Archived PD of the Month

Meet Alberto Perez

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Dr. Alberto Perez
Postdoctoral Associate
Laufer Center

"If you start with the details ... you'll never get your science across."

Communicating Science is a Passion for this Postdoc

As one of the founding members of Stony Brook’s Postdoc Working Group, Alberto Perez is tireless in his efforts to emphasize the importance of communicating one’s science to all types of audiences. His will be the lead-in presentation in the upcoming Postdoc Research Symposium to be held on September 20 with his talk entitled Proteins? Yes, please (but folded). Why does he so highly value the art of communication?

“It is not uncommon to go to a conference, check out all the great talks you are going to hear, be in the room excitedly anticipating what is to come on the big screen ... and then you get lost after the second slide. Scientists want to make sure there is no doubt that we know what we are talking about, but unfortunately that can result in only experts, working on exactly the same problem as we are, being able to understand our presentations. It is a frustrating experience for the listener who wants to learn about new subjects, and it is frustrating for the speaker who wants to create new opportunities for collaborations across disciplines. We need to learn how to better engage everyone while keeping the talk interesting to even the more advanced listener.

 "Communicating science is not about losing accuracy; you can still convey your ideas precisely but with less detail so that people understand what you are doing and why. You want to make your audience curious and then let them ask afterward for details. If you start with the details ... you'll never get your science across.”

 How did you get interested in science?
“Since I was small I had lots of opportunities - my dad is a scientist, and there were plenty of books around me so I guess that sparked my interest in science. I was born in Barcelona, Spain but I came to the US for middle school, which helped me learn English … which made it so much easier for me in science.”

What brought you to Stony Brook?
“I did my undergrad in Chemistry and my PhD in DNA flexibility at the University of Barcelona. When I started looking for a Postdoc position I interviewed with Ken Dill at the University of California San Francisco to study protein folding. When I got to San Francisco I was told it was likely that Ken’s group was going to move to Stony Brook. Ken gave me the options of looking for another group at UCSF, working remotely from UCSF or moving with him to a new center full of new opportunities … so I decided to come to Stony Brook.” Alberto is now a Postdoctoral Associate in the new Laufer Center for Physical and Quantitative Biology under the direction of Professor Dill.

“Initially I was afraid of leaving UCSF because of the high level of NIH funding awarded there and because there were several Nobel Laureates on campus so I thought I might not have the same level of opportunities at SBU as I would at UCSF, but actually I’ve increased my network considerably since coming to Stony Brook. And also working with the Postdoc Working Group allows me to take part in shaping events for Postdocs on campus, which is a very rewarding experience.”

What accomplishments are you most proud of since arriving at Stony Brook?
“I just finished participating in CASP, an event that takes place every other year, which stands for Critical Assessment for Structural Prediction. The competition runs throughout the summer and consists of regularly receiving different protein sequences for which you have three weeks to predict the structure. Basically the competition is a way of blind testing protein predictions methods from all around the world. At the present time the methods to characterize proteins directly via experiments are expensive and limited, so we are trying to use computational tools to allow us to get some insight. This competition gave us the chance to use some of the new resources at the Laufer Center and assess the effectiveness of our methods and how they compare to cheaper but less principle-based methods.

“In a nutshell, proteins do most things inside us. We want to know what proteins look like so we can better understand how they work and how to correct them when they go wrong. Basically there are two approaches for predicting a protein’s structure. One approach is: if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck then it must be a duck so it must have a duck’s shape, and applying that approach to proteins means that similar protein sequences probably have the same structure.

“Our approach is based on physics. We say: here are the equations of motions and these are the laws of physics governing different kinds of interactions in a given protein. We allow these interactions to drive the protein from its initial disordered state until we get a folded protein. This approach is much more computationally intense, but the insights we get are much more realistic. We just finished the competition last week and will find out how we did in about a month.”

What are your future goals?
“In the short-term I plan to continue working at the Laufer Center and to take advantage of the opportunities here to grow as a scientist and as a person, to better prepare myself for the next stage which will hopefully be a tenure track position … somewhere.”

What advice might you have for other Postdocs here at Stony Brook?
“While you are a Postdoc, try to plan where you see yourself in a year’s time and work towards that goal. Also keep an open mind: No matter how much you plan, things change in your life and you have to adapt. Don’t get frustrated by a change in your plans … and network … a lot.”

In the tradition of the French TV host Bernard Pivot who asked a series of questions at the end of every interview, we ask our Postdocs the following questions:

What is your favorite sound?
“Its absence.”

What is your favorite word or phrase?
“Move slow, think fast.”

What is your favorite hobby
“Sports, especially soccer, reading and trying to learn Japanese.”

To learn more about Alberto Perez, you can visit his website at http://alberto4web.wordpress.com.

 

 

Meet Craig Hardgrove

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Dr. Craig Hardgrove
Postdoctoral Associate
Geosciences Department

From Death Valley to Russia to Mars, this planetary scientist mixes music, gaming and space travel … literally

Can you imagine what music, Mars, videogames and geology might have in common? That’s easy - Dr. Craig Hardgrove. The makers of Halo recently purchased his synthesized 16-song soundtrack for an iPad videogame, the National Academy of Sciences has asked his newly formed Astrum Terra group to act as consultants for science fiction role-playing games, and on August 5th he’ll be busy at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA as part of an elite Science Team anxiously awaiting the ‘ping’ that will hopefully be emitted by NASA’s latest rover, Mars Science Laboratory, as it lands. And oh yes … lest we forget to mention … Craig is a Postdoc in the Geosciences Department at SBU studying Planetary Science.

“I was interested in dinosaurs as a little kid, but when I saw the fantastic pictures of Saturn and Jupiter taken by Voyager 1 and 2 I got really excited about studying our solar system and the planets. I read a lot of science fiction and talked to my Dad who said I should be an aerospace engineer. I was living in Georgia at the time, and they have this great program called the Hope Scholarship where if you maintain at least a 3.0 GPA, they pay for your tuition and your books, so that, and the reputation of Georgia Tech’s engineering program, were big incentives to stay in-state … so I started at Georgia Tech in Aerospace Engineering.

“I was convinced that engineering was where I was supposed to be by a lot of my peers and aerospace professors, but I wasn’t sure because all the students in the classes were interested in airplanes and rockets. I wasn’t really interested in the airplanes or rockets themselves; I was interested in the stuff they put on rockets that would tell you about the planets. I was in the aerospace program for about 3 years when I took a class in physics, just to fulfill a requirement, and instead of learning about weights and how to make things more efficient, we learned about the world and how things work. I thought, ‘This is what I went to college for,’ and so I switched to physics.”

After five years and a mere 160 credits, Craig graduated with a degree in Physics and went on to the University of Tennessee to do his graduate work in Planetary Science, housed in the Geology Department.

What brought you to Stony Brook?

“Some of the work I did during my PhD caught the attention of another researcher who saw my talk at a conference.” After realizing the work they did was similar, he studying alluvial fans with thermal imagery in Death Valley and she studying alluvial fans on Mars, they decided to work together on a paper for which Professor Deanne Rogers from Stony Brook was also an author. “I looked at temperature images mostly, but Deanne looked at spectral images, meaning she made determinations about the mineralogy and what the rocks were composed of, and I looked at how big or small and well cemented they were.” Craig thought their work was complementary so he contacted Professor Rogers and now works for her as a Postdoctoral Associate in the Geosciences Department.

What is an alluvial fan?

“Picture yourself standing in the middle of a valley between two large mountain ranges. Where the mountains meet the valley you get all the run-off of sediment that’s eroding from the mountains, and when the sediment from these nice, confined channels of the mountains meets the valley, it becomes completely unconfined and you get all this deposition of rock and sediment that is shaped like a paper fan. These record a bunch of different depositional events, which tell you something about the climate and the environment. So when you see one of the alluvial fans on Mars, it will tell you about the geologic history of the planet.”

Can you explain what work you are doing now?

