News

May 25
Benjamin Martin, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, has received the Pershing Square Sohn Prize for Young Investigators in Cancer Research for his work with circulating tumor cells The award, granted to promising early career New York City-area cancer research scientists, includes a three-year $600,000 grant, effective July 1. Professor Martin and colleague David Q. Matus, PhD, are using state-of-the-art microscopy and genetic analysis of circulating tumor cells to achieve an unprecedented level of understanding about how these cells exit blood vessels and invade news sites on the body. To help accelerate breakthroughs in cancer research, the Pershing Square Research Alliance has invested $25 million in next generation medical research talent. For more about Professor Martin’s cancer research see this recent published paper Science, and his bio and video explanation on his research. For more about the award and recipients, see this press release.
May 01

Germination Space:
A Place to Think Big

2018 Call for Participation
An experimental approach to germinate transformative research questions
Issued May 2018

I. Introduction and Program Goals

The emergence of Engineering-Driven Medicine (EDM) has created the opportunity for the integration of engineering, physical sciences, and medicine to develop technologies that will revolutionize healthcare and help to address big, unanswered questions in medicine. Addressing these questions and technological needs in a way that has the potential for substantial and sustained impact will require complex, multiple-faceted solutions which call for innovative, transformative research. The most vital step in pursuing transformative research comes at the formulation of the research questions.
In the meantime, more and more federal, state, and non-profit funding organizations are starting to emphasize the societal and economic impact of academic research through investing in high-impact, transformative research. It becomes ever more important for SUNY researchers to explore methods for effectively formulating research questions, establishing dynamic and engaging research collaborations, and developing innovative research approaches that will increase the competitiveness of SUNY researchers’ proposals and ultimately achieve significant research advancements.
The Germination Space program will provide SUNY researchers with the opportunity to join a group of interdisciplinary peers to formulate and refine transformative research questions through a series of in-person and online interactions. The program aims to support researchers in challenging traditional assumptions; exploring uncharted areas; and germinating high-impact, transformative research questions targeted at major societal challenges.
Germination Space

The Germination Space is an experimental program dedicated to exploring methods for effectively generating research questions – specifically transformative research questions that hold the potential to address significant societal challenges. Whether motivated by curiosity of knowledge or the pursuit of specific solutions, transformative research questions:

  • Tend to be open questions without apparent, definitive answers;
  • Do not set any initial constraints, such as disciplinary boundaries, availability of resources, etc.; and
  • Challenge both stated and hidden assumptions.

The Germination Space will build on a multiple-iteration and cyclical process comprised of formulating, reflecting upon, and redefining research questions.

  • Formulating initial research questions: What motivates the question, and what outcome is expected if the question is answered?
  • Reflecting upon research questions: Challenging both stated and hidden assumptions as well as constraints of the question, and exploring what existing knowledge and technologies can be leveraged.
  • Redefining research questions: Understanding the needs of the key stakeholders and examining if the research question is relevant to a societal challenge. The research question will then be redefined based on information and insights acquired from all three stages.

Through participation in this program, selected researchers will work with interdisciplinary peers to refine their own research questions by identifying and challenging fundamental assumptions and limitations in traditional disciplinary views.

II. Program Details

Commitment
Through a series of live workshops and virtual collaboration, Stony Brook participants will iterate through a cyclical process of question formulation and refinement. Participation in the program requires a commitment to attend all on-campus sessions and complete all remote collaboration work for a given cycle. Participation is open to any Stony Brook University, PI-eligible researcher who can commit to being present on campus for the dates below for Stony Brook University:

Program: September 2018 – December 2018
Workshop A: September 28, 2018
Workshop B: October 19, 2018
Workshop C: November 30, 2018

Based on researchers’ responses to the call for participation (process below), selected researchers will be invited to a series of three on-campus, ideation workshops. As part of this process, the selected researchers will form collaborative research groups. Between workshops, researchers will explore feasibility and refinement via online collaboration. Participation is mandatory for all three on-campus workshops. Participants will generate and refine research questions, subsequently developing collaborative research proposals over the course of the semester and will be expected to provide white paper summaries of the refined proposals shortly after the completion of the final workshop. Seed funding is contingent upon the submission of these white paper summaries.
Seed funding grants of $10,000 each – with funds provided by Stony Brook University– will be provided to each of the collaborative groups to pursue the development of their proposals. Please note that there is a maximum of 5 groups that may be formed among the selected participants. Participants will then be provided support from the Office of Proposal Development to submit formal external proposals within ~12 months of completing the program.

