01/11/14 12:00pm
01/11/2014 12:00 PM
Screen shot image of the updated EPA Citizen Science website

Screen shot image of the updated EPA Citizen Science website

Residents interested in environmental issues now have a new informational tool to help them plan experiments, research and collect data — the Environmental Protection Agency’s Citizen Science website.

The website, which had already previously existed, is now updated with detailed information about air, water, and soil monitoring; including recommendations for equipment and resources to aid in research areas specific to New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which make up EPA Region 2, according to the state agency.

“The EPA encourages the public to use the new website as a tool in furthering their scientific investigations and developing solutions to pollution problems.” said Judith Enck, regional administrator at the EPA in a press release. “Citizen Science is an increasingly important part of the EPA’s commitment to using sound science and technology to protect people’s health and safeguard the environment.”

Visitors can also get information on funding opportunities that can be applied for — both government sponsored grants and commercially funded grants. It also includes testimonials from other citizen scientists about experiments successfully completed within the region, according to the site.

If anyone in the area is pursing a Citizen Science project of their own, we would like to hear about it. Please contact environmental reporter Carrie Miller at the address below.

[email protected]

05/20/13 8:10am
05/20/2013 8:10 AM

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | A customer, Lucille Kurtz, inspects a boxwood plant at Verderber’s Landscape Nursery and Garden Center in Riverhead. No cases have been reported on the North Fork.

Landscapers, nursery owners and plant scientists are on the lookout for a new fungus that attacks one of Long Island’s most popular plants: the boxwood.

The boxwood blight has yet to have a significant impact on Long Island, and both the landscaping and research communities are working hard to keep it that way, said Margery Daughtrey, a plant pathologist with the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Riverhead.

“We will have to be quite lucky and vigilant not to bring it in from other areas,” she said.

The deadly disease, calonectria pseudonaviculata, was first spotted in the United Kingdom in 1994, though scientists are unsure of where the disease originally came from.

The blight was not a concern stateside until October 2011, Ms. Daughtrey said, when the disease was found in Connecticut and North Carolina.

COURTESY PHOTO | Boxwoods infected with the blight have a dark brown or black spot on their leaves.

Since the disease had already been well-documented in Europe, scientists in the U.S. were able to share information about the disease quickly, she said. The fungus then spread to a few other states, like Maryland, Virginia and Oregon, which are large exporters of boxwood plants. That’s kept scientists on high alert for cases in new states.

The first cases of the disease in New York were found at two garden centers in December 2011.

The fungal disease attacks the plant at the point of contact, causing signature black spots on the leaves.

“We’re used to seeing dead foliage on boxwoods for a bunch of reasons, including winter injury, but this is a disease where the leaves usually fall off,” Ms. Daughtrey said.

Bare boxwood twigs are a good indicator that the blight is present, she said, adding that gardeners may also notice thin black streaks running down the sides of twigs on blight-infected boxwoods.

Since the disease was first spotted in 2011, no more than a dozen cases of boxwood blight in the landscape have been identified on Long Island, she said, adding that the infected plants were likely circulated before word of the disease spread. None of those cases occurred on the North Fork, she said.

No cases have yet been seen in production at nurseries on Long Island, she said.

“I think our nurseries have escaped contamination up until now,” Ms. Daughtrey said. “I don’t know if they always will but they’ve been lucky so far.”

But the growing demand for boxwood — a popular deer-resistant plant — on Long Island means that may not always be the case.

“Long Island doesn’t grow as many boxwoods as it needs,” Ms. Daughtrey said. “Over time it will get moved along a lot.”

Federal funding was recently approved to research the disease, she said, adding that scientists are curious to learn why some boxwood species are more resistant to it than others.

Landscapers who have been affected by the disease have worked with the Cornell Cooperative Extension to eradicate the blight, Ms. Daughtrey said.

Most nurseries are aware of the new blight and are taking steps to prevent it from reaching the North Fork, Ms. Daughtrey said.

COURTESY PHOTO | The fungus is fatal to the boxwood plant it infects, causing its leaves to fall off.

Lou Caracciolo, owner of Shade Trees Nursery in Jamesport, said his company is screening the sources of its boxwood plants. If a supplier is from a state where infected plants are known to exist, the nursery will shop elsewhere.

“Basically, all you can do is just monitor,” Mr. Caracciolo said. “It’s a matter of infected plants coming in.”

Yet other nurseries in the area haven’t been able to find any suppliers of healthy boxwood. Homeside Florist and Garden Center in Riverhead just isn’t selling any boxwood this year.

“We can’t get healthy ones,” an employee explained.

At Twin Pond Nursery on Sound Avenue, several rows of boxwood plants — five different varieties in all — grow in one of the fields. An employee said this is the third year the nursery has grown the plants.

“The problem is there’s no fungicide for [the blight],” he said, adding the plants there came from Delaware.

Still, Ms. Daughtrey said there are steps consumers can take to keep the blight in check. Infected plants will be more recent purchases from within the last three years, she said. English boxwoods, one of the more expensive varieties, are most susceptible.

From now on, homeowners should plant boxwoods in open spaces instead of in the shade, since sunlight will help prevent damp conditions that helps the disease flourish.

Consumers and landscapers should also be most wary during cooler, wetter times of the season, she said. Scientists will be watching this season to see how the fungus behaves in drier conditions.

“We need to live with it for a while see how it behaves,” she said. “It’s new. We really don’t know what to expect.”

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03/10/13 5:00pm
COURTESY PHOTO | Five teams for RHS competed in the Long Island Regional Rubegoldberg competition and "Big Bang Theory" Placed third.  (Left to Right)  Aakash Gandhi, Brianne Corwin, Joann Yeung and Karla Vanston

COURTESY PHOTO | Five teams for RHS competed in the Long Island Regional Rubegoldberg competition and “Big Bang Theory” Placed third. (Left to Right) Aakash Gandhi, Brianne Corwin, Joann Yeung and Karla Vanston

A Riverhead High School physics team earned third place Saturday in a regional competition to build a complicated “Rube Goldberg” machine.

The “Big Bang Theory” team, which won the third place honors, was one of five from Riverhead that competed in the Long Island Regional Rube Goldberg competition at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, said Riverhead High School science teacher Greg Wallace.

The Big Bang Theory team finished tied for second place in Regents AP Physics category in Riverhead High School’s own Rube Goldberg competition in December, but finished ahead of their in-school competitors in the regional competition.

The team was comprised of Brianne Corwin, Karla Vanston, Joanne Yeung and Aakash Gandhi.

This year’s competition required students to build a contraption that would make a hammer hit a nail as the culmination of a process that takes at least 20 steps.

This is the third year Riverhead High School has competed in the contest.

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12/24/12 7:00pm

“Chain Reaction” comprised of Kaitlyn Doherty, Sarah Freeborn, Jose Chinchilla, Jordan Tapley and Kathleen Farnam took first place in the AP Regents category at this year’s Riverhead High School Rube Goldberg competition.

Riverhead High School held its third annual Rube Goldberg competition Friday morning, with a goal this year of making a hammer hit a nail, as the culmination of a process that takes at least 20 steps.

Ryan Hubbard of the “Los Cinco Amigos” team explained how their contraption worked: “The train pushes the marble, the marble falls into the cup, and then it goes through that red landing thing into the yellow tube, then through the white tube, onto the duck tape, then it goes into the red cup…” … you get the point.

It all ends with the hammer hitting the nail.

His team’s project worked on the first attempt, but  they didn’t finish in first or second place.

Some students said their project worked every time in practice, only to fail when the judges were watching.

The criteria, which is established by a national Rube Goldberg competition, includes various other factors, including how complex it is, the type of materials used, and even the laugh factor.

“But it’s basically just the wow factor,” said physics teacher Greg Wallace, who coordinates the competition along with fellow teachers Brian Cunningham and Kim Skinner.

There was no category for best team name, but if their was, “E=MC Hammer,” the name of the group comprised of students Eric Divan, Mike Dellarusso, and Leia Kent, probably would have won.

Each entry had three shots to make their contraption work before the judges. If their contraption stalled out in mid-run, they were were allowed to give it a push, but that would also cost them five points. They also would lose five points if objects flew outside their project, as many marbles and golf balls did.

There were two competitions, the 9th grade Smart Physics classes and the Regents AP classes.

This year’s first place finishers in the Smart Physics category were “Six Hero’s in the City,” comprised of students Bryce McKissick, Lauren Mastropolo, Mike Harris, Brian Clark, and Haley Rudnicki.

In the Regents AP category, first place went to “Chain Reaction,” comprised of students Kaitlyn Doherty, Sarah Freeborn, Jose Chinchilla, Jordan Tapley and Kathleen Farnam.

The winners can go on to a regional competition next year in Garden City’s Cradle of Aviation Museum, and possibly to a national competition later on in Detroit, according to Mr. Wallace.

