blog postsBehind the ScenesSnake Road SojournApr 18, 2017 8:30 am703 views SHAWNEE NATIONAL FOREST, Ill. — There is nothing between us but my camera lens and a half meter of thick southern Illinois air. I peer over my camera, mesmerized by his vertical pupils fixed on me, his heat-sensing pits tracking my every move. He inflates his lungs to exaggerate his already impressive girth. This meter length of muscle is coiled like a spring and poised to strike. Despite being surrounded by 15 thrilled herpetology students and a cacophony of calling tree frogs, the only sound that fills my ears is the ceaseless rattling.Behind the ScenesImage of Research: Graduate students reveal the wonders of discoveryMar 29, 2017 8:00 am1026 views Graduate students pair powerful images with compelling descriptions of research in the 2017 Image of Research competition.Behind the ScenesCasting a net for conservation, and catching ducksMar 22, 2017 8:15 am778 views I'm sitting in a camouflaged blind when the sun breaks the horizon and lights up the southeast Illinois wetland. Hidden by cattails and other vegetation, I watch my breath and note how cold my feet are despite the thick wool socks and insulated waders I’m wearing. A hundred yards away, ducks – most of them mallards or American green-winged teal – begin to drop from the sky to land on the water along the shore, right near my bait.Behind the ScenesJourney to the riverbank and back in timeDec 12, 2016 9:00 am881 views I wake up to the sound of the engine running. The cook needs power to begin making breakfast at 4:30 a.m., and the captain begins steering the boat to where we will examine the riverbanks. I get dressed, wearing a long-sleeved shirt and pants tinged with the red of the rocks we have studied – their iron stain is slowly becoming the main color of my wardrobe.Behind the ScenesLife onboard the research boatDec 8, 2016 12:45 pm321 views Given the confining nature of our vessel, many routines that require no thought or preparation in our everyday lives become chores on the boat.Behind the ScenesUnlocking the secrets of the Amazon RiverNov 22, 2016 9:15 am841 views Next week, we’ll be in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, near the frontier town of Tefé, to conduct research on the river.Behind the ScenesSymbols of ServiceNov 17, 2016 11:00 am225 views The Symbols of Service exhibit at the University of Illinois Library tells the stories behind the tattoos of student veterans.Behind the ScenesThe Cornfield Death MarchNov 3, 2016 10:15 am1808 views My students and I are standing at the edge of a 73-acre cornfield. Covered in mud and sweat, we are dreading the task ahead. We are hunting the western corn rootworm, a menace to corn growers everywhere. Behind the ScenesThe art and science of Mammoth Hot SpringsNov 1, 2016 2:00 pm1407 views A new book by geology professor Bruce Fouke and photographer Tom Murphy brings together art and science in the study of Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park.Behind the ScenesPet burials blur the line between human and animal ritesOct 13, 2016 9:30 am240 views A new book by anthropology professor Jane Desmond explores humans’ complex relationships with other animals.Behind the ScenesPoetry inspired by paintingOct 12, 2016 8:45 am68 views Poet Janice Harrington wrote her poem "Domino Players, 1943" based on a painting by African-American artist Horace Pippin.Behind the ScenesBackstage at an American musicalSep 28, 2016 1:15 pm1128 views Lighting-design students from the University of Illinois theatre department get a backstage look at the technical aspects of the musical "Hamilton."Behind the ScenesTourists behaving badlyJul 25, 2016 11:45 am518 views So far this year, Yellowstone has seen a record number of visitors – and what seems to be a record number of visitors disobeying the rules.Behind the ScenesA night in grizzly countryJul 21, 2016 9:45 am345 views We spent last night in Yellowstone’s backcountry, at Grebe Lake, a lovely lake at the base of the Washburn Range. For most of the students, this was their first experience backpacking: carrying a tent, sleeping bag and food into the backcountry. They had to learn a few new skills, like how to hang food from a bear pole. Some also had to adjust emotionally to the idea of sleeping in the middle of grizzly country.Behind the ScenesBetween wilderness, tourism and civilizationJul 18, 2016 4:15 pm307 views We spent yesterday in Grand Teton National Park, hiking Cascade Canyon. Today we’re in Jackson, Wyoming, just south of the park and a very different settingBehind the ScenesPreserving a fragile historyJul 7, 2016 12:15 pm360 views I drive slowly over the hilly terrain in Fossil Basin and park near the remnants of an old campsite. In the 1950s and early 1960s, botanist Herman Becker camped here and collected fossil insects and plants from the Renova Formation’s paper shales. We are the first, since Becker, to explore this fossil bed. Our work begins where his left off.Behind the ScenesDrawing insights from ancient plantsJun 29, 2016 2:30 pm655 views I’m sitting near the top of our fossil excavation site in southwest Montana, my hammer and shovel ready. I have a perfect view of the mountains. A wall of fossil-laden shale lies before me, and I’m ready to dig in. This is our fourth day digging, and despite the early hour, I'm trembling with excitement. Today I might find something new, something no human has ever seen.Behind the ScenesThe fossils of Madison County (Montana)Jun 