III. Responding to this CFP

This Call for Participation (CFP) seeks to recruit researchers committed to pursuing potentially high-impact, transformative research questions that push traditional disciplinary boundaries. Participants must be willing to constructively contribute to challenging and refining both their own research questions and those of their interdisciplinary peer groups. Researchers from all backgrounds are needed
to address these large questions and all Stony Brook University, PI-eligible researchers are encouraged to apply. Please note that researchers are being asked to apply – and will be considered as – individuals. Please do not submit applications as a group. Collaborative research groups will be formed out from the individual applicants who are selected to participate in this program.

A. Applicants must submit a 1-page narrative, plus cover, as described below. Documentation must be submitted by 5pm, May 21, 2018.

Cover Page – The cover page (one page) must include:

  • Campus name;
  • Name and detailed contact information for the applicant (title, email address, phone number);
  • Brief statement of research expertise; and
  • Statement of commitment to attend all on-campus workshops

Narrative – The submitted narrative (one page) must include three sections:

  1. Clear, brief summary of researcher’s motivation for taking part in the Germination Space program and commitment to participate in full process
  2. Keyword summary of current research interests
  3. Explanation of the researcher’s current research interests and their relevance to the challenges of Engineering-Driven Medicine

Biosketch – The two-page biosketch (NSF format) must include:

  • Name, Job Title, Professional Address, Telephone Number, and E-mail address (*no personal information, e.g., home address, home phone, marital status, etc., should be included);
  • Professional Preparation: A list of individual’s undergraduate and graduate education and postdoctoral training, including institution, location, major/area, degree, and year;
  • Appointments: A list of individual’s academic/professional appointments in reverse chronological order;
  • Publications: A list of up to five recent publications closely related to the proposed areas; and
  • Synergistic Activities: A list of up to five examples of collaborative research activities, and other relevant research achievements.

B. If the response is positive, selected applicants will be invited to take part in the Fall 2018 cycle. Confirmation will be due within 7 days of invitation.

IV. Due Dates
CFP Response Deadline: May 21, 2018, by 5pm. Materials and questions should be submitted via email to Amanda.Baker@suny.edu

Commitment Deadline for invited applicants (notified no later than June 15, 2018): June 22, 2018.

  • After confirming participation, researchers will receive materials to prepare for first workshop by September 1, 2018.
  • Attend Workshop A: September 28, 2018
  • Attend Workshop B: October 19, 2018
  • Attend Workshop C: November 30, 2018

The Germination Space is part of an experimental effort to improve idea generation and refinement, funded by the National Science Foundation (EFRI-1745897/1745891) to Drs. Grace Wang and Phillip Ortiz at SUNY System Administration and Drs. Kemper Lewis and Ryan Muldoon at the University at Buffalo. Project costs are covered by NSF.

Seed funding will be provided by the Stony Brook University Office of the Vice President for Research.

Apr 09

By combining data on pathology images of 13 types of cancer and correlating that with clinical and genomic data, a Stony Brook University-led team of researchers are able to identify tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs), called TIL maps, which will enable cancer specialists to generate tumor-immune information from routinely gathered pathology slides.

Published in Cell Reports, the paper details how TIL maps are related to the molecular characterization of tumors and patient survival. The method may provide a foundation on how to better diagnose and create a treatment plan for cancers that are responsive to immune-based anti-cancer therapy, such as melanoma, lung, bladder, and certain types of colon cancer.

The gold standard for cancer diagnosis remains the pathology report from a biopsied tumor tissue. Diagnosis plays a leading role in how a patient will be treated. In certain situations and with forms of cancer treated with immune-based therapies, pathologists are also tasked with making observations on the immunologic features of the tumor tissue to determine which patients are most likely to benefit from these therapies. TILs are unleashed by immunotherapies to destroy cancer cells.

