March 2018

Computer Scientist Robert Patro Earns 2018 NSF CAREER Award

Professor Robert Patro of the Department of Computer Science has received a 2018 National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER award for his research proposal, A Comprehensive and Lightweight Framework for Transcriptome Analysis.

In layman’s terms, this project focuses on the field of RNA (ribonucleic acid) research and how to analyze sequencing data pertaining to it. In addition to performing various other functions in the cell, RNA acts as a messenger molecule, carrying instructions from DNA and acting as a template for protein synthesis.

“As a researcher at an institution focused on developing engineering-driven solutions in medical research, his proposed project supports not only the mission of the Department of Computer Science but also the University as a whole,” said Samir Das, chair of computer science at Stony Brook.

As Patro’s project proposal explains, the goal is “to develop a new generation of accurate, lightweight methods for the analysis of both bulk and single-cell transcriptomic data.” Patro says the project should “push forward the state-of-the-art in terms of both the accuracy and fundamental capabilities of lightweight transcriptome analysis methods.” He hopes the final outcome of the project will provide a new generation of accurate and lightweight transcriptome analysis tools and methods. These advancements in method and software should ultimately reduce costs, enable new analyses, and help contribute to discoveries in future RNA research.

The NSF CAREER funding in the amount of $625,000 supports Patro’s involvement as well as that of several grad and PhD students working in his research lab. The education plan detailed in the CAREER proposal involves working with both students and the campus community and incorporates creating a series of educationally-driven podcasts and videos. He believes that in using a variety of educational methods to accompany his CAREER research he will reach people of both technical and non-technical backgrounds as well as people from diverse communities. In conjunction, Professor Patro also has the support of Stony Brook’s Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science.

Robert Patro is an assistant professor of computer science in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Stony Brook University since 2014. He earned a PhD and BS in computer science from the University of Maryland-College Park. Prior to joining Stony Brook, he was a visiting scholar as well as a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Carnegie Mellon University. Patro’s main academic interests are in the design of algorithms and data structures for processing, organizing, indexing and querying high-throughput genomics data. He is also interested in the intersection between efficient algorithms and statistical inference. Previous to this NSF CAREER award, Patro was the Stony Brook PI on an NSF award shared with Cambridge University entitled Data-driven hierarchical analysis of de novo transcriptomes. Patro and his students develop, maintain and contribute to a number of different open-source bioinformatics software tools.

New Technology Cleans Solar Panels to Enhance Efficiency

A technology in development that uses electric fields to sweep dust from solar panels has promise as a new self-cleaning solar panel system designed to enhance energy efficiency and reduce costs.

The technology was created in the laboratory of Alex Orlov, professor in the  Department of Materials Science and Chemical Engineering in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and is being further developed by a Stony Brook research team named SolarClear. The team has received a $150,000 grant from PowerBridge NY to advance the technology, which uses tiny inexpensive electrodes to produce the electric fields.

“We were inspired by NASA technology developed for Mars rovers and made it more practical for Earth applications,” Orlovs said.

The researchers are developing a manufacturing process of this self-cleaning system so it can be scaled up for practical applications. They will create a prototype of the technology and conduct in-fielding testing. Dust on solar panels can reduce output by plants by 10 percent and in desert regions up to 25 percent. According to Professor Orlov, the technology can potentially boost the output of solar panels and save millions of dollars in cleaning costs. The mission of PowerBridge NY is to turn innovations from academic research labs into viable cleantech businesses for New York State.

Researchers Describe Role of Stratosphere in ‘Bomb Cyclones’

People have become familiar with “bomb cyclones” this winter, as several powerful winter storms brought strong winds and heavy precipitation to the U.S. east coast, knocking out power and causing flooding. With strength that can rival that of hurricanes, bomb cyclones get their name from a process called bombogenesis, which describes the rapid intensification they undergo within 24 hours as they move along the coast.

These winter storms tend to form and travel within narrow “atmospheric conveyor belts”, called storm tracks, which can change location over a period of years.