“In the past researchers have primarily studied the thermal infrared properties of volcanic rocks because that’s mostly what we thought Mars was composed of, but the Spirit and Opportunity rovers on Mars, which have been there for 7 years now, have found sedimentary rocks so we are starting to figure out what sedimentary rocks look like through thermal infrared imagery and spectra. The minerals on the surface of Mars absorb different wavelengths of thermal infrared light, and the minerals you can identify, by studying the reflected thermal infrared light, tell you about the sedimentary processes that happened to form that deposit. We are looking at evidence of water from 3 and a half billion years ago on Mars.”

What accomplishments are you most proud of since you arrived here?

“I did a part of my dissertation on neutron detectors for Mars rovers. Mars Science Laboratory, which basically is a rover the size of a Volkswagen Bug, is going to arrive on Mars on August 5th. One of the instruments on that rover is a neutron detector, which they use primarily to look for water. They have used neutron detectors on Mars missions in the past which have passively looked at how many neutrons were leaking out of the planetary surface, and whether or not the number of neutrons goes up or down tells you whether or not there is water buried underground, but this new instrument works differently. Instead of just waiting for the neutrons to come back, you shoot over a billion neutrons into the surface in a microsecond and you listen for what neutrons come back, and this not only tells you how much hydrogen is below the surface but how deep it is.

“On Mars we know there is chlorine, and geologically this is important because we know that on Earth when water in streams or lakes evaporates it can leave behind enrichments in chlorine. So if the rover ‘smelled’ chlorine, we could say maybe there was some ancient lake there …. When I was doing my PhD at UT I used a computer model to simulate the neutron signal for a bunch of different chemistries of the soil .… I simulated what the neutron count would be if you added really small amounts of chlorine and found that you’d be confused as to whether or not there was water or just chlorine, and so I wrote a paper and convinced the Science Team that this was something important that they needed to be aware of … and that’s how I became a collaborator on the mission.”

The approximately 300-member Science Team will be at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA when the rover first lands on Mars, and they proceed to spend the next few months of the mission eating, sleeping and breathing the day-to-day operations of the rover. “We live in Pasadena on Mars time and basically operate the rover when it is nighttime on Mars. You look at what data came back from the previous day, you plan and upload what the rover is going to do for the next day, and then you get to sleep. I recently went to Russia because the neutron detector is a Russian-contributed instrument, and they had a team meeting for just those who are working on the neutron detector, which is what I’ll be doing. We worked out a schedule for the operational 10-12 hour shifts.”

Anything else you would like to mention?

“I’ve also started a group that is based out of Stony Brook called Astrum Terra. There’s about six of us who are professional scientists who play videogames, and we make ourselves available to people who want to talk to us about incorporating real science into the games. This game I’m playing now called Mass Effect lets you explore other planets, and you read about them before you go exploring and I think to myself, ‘You probably shouldn’t say you have a big silver deposit on a big outer planet with a thin atmosphere.’ I think there are consultants in the movie industry so why shouldn’t there be consultants in the videogame industry? If you make things more realistic, you make them more immersive.

“I’ve started a blog (http://www.astrumterra.com/blog) and I’ve reached out to NASA’s Education Public Outreach office to try and come up with ways to reach a wider audience. And we are also partnered with the National Academy of Sciences through their Science and Entertainment Exchange which links moviemakers, TV shows and now videogame makers with scientists. Through this exchange we’ve connected with someone who is making a science fiction role-playing board game that’s similar to Dungeons and Dragons but in space. We are helping them with their space travel questions. It’s a lot of fun, and we’ve gotten a really positive response from them.”

Dare we ask … anything else?

“I recently sold my music to the people who make Halo. I started playing music on the piano, then I played trumpet in marching band, then I learned guitar, and I learned how to play the tin flute in Ireland. I eventually got into making digital music and I wound up remaking the 16-song soundtrack from a 1994 video game called Marathon, and I posted it on a forum for anyone who liked this game. When the iPad came out I contacted the person porting Marathon to iPad to try to incorporate my music into their new version of the game.” After researching copyright issues, Craig was eventually sent a recording contract from the makers of Marathon (who also created Halo), and they purchased his soundtrack, which can be accessed at themarathonmusic.com.

What advice might you have for other Postdoctoral Scholars?

“Figure out your own path; really sit down and think about what your own personal interests are and not what other people’s interests are for you. Try everything – learn about non-academic careers, because that’s a perspective you don’t really get as a PhD student. But of course, make sure you do your work and do what you’re supposed to for your PI.

In the tradition of the French TV host Bernard Pivot who asked a series of questions at the end of every interview, we ask our Postdocs the following questions:

What is your favorite sound?
“The piano.”

What is your favorite word or phrase?
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” -Einstein

What is your favorite hobby? (Need we ask?)
“Videogames.”

 

Meet Peter Love

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Dr. Peter Love
Postdoctoral Associate
Marine Sciences

As a young boy in Adelaide Australia, Dr. Peter Love always knew he wanted to be a scientist, but he thought his work would be in astronomy and space exploration. Today he is doing his Postdoc in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences under the tutelage of Professor Marvin Geller.

How did you get involved in your present field of science?

“Atmospheric science wasn’t my first choice. As an undergrad I originally planned on going into Astrophysics, but circumstantially I began working on a project with an atmospheric physics group, and the appeal grew. Atmospheric science is very satisfying in that you can relate to what you are studying in terms of day-to-day experience. You can see the direct benefits to society of doing climate related work improving forecasting models. It happens to be topical at the moment, but you can see directly where your efforts are leading. I guess you could say it is very practical, and that appeals to me.”

What brought you to Stony Brook University?

“I had always anticipated coming to the US to work because of the job opportunities. Having done some collaborative work with some other US researchers during my PhD made this increasingly likely. Toward the end of my PhD, which was in experimental physics, I was at a conference in Adelaide and my supervisor at that time invited Professor Marvin Geller to give a talk. Coincidentally he was looking for a Postdoc, so we arranged an informal interview. I guess it was good timing, being in the right place at the right time. I’ve been here for about two years now.”

Can you explain in laymen’s terms what work you are doing?

“I study atmospheric dynamics, in particular I look at waves in the atmosphere which behave quite similar to waves in the ocean. What we’re interested in is the energy and momentum transport associated with these waves. Generally, although not exclusively, they get excited in the lower part of the atmosphere and some then travel upwards through the atmosphere. As they reach higher altitudes they become unstable and they break, just like waves break on the beach. They deposit their energy at these points, which causes the atmosphere in these regions to heat up and the winds to accelerate or decelerate. This is happening all the time throughout the atmosphere, and it’s very important to be able to include those effects in our climate models. It has profound implications for large-scale circulations in the atmosphere.

But the problem with getting this into the models is that the resolution of the computer models people are using to forecast the climate is not actually sufficient to resolve the waves, to capture the details of the waves, so we have to find ways to include these effects through other parameters. We’ve made some significant developments through observing the waves using satellite measurements, so we’re now getting a global distribution of wave energy to form a better picture.”

What accomplishments are you most proud of since you arrived here?

“I’ve contributed to a couple of grant proposals, one of which was recently awarded from the NSF. I wrote a part of it, and it was a good experience.”

What are your future goals?

“I haven’t decided yet if I want to go down the teaching path or just do research. I’m doing a little lecturing now which is helping me determine if that’s what I want to do, but I think my main interest will remain in doing research.”

What advice might you have for other Postdoctoral Scholars?

“I would say write as much as you can. Produce as much tangible output as possible, and enjoy the opportunity. I think doing a Postdoc is the reward for sticking it out through your PhD.”

In the tradition of the French TV host Bernard Pivot who asked a series of questions at the end of every interview, we ask our Postdocs the following questions:

What is your favorite sound?
“The wind in the trees or the waves in the ocean.”

What is your favorite word or phrase?
“Carpe Diem.”

What is your favorite hobby?
“I’ve always liked the outdoors; hiking, biking, skiing, rock climbing. I’d say it’s more of a lifestyle for me rather than a hobby.”