This year saw one of the entries use an iPhone vibration to start the ball rolling by playing music. There were a lot of mouse traps, golf balls and marbles being used (often bouncing all over the place), along with some Legos, a few school books, some cans, a few Hot Wheels tracks and other items.

This year’s competition was also supposed to have an added feature with a Holiday theme, a competition to design catapults to toss fruitcakes, but heavy rains and high winds led to the cancelation of the latter.

That contest will be rescheduled, officials said.

Editor’s note: The author, a News-Review reporter, served as one of the contest’s judges this year.

01/04/11 2:00pm
01/04/2011 2:00 PM


Duct tape, mousetraps, old Hot Wheels tracks and other odds and ends were everywhere in the Riverhead High School gym on Dec. 23. There were also ropes and scissors and ping-pong balls and even plants. (See video)

No, they weren’t all bad Christmas presents being collected and inventoried for a massive re-gifting.

These were some of the things that high school and middle school physics students used for a Rube Goldberg competition.

The contest required students to make working contraptions out of available materials, contraptions that have to go through far more steps than necessary to achieve a simple result — in this case, watering a plant.

The contest required the entries to take a minimum of 20 steps.

“Over 100 yards of duct tape was used to create this,” said senior Conrad Buhner. His team, called The Toy Group, was one of the two winners in the Advanced Placement physics class.

A description of their project has passages that read like this: “…triggering another rat trap to pull out a stopper, swinging the Ninja Turtle to hit a softball stuffed with duct tape to make it heavier …” And so on.

“The kids are very excited,” said science teacher Kim Skinner. “They’ve been designing and testing and redesigning.”

The Rube Goldberg competition hasn’t been a regular event in the school for some time, according to Ms. Skinner, who said it used to be part of the annual science fair.

“Last year, we did it in the Advanced Placement Physics class and it was just so much fun, we decided this year that it had to be an annual event,” Ms. Skinner said.

The competition was open to students in the 11th- and 12th-grade Regents and AP Physics classes, and to 9th-graders in the Smart Physics class, she said.

The winners will go on to a regional competition on Feb. 12 at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, and if they collect victories there, they can go to a national event in Michigan on March 19 and win cash prizes, according to Suzanne Hulme, the district’s science director.

Chris Sorto described his team’s project: “It starts off with the tetherball going around, it knocks the paddle over, the paddle pulls the cup down where there’s a fishing line attached to it, that causes the trigger to go off, which hits the toilet paper tube, that hits the golf ball, that hits the car, then falls into the cup, and pulls a string which releases a battery, that pulls the scissor down, cutting a rope, which lets a pipe fall down …”

It goes on for a while. It culminates with watering the plant.

His team, called The Awesome Group, was the other AP Physics winner, although their project wouldn’t work when the News-Review tried to video it for its website.

Debbie Bates explained that her team’s project knocks over a teapot filled with acetone, which melts a Styrofoam cup, releasing some marbles.

“It’s really cool when you watch it,” she said.

Their project not only watered the plant, it fertilized it with Miracle Grow.

“When we started out, our whole plan was we had no idea what we were doing,” Conrad Buhner said. “So we took all of our ideas, and we just brought a bunch of stuff and came together and we designed this.”

Components included a toy cosmonaut, a backboard from a bed frame, a fish tank and a dartboard.

The competition was organized by Ms. Skinner and fellow physics teachers Greg Wallace and Brian Cunningham, according to Ms. Hulme.
There were two winners in each of the three categories, 9th-grade Physics, Regents Physics and AP Physics.

The ninth-grade winners were the teams White Stripes (Pola Dobrzynski, Justine Kundmuller, Nyleaih Green and Perla Leon) and The Group (Robert Prentis, Dakota Cohen, Dakota Cardillo, Jessica Sisti and Kyle Gardner).

Regents Physics winners were Young Money Brick Squad (Chris Lara, Jordan Demchuck, Chris Manzella, Dylan Kelly, Jordan Fulcoly, Rob Pisano, Nick and Joe Prete, and Marly Portocarrera) and The Beatles (Mary Verderber, Tara Smith, Macey Reichel, Nick Disalvo and Noah Gorman).

AP Physics winners were The Awesome Group (Dave Talmage, Chris Sorto, Alex Liquori, Matt Carol, John Horton and Elliot Jones) and The Toy Group (Conrad Buhner, Andrew Plattner, Jimmy Peterson, Dan Morgan, Ed Schneck and Robert Sosik).

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