Scientists have extensively studied potential causes behind these year-to-year changes in attempt to better forecast storm tracks and their extreme impacts, but new research from scientists at the Stony Brook University (SBU) School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, funded by NOAA Research’s MAPP Program, identifies another crucial controlling force.

After analyzing 38 years of model data, the research team found that an alternating pattern of winds high up in the tropical stratosphere, called the Quasi-Biennial Oscillation (QBO), affects significant year-to-year changes in both the North Pacific and North Atlantic storm tracks.

The QBO’s dual influence
Past research has primarily considered how variabilities in the lower part of our atmosphere — the troposphere — and in the polar region of our stratosphere influence storm tracks. These studies mostly found that different atmospheric patterns affected storm tracks in just one ocean basin. For instance, the El Niño-Southern Oscillation influences the North Pacific storm track but not the North Atlantic storm track.

“This study finds that the QBO modulates the North Pacific and North Atlantic storm track simultaneously. Such a finding on a basin-wide influence is relatively new,” said Hyemi Kim, paper co-author and SBU Assistant Professor.

Not only does the QBO influence both the North Pacific and North Atlantic storm tracks, but the authors also found that the two storm tracks respond differently.

“When the QBO pattern has easterly winds, the North Pacific storm track shifts further north, while the North Atlantic storm track shifts to a lower vertical height in the atmosphere,” said Jiabao Wang, graduate researcher and lead author of the paper.

In addition, when the QBO pattern has westerly winds, the North Atlantic storm track shifts to a higher vertical height in the atmosphere. The authors explained that these directional and vertical shifts in storm track locations can cause changes in local weather and climate, such as strong winds and heavy precipitation, and can impact aviation by causing severe turbulence in higher or lower parts of the atmosphere.

“Because the QBO is a fairly uniform circumglobal phenomenon, we thought that its influence on storm tracks over the two basins would be similar,” said Wang. “The different responses between the North Pacific and North Atlantic storm track to the QBO were not as expected.”

Given that the QBO’s alternating pattern every 2-3 years can be accurately predicted up to 12 months in advance, Edmund Chang, co-author and SBU Professor, explained that these storm track changes and, potentially, the likelihood of related natural disasters should be predictable out to several months ahead of time. Thus, their study offers a new pathway to improve seasonal forecasts of storm tracks and their extreme impacts — like future winter weather bombs.

If forecasters take the QBO into account, Chang noted that the potential prediction improvements would provide useful information to advance decision-making in many sectors, including wind and solar energy, agriculture, water management, and emergency response.

View the paper:

Wang, J., Kim, H.-M. & Chang, E. K. M. (2018). Interannual Modulation of Northern Hemisphere Winter Storm Tracks by the QBO. Geophysical Research Letters, 45.

— Ali Stevens

Business Professor Cites False Assumptions as Key to Gender Pay Gap

False assumptions made by employers about gender roles, and women’s inclination to avoid conflict in negotiations, are key factors contributing to the longstanding pay gap between men and women, according to a business professor who studies organizational behavior at Stony Brook.

“Furthermore, it’s going to take increased awareness of these factors across industries if that gap is ever going to disappear,” said Julia Bear, an assistant professor of organizational behavior in the College of Business  at Stony Brook University.

“The research I have conducted shows that assumptions about men’s and women’s roles in their families contribute to wage discrimination and the wage gap,” Bear said.

Women’s salaries are still playing catch-up to men’s, and Equal Pay Day, which will be observed on April 10, emphasizes that wage disparity.

Bear, who has researched the role of gender in negotiation and conflict management in organizational behavior, says research shows when two equally qualified male and female job candidates are considered for a position, people were more likely to assume the male candidate was the family breadwinner and offered him a significantly higher salary than the female candidate, who was assumed to be in the traditional role of a caregiver. “My studies show when female job candidates provided explicit information that they are breadwinners, they obtained equal salary offers and were also just as likely to be offered leadership training as compared to men,” she said.