 


Meet Ete Chan

"Ete has been a sensational resource in the lab and has shown all the hallmarks of a great investigator including integrity, creativity and tenacity." - Professor Clint Rubin, Chair of Biomedical Engineering

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Dr. Mei Lin (Ete) Chan
Postdoctoral Associate
Biomedical Engineering

Dr. Mei Lin Chan was nominated to be Postdoc of the Month by her colleagues, Dr. Steven Tommasini and Dr. Sarah Manske. Known by her nickname of Ete (which means summer in French - she adopted the name while taking a French course in her native country of Hong Kong), this Postdoc is revered for her skills as a mentor and her patience with her students. “My main reason for nominating Ete was based on her enthusiasm and effort in mentoring students…. She dedicates a considerable amount of her time to their learning experience,” said Dr. Manske. “… Ete has been a mentor to multiple, award-winning undergraduate and high-school students. Students continue to flock to her corner of the lab for her guidance,” said Dr. Tommasini.

Ete did her undergraduate work at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. “Based on my academic merit and contribution in extracurricular activities, I was fortunately nominated to enter a scheme which allowed me to go to any program I desired in Hong Kong when I graduated from my secondary school. So at that time I was choosing between becoming a lawyer or a biomedical engineer. When I was making this decision 10 years ago, the field of biomedical engineering was really new, and the undergraduate degree was only offered by one institution in Hong Kong. I thought it had great potential to be a bridge between the medical and engineering fields and to improve health technology and knowledge of prevention and treatment of various diseases.” She did one year of her undergraduate study sponsored by an HSBC overseas scholarship, and her doctoral work at Columbia University in Manhattan was also in biomedical engineering.

What brought you to Stony Brook University?

“Hong Kong is very metropolitan, and I couldn’t imagine myself in a place not like New York, so after finishing my PhD in Columbia at Manhattan, I wanted to stay close by and still work in one of the best labs in the orthopedic research field. Professor Clint Rubin is the principal investigator of the lab where I work here at Stony Brook. Professors Rubin, Stefan Judex and Yi-Xian Qin are three principal investigators of three different but neighboring labs working in the orthopedic research field in the Biomedical Engineering department.
“Professor Rubin is well known in the orthopedic field for his contribution in understanding how biophysical signals affect the growth, healing, and homeostasis of bone. Before I applied to him, he came to Columbia to give a talk and he showed a picture of himself with a turkey on a vibration plate from his National Geographic article. I was very impressed with his talk, and I’m glad now that I have a chance to work with him, and I also can still work with Professors Judex and Qin. Our three labs share equipment and manpower, and we always have stimulating scientific discussions together to keep improving our research.

“And actually now I do like Long Island. In the past I was skeptical, but now I have two cats and I live in a bigger place compared to what I had in the city. I can do my research, and, whenever I feel like being a New Yorker, I can still always take the train into Manhattan so it’s a good balance.”

Can you explain in laymen’s terms what work you are doing?

“My research focuses on elucidating the underlying mechanisms, at the stem cell level, involved in bone adaptation to mechanical stimulations in normal and pathological conditions. Using a diet-induced obesity model, I am studying how obesity negatively impacts not only the immune but also the skeletal system and, more importantly, how we can harness mechanical stimuli to mitigate these adverse effects simultaneously given that immune cells originate from the bone marrow.”  

What accomplishments are you most proud of since you arrived here?

“I am glad to have accomplished a lot in research here together with my talented lab mates in Professor Rubin’s lab. More importantly, however, I’m most proud of the students I have mentored and worked with. So far I’ve been here for about 2-1/2 years and I’ve mentored more than 10 graduate, undergraduate and high school students. I’m really proud of them that they gradually learned to plan and carry out projects and troubleshoot independently, which is critical for their future development. A lot of students I have mentored so far continued their graduate studies in very good schools such as Virginia Tech, Cornell, Harvard and Princeton.”

When asked how she handles working with the disparate skill levels of her students, she said, “After mentoring so many students, the thing I’ve learned is to always start by giving new students simple tasks to see how they do and adjust the next task according to their skill levels and interests. Also the thing I learned from Professor Rubin, who is really good at mentoring, is that instead of micromanaging or suffocating your students, a mentor needs to give the mentee space to think and a big picture for motivation. It takes some time to train my students, but it is a worthy, long-term investment both for them and for me. Sometimes my students will email me at midnight saying they finished a certain task, and I think to myself, ‘That’s amazing how motivated and responsible a student can be.’”

According to Ete’s supervisor Professor Clint Rubin, “Ete has been a sensational resource in the lab and has shown all the hallmarks of a great investigator including integrity, creativity and tenacity. I admire her commitment and patience with all the students in the lab (lucky for them Ete is here!), and I greatly value her broad perspective and rigorous contributions to our work on stem cells and chasing their potential role in treating diseases like obesity, diabetes and osteoporosis.”

What are your future goals?

“To further my independent research in the orthopedic field, I would like to continue my academic career as a faculty member. I want to start my own laboratory and work with my students and Postdocs to explore interesting and challenging basic science and translational research questions.”

What advice might you have for other postdoctoral scholars?

“Being a Postdoc is not just about performing your own research or learning some new lab techniques. You should be learning how to become a Principal Investigator yourself, to become not only independent in developing research ideas but also to work with your peers and students; properly manage and motivate people to work towards a goal.

“I would sincerely like to thank both Steve and Sarah for nominating me to be Postdoc of the Month. To have my fellow Postdocs suggest my name is truly an honor. And actually Steve just started a job at Yale so it was like his gift to me before he left Stony Brook.”

In the tradition of the French TV host Bernard Pivot who asked a series of questions at the end of every interview, we ask our Postdocs the following questions:

What is your favorite sound?
“The sound of happiness.”

What is your favorite word or phrase?
“It is the motto of my undergraduate school, derived from the great Chinese classic Yijing: ‘To learn and to apply for the benefit of mankind.’”

What is your favorite hobby?
“Since I have come to Long Island, I like to garden. I enjoy seeing my vegetables and herbs grow, kind of like my students.”

 

Meet Ezio Bartocci

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Dr. Ezio Bartocci
Postdoctoral Associate
Applied Mathematics & Statistics

At the age of 10 Ezio begged his parents for a computer, which back then was an expensive request. After much pleading he was finally granted his wish, but when he received the computer he thought, “I don’t want to play with this, I want to know how it works.” And that’s when from the Adriatic Coast in the town of Ancona Italy, Dr. Ezio Bartocci’s journey began. “I received my bachelor’s in computer science and then my master’s in bioinformatics. My PhD is from the University of Camerino in complex systems and information science.”

Unlike many scientists who can oftentimes become narrowly focused on their work, Ezio believes in the power of interdisciplinary collaborations and thought. “I wanted to go to a technical high school, but my father wanted me to have a broader scope, so I went to a high school where I had to learn Latin, philosophy, calculus, biology, chemistry and very little about computers. But I did learn the importance of learning from different perspectives. Many ideas I have I took from one field and developed them in another. My philosophy of research is based on the word university: In Latin universitas, ad unum vertere (“turn to the one”), indicates an attitude aimed at finding the link that connects every aspect of human knowledge to reality as a whole.”

What brought you to Stony Brook University?

“When I was working on my thesis I was collaborating with Professors Scott A. Smolka and Radu Grosu in Computer Science, and during that time they won, together with Professor James Glimm in Applied Math, an interdisciplinary NSF grant worth 10 million called Expedition in Computing for the Computational Modeling and Analysis of Complex Systems (CMACS), with Carnegie Mellon as the lead institute. Also involved are CUNY, NYU, University of Maryland, Cornell and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at NASA. After the grant was awarded, I was invited to do a postdoc here with Professor Glimm who is an expert in the field of fluid dynamics and numerical analysis. The grant involves people from different backgrounds: biology, computer science, applied math and some engineers.”

Can you explain in laymen’s terms what work you are doing?

