifestyle. To achieve this, each participating institution will hold a climate change forum, and the findings from each will be compiled to create a cohesive, international plan of action. The member institutions have already committed to lessening the carbon footprint of their campuses.

These initiatives are a continuation of the sustainability efforts already taking place at Stony Brook.

The University is in the process of improving its energy efficiency performance by 20 percent and reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent. Over the past three years, the University has replaced all of its oil-fired boilers with more efficient gas-fired units not only to improve efficiency but also to reduce hazardous air pollutants. Stony Brook is also working toward sub-metering all of the buildings on campus, allowing for more precise energy use data. Similarly, I-GIT plans to focus on more advanced, safer methods of gas metering.

In addition, Stony Brook is a major sponsor participant in the 10th Advanced Energy Conference being held March 26–28 in Manhattan. This year’s theme, “The Future of Energy is Here,” will celebrate the ways that research and development in renewables, batteries and other technologies have become a vibrant part of our economy.

Stony Brook’s ongoing sustainability research, coupled with the achievements of AERTC, make the University a natural fit for the Institute, President Stanley said.

— By Melissa Arnold

Jarrod French Named Cottrell Scholar for Innovative Research and Teaching

Jarrod French, an assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry & Cell Biology and Department of Chemistry at Stony Brook, has been named a Cottrell Scholar by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement. Cottrell Scholars are recognized for their innovative research plans and education programs. French was chosen for his research proposal, “Structural Dynamics of Photoactive Proteins and Crowdsourcing Structural Biology.” The award, given this year to 24 top early-career academic scientists, includes a $100,000 grant for each recipient.

Cottrell Scholars engage in an annual networking event, providing them an opportunity to share insights and expertise through the Cottrell Scholar Collaborative. This year’s Cottrell Scholar Conference will be held July 11 through July 13 in Tucson, AZ, and is expected to draw about 100 top educators from around the country.

The French Lab at Stony Brook uses an integrative and collaborative approach to identify the molecular determinants of protein function and dysfunction in various physiological contexts. The team uses a wide array of chemical, biochemical and biophysical techniques to specifically focus on enzymes and enzyme complexes that regulate metabolic processes. The goal of their work is to develop novel or improved therapies for a range of devastating human diseases.

New Drug Target Emerges for Dangerous Fungal Pathogen

Cryptococcus neoformans is a fungal pathogen usually affecting immunocompromised patients, particularly AIDS and organ transplant patients, and is one that can be lethal. Current treatments against cryptococcosis are often not effective.

Now a team of researchers, led by Stony Brook University scientists Mansa Munshi and Maurizio Del Poeta in the School of Medicine’s Department of Molecular Genetics & Microbiology, have discovered a novel gene that helps understand the mechanism of survival of this pathogen in various host conditions. Their finding, published in Cell Reports, may help pave the way for more effective and innovative treatments against cryptococcosis.

When C. neoformans survives in a host, disease results. In the paper, the team details how they uncovered that ceramides (a class of lipid molecules) play a role in the pathogenicity of C. neoformans. They identified a new gene within this process, called Cer1, which synthesizes ceremides. By targeting Cer1, pathogenicity in the host is altered.

Munshi and colleagues delete Cer1 from the pathogen, and a mutant form of C. neoformans is created that is completely disabled and unable to cause disease. These results have led the team to theorize that Cer1 may be a new drug target in the search for better treatments of cryptococcosis.

The research was supported in part by the National institutes of Health.

Pigments in Oil Paintings Linked to Artwork Degradation

Experts have long known that as oil paintings age, soaps can form within the paint, degrading the appearance of the artworks. The process significantly complicates the preservation of oil painting, along with valuable cultural manifestations, which the paintings themselves help to preserve.

Scientists from Brookhaven Lab and The Met used beamline 5-ID at NSLS-II to analyze a microscopic sample of a 15th century oil painting. Pictured from left to right are Karen Chen-Wiegart (Stony Brook University/BNL), Silvia Centeno (The Met), Juergen Thieme (BNL), and Garth Williams (BNL).

“These soaps may form protrusions that grow within the paint and break up through the surface, creating a bumpy texture,” said Silvia Centeno, a member of the Department of Scientific Research at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met). “In other cases, the soaps can increase the transparency of the paint, or form a disfiguring, white crust on the painting.”

“The Met, alongside our colleagues from other institutions, is trying to figure out why the process takes place, what triggers it, and if there’s a way we can prevent it,” Centeno said.

Karen Chen-Wiegart, an Assistant Professor at Stony Brook University with a joint appointment at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) is part of a scientific collaboration led by researchers at The Met, the University of Delaware, and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) BNL that could help to answer these questions.

By analyzing a microscopic sample from The Crucifixion, a 15th century oil painting by Jan Van Eyck, the research team was able to determine which components in the paint were responsible for forming soaps. Their findings were published in Scientific Reports.

Scientists do not understand why the soaps take on different manifestations, and for many years, the underlying mechanisms of how the soaps form remained a mystery.

“It was a privilege to be part of this collaboration,” Chen-Wiegart said.“It is a rare opportunity to be able to work with a sample that carries so much history. When our staff saw that we were scanning this art in real-time, everyone got so excited because they saw that their tools could be used to study something they never thought was possible. It was exciting at multiple levels.”

“When we study paintings at the museum, we try to use noninvasive techniques—methods that do not induce permanent changes in the artwork,” Centeno said. “However, in some cases, we need to remove a very small sample for analysis. We will take it from areas where there is already a crack or a loss in the artwork. All the samples are archived so we can go back and reuse them, and in this case, the sample we studied had already been removed from the painting for another study when we realized it was a good example of soap formation.”

In order to study the tiny chemical features in the sample, the scientists needed the advanced capabilities of the x-ray microscope at beamline 5-ID at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II)—a DOE Office of Science user facility at Brookhaven Lab. This beamline has the unique ability to image the chemical makeup of complex structures, making it the perfect tool for studying small samples from works of art.

“Because these samples are so small, we needed beamline 5-ID’s sub-micron spatial resolution, and the expertise of the beamline staff,” Centeno said.

Using a research technique called x-ray fluorescence microscopy, the scientists directed NSLS-II’s ultra-bright x-rays at the painting sample while moving the sample horizontally and vertically. This enabled them to generate maps that show how different elements are distributed in the sample, and determine how these elements had moved within the paint due to the deterioration. Additionally, using a technique called x-ray absorption spectroscopy, the scientists identified the presence of chemical compounds that were the products of deterioration reactions within the sample.

While the current study focused on one type of pigment, the collaboration intends to study how soap formation varies among different pigments, as well as the effects of temperature, humidity, and the paint’s porosity. They also hope to use a wider range of synchrotron techniques at NSLS-II to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the deterioration mechanism.

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