“This paper demonstrates that we can now use deep learning  methods such as artificial intelligence to extract and classify  patterns of immune cells in ubiquitously obtained pathology studies, and to relate immune cell patterns to the many other types of cancer patient molecular and clinical data,” says Joel Saltz, MD, PhD, the Cherith Chair of Biomedical Informatics at Stony Brook University and lead author of the paper, titled “Spatial Organization and Molecular Correlation of Tumor-Infiltrating Lymphocytes Using Deep Learning on Pathology Images.”

The research includes researchers from Stony Brook University, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Emory University, and the Institute for Systems Biology. The work stems from the efforts of The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) project.

In the study, the researchers applied machine learning to digitized pathology images to characterize patterns of immune infiltration present in 4,759 TCGA patients and within 13 cancer types processing more than 5,000 digital images from the cancer types to create a “computational stain” for each. With these, they created TIL maps as a potential new guide to diagnosis and treatment planning.

TCGA is a decade long comprehensive effort spearheaded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Human Genome Research Institute in collaboration with the cancer research community worldwide. The TIL map study is part of a cohort of 27 manuscripts published in Cell Press communicating results by the TCGA PanCancer Atlas Initiative,  which has compared and contrasted molecular features of all TCGA tumor samples from more than 10,000 cases comprising 33 different forms of cancer.

“Developing machine learning tools such as this proof of principle project to map lymphocytic infiltration patterns is important for research reproducibility in immune-oncology and will also allow these approaches to begin to be deployed as decision support for pathologists as we evaluate and report our cases for routine decision-making,” says Alexander Lazar, MD, PhD, Professor of Pathology & Genomic Medicine at MD Anderson and a co-author.

The investigators were able to develop the method and proof of concept with the assistance of data collection and calculations by way of high-performance computing systems available through Stony Brook’s Institute for Advanced Computational Science and Division of Information Technology.

Dr. Saltz and colleagues nationwide continue to investigate the use of digital archiving of pathology and the use of machine learning and artificial intelligence to enhance diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

The research was supported in part by the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, the Cancer Research Institute and the National Science Foundation

Apr 23

A new technology employing endocannabinoids for pain relief, developed by Stony Brook University researchers affiliated with the Institute of Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery (ICB & DD), has been licensed to Artelo Biosciences, Inc. Endocannabinoids are natural marijuana-like substances in the body and have potential as the basis for new medicines. Artelo has an exclusive license with the Research Foundation for the State University of New York to the intellectual property portfolio of FABP inhibitors for the modulation of the endocannabinoid system for the treatment of pain, inflammation and cancer.

Fatty Acid Binding Proteins have been identified as intracellular transporters for the endocannabinoid anadamide (AEA), a neurotransmitter produced in the brain that binds to THC receptors. Animal studies have demonstrated that elevated levels of endocannabinoids can result in beneficial pharmacological effects on stress, pain and inflammation and also ameliorate the effects of drug withdrawal. By inhibiting FABP transporters, the level of AEA is raised. Potential drugs acting in this manner would create elevated levels of AEA. The mechanism of action of such drugs would be similar to that of current antidepressants, which inhibit the transport of serotonin.

During the first year of the agreement, Artelo will collaborate with the Stony Brook research team to identify a lead FABP compound for drug development and formulation. The company will then conduct drug efficacy tests in nonclinical animal models of the compound.

The multidisciplinary research team is led by Dale Deutsch, PhD, Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, and a member of the ICB & DD.  The research has been supported by a $3.8 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an arm of the National Institutes of Health.

“The unique aspect of this research is that our focus is to investigate ways to active natural ‘marijuana’ in our bodies, the endocannabinoids,” said Deutsch. “This system has advantages over the properties of actual marijuana since endocannabinoids are not connected with dependence, potentially leading to addiction, but does act effectively against pain.”

Their research started in 2009 with the identification of the FABPs as the transporters of the endocannabinoids. When these compounds bind to the FABP they resulted in higher levels of AEA specifically. By using computational biology for virtual screening and actual assays, the researchers discovered lead compounds that bind to the FABPs and were analgesics for various types of pain.

The AEA research led to three Stony Brook University patent-covering new chemical compounds (called Stony Brook FABP Inhibitors or SB-FIs), which Artelo will investigate during its drug development plan.

“This licensing agreement gives us access to a promising intellectual property portfolio that is squarely aligned with our strategic direction as a scientific team with a proven track record of success,” said Gregory Gorgas, Chief Executive Officer of Artelo. “Working together to evaluate and identify novel FABP inhibitors based upon existing scientific data for clinical development will be complimentary to our drug pipeline and create a new opportunity for Artelo.”

In order to design the novel FABP inhibitors, members of the FABP Stony Brook research group required expertise in many disciplines, such as biochemistry, chemistry, computational biology, computer science, X-ray crystallography and medicine. The team includes Deutsch; Distinguished Professor Iwao Ojima, also the Director of the ICB & DD; Martin Kaczocha of the Department of Anesthesiology; Robert Rizzo  of the Department of Applied Mathematics and Statistics, and Huilin Li, formerly of the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology.

Apr 23

The Microscopy Society of America (MSA) has selected Yimei Zhu — a Stony Brook University adjunct professor and a senior physicist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) — to receive the 2018 Distinguished Scientist Award for physical sciences. This award annually recognizes two senior scientists, one in the physical sciences and the other in biological sciences, for their long-standing record of achievement in the field of microscopy and microanalysis.

“I am extremely humbled by this recognition, the highest honor of the society, and to be selected among the most distinguished scientists in the field worldwide,” said Zhu, who is leader of the Electron Microscopy and Nanostructure Group at BNL. “Four Nobel Laureates received the same award before winning the Nobel Prize: Ernst Ruska in 1985, Joachim Frank in 2003, Richard Henderson in 2005, and Jacques Dubochet in 2009. I strongly feel that my award is the result of not only my hard work, persistence, and curiosity about the inner world of matter but also my collaborations with colleagues and support from Brookhaven Lab and DOE over the past 30 years.”

“Yimei Zhu has made significant contributions to advancing ultrafast electron diffraction instruments and developing fast direct-electron-detectors,” said Molly McCartney, awards committee physical sciences co-chair. “Yimei’s contributions to instrumentation and methods are extensive. His most highly recognized achievement is the successful imaging, at atomic resolution, of the atomic structure of bulk catalysts by detecting the secondary electron emission.”

Zhu led the development of an ultrafast electron diffraction system that was commissioned at Brookhaven Lab in 2012 through the Laboratory-Directed Research and Development program, which promotes exploratory, mission-supported research. With an unprecedented temporal resolution 10 orders of magnitude faster than high-speed video cameras, this system is the first of its kind in the world.

“High-speed video cameras capture consecutive images at a rate less than 1000 frames per second, which is equivalent to taking a picture once every millisecond,” explained Zhu. “Our ultrafast system operates at a rate of 100 femtoseconds, or 100 quadrillionths of a second. Using a pump-probe method in which we excite a sample with laser light (the pump) and probe it with electrons while varying the time delay between the pump and probe, we can see the otherwise unobservable motion of atoms and electrons in materials.”

This capability has opened up the possibility for scientists to understand the dynamic behavior of materials—such as the intriguing transition between insulating and   superconducting phases—and to discover “hidden” states of matter beyond the solid, liquid, gas, and plasma states that are observable in everyday life.

“The bottleneck in science and technology today is the lack of materials with the desired properties for applications such as energy storage and quantum computing,” said Zhu. “Overcoming these limitations requires an understanding of the complex interactions between atoms and electrons and the exotic states of matter that are far from equilibrium. Ultrafast methods such as the pump-probe approach can provide us with the dynamic information we need to control the chemical and physical properties of materials so that we can make, for example, smaller batteries with longer cycleability and computer chips with a higher memory capacity.”

Mar 22

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.’

Mar 23

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.

Mar 27

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.

Mar 29

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.

Mar 05

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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