“The main goal is to obtain new insights into the emergent behavior of complex biological and embedded systems through the use of highly scalable and fully automated modeling and analysis techniques.We are extending techniques that are already used in computer science called model checking and abstract interpretation. These techniques, which were originally developed to find bugs in programs, can now be applied to complex biological and embedded systems. You can think about a biological system as a program for which you would like to find the mechanisms that lead to a bug or an undesired behavior, for example a cancer or cardiac fibrillation. In particular the project aims to face four different challenges: pancreatic cancer; distributed automotive control; aerospace control systems; and atrial fibrillation, which is my main area of research.”

What accomplishments are you most proud of since you arrived here?

“This year was full of accomplishments. First we succeeded in carrying out the first automated formal analysis of a realistic cardiac cell model. The analysis involved determining the parameter ranges that lead to the loss of excitability, a precursor to cardiac disorders such as ventricular tachycardia and fibrillation. We also worked in computer simulation and in particular we showed how to use Graphic Processing Units (GPUs) to perform real-time simulated cardiac dynamics using inexpensive workstations.

“Another accomplishment is that I helped organize and teach a workshop on Atrial Fibrillation for fifteen dedicated students from CUNY’s senior colleges. We taught them how to perform real experiments and computer simulations, and we actually published one of the proposed experiments so all the students are co-authors on this paper with us. It was a rewarding experience helping a new generation of students become researchers.

“We also developed a technique for repairing probabilistic systems, which means you want to find automatically the minimal change of some controllable transition probabilities such that the system will satisfy the property of interest. Lastly we received the Best Paper Award together with other authors at the International Conference on Runtime Verification held this year in San Francisco. For this paper we collaborated with the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) to monitor traces of software with missing events and to estimate the probability of having violations of the normal behavior in such cases. We applied this technique to a simulation of the Mars Rover. When the monitor shuts off, due to over-consumption of computational resources, we can determine with a certain amount of probability what could happen during the gaps based on a statistical model previously learned.”

What are your future goals?

“I was offered several jobs in industry that would have been very well paid (one from a bank doing quantitative analysis and risk assessment), but I want to stay in academia and become a professor. I like the idea of being a mentor and helping to form a new generation of scientists.”

What advice might you have for other Postdoctoral Scholars?

“Try to publish as much as you can during this period in which you can focus mainly on your research … and collaborate with others and try to grasp new ideas and perspectives. Don’t just specialize in your field: Interdisciplinary work is very important for building a solid network with other scientists from different application domains. And if you can, take part in writing grants and learning from the people who have had success previously.”

For more information about Dr. Ezio Bartocci, you can visit his website at www.eziobartocci.com.

In the tradition of the French TV host Bernard Pivot who asked a series of questions at the end of every interview, we ask our Postdocs the following questions:

What is your favorite sound?
“I like classical music, especially opera and Don Giovanni.”

What is your favorite word or phrase?
“My favorite saying is from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: ‘Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now....’”

What is your favorite hobby?
“I like to read, build electronic circuits, and I love to cook.”

Meet Lidia Sobkow

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Dr. Lidia Sobkow
Postdoctoral Associate
Biomedical Engineering

When you meet the person responsible for making axolotl glow, you know you’re in the presence of a unique and wonderful mind, and such is the case with Dr. Lidia Sobkow. After leaving her home country of Poland to get a PhD from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Lidia stayed in Germany and completed a Postdoc in the Leibniz Institute of Polymer Research before coming to the US to join Professor Gerald Thomsen’s lab in Biochemistry. Her degree is officially in molecular biology but it was through her graduate work at MPI that she became familiar with an axolotl, an amphibian, that can fully regenerate dismembered parts … and she made the tadpole creatures glow. “When I saw that I had green axolotl, I was crying. I was running through the whole institute with the bowl of eggs saying, ‘They’re green, they’re green!’ Everybody was very happy. It was the first transgenic animal of this kind.

“People don’t know how regeneration happens, and they don’t know why certain animals can regenerate but we can’t. I created the first transgenic GFP (Green Fluorescent Protein) animal so that when we transplant GFP positive cells in the wild type axolotl and then cut through them, we can see how the mature cells contribute to the new tissue in the regeneration process.”

What brought you to Stony Brook University?

Longing to combine her knowledge gained in graduate school with her engineering roots, Lidia moved on to study hematopoietic stem cells and various biomaterials and scaffolds for tissue engineering at Leibniz. “Then after seven years of Dresden life I felt like I needed to move on. I was still interested in regeneration and I found the advertisement for work with Gerald Thomsen who was using another animal model system for studying regeneration, the sea anemone.”

Can you explain in laymen’s terms what work you are doing?

“Professor Thomsen studies signaling pathways, specifically the TGFß pathway in frog embryo development, and he wanted to see how this pathway might be involved with regeneration in the sea anemone. Many of the genes that we have that are in that pathway are also in this animal. I didn’t know much about these pathways so I thought it would be interesting to learn these things from him and still work with regeneration. And although funding ran out before we could finish our research, I’m very grateful to have worked with Jerry because he was my first true mentor on so many levels, both in science and on a personal level. He made a significant impact on my life.”

While thinking about her future and how to make herself more marketable, Lidia undertook a course through the Center for Biotechnology called the Fundamentals of the Bio-Science Industry, … “but then I was fortunate to find another opportunity in Professor Balaji Sitharaman’s lab in Biomedical Engineering who is doing a lot of tissue engineering with carbon nanotubes and what type of influence carbon nanotubes would have on bone marrow stem cells. I’ve been in his lab for three months; it’s a great group and the potential for research is unlimited.”

What accomplishments are you most proud of since you arrived here?

“With Jerry I wrote a DoD grant, and people say if you can go through the administrative hurdles of a DoD grant, then you can handle any proposal. We didn’t get the grant, but the whole experience was great.”

What are your future goals?

“I’m in the middle of writing two grants with Professor Sitharaman, one for the NIH and one for DoD. I am trying to combine what I did before with the tools and options I have in this lab, and maybe I can start to become independent, but I definitely have interests in other things besides science. I’m leaving my options open.”

What advice might you have for other Postdoctoral Scholars?

“This is the hardest question: I would say follow your heart with open eyes and an open mind. It’s a difficult life, but don’t be afraid or intimidated to try a different path. It’s good to talk to other people so you know you’re not the only one dealing with your issues. Peer support is important.”

In the tradition of the French TV host Bernard Pivot who asked a series of questions at the end of every interview, we ask our Postdocs the following questions:

What is your favorite sound?
“Music, laughter and silence.”

What is your favorite word or phrase?
“I don’t have one, but I am very ordered, so I would say ‘This is what happens when you don’t have a system.’”

What is your favorite hobby?
“Photography. It’s a dream of mine to be a National Geographic photographer. Photography takes me to a different dimension, beyond science.”

 

Meet Devi Ekanayake

devi
Dr. Devi Ekanayake
Postdoctoral Associate
Department of
Pharmacological
Sciences

‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way’ is Dr. Devi Ekanayake’s favorite saying, and she has embraced that spirit throughout her life and career - from teaching herself English, to leaving her home country of Sri Lanka to do graduate work at the University of Oklahoma, to learning a multitude of new techniques in Dr. Michael Frohman’s lab in the Department of Pharmacological Sciences. “Science, math and English were my favorite subjects in middle school. I love to study things that have logic behind them. They help me remember what I learn, rather than having to memorize things.

“When I was young my dream was to become a medical doctor, but in Sri Lanka education is highly competitive. In grades 11 and 12 I had to study botany, chemistry, physics and zoology for two consecutive years if I wanted to enter medical college, or any other biological science. Although I did really well in all four subjects and passed my university entrance level exams, I was five points behind the cutoff mark to enter medical college. Although it was frustrating, I looked at the bright side: my chemistry grade was high and I loved chemistry too. I always had plans to travel abroad for higher education, so I worked hard, got selected to specialize in chemistry for my B.S., graduated with honors and applied to US universities. The University of Oklahoma Graduate School offered me a position with a good stipend, so I took it without hesitation. I arrived in Oklahoma in 2004 and studied biochemistry, working on enzymes for 5 years with Dr. Paul F. Cook who was an eminent expert in the field of mechanistic enzymology. That is how I began the most fascinating journey of my scientific career. Today I am very happy and proud of my accomplishments.”