Bear uses a variety of research methods to conduct her studies, including surveys in organizations, experimental studies and qualitative interviews to investigate the factors that influence gender wage gap. Many of her findings have been published in the Academy of Management Review, Psychological Science, Journal of Applied Psychology, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, and the Academy of Management Best Paper Proceedings.

She also explained that the pharmacy industry had no wage gap while the finance and insurance industry had the largest gap, with women earning approximately sixty percent of what men earn. “According to economics research, men and women earn equal salaries in the pharmacy industry primarily because there is flexibility in terms of scheduling working hours and working extremely long hours is not rewarded,” Bear said. “As long as organizations continue to assume that employees have no other responsibilities than work and continue to reward employees, typically men, who can work extremely long hours, the wage gap will persist,” Professor Bear said.

Negotiation techniques and expectations also contribute to the wage gap between men and women. “On average, women are less likely to negotiate for a higher salary compared to men,” she said.

In the lab, Bear typically pairs up participants and has them conduct negotiation exercises to examine outcomes and report whether results are different between men and women. “To examine perceptions in negotiation, I run studies in which I have participants evaluate videos of male versus female negotiators,” she said.

According to a study published in 2016  by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in Washington, women earned 81.9 cents for every dollar that men were paid on a weekly basis. However, that’s somewhat better than the 59 cents that women earned for every dollar that men were paid in 1963, when the federal Equal Pay Act was signed, the pay equity group says.

So, what are the solutions? “We should focus on how assumptions about men and women are contributing to the wage gap and not only put the burden on women to ask for higher salaries,” Bear said.

New York State has recently taken steps to shrink the gap. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has issued two executive orders, one that took effect in January that prohibits state agencies from asking job candidates about their salary history, and a second that takes effect June 1 that requires state contractors to disclose data on gender, race, ethnicity, job title and salary of their employees.

Bear advises women to do their homework to find out what is reasonable to negotiate for, and practice an assertive mindset before the negotiation.

“I believe we would see further progress in eliminating the persistent wage gap between men and women if organizations established policies that offer flexibility and support individuals with both family and work responsibilities,” Bear said. “Another solution could be working to refute traditional assumptions about gender roles, and creating greater transparency in terms of information about salary and salary negotiations,” she said.

Professor Bear received a PhD in Organizational Behavior from Carnegie Mellon University, her MBA from Baruch College-CUNY, and a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University.

High-Tech Imaging of Ancient Crocs Helps Define How Species Evolve

Scientists believe that anatomical variation within and between species is the raw material for natural selection. However, the prevalence of convergent evolution, or the repeated evolution of highly similar yet complex forms among distantly related animals, suggests the presence of underlying general principles ( or“rules”) of evolution.

Now Alan Turner, Associate Professor of Anatomical Sciences, along with colleagues at the University and at Oklahoma State University are conducting research they believe will help to unlock the rules of evolution. Their research is funded by a newly awarded $579,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. Professor Turner leads the team, which will use high-tech imaging techniques to assess how the bodies and brains of crocodylomorphs (crocodiles, alligators and their extinct relatives) have changed over the last 230 million years.

The research team will then perform computer analysis of these parts to develop conceptual models of anatomical variation and search for common patterns in how their bodies responded to new environmental transitions.

“Crocodylomorphs have an incredible fossil record, and it is remarkable how often they evolved from living exclusively on land to becoming semi-aquatic and marine,” says Turner, all of which makes them an ideal group for studying the rules that govern extreme changes in animals, he explained. Turner expects that by investigating such a unique and long fossil record, combined with advanced imaging techniques, their research will provide data and insight to how habitat and ecological transitions drive evolution not only in this group but potentially across multiple integrated anatomical systems.

Stephen Hawking Is Remembered at Stony Brook

As the scientific world mourns the passing of the man many consider a modern-day Einstein, Stony Brook University faculty remembered and reflected on the world-renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who died peacefully at his home in Cambridge on March 14.

