12 SBU Students Honored with SUNY GREAT Awards

Twelve Stony Brook University student researchers were among the 27 statewide honored with the annual SUNY Graduate Research Empowering and Accelerating Talent (GREAT) awards.

Students were recognized for their contributions to enhancing lives and solving society’s most pressing issues. Each winner will receive $5,000 in flexible funding for research expenses, professional development and stipend supplements. They have also been honored by National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Defense.

“Undertaking groundbreaking research requires long hours of dedication and patience to discover or innovate something that will bring about positive changes to people’s lives. At SUNY, we are continuously making efforts to double down on our research,” said SUNY Chancellor John B. King, Jr. “From artificial intelligence to self-cleaning solar panels, and a better understanding about the aging process to help people grow older with a better quality of life, all are being done right here in New York State. I congratulate each of the 27 awardees for their dedication to improving the human condition.”

“As a flagship public research institution focused on innovating with purpose, Stony Brook is pleased to see our student scholars recognized for their research excellence, impact and promise as they examine society’s biggest challenges,” said Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis. “Stony Brook congratulates each of the 2024 SUNY GREAT award honorees and is grateful to Chancellor King for his ongoing, visionary support of student research and innovation.”

The 27 award-winning researchers are investigating topics such as how stars explode and how AI can be used to promote scientific discovery; inventing self-cleaning solar panels and environmentally friendly batteries for electric vehicles and the power grid; as well as developing therapies to attack deadly brain tumors in children and defend organs from attack by patients’ own immune systems.

Congratulations to the winners from Stony Brook:

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Sarah Barkley
Clinical Psychology 

Social and emotional processes shape our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and they are inherent to how we interact with and understand the world. Barkley’s research utilizes neuroscience methods to explore neural systems underlying the dysregulation of these processes in individuals with psychopathology.

Barkley hopes to use this research to identify neurobiological markers that help us predict, characterize and treat psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders.

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Xiao Han
Microbiology and Immunology 

Metastasis, developed from disseminated cancer cells from primary cancer, is the main cause of most cancer-related deaths. While non-proliferating disseminated cancer cells in distant tissues have been observed in many types of cancer, mechanisms of how metastases originate from these dormant cancer cells are unclear.

Han’s research project is to interrogate how dormant cancer cells initiate proliferation and how immune cells regulate these disseminated cancer cells in development to metastases upon stimuli, such as glucocorticoids treatment. Understanding the mechanisms of metastases development will guide development of new cancer therapies to improve disease-free survival.

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Eunice Kim

Airway motile cilia play an important role in mucociliary clearance, the primary innate defense mechanism of the lung, by propelling inhaled pathogens trapped in mucus up and out of the respiratory tract. Impaired ciliary function is commonly found in patients with chronic pulmonary diseases, and genetic mutations that result in aberrant cilia formation and loss of function often lead to the development of genetically heterogenous, multisystem disorders called ciliopathies.

While the current body of literature suggests that the unique composition and morphology of the ciliary membrane the envelops the cilium are involved in maintaining ciliary function and homeostasis, the molecular players and mechanisms that underlie the formation and maintenance of the ciliary membrane remain poorly understood. Kim hopes to provide new insights into what drives ciliary membrane shaping and maintenance by investigating the roles of two membrane-binding proteins in ciliogenesis and airway ciliated cell differentiation.

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Connor Lawhead
Clinical Psychology 

Lawhead is interested transdiagnostic psychopathology, such as irritability and anhedonia, and how these clinical constructs emerge and change over the course of adolescent development. He is also interested in the underlying cognitive and biological mechanisms associated with these transdiagnostic constructs, and using ecological momentary assessment to better understand its behavioral expression and lability on a shorter timescale.

This research will aid in the understanding of youth and adolescent personality and psychopathology in the hopes of mitigating the presence and impact of maladaptive behaviors associated with these constructs.

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Steven M. Lewis
Genetics, Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) 

Lewis’ research seeks to address a gap in understanding for the reason that many, but not all women inheriting loss of function BRCA1 mutations ultimately develop breast cancer. It is investigating the potential relationship between bacterial infection and the inflammation that ensues as a driver of tumor growth in the context of inherited BRCA1 mutations using our lab’s novel mouse models.

This work may lead to a new appreciation of the link between infection and breast cancer for BRCA1 carrier women and potentially inform greater surveillance of infection in this population.

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Marie Francoise Millares
Materials Science and Engineering 

Millares’ research involves investigating novel materials and battery design to advance energy storage technologies. By exploring these avenues, it will enhance the efficiency, durability and sustainability of battery development. This research contributes to revolutionizing the energy landscape, enabling wider adoption of renewable energy sources, reducing reliance on fossil fuels and ultimately contributing to a more environmentally friendly world.

The anticipated impacts of her research involve significant advancements in battery technologies for electric vehicles and paving a way for a cleaner, more accessible energy grid infrastructure globally.

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Ava Nederlander
Electrical and Computer Engineering 

Nederlander’s research focuses on artificial intelligence and its intersection with other sciences to promote scientific discovery. Her prior research experiences are interdisciplinary and focused on the applications of scientific computation to astronomy, biology and chemistry.

Her background and broad range of scientific interests enables me to understand a wide range of scientific topics, the connections between key problems in these fields, and the computational methods that could be used to study them.

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Jennifer Jiyoun Park
Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology 

Park’s research focuses on how deprotection of stalled forks potentiates oncogene-induced senescence (OIS) and how pre-malignant cells under replication stress overcome OIS and establish oncogenic transformation. Her study aims to lay the foundation for targeting TIMELESS (TIM) gain-of-function as a way to sensitize cancer cells to oncogene-induced DNA replication stress.

Understanding the nature of TIM in OIS can pave new ways to inhibit TIM, resensitize cancer cells and ultimately prevent tumorigenesis.

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Melissa Rasmussen
Physics and Astronomy 

Rasmussen simulates Type Ia supernovae, investigating the variables that influence how stars explode.

These efforts expand our understanding of the universe and increase the accuracy of cosmological predictions.

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James St. John
Materials Science 

Cleaning the panels of a typical 100 MW(DC) solar power plant requires an estimated 1.5 million gallons of potable water every year. St. John is currently researching the Electrodynamic Dust Shield (EDS) technology for applications on self-cleaning solar panels to reduce this high cost of water for cleaning solar power plants.

EDS utilizes conductive oxide thin-films and his research group aims to overcome the bottlenecks related to thin-film deposition and patterning to develop industry scalable methods for manufacturing EDS technology with utility scale solar power plants.

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Courtney Tello
Cellular Biology and Biochemistry

Tello’s research seeks to understand how progenitor cells interpret developmental signals in order to become specific cell fates. She is using zebrafish embryos to study the bone morphogenetic protein pathway to get a better understanding of how these signals lead to specific cell types such as skeletal muscle, vasculature and blood cells.

Findings from her research will lead to advances in our understanding of vertebrate animal development which can lead to breakthroughs of regeneration therapies.

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Lucia Yang
Genetics, Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) 

Pediatric diffuse midline gliomas (DMGs) are especially deadly and current treatment options are not curative. Yang’s research uses antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) to target a histone coding gene that has been implicated as both tumor-initiating and tumor-maintaining for DMGs.

With the use of both cell culture and mouse models, Yang has shown that our ASOs reduce tumor growth and prolong survival in treated samples. The goal of this work is to improve current therapies for pediatric gliomas and advance the use of ASOs for treatment of oncologic and central nervous system diseases.

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