What brought you to Stony Brook?
“By the time I completed my PhD, my husband had started a postdoctoral position at BNL, and that’s how I came to New York. I had always wanted to research diseases such as cancer, diabetes, obesity, etc. I applied to several positions at both BNL and Stony Brook that had projects addressing my interests. Within two weeks I was invited for four interviews, and that’s how I met Dr. Frohman. After meeting several PIs and discussing their work, I decided to work with Dr. Frohman because of the diverse range of his projects and because of his excellent and experienced mentorship.”

Can you explain what work you are doing here at Stony Brook?
“My primary project addresses type I diabetes. We are trying to develop a non-invasive diagnostic method to quantify beta cells in the pancreas. Beta cells are responsible for producing insulin. By the time someone exhibits the symptoms of type I diabetes, almost all of his/her beta cells in the pancreas have been lost. Why and how these cells die is not very clear. If we can develop a method to quantify the beta cell mass, we can use that to predict if an individual is likely to become a diabetic. Hopefully our findings will change the way we think and handle diabetes in the future.

“The second project focuses on the influenza virus, which is a major global health concern. Every year in some part of the world there is a new strain. The virus cannot complete its life cycle without an avian or mammalian host, and once inside a mammalian host, especially humans, it attacks the respiratory system causing a huge accumulation of fluid in the small air sacs in the lungs called alveoli. Since new strains are constantly arising, vaccines need to be remade each year, which is challenging to accomplish in time and expensive.

“There are two major viral proteins that are essential for the infectious transmission of the virus, which the virus makes in the host cells. Current treatments largely rely on inhibiting either one or both of the proteins, but the virus develops rapid resistance to the drugs. Thinking outside the box, investigators are looking for host factors that could be temporarily blocked to prevent the virus from getting the support it needs from the cell to replicate itself and infect new cells, which would be a promising approach to develop new drugs.

Recent RNAi screening assays have identified 72 genes that when down regulated (which means you decrease their activity to see what happens when you try to infect cells) result in a remarkable decrease in the infectivity of the virus. My lab largely studies a particular class of enzymes called PLD, and one of the 72 genes identified is PLD2 … that’s where we became excited. Now we have to find out detailed information about how it happens, so there are three major goals of my project:

1. Does PLD2 play any role in the trafficking or modification of the viral proteins within the host cell?

2. Does PLD2 regulate replication, maturation and release of the virus into the environment?

3. Can we use a small molecule PLD inhibitor that we have characterized to temporarily inhibit the action of PLD2 in the host cell and develop this into a therapeutic that could be useful for the next influenza outbreak?”

What accomplishments are you most proud of since you arrived here?
“I’ve only been here five months, but a month ago I received a National Research Service Award for diabetes and Metabolic Disease research, an NIH fellowship, for the work I am doing on the diabetes project. I am very happy and honored to have received it and hopeful and encouraged to find something new and helpful to the world about diabetes. I also consider being able to work with Dr. Frohman an accomplishment. He has given me a chance to learn many new things, as his projects call for many new techniques that were unfamiliar to me. He is a very kind, understanding and supportive person who gives his students and postdocs enormous freedom to develop their ideas and experiments. He has a great deal of patience dealing with our weaknesses or failures. Above all, I admire him for not hesitating to give me this opportunity despite my lack of background. He is an amazing PI and I wish every young scientist could have a PI like him.”

What are your future goals?
“My major goal as a postdoc is to obtain good data and publish my findings in reputable journals. In the meantime, I want to learn and get hands-on experience in a diverse range of techniques in related fields. Learning new things has forced me to be mindful and ask questions where I end up learning much more than I anticipated. I enjoy doing that. My long-term goals are to be happy and successful in whatever I do. Also I want to continue helping those who are less fortunate than me to lead a better life. That is something that makes me really happy.”

What advice might you have for other Postdoctoral Scholars?
“I think it is a very good idea when a university or an institution in this country requires English to be spoken in the lab or the office irrespective of one’s ethnicity. When I was at OU, it was mandatory for everyone to communicate in English in the office or lab, and everyone did. This helped non-native speakers to improve their language skills and others to understand their work and presentations. Non-native scholars should understand that there is a difference between being able to speak and being able to convey a message, especially scientific messages.

“My father passed away when I seven years old, and my mother did not speak English. I had a passion for English because I knew good English language skills would take me much further than I could ever imagine. Outside the classroom, I taught myself by listening to English conversations, watching TV with English subtitles on, repeating phrases and even speaking the little I knew as often as I could. Although I speak much better now, I still haven’t stopped working on my language skills.

“My husband is from Iran, so we have to communicate in English even at home. When my mother came for a six-month visit, her English improved a great deal because she had to speak to my husband in English. I am proud of her enthusiasm and effort. Learning English is not just coming to a class and writing things down. You need to practice everywhere, every time. You have to change your perspective if you really want to improve your language skills. That is the only way for great success. You will never forget your mother tongue, but good English skills will really make a difference.”

In the tradition of the French TV host Bernard Pivot who asked a series of questions at the end of every interview, we ask our Postdocs the following questions:

What is your favorite sound?
“The sound of wind chimes and flowing water in streams.”

What is your favorite word or phrase?
“Tranquility, its meaning and the way it sounds. As for a phrase, ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way.’ It’s always worked for me.”

What is your favorite hobby?
“Cooking and socializing with good friends.”


Meet Pramod Avti

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Dr. Pramod Avti
Postdoctoral Associate
Department of
Biomedical Engineering

It is clearly evident that Dr. Pramod Avti is passionate about his work as he describes the path his research has taken from his undergraduate days in India to his present Postdoc position at SBU in Biomedical Engineering. “When I was an undergrad my major was in biophysics and I used to perform experiments in the hospital/clinical setting, and it is then I got to know the importance of biomedical research for clinical diagnosis and treatment. This was the trigger that made me choose science.” 

Dr. Avti began his research journey by looking at whether or not using smokeless tobacco products could affect DNA and key enzymes involved in metabolism. His PhD research was so highly regarded that excerpts from his thesis were published in a press release by the American Chemical Society, “New Evidence that Smokeless Tobacco Damages DNA and Key Enzymes.” (AAAS – http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100616122122.htm)

While doing this research he became interested in therapeutic strategies, “so I got into the computer aided-analysis on the structure-activity relationship of antioxidants. Fruits and natural plant products contain a variety of antioxidants which protect the body from all kinds of disease, so I thought why not use the lead structure from these plant products, which are non-toxic, and learn more about their possible use for therapy.”

Wholly devoted to his subject, he went on to explain how toxicity profiles, made possible today through the use of computers, allow for a much quicker evaluation, than was possible 30-40 years ago, of whether a newly designed drug is worth going to clinical trial, but even the best data can have failed results. “Effective treatment is really tied to effective delivery,” and so his interest in nanotechnology grew.

“Nanotechnology is an emerging area and holds great promise in tissue engineering, molecular imaging and drug/gene delivery. This was the driving force for me to look into this new area of research. After my PhD, I was looking for a Postdoc position and came across the Stony Brook website and looked into Professor Balaji Sitharaman's research. He does a lot of research with carbon nanostructures, so I thought this could be the place to start my nanotechnology research and I sent him an email. This eventually led to an opportunity to join his lab in 2008, and I’ve worked with him since then.”

Can you explain what work you are doing here at Stony Brook?
“My postdoctoral research focuses on the use of carbon-based nanoparticles for effective delivery and multifunctionality for simultaneous diagnosis, therapy and bioimaging. As carbon based nanomaterials have unique electronic, physico-chemical and biological properties, strategies are being developed that enable impressive optical and contrast properties (fluorescence, photoacoustic, magnetic resonance and microwave imaging). These different optical and contrast properties could be used for effective diagnosis and therapy. Currently the need for cost-effective, non-ionizing-based, contrast-enhanced imaging techniques is rapidly growing in order to render 3D tomographic information that aids in the effective therapy of breast cancer. One strategy that we are exploring to improve the breast tumor contrast and facilitate effective therapy is targeting single-walled carbon nanotubes. Tumor-targeted carbon nanotubes provide enhanced dielectric contrast between the malignant and normal tissue for microwave detection of breast cancer. This also facilitates selective heating of the tumor non-invasively thereby providing hyperthermia-based treatment strategy. This research is mentored by Professors Balaji Sitharaman (BME, SBU) and Susan C. Hagness (collaborator, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Wisconsin). Other studies include the use of inner transition metals (gadolinium and europium) to improve the contrast abilities for optical-based imaging techniques.”

What accomplishments are you most proud of since you arrived here?
“I have authored two book chapters and three scientific articles, and I’m in the process of submitting a couple of them very soon. Last year I received the Translational and Molecular Imaging Award from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, NY in the nanomedicine category, and I made a podium presentation at their annual meeting.”

What are your future goals?
“Nanotechnology has enormous potential, and I would like to expand my expertise into different areas of bioimaging, tissue engineering and therapeutic delivery. I am also looking for a faculty position.”

What advice might you have for other Postdoctoral Scholars?
“The Postdoc position allows you to focus on what you want to do, but you must also build up effective strategies for collaborations and learn to communicate your science to others, for example at conferences, meetings and lectures. Therefore it is important to know what other research groups are working on, and now there are translational seminars on campus that Postdocs should take advantage of. Early on Postdocs should identify their career paths, i.e. academics or industry, and focus on their ongoing research and then learn how to expand their research into other areas."

In the tradition of the French TV host Bernard Pivot who asked a series of questions at the end of every interview, we ask our Postdocs the following questions:

What is your favorite sound?
“The flute and morning birds chirping.”

What is your favorite word or phrase?
"Focus, focus, focus.”

What is your favorite hobby
“Cricket and ping pong.”


Meet Gretchen Lopez

lopez
Dr. Gretchen López
Research Scientist
Department of Neurobiology and Behavior

As it is for many of our most successful scientists and brightest minds here at SBU, it can be the chance meeting of a colleague or that one teacher who inspires them to be who they are today, and such was the case for Dr. Gretchen López who came to Stony Brook last year. “Throughout my formative years at school I tended toward science. When I was in high school I participated in student science fairs, and that’s when I got my first kick out of research. Later when I was in my third year as an undergraduate I started working in a genetics research lab, and in my last year at college, while taking a Molecular and Cellular Development course, I met my thesis advisor. He was teaching in the course. I was fascinated because he was a Puerto Rican native who got an R01 competitive grant, and he chose to come back to the island to do his research. He chose to move the community of neuroscientists in Puerto Rico forward. I started working with him the summer after I graduated.”

Gretchen did her undergraduate and graduate work at the University of Puerto Rico in biology and a Postdoc at the University of Florida, Gainesville. She is now on her second Postdoc working for Professor Lorna Role in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior.

What brought you to Stony Brook University?
“When I was a Postdoc in Florida I gained more experience in electrophysiological and pharmacological studies of ion channels, but I wanted further training on a more global scale by studying brain neuronal circuits. Lorna was always predominant in my field, and my advisor in Florida wrote to her and recommended me. My major purpose in starting a second Postdoc was to get the chance to submit a competitive grant which would put me in a better position to look for a faculty job.”

Can you explain in laymen’s terms what work you are doing?
“I study the role of the neurotransmitter Acetylcholine (ACh) in the modulation of brain neuronal circuits. When ACh actions are disrupted, brain function can be impaired and can severely impact human health related to Alzheimer’s, Schizophrenia, and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), among others. ACh actions are mediated by its binding to specific receptor proteins. I’m an electrophysiologist: I record changes in brain circuits that are the result of ACh binding to its receptors.”

What accomplishments are you most proud of since you arrived here?
“I wrote my first K01 grant, and although I didn’t get it, the experience gave me the sense that I could make it in academia … I could do this. It was a perfect learning experience to help me prepare for an independent position as a scientist.”

What are your future goals?
“My dream is to obtain a faculty position and to contribute to the neuroscience community in Puerto Rico. I had great mentors, and I would like to be a role model and set an example for women and for fellow Puerto Ricans in science.

What advice might you have for other Postdoctoral Scholars?
“Visualize early in your career your pathway in science be it industry, teaching or research. The earlier you decide, the better you can tailor your Postdoc and get the experience you need to make yourself a strong candidate for your next position. And I can’t stress enough: network!! Find the right mentors from either your peer group and/or faculty; go to meetings; do your job by talking to other people. Be present in your field.”

In the tradition of the French TV host Bernard Pivot who asked a series of questions at the end of every interview, we ask our Postdocs the following questions:

What is your favorite sound?
“The sound of rain on an aluminum roof.”

What is your favorite word or phrase?
"Perseverance.”

What is your favorite hobby?
“Running. I love the mindset when I’m running; either ideas come together or I don’t think about anything at all.”

Meet Fu Lin

 
lin
Dr. Fu Lin
Postdoctoral Associate
Chemistry Department Pharmacology Department

Dr. Lin received his PhD from Shanghai Institute of Organic Chemistry Chinese Academy of Science where he did research in drug design. Today he works with Professor Carlos Simmerling in the Chemistry Department and Professor Arthur Grollman in the Pharmacology Department, Laboratory of Chemical Biology. “After five years of graduate study, I received solid training in organic and computational chemistry which fostered my interest in high-performance calculations on the supercomputer. Before coming to the US, I worked in the software development department of NeoTrident Technology, which is the Chinese agent of Accelrys Inc., one of the industry–leading modeling package producers.”

What brought you to Stony Brook University?
“Before I came here I had used the molecular dynamics simulation program GROMACS (GROningen MAchine for Chemical Simulations) and AMBER (Assisted Model Building with Energy Refinement), both of which are popular computational chemistry software programs, and I knew Professor Simmerling had contributed a lot to developing the code for this program. I saw his name on papers and then looked him up on the web. I sent him an email, and he was kind enough to give me an interview, which led to an opportunity to work in his and Professor Grollman’s lab. I really appreciate this opportunity.

“My research is mentored by both Professors Simmerling and Grollman and is mainly focused in two directions: One is the methodology of exchanged umbrella sampling simulation, which has been incorporated into AMBER11; the other is the application involving the lesion recognition process of DNA Glycosylase (MutM) and the activation mechanism of DNA Polymerase lambda.

“More specifically speaking, cells are like factories – they pull material in and make DNA. Sometimes the production department (polymerase) in the factory pulls in bad ingredients (nucleotides) and makes damaged DNA, and even sometimes the good products will go bad. The quality control department (MutM) can recognize the bad products like damaged DNA and repair them. Through computational efforts we can simulate these processes and try to figure out how the factory pulls in the ingredients, which is the role of Polymerase, and how the quality control recognizes damaged DNA, which is the role of MutM.” 

What accomplishments are you most proud of since you arrived here?
“I am the first author on two papers and the co-author on two more that are in preparation. Also, with the help of Professor Simmerling, the aforementioned methodology I described in my research is now being used to calculate Potential Mean Force (PMF) free energy for better convergence.”

What are your future goals?
“I hope to be able to find a faculty position after several years of postdoctoral study.”  

What advice might you have for other Postdoctoral Scholars?
“Try your best to focus on your research and complete as many projects as possible in the limited time you have as a Postdoc. Grasp every opportunity to attend academic conferences and exchange your ideas with others frequently. And for those who are not from this country, learn as much English vocabulary as you can. Improving your oral English is very important for communication, especially for me.”

In the tradition of the French TV host Bernard Pivot who asked a series of questions at the end of every interview, we ask our Postdocs the following questions:

What is your favorite sound?
Bandari Snowdreams is my favorite music … wonderful and light … it usually takes away the stress of the day and helps me relax.”

What is your favorite word or phrase?
“Never give up on your primal dream.”

What is your favorite hobby?
“Listening to quiet music, practicing traditional Chinese calligraphy, playing badminton and programming.”