Martin Roček, a Stony Brook professor of theoretical physics and a member of the C. N. Yang Institute, first met Hawking in the late 1970s, when he was a postdoctoral fellow at Cambridge University. In 1979, Hawking hired Roček to teach him about the concept of supergravity, a significant extension of Einstein’s theory of relativity developed at Stony Brook by Roček’s colleague Peter van Nieuwenhuizen, along with Daniel Freedman and Sergio Ferrara.

“Though I failed to teach Stephen supergravity, it was nevertheless a very productive time for Stephen,” Roček said. “During this time, among many other projects, he explored the effects of gravitational instantons, and performed calculations developing the consequences of his then recently proposed Information Paradox; though his argument that Hawking Radiation implied the breakdown of quantum mechanics is generally not accepted today (Stephen himself rejected it later in life), it stimulated a wealth of important research, some of which is described in Leonard Susskind’s entertaining book The Black Hole War: My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics.”

Roček spent almost three years with Hawking, and so had the chance to get to know him both as a scientist and as a human being.

Many people have heard of Stephen Hawking, the ‘genius in a wheelchair,’ but far fewer know what he did and what he was like,” said Roček, who has served as a professor of physics at Stony Brook since 1983. “He was a great mentor. Many of his students and postdocs went on to very successful academic careers.

“He was a role model for those overcoming physical adversity, and through his many books, a great popularizer of physics and science in general. He will be missed,” Roček continued.

At the age of 21, Hawking was diagnosed with a rare early-onset, slow-progressing form of motor neurone disease (also known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis [ALS] or Lou Gehrig’s disease) and was given only a few years to live. While his condition gradually paralyzed him, he remained able to communicate through a speech-generating device, initially through use of a handheld switch, and eventually by using a single cheek muscle.

Hawking was famed for his work with black holes, quantum theory and relativity, and wrote several popular science books, including A Brief History of Time, which has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide and has returned to the top of the Amazon Best Sellers list since his death.

“Stephen’s first big breakthrough was the realization that Penrose’s theorems about the inevitability of singularities in black holes in Einstein’s Theory of Gravitation could be applied in reverse, to imply the inevitability of the Big Bang singularity and the beginning of time,”  Roček recalled.

“His next, and most important, breakthrough was the realization that due to quantum effects, black holes are not black — they emit what is now called ‘Hawking Radiation.’ This shocking discovery implied that, despite the many orders of magnitude of scale that separated them, Einstein’s theory could not ignore the quantum world.”

Luis Álvarez-Gaumé, director of the Simons Center for Geometry and Physics at Stony Brook, noted that despite Hawking’s numerous contributions, he was never awarded a Nobel Prize.

“His seminal contributions are deserving of a Nobel, and it is a pity he was not awarded the medal,” said Álvarez-Gaumé, who obtained his PhD from Stony Brook in 1981.

“One can imagine Stephen, with his great sense of humor saying, ‘That’s right, but on the other hand, how many living Nobel laureates have ever been characters in “The Simpsons” and in “Star Trek”?,’” Álvarez-Gaumé said.

Roger Sher, an associate professor in the Department of Neurobiology & Behavior who researches ALS, was inspired by Hawking’s determination to overcome his illness.

“The death of Dr. Stephen Hawking is a loss not just for the greater scientific community, but also for the community of patients, family members, caregivers, and researchers worldwide impacted by and dedicated to curing the neurodegenerative disease Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis,” Sher said.

“In one way, Dr. Hawking was a rare ALS patient, living for more than 50 years with his disease while the majority of patients succumb in fewer than 5 years,” he said.

“In another way, Dr. Hawking was not rare, in that I have seen in my interactions with ALS patients and their families and medical professionals, the same embracing of life, the strong sense of humor, the dedication to making their work and their disease something that motivates them to make others’ lives better.’

