Scientists are in boats, monitoring oyster larvae survival. They are in the mud, looking for hints of climate change, and in laboratories, trying to find breakthroughs in treating diseases and pushing the boundaries of green energy and quantum networks. They are taking part in just some of the research projects underway on Long Island campuses.
Soon, research nationally and on the Island will get a major boost, as funds from the federal CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 and the Inflation Reduction Act begin to flow.
New York State is putting more money into research, too: For example, Stony Brook University, a SUNY flagship, will get $12 million to hire new full-time research faculty in areas like quantum information sciences, energy and climate science, and cancer studies, part of a $53 million annual investment, it was announced in January.
Here’s a look at some of the campus projects underway across Long Island, the researchers behind them, and some of the ways they are funded.
Alzheimer’s research / New York Institute of Technology
Chemistry Professor Jole Fiorito is working on new ways to treat Alzheimer’s disease.
“It’s a disease with a lot of unmet needs … it’s important to research from different sides so we can find effective drugs sooner,” she said of the devastating neurodegenerative disorder that progressively strips people of their memory, and eventually, their ability to function independently.
Fiorito already showed how two molecules together helped treat a mouse with memory problems. Now she wants to combine them into one newly designed molecule.
Using organic chemistry, she is designing and synthesizing the new organic molecule to target two enzymes that affect brain neuron function, important for learning and memory.
If she can get results using that one molecule, she may be able to develop a treatment with a single drug, which could mean fewer side effects than treatments with multiple drugs.
Fiorito is optimistic she’ll get a three-year National Institutes of Health grant. She has already designed molecules to test in research with her students.
“Once they are ready we test them on cells, enzymes, even animals, to see if the molecules are able to affect the cell,” she said. “Of course, this is a very preliminary study … the molecule is a starting point for developing a drug.”
Veterinary research / LIU Post
With human health in mind, Professor Jose Godoy is researching kidney disease in cats.
The LIU Post campus’ College of Veterinary Medicine, one of only four in the Northeast, recently cut the ribbon on its new $26 million Learning Center. There, Godoy and his student researchers want to test a particular protein to pinpoint if it can be a marker for kidney disease at an earlier, more treatable stage than current markers such as creatinine and urea levels.
“About 12 percent of cats older than 5 years will get chronic kidney disease,” said Godoy, an assistant professor of veterinary medicine who teaches physiology. “In humans there is also chronic kidney disease and acute renal failure, also diagnosed with standard markers. My idea is to translate this to human medicine at some point, to find the same marker in blood and urine to diagnose it at an earlier stage.”
Third-year veterinary student Carly Raspante is working on the project with him, he said, and won a scholarship for her work from the Morris Foundation.
The state helped fund the College of Veterinary Medicine, which admitted its first doctorate of veterinary medicine students in fall 2020, with a $12.75 million grant.
Oyster restoration / Adelphi University
Professor Ryan Wallace would like to see more oysters in Oyster Bay.
His research is an oyster habitat restoration study “to get a sense of where additional sanctuaries should be established in Oyster Bay and Cold Spring Harbor.”
Soon, he and his students will resume their boat trips into the bay to monitor tides, water and sediment conditions and locate where oyster larvae settle and thrive.
“If they settle out in a certain area, are they going to survive? Are they settling out, and if not, why?” said Wallace, assistant professor and graduate director in Adelphi’s environmental sciences department. “It’s not only a step in the protection of these important ecosystems, but the potential restoration of these ecosystems; one oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water in a single day.”
The project is funded through nonprofits such as the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Friends of the Bay, with $80,000 in funding and about $65,000 in matching funds, he said.
He is also engaged in a second, larger research project, with Stony Brook University and St. Joseph’s University New York researchers, looking at harmful algae blooms in multiple Long Island bays and their effects on shellfish and fin fish, he said. That study is funded through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
STEM research / SUNY Old Westbury
This diverse campus with 5,000 students, most of them commuters, just won a $1.87 million federal grant to launch a hands-on STEM research-oriented undergraduate program. Those in it could help meet the rising demand for skilled professionals in green energy and technology.
Assistant Provost for Research and Strategic Academic Initiatives Michael Kavic said he wants it to be a beacon and “an elevator in lifting students up who maybe haven’t had all the opportunities.”
He added, “Right now New York State has some of the largest gaps in the number of high-tech jobs and the number of applicants available. It is a place where we are not meeting the need and you have this incredible pool of young students whose talents are not being tapped but could be resource for meeting those needs of the future.”
The money must now be released by the U.S. Department of Education, and Kavic hopes to admit the first students to the program in the fall, with the goal to eventually enroll 1,000.
“Nothing like the funding provided by the CHIPS Act has ever happened in NYS before,” he said. “It’s groundbreaking, history making and we want to provide our students the right preparation to connect with these once-in-a-generational opportunities.”
Climate research / Hofstra University, Hempstead
Clues about the future may be buried in the North Atlantic mud.
That’s the theory behind research underway at Columbia University, with help from a team of students at Hofstra University.
E. Christa Farmer, professor of geology, environment and sustainability at Hofstra, leads a summer program team with a high school student, an undergraduate and a student teacher. Their job? Counting fossils in ancient sea sediments to measure the fluctuations of ocean water temperatures over time.
They calculate the ratios of fossils of two tiny species in samples taken from sediment slices each representing a few thousand years, laid down from 18,000 to 130,000 years ago. One species prefers waters that are slightly warmer than the other one, Farmer explained, and its numbers rise when water temperatures are warmer. That gives a clue into the advance and retreat of cold water currents over time.
“Changes in ratio represent fluxes in the front of the arctic region,” Farmer said. “The position of that front could have implications for future water temperatures, weather and currents with impacts on our climate.”
Farmer’s student team is one of four funded by Hofstra’s $347,530 three-year grant from the National Science Foundation. The four GeoTeams of high school students, undergraduates and student teachers, each led by a Hofstra professor, are paid stipends for summer geological and environmental research projects.
Quantum communications / Stony Brook University
Quantum physics uses terms that a science fiction fan could love, such as “spooky involvement at a distance” and “entanglement.” While it may take a scientist to understand them, the practical implications of quantum research might be easier to grasp.
Stony Brook physics Professor Eden Figueroa’s research could help create a new quantum internet — and that would be far more secure, and able to transmit far more information, than the one we have now, he said.
In fact, once quantum computers are connected and able to work together, “something that would literally take 100 years to do with current computers, with Q computers you can do it in a few minutes,” he said.
Figueroa and fellow researchers at Stony Brook and at the Brookhaven National Laboratory have already proven that two quantum devices can communicate with each other over existing fiber-optic cables. Now they want to connect devices hundreds of miles apart — from a mini-lab in Commack, through links at Stony Brook, Brookhaven National Lab, and Westbury, and ending at their lab in the Brooklyn Naval Yard.
Figueroa said the team hoped to win $60 million in new funds, doubling the $30 million already invested over the past decade.
“To some extent these experiments are first of their kind worldwide,” he said. “The next thing we have to demonstrate now, which is a really big step, is what we call a Q repeater,” a device that amplifies the quantum communication over distances. “That is the fundamental proof that you can build a Q network similar to the internet.”