20, 2016 2:15 pm763 views Standing at the foot of the mountains, I look to the east. It’s still early and I have hiked up here alone to gather my thoughts. I can see why they call this “Big Sky Country.” The tree-covered foothills of the mountains behind me give way to rolling scrubland. Stunted trees mark the edges of dry creek beds cut into the soft rocks below. The sun sparkles on the surface of a reservoir in the valley several miles away, and beyond that, another mountain range rises to meet the sky. This is southwest Montana and I’m here to hunt.Behind the ScenesDrought and pilgrimage at the Cara Blanca Pools, BelizeJun 13, 2016 1:00 pm691 views After driving the winding dirt roads of Yalbac Ranch, we venture for 20 minutes into a steep ravine surrounded by dense jungle. Cicadas sing to us from above as we approach Pool 1, a 60-plus-meter-deep cenote (steep-sided sinkhole fed by groundwater). It is difficult to see the pool at first. But, as the truck tires grind over loose limestone, making those sitting in the back of the truck bounce, a water temple and the pool appear to emerge from the jungle. Previous VOPA excavations show that 1,300 years ago, Maya came from different regions of the lowlands to this sacred pool. Behind the ScenesMapping the state budget impasse and its consequencesJun 7, 2016 10:30 am1550 views With maps and infographics, the Illinois Austerity Atlas visually chronicles the impacts the state budget impasse has had on social services, higher education, youth programs and public health.Behind the ScenesSalvaging the past in an ancient Maya settlement Jun 1, 2016 9:45 am842 views We are working in the the cleared agricultural fields near Cara Blanca Pool 7, a pre-Columbian residential area in west central Belize. Hundreds of ancient Maya structures once housed a thriving community here. Now the area is being converted into farmland, and our job is to salvage what we can before the plows sheer off this history, layer by layer.Behind the ScenesA guide to the Japan House gardensMay 27, 2016 10:00 am1654 views Japan House has developed a mobile guide to its gardens, which visitors can listen to on their phones for a self-guided tour.Behind the ScenesCoring and Exploring Ancient Maya LifeMay 17, 2016 9:30 am982 views It is early May in central Belize, nearing the end of the dry season. While farmers anxiously await the beginning of the rainy season vital for crops, archaeologists hope it starts as late as possible. Tropical storms transform the landscape, making it difficult to get around, even in four-wheel-drive vehicles. Also, excavating in the clayey mud is not fun.Behind the ScenesOn the campaign trail: Breaking away from the packApr 20, 2016 11:15 am769 views Journalism professor Charles "Stretch" Ledford describes how he avoids the rules for photojournalists at presidential campaign events, getting a different angle on the people in the crowd.Behind the ScenesBringing home the bones of Tam Pa LingApr 13, 2016 3:30 pm740 views Finding a home for the bones of Tam Pa Ling here in the capital city of Laos has special meaning for me.Behind the ScenesBLOG: Discovering the bones of Tam Pa LingApr 4, 2016 1:30 pm280 views Tam Pa Ling cave sits at the top of Pa Hang Mountain, in Hua Phan Province, Laos. Every day, we climb the mountain and descend into the cave to dig. The view from outside the cave is spectacular, but its location means that the only equipment that we can use to dig through the wet clay of the cave floor is what we can carry up the mountain.Behind the ScenesBLOG: Finding a Home for the Bones of Tam Pa LingApr 3, 2016 11:45 am1088 views I am a paleoanthropologist, and with a team of researchers from France and Laos, I have explored the mountains of northern Laos since 2008. We have been looking for evidence of the earliest humans that migrated out of Africa and into Southeast Asia. Since 2009, we have excavated at Tam Pa Ling (“Cave of the Monkeys”), where we discovered fossils of the earliest modern humans living in this part of the world. Since then, we have found the bones of at least three people who lived in this cave around 50,000 years ago. Today, these bones will find a permanent home in a new museum in Vientiane.Behind the ScenesImage of Research: A Pinch of Salt and ImaginationMar 31, 2016 9:15 am933 views I was holding the dried out agar plate in my hand, wondering what I was looking at. These beautiful self-organized fractals changed shape in front of my eyes. I could imagine the salt deposits as a starry night, a mysterious garden or white snowflakes.Behind the ScenesBlog: Expedition to the highest lake in the world: The child decidesMar 16, 2016 5:45 pm556 views El Nino stops many – but not all – climbers from scaling Ojos del Salado in 2016Behind the ScenesBLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world: Timing is everythingJan 27, 2016 4:15 pm934 views We had finished our acclimatization training. We had arranged for a truck to take us - again - across the vast Catamarca wilderness to base camp of Ojos del Salado. We had recruited two young men with mountaineering experience to join the expedition.Behind the ScenesBLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world: Changes in plansJan 20, 2016 9:15 am281 views We thought that the expedition was over. My husband's altitude sickness left only three of us to climb Ojos del Salado, make our way up the mountain in the thin air, find the lake, collect the biological samples and get back down safely. