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Spotlight 2017 Talks & Abstracts

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Ligia Diana Amorim, Physics and Astronomy
Accelerators of the Future

 What if hospitals could provide radiotherapy with even more  concentrated doses with higher precision,  without damaging healthy tissues? What if we could see beyond the reach of the most powerful microscope? And do it so fast that matter would appear to be frozen? What if electrons could get  beyond the energy frontier, bringing universe’s most exotic scenarios  and fundamental phenomena into our Laboratories?

With the invention of a novel more compact and economic accelerator comes the promise of making all of that possible and available worldwide. The key is to use of a particulargas, called a plasma, that  efficiently boosts the electrons speed and  generates radiation.

At the Stony Brook University Centre for Accelerator Science and  Education (CASE), in collaboration with the Brookhaven National  Laboratory and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford,  we aim to develop that accelerator technology.

My goal is to discover how such an accelerator can deliver industry quality electrons and radiation. I do it by numerically modelling the electrons-plasma complex interactions and test those models in experiments.

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Jozef Bodnar, Mathematics
Strings and doughnuts

Knot theory, that is, the theory of entangled strings is a very deep and rich field of mathematics. Apart from its applications in areas like DNA unfolding, it is also interesting for its own sake and intrinsic beauty.

One particularly simple but still very important class of knots is the family of bagel knots. These are the knots obtained by repeatedly winding up a piece of rope onto the surface of a doughnut. For these knots, we were able to partially answer the question how many times one has to cut the knot to transform it into an other given knot; that is, tell something about how far is one knot from an other. 

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Emiliano Brini, Laufer Center
Using physics and information to look at how proteins hug

 Proteins are the microscopic machines of life. Everything that happens in our body happens because a protein is supervising it. When we flex a muscle billions of proteins crawl on top of each other to make the muscle fiber more compact. When a cell is hungry highly specialized trap doors open to bring in only the right type of food in the right amount. Most of these incredible microscopic machines are made of many components that assemble together. Small components are easier to made and to substitute. Understanding how the different components come together is a crucial step in better understanding how our body works. It also allows to understand and act when proteins stop working and we fall ill. We meld together physics and information to get at the heart of this problem.

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Veronica Canoa Roman, Physics and Astronomy
The First Second of the Universe

 After the bing bang, the matter was extremely hot and dense giving place to a soup of fundamental particles called quark gluon-plasma (QGP). By colliding heavy particles in the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory, we can generate this state of matter. Then we can measure what is happening in those collisions in our “digital camera”, the PHENIX detector. The goal is to characterize the QGP.  We can measure the temperature using the radiation of photons.

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Krupanandan Haranahalli, Chemistry
Kryptonite for  
Cryptococcus neoformans

 In the past decade, there has been a significant increase in the number of fungal infections. Our focus is on development of new anti-fungal drugs, that prevent the fungus from producing a certain class of fat, which is essential for the fungus to survive and multiply in human hosts. Using Medicinal Chemistry, we made and tested several hundred compounds against Cryptococcus neoformans, a fungus responsible for meningitis mainly in immune suppressed patients. We identified several potent compounds that completely killed the fungus in a span of 6-12 hours at very low concentrations.

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Hagit Hak, Biochemistry
There’s someone in my kitchen! How Agrobacterium hijacks plant cells for making food

Agrobacteria have a unique ability: they can force plants to become their private food factory. How? They cut a piece of their own DNA, one that contains the genes to produce their favorite food and plant growth hormones, and paste it into the genome of a plant. Now this plant makes this product, in large quantities, although it doesn’t use it. The Agro can feast.

We already know how the DNA is cut out in the Agro, but we don’t know how it is pasted into the plant’s genome. One of the questions is how does the Agro find gaps in the long and protected plant DNA? I’m testing whether the Agro itself causes DNA breaks, into which it will be able to paste these food-recipe genes.

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Soumyadeep Mukherjee, Public Health
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Among 9/11 Responders: An unfortunate legacy of getting bullied in childhood   

Getting bullied in childhood has been linked with long term adverse physical, emotional, and psychological consequences. Fewer studies have examined the long-term consequences of being bullied, especially in the aftermath of a severe traumatic experience in adulthood. My research examined the relationship between history of being bullied and long-term posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms among responders to the World Trade Center (WTC) disaster. During 2015-16, a modified life events checklist was administered to responders at the Stony Brook WTC Health Program and these data were linked to WTC-related PTSD symptom severity assessed by PTSD checklist (PCL). Longitudinal mixed effects models were used to examine associations between bullying and severity and chronicity of PTSD symptoms after adjusting for demographics, other stressors, and WTC exposures. Approximately 13% of 920 responders had probable WTC-PTSD (PCL≥44). Getting bullied in childhood was associated with increased odds of probable PTSD (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] =5.26; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.44-19.23). Findings suggest that getting bullied previously might moderate the risk of PTSD after a mass trauma, highlighting the importance of prevention of such adverse childhood experiences as well as that of mitigating its impacts throughout the life.

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Maria Rosa, Ecology and Evolution
Life in transition: Can feeding flexibility help marine animals in a changing environment?

Animals like oysters and mussels are some of the most important organisms in marine coastal waters. They are not only an economically important food source, they also clean coastal environments as they feed on particles suspended in the water. These animals have complex life cycles that include a microscopic (0.1-0.5 mm) swimming larval stage with specialized structures for feeding. These larvae can spend weeks in the water until they settle on the bottom. When they settle, they lose the structures used to feed as larva, trading them in for those that will become the feeding structures of adults.  But, we do not know how these tiny animals then meet their nutritional needs and survive to become juveniles, and eventually grow to adults. I am using a variety of experiments to determine the relative importance of different feeding modes, like feeding on plankton suspended in the water, versus feeding on small particles that accumulate on the bottom, as these animals transition from mobile larvae to juveniles that cannot move.  I will also determine whether species that are more flexible, in the feeding strategies they use are better adapted to survive in a changing world.

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Kirsten Siebach, Geosciences
Reading the Martian Rock Record: Stories of a Previously Habitable World

More than three billion years ago, when life was developing on Earth, Mars had plentiful liquid water flowing across the planet’s surface. The car-sized robotic Curiosity rover on Mars is currently investigating the ancient rock layers exposed in Gale crater, where rivers flowed into a lake in a crater basin formed by a meteorite impact. Significant lake deposits indicate that there was standing water for hundreds of thousands or possibly tens of millions of years. I help operate the Curiosity rover and interpret the stories recorded in each layer of rocks the robot explores. I will share how Curiosity’s discoveries have revolutionized our understanding of Mars, and how I use the chemical data Curiosity sends back to Earth to piece together information about ancient volcanoes, river transport processes, and groundwater on Mars.

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