 

Meet Kathleen Howard

howard

Photographer
Tia Mansouri, SBU 10

Dr. Kathleen Howard
Postdoc Fellow
English Department

After receiving her law degree from the University of Minnesota and a brief stint working as an adjunct teacher in their law school, Dr. Kathleen Howard realized she needed to move from law to literature. “My favorite courses were those that made you think about the literary aspects of the law. When I was involved in research, first amendment and censorship issues were what interested me, and so I thought to myself, ‘If I’m going to work this hard, I’d rather be reading about Shakespeare, not the rule against perpetuities.’”

At about this time Kathleen wrote an article on the law in literature that referenced 1995 Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney’s play The Cure at Troy. She says she doesn’t know what made her do it, but she sent a copy of the article to Heaney who actually responded, saying he liked some of her phrasing. “That felt like a sign to me,” says Dr. Howard who then went on to receive her PhD in English, writing her dissertation on the perception of holiness in women’s religious experiences and writings in late medieval and early modern England. She is also an alumna of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Workshop.

What brought you to Stony Brook?
“I received a 2-year New Faculty Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies. Once I was awarded this fellowship, I was fortunate enough to receive multiple offers for work. What interested me here was that the department was excited about both facets of my background – the interest in the medieval, and in modern speculative fiction. They were very enthusiastic and wanted to think about how we could integrate my background into the classes I would teach and my work with the students.” The department’s enthusiasm won her over, and in 2010 she accepted a postdoctoral position in SBU’s English Department headed by Professor Stephen Spector.

Since her arrival, Kathleen has taught several courses: The Dream as Literary Form where she takes students from Homer through modern-day works talking about the various ways authors use dreams to convey information in fiction; and The Fantastic as Place which looks at fictional sites like Narnia and Hogwarts and how the writer gets the readers to willingly suspend their beliefs and interact with the story. This semester she is teaching a single author course in Chaucer: “We are currently reading The Miller’s Tale out loud.”

What accomplishments are you most proud of since you arrived here?
“I recently sold a story to Fantasy Magazine, which is my third sale.” The story entitled Choose Your Own Adventure is due to be released in the coming months. Since the time of this interview, Kathleen sold a fourth story The Speaking Bone to Apex Magazine, thus making her eligible for membership in the Science Fiction Writers of America. Her previous two works can be found in the anthology Stories, edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio - available through Amazon.com, and issue #356 of Weird Tales Magazine.

 What are your future goals?
“I would like to continue integrating medieval with the modern fantastic, both in teaching and in publications. I want to continue publishing creatively as well … and if it were possible to stay here, I would love to. I love the students and the people in this department. They’re fabulous.”  

What advice might you have for other Postdocs?
“Take advantage of all you can while you are here. Talk to your colleagues. Don’t be afraid to try new ideas, both in scholarship and in teaching. There are really good people here, and talking to them can help you think more creatively.”

In the tradition of the French TV host Bernard Pivot who asked a series of questions at the end of every interview, we ask our Postdocs the following questions:

What is your favorite sound?
“Crashing waves.”

 What is your favorite word or phrase?
“I hate to have to pick just one word, but if I were forced to, it would be interstitial. It is the between spaces, a term used both in science and literature. These are the places I’m most interested in.”

What is your favorite hobby?
“Fencing.”

Meet Velasco Cimica

cimica
Dr. Velasco Cimica
Postdoctoral Associate
Molecular Genetics and Microbiology

As a child attending school in his home country of Italy, Dr. Velasco Cimica knew very early on that he wanted to become a scientist. “At a young age I became fascinated with science and technology. I loved to play with toy microscopes, collect minerals and run small innocuous experiments with reagents like sodium bicarbonate and vinegar.

“I studied molecular biology in Italy and now have years of experience in cancer, pharmacology and signal transduction research. My international experience started in Germany at the University of Geottingen where I studied for my doctorate. I earned my degree studying the gene expression profile in rat liver regeneration. After Germany I moved to New York where I worked for two years at Albert Einstein College of Medicine studying a pharmacological treatment for pediatric tumors called Rhabdoid Tumors. I continued my research in oncology joining Professor Nancy C. Reich’s lab in 2007 in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology.”

What brought you to Stony Brook University?
“I wanted to continue my research on cancer and learn new laboratory methods and techniques. Cancer is a disease still not completely understood, and the approach for a cure is still very often empirical. Professor Reich’s lab is working on understanding the molecular mechanism of lymphoma and breast cancer development with an aim toward preventing the formation of tumors; understanding cancer on a molecular basis in order to find preventative measures.”
 

What accomplishments are you most proud of since you arrived here?
“We are very close to publishing an important manuscript in a prestigious journal Plos1, I have collaborated on and learned how to write an NIH grant, and I presented the results of my research at a variety of important conferences. I’ve also mastered some sophisticated techniques like live cell confocal microscopy and tumorigenicity assays.”

What are your future goals?
“I want to continue my research here in the USA. I am looking to move into the private sector in either the biotechnology or pharmaceutical fields. I am very interested in working in research and development for a marketable product that can make a positive contribution to public health. I also want to grow professionally and learn managing, business and marketing techniques.”
 

What advice might you have for other Postdoctoral Scholars?
“When you start your work in the lab, the primary goal is to get published. Getting published is important, but it is not solely sufficient to move you forward in your career. You need to keep the big picture in mind and have a multidisciplinary approach to your work. It is important to learn to work as a member of a team, to have good communication and interpersonal skills, to understand how to network with colleagues and to be very open minded and flexible. In today’s world you may have a molecular biologist working with a statistician and a clinician and a patent lawyer. You have to know how to speak and work with all these people. I have known brilliant scientists who have only focused on one small detail in their work and couldn’t go forward because they didn’t have the proper skill set. It is important to broaden your background.”

In the tradition of the French TV host Bernard Pivot who asked a series of questions at the end of every interview, we ask our Postdocs the following questions:

What is your favorite sound?
“The sea waves at the beaches on Long Island.”

What is your favorite word or phrase?
“Learn and explore with the same enthusiasm and energy as that of a playful child.”

What is your favorite hobby?
“Bike touring and repairing machinery.”

 

Meet Qiong (Joan) Zeng

zeng
Dr. Qiong (Joan) Zeng
Postdoctoral Associate
Biomedical Engineering

Dr. Qiong (Joan) Zeng studied biological medicine in her native country of China and has now moved into the field of biomedical engineering. “I think combining biologic medicine with biomedical engineering, two very different fields, can result in great advances for patients. It’s great news for chronic wound-impaired patients like diabetics, burn victims, soldiers during times of war….”

She received her PhD from Peking University Health Science Center in Beijing China. She also spent time practicing respiratory medicine as an attending physician in Guangzhou before coming to the United States three years ago. “My PhD thesis focused on nanoparticle immune therapy related to asthma, and I wanted to get more scientific training in biomedicine. I think it’s a fantastic field for the 21stcentury.”

What brought you to Stony Brook University?
“Before I came here I looked at the website and read about Nobel Prize winner Chen Ning Yang. He is very famous in China. Then I looked at Stony Brook’s newsletter and found that the Health Sciences Center is doing great research related to respiratory medicine. I answered one of the Postdoc ads on the website, and now I’m here.”

Her research at Stony Brook is with Professor Richard Clark in Biomedical Engineering. The focus of her work is twofold: Her initial study was with wound healing using biomedical 3D imaging to observe what happens with cells in hydrogel and analyzing their interaction by protein microarray. Then her group, led by Professor Clark, developed a new P12 peptide for which they are now seeking a patent. The second part of her research now focuses on observing what happens when this new peptide is delivered directly by IV versus a topical application.

What accomplishments are you most proud of since you arrived here?
“I published a paper in Biomaterials, a top journal in my field. I also wrote a review for the Wound Healing Society Yearbook due to be published later this year, and more recently I wrote a complete chapter on skin tissue engineering to be published in Comprehensive Biomaterials.”

 What are your future goals?
“I would like to continue with my research to ultimately benefit others.”