Congressman Lee Zeldin Awarded for Steadfast Support of National Sea Grant

New York’s U.S. Congressman Lee Zeldin has received the National Sea Grant Award from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Sea Grant Program for his continued support of this national coastal science association. New York Sea Grant Director and SBU Professor Bill Wise presented the award to him in Washington, DC, on March 7 along with SGA President Jim Hurley. New York Sea Grant is headquartered at Stony Brook University.

New York Sea Grant (NYSG) is a statewide network of integrated research, education and extension services promoting coastal community economic vitality, environmental sustainability and citizen awareness about the state’s marine and Great Lake resources. Last year when federal funding for the non-profit Sea Grant program was eliminated from the budget, Congressman Zeldin was instrumental in securing full funding of $72.5 million for the program through a bipartisan appropriations request. He continued to fight during this year’s budget so that such critical funding will continue to be provided. In addition, he secured more than 100K in funding for NYSG to support the seafood and aquaculture industry and to foster relationships between the industry and next generation of fishermen and other seafood professionals.

“Representing a district almost completely surrounded by saltwater, funding to support our fishermen, our oyster growers, protect our beaches, and support marine science research is essential for our local economy and environment,” said Congressman Zeldin. “The Sea Grant Association plays a critical role in securing and providing this funding to the Long Islanders who rely on it most, and it is such an honor to receive this award from such a worthwhile organization.”

“New York Sea Grant and the coastal residents, businesses and communities our program serves are thankful for Congressman Zeldin’s support,” said NYSG Director Bill Wise. “This national network has existed for over 50 years thanks to Congressional budget support like this.”

Each year NYSG supports millions in university-based research related to a variety of marine, Hudson estuary, and Great Lakes topics and issues. Results and resources from these investigations —conducted by top-notch physical oceanographers, food scientists, benthic ecologists, aquatic toxicologists, fisheries modelers, geochemists, and others — provide useful information to the public, businesses, and managers. Sea Grant research also sets benchmarks within the scientific community, advancing the state of knowledge in many fields.

To learn more about New York Sea Grant, please visit

Medieval Barbarians Likely Imported Brides With Elongated Heads From Southeastern Europe

An international research team including Krishna Veeramah, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at Stony Brook University, has performed the first genomic analysis of populations that lived on the former territory of the Roman Empire from around 500 AD.

The analysis provides a direct look at the complex population movements during the era known as the European Migration Period. The palaeogenomic study, published in PNAS, investigated early human medieval genomic variation in southern Germany, with a specific investigation of the peculiar phenomenon of artificial skull formation, the origins of which scientists have debated for more than 50 years.

While most of the ancient Bavarians looked genetically like modern central and northern Europeans, one group of individuals had a very different and diverse genetic profile. This group was particularly notable in that they were women whose skulls had been artificially deformed at birth. Such enigmatic deformations give the skull a peculiar tower shape and have been found in past populations from across the world and from different periods of time. While the specific origins of this practice have been debated for more than 50 years, scientists think that parents in ancient societies wrapped their children’s heads with bandages for a few months after birth in order to achieve a desired head shape, perhaps to emulate a certain ideal of beauty.

“The presence of these elongated skulls in parts of eastern Europe is most commonly attributed to the nomadic Huns, led by Atilla, during their invasion of the Roman Empire from Asia,” said Veeramah, a population geneticist and first author of the paper titled “Population genomic analysis of elongated skulls reveals extensive female-biased immigration in Early Medieval Bavaria.“ “However, the appearance of these skulls in western Europe is more mysterious, as this was very much the fringes of their territory.”

Anthropologist Dr Michaela Harbeck from the State Collection of Anthropology Munich and the Population Geneticist Professor Joachim Burger of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz led the team’s work to sequence the genomes of approximately 40 individuals dating the late 5th/early 6th century AD from present-day Bavaria in southern Germany as well as from various locations in the east. They found that while both men and women with normal heads appeared to have local origins, women with elongated heads had genetic ancestry primarily from southeastern Europe rather than Central or East Asia.

According to Veeramah, the team was able to demonstrate by the genomic analysis that in addition to having elongated heads, these women demonstrated darker eyes, hair and even skin compared to the local blond-haired, blue-eyed Bavarians, yet were buried in much the same way as local women. “

“Our data points to Barbarian tribes in Western and Central Europe specifically acquiring exotic looking women with elongated heads born elsewhere, perhaps to form strategic alliances with other entities to the east, but that the Huns likely did not have much of a direct role in this process.”

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

NSF CAREER Award for Ya Wang to Support Neurodegenerative Disease Research

Mechanical Engineering Assistant Professor Ya Wang has received the prestigious Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for her project, Understanding Dynamics of Ultra-small Magnetic Nanoparticles in the Brain for Neuron Regeneration Therapies​. The award exclusively supports the research of junior faculty with federal grant funding.

The research objective of Professor Wang’s CAREER project is to analyze biological phenomena to predict the neuron regeneration mechanisms. The established microvascular dynamic model, capable of quantifying the neuron regeneration process, is essential for moving closer to clinical success in treating fast-spreading neurodegenerative diseases. Professor Wang proposes that the $500K CAREER grant will potentially lead to a new era of precision medicine and tissue engineering over the next five years.

“Professor Wang is the ninth recipient of the NSF CAREER award in the history of our department,” said Jeff Ge, chair and professor of mechanical engineering. “Her work on modeling the dynamic behavior of magnetic nanoparticles within the brain microenvironment would lay the foundation for quantifying the neuron regeneration process. This opens up the exciting new possibility for the development of a new microchip for brain research.”

Professor Wang intends for this project to lead to groundbreaking discoveries while also creating awareness of nanotechnology and biomedicine. “I strive for this project to increase the participation in STEM programs from minority groups, including women and first-generation college students on Long Island. It will also expose students, high school teachers, clinicians, and the public to STEM-related research, with the intent to support, teach, and inspire,” she said.

As director of the Nanomaterial Energy Harvesting and Sensing (NES) lab, Professor Wang’s research focuses on studying dynamic features of smart materials, structures, and intelligent systems. Her work has been sponsored by NSF, DOE ARPA-E, DOD ONR, DOT UTRC, and local industrials. She was awarded the 2015 Special Congressional Recognition and the 2015 DOE Wave Energy Prize. She is also an advisor to four semi-finalists of Intel/Regeneron Science Talent Search and to several semi-finalists of the Siemens competition. She has authored one book chapter, 28 journal papers, and 30 conference proceeding papers, as well as filed a U.S. utility patent and five provisional patents.

Professor Wang also works extensively with the Stony Brook Simons Summer Research program, the URECA program, and the WISE program to mentor high school and undergraduate students, in particular women, and students from other underrepresented minority groups. As a woman in engineering, Professor Wang’s personal experiences in the U.S. have given her a deep understanding and appreciation of difficulties faced by these students, and she strives to help them succeed in the engineering field.

Paper Considers Meta-Analysis as a Key to Research Synthesis

Figuring out what is true in science when researchers are bombarded with information from many different studies is a challenge. A new paper, published in Nature, reveals that the power of meta-analysis in research synthesis over the past 40 years has transformed scientific thinking and research approaches. Meta-analysis has also become invaluable to making advances in many scientific fields, including medicine and ecology.


Meta-analysis is the quantitative, scientific synthesis of research results from different studies investigating the same question. Since the approach (and the term) were first introduced in the 1970s, meta-analysis has been used to resolve seemingly contradictory research outcomes, to identify where more research is needed, and to tell scientists when no more studies are needed because the answers have become clear.

“Meta-analysis is the grandmother of Big Data and Open Science. Our paper illustrates how meta-analysis is used in different scientific fields, why it has become so important, and what criticisms and limitations it faces,” said co-author Jessica Gurevitch, PhD, Professor of Ecology & Evolution as Stony Brook University. “It is a statistical and scientific approach to resolving questions and reaching generalizations, but it is not magic, and can’t produce data on its own where none exists.”

In the paper “Meta-analysis and the science of research synthesis,” Professor Gurevitch and colleagues from the University of New South Wales in Australia and Newcastle University and Royal Holloway in the United Kingdom review research over the 40 years to illustrate the accomplishments and challenges of the method, along with new advances and direction of meta-analysis in 21st Century scientific research.

Even when trying to discover things that have been the subject of many experiments, such as whether boys or girls are better at math or the best treatment immediately after a stroke, Professor Gurevitch explains, the use of meta-analysis is essential to reduce biases and strengthen methods to determine the answer, or answers.

“By bringing the scientific method into the synthesis of results across independent studies, we can ask—and answer—questions we could never hope to resolve before, while new methods in meta-analysis open doors to the resolution of seemingly intractable problems,” adds Shinichi Nakagawa, a co-author from the University of New South Wales.

Citing some of the examples of what recent advances in meta-analysis have taught us, Professor Gurevitch explains that by combining experiments in a rigorous manner, “In medicine, we have been able to compare the effectiveness of treatments that have never been directly compared in any one study, and we can save lives by understanding what works long before it is apparent in any single experiment.

“In ecology and evolutionary biology, we can evaluate patterns across wide expanses of space and a diversity of animals and plants that are more than any one researcher could study in several lifetimes. In conservation, we may find out what measures really work best to achieve the goals of preserving biodiversity and threatened ecosystems. “

For more about the impact about the study findings on scientific research, read Professor Gurevitch’s blog post.

NSF CAREER Award for Anshul Gandhi Propels Cloud Computing Research 0

The National Science Foundation (NSF), one of the leading government research agencies in the American science realm, is once again demonstrating its support to computer science researchers in Stony Brook University’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences through its Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER).

Computer science professor Anshul Gandhi has been named the latest winner of an NSF CAREER Award for his project, “Enabling Predictable Performance in Cloud Computing.”

Gandhi’s CAREER research takes aim at unpredictable performance in cloud environments. Cloud computing has quickly emerged as a key service for all users, offering benefits such as low cost, elasticity and pay-as-you-go options. The proposed work, which involves theoretical and systems research seeks to enable low resource prices, along with providing ways to consolidate multiple tenants onto a single server without impacting performance.

“The NSF CAREER award is among the most prestigious federal grants given out to early career researchers,” Gandhi said. “I am thrilled to receive this award! Unlike other awards, the NSF CAREER grant also focuses on a large educational plan component, thus directly enhancing my work with students and validating my curriculum development plans.”

Besides the research itself, Gandhi will be working to create interdisciplinary courses and lectures on performance modeling to educate Stony Brook students, along with high school students on Long Island.

With $400,000 in funding from NSF, the project will develop novel performance models to estimate resource contention in opaque cloud deployments. These models will then be leveraged to develop solutions for cloud tenants that dynamically track and mitigate performance variation, thus enabling predictable performance in clouds.

“Gandhi joins a select group of 15 computer science researchers at Stony Brook who are CAREER awardees. His work on cloud computing is set to make cloud computing more resource efficient benefiting cloud users and service providers alike. This is representative of ongoing research in the department that has a direct and immediate impact on the real world,” said Samir Das, chair and professor of computer science.

About the Researcher
Gandhi earned his PhD in computer science at Carnegie Mellon University. His 2013 thesis, Dynamic Server Provisioning for Data Center Power Management, won the 2013 SPEC Distinguished Dissertation Award. After graduating, he spent a year as a post-doctoral researcher at the IBM T. J. Watson Research Center. Gandhi’s research aims to leverage mathematical tools to address challenges in computer systems. At Stony Brook, Gandhi leads the PACE Lab and currently advises six PhD students and 14 MS students.

This is Gandhi’s sixth NSF funding award since joining the Department of Computer Science in 2014. Gandhi has also received an IBM Faculty Award and a Google Faculty Research Award for his research.

Joseph Wolkin

“Supercolony” of Adélie Penguins Discovered in Antarctica

For the past 40 years, the total number of Adélie Penguins, one of the most common on the Antarctic peninsula, has been steadily declining—or so biologists have thought. A new study led by Stony Brook University ecologist Heather Lynch and colleagues from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), however, is providing new insights on this species of penguin. In a Scientific Reports paper, the international research team announced the discovery of a previously unknown “supercolony” of more than 1,500,000 Adélie Penguins in the Danger Islands, a chain of remote, rocky islands off of the Antarctic Peninsula’s northern tip.

“Until recently, the Danger Islands weren’t known to be an important penguin habitat,” says Lynch, Associate Professor of Ecology & Evolution in the College of Arts & Sciences and the paper’s senior author, titled “Multi-modal survey of Adélie penguin mega-colonies reveals the Danger Islands as a seabird hotspot.”

These supercolonies have gone undetected for decades, Lynch notes, partly because of the remoteness of the islands themselves, and partly the treacherous waters that surround them. Even in the austral summer, the nearby ocean is filled with thick sea ice, making it extremely difficult to access.

“Now that we know how important this area is for penguin abundance, we can better move forward designing Marine Protected Areas in the region and managing the Antarctic krill fishery,” explained Lynch.

In 2014, Lynch and colleague Mathew Schwaller from NASA discovered telltale guano stains in existing NASA satellite imagery of the islands, hinting at a mysteriously large number of penguins. To find out for sure, Lynch teamed with Stephanie Jenouvrier, a seabird ecologist at WHOI, Mike Polito at LSU and Tom Hart at Oxford University to arrange an expedition to the islands with the goal of counting the birds firsthand.

When the group arrived in December 2015, they found hundreds of thousands of birds nesting in the rocky soil, and immediately started to tally up their numbers by hand. The team also used a modified commercial quadcopter drone to take images of the entire island from above.

“The drone lets you fly in a grid over the island, taking pictures once per second. You can then stitch them together into a huge collage that shows the entire landmass in 2D and 3D,” says co-PI Hanumant Singh, Professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at Northeastern University, who developed the drone’s imaging and navigation system. Once those massive images are available, he says, his team can use neural network software to analyze them, pixel by pixel, searching for penguin nests autonomously.


The accuracy that the drone enabled was key, says Michael Polito, coauthor from Louisiana State University and a guest investigator at WHOI. The number of penguins in the Danger Islands could provide insight not just on penguin population dynamics, but also on the effects of changing temperature and sea ice on the region’s ecology.

“Not only do the Danger Islands hold the largest population of Adélie penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula, they also appear to have not suffered the population declines found along the western side of Antarctic Peninsula that are associated with recent climate change,” says Polito.

Being able to get an accurate count of the birds in this supercolony offers a valuable benchmark for future change, as well, notes Jenouvrier. “The population of Adélies on the east side of the Antarctic Peninsula is different from what we see on the west side, for example. We want to understand why. Is it linked to the extended sea ice condition over there? Food availability? That’s something we don’t know,” she says.

It will also lend valuable evidence for supporting proposed Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) near the Antarctic Peninsula, adds Mercedes Santos, from the Instituto Antártico Argentino (who is not affiliated with this study but is one of the authors of the MPA proposal) with the Commission for the Conservation of the Antarctic Marine Living Resources, an international panel that decides on the placement of MPAs. “Given that MPA proposals are based in the best available science, this publication helps to highlight the importance of this area for protection,” she says.

Also collaborating on the study: Alex Borowicz, Philip McDowall, Casey Youngflesh, Mathew Schwaller, and Rachael Herman from Stony Brook University; Thomas Sayre-McCord from WHOI and MIT; Stephen Forrest and Melissa Rider from Antarctic Resource, Inc.; and Tom Hart from Oxford University; and Gemma Clucas from Southampton University. The team utilized autonomous robotics technology from Northeastern University.

Funding for this research was provided by a grant to the Wood Hole Oceanographic Institution from the Dalio Ocean Initiative. Logistical support was provided by Golden Fleece Expeditions and Quark Expeditions.

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