In addition to being an MD and a PhD, one of Qiong’s greatest passions is volunteering for the Chinese Arts Revival (CAR) based in NYC. “I saw a show my first year here and thought it was so fantastic. I go to their performance every year and I get a feeling of my hometown. I now work as a volunteer for this non-profit organization dedicated to the revival of traditional Chinese arts and culture. I help to promote their activities and performances: I even gave a presentation at the Port Jefferson Rotary Club.”

What advice might you have for other Postdoctoral Scholars?
“Make sure you really like your research. Make the time to commit to it and communicate with other Postdocs in other departments. I speak to Postdocs in Chemistry, Biomaterials, and Life Sciences…. When you communicate with others, you get more ideas for your research and for building your career. And don’t say no to industry: Another door can mean another opportunity.”

In the tradition of the French TV host Bernard Pivot who asked a series of questions at the end of every interview, we ask our Postdocs the following questions:

What is your favorite sound?
“Music.”

What is your favorite word or phrase?
返璞 which means Recover the simple and return to nature.”

What is your favorite hobby?
“Volunteering for the Chinese Arts Revival (http://chineseartsrevival.org/). I like to share the beauty in the world with others, and I always want to keep the traditional culture of all nations alive.”

 

Meet Ann Eckardt Erlanger

anneckardt

Dr. Annie Eckardt Erlanger
Postdoctoral Associate
Psychology Department

According to Dr. Annie Eckardt Erlanger, she has something of an ‘odd background.’ “My doctorate is traditionally thought of as more clinically-based than research-based.” She received her degree in School and Community Psychology from Hofstra University, but she started working part-time for Evelyn Bromet and Roman Kotov at Stony Brook University while she was still in her senior year as a graduate student. “I wanted to increase my research background and I saw this as a good way to segue into bolstering my research experience on my CV.” She was a clinical reviewer, looking at data and comparing it to medical and psychological records to make a judgment on what clinical symptoms were occurring.

During graduate school, she looked at institutions that supplied advanced training in marriage and family therapy. That’s when she found the Minuchin Center for Family Therapy. “It was the best fit for my model on the treatment and assessment of couples and family.” She completed two intensive summer training sessions and knew her future work would be focused on family and couples instead of individuals. That’s when she learned about Richard Heyman and Amy Smith Slep at the Family Translational Research Group in the Department of Psychology here at SBU. “Community psychology looks at systems’ dysfunction rather than just the person being the problem. Usually something is going on in a bigger context: We look at how all the systems play into each other and how if you impact a system, there is an impact on the individual as well.”

What accomplishments are you most proud of since you arrived here?
“I’m the Project Director of the second phase of our work with the Department of Defense (DoD) Family Advocacy Program. The first phase of this project involved just the Air Force and was spent operationally defining the terms maltreatment, abuse, etc. If everyone at DoD uses the same definitions of abuse at Base X or Base Y, then it’s a fair system with a consistent set of criteria, and the personnel involved are more invested in the process. When the project first started there was only a 50% rate of agreement between the Air Force and Stony Brook. Once everyone started using the agreed-upon definitions, we rose to a 90% rate of agreement. And then once the Navy, Marines and Army caught wind of our success, they became interested in adopting and rolling out the project DOD-wide.”

Phase II of the project, in addition to involving the other branches of the military, is now dedicated to defining the severity levels of abuse. As the Project Director of Phase II, Annie had the arduous task of visiting 4 Armed Forces installations across the country to try to convince an already overburdened military personnel that they should be excited to test this new prototype of defining the severity of abuse. “I had to rally clinicians and say, ‘In addition to the duties of your regular work day we need you to call us on the phone to discuss your cases.’ It was a scary proposition for me, but it turned out that these military social workers would actually reschedule themselves to accommodate the project. These people are very busy and could have just ignored us, but they didn’t, which is something I’m definitely proud of.

“The data collected also goes in the Central Registry which is available to DoD and Congress, who look at the data and make their policy accordingly. By making the system more reliable across DoD, the policy decisions made by Congress are more reliable.”

What are your future goals?
“I definitely want to stay in academia, but initially I was thinking about a tenure track faculty position. Now I’m thinking I might like to be a program manager, possibly in an administrative role, but I want to continue teaching, too. I may go back to private practice, but right now I feel I am actually making a difference in the world … as corny as that may sound.”

 What advice might you have for other Postdocs?
“Realize and take advantage of all the resources and support systems available to you as a Postdoc. Once you leave and are in less-friendly territory, there are fewer people to help you develop as a professional. There are so many opportunities to continue learning here, and there are so many supportive people at SBU.”

In the tradition of the French TV host Bernard Pivot who asked a series of questions at the end of every interview, we ask our Postdocs the following questions:

What is your favorite sound?
“Gregorian Chant. It is what I put on when I want to feel calm and relaxed. It brings me back to my baseline very quickly.”

What is your favorite word or phrase?
Ugh. I use it as a substitute word when I'm feeling frustrated. It's socially acceptable to say anywhere and gives me a second to think.”

What is your favorite hobby?
“Looking at the ocean water. That is why I don’t think I could ever leave Long Island.”

 

Meet Martin Kaczocha

martin

Dr. Martin Kaczocha
Postdoctoral Associate
Biochemistry Department

Dr. Martin Kaczocha came to this country from Poland at the age of 9. He was doing his undergraduate work at Stony Brook University as a Pharmacology major and was taking courses in molecular biology when he decided to approach Professor Dale Deutsch in the Biochemistry Department about working in his lab. That was over eight years ago and today he still remains intrigued by the complexity of biological systems and how they are regulated. “Our work focuses upon understanding how chemicals inside your body, called endocannabinoids, are regulated. By understanding this we hope to design new therapeutics.”

What was one of his greatest accomplishments during his tenure as a Postdoc? “I identified proteins that mediate endocannabinoid uptake, which have eluded characterization for the past 15 years.” He characterized his search for these particular proteins as “looking for the holy grail.” And while others were not as enthusiastic about the success of his search, he put all his energy into his pursuit and wound up being successful.

Hence, his advice for other Postdocs? “Go with your gut. Believe in yourself and your ideas despite what other people say.” He then took a moment to reflect and said that this advice actually applies to life as a whole. “If you really believe in something, then follow through.”

His future goals are to remain in the field that he loves. He wants to pursue to fruition the design of new therapeutics to deal with pain and inflammation. He also wants to continue teaching as he has done in the past. He recently mentored an undergraduate, which was an experience he found particularly worthwhile. “It was a very enjoyable experience that complemented my research. To pass on knowledge to someone else who was not accustomed to thinking in a scientific frame of mind was very rewarding.” He is also the recipient of an upcoming Howard Hughes Fellowship this spring 2011 semester where he will be lecturing in an upper level undergraduate biology course.

In the tradition of the French TV host Bernard Pivot who asked a series of questions at the end of every interview, we ask our Postdocs the following questions:

What is your favorite sound?
“My 2-year old son asking, ‘Please open the door?’ regardless of whether or not it is a door or if the object should be opened, like a coffee can.”

What is your favorite word or phrase?
“Novel … not the noun.”

What is your favorite hobby?
“ Other than science … I would say my family, music and computer games … in my spare time.”

Postdocs' Coffee Hour, First Tuesday of every month
Join us for special NPAW Breakfast!
September 2, 2014, 9:00am

National Postdoc Appreciation Week
September 15-19, 2014

Postdoc Picnic 
September 13, 2014, 11:30am-3pm

SBU Postdoc Spotlight
September 18, 2014, 9am-2pm

Postdoc Appreciation Luncheon
September 18, 2014, following Spotlight talks (postdocs only)

NYAS Science Alliance Fall Programs
See upcoming programs from NYAS (some available as Webinars).

 

Recurring Events

Editors Club

Conversational English

Practice public speaking

Provost's Postdoctoral Lecture Series

Develop an E-Portfolio

Journal of Postdoctoral Research

Academic Advising Certificate Program

Corporate Education and Training

COEUS Training Workshops

Responsible Conduct of Research and Scholarship

Innovation Boot Camp

Training Scientists Who Mean Business

 

 

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Room 2438, Computer Science Building, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794-4433 Phone: 631.632.7531 Fax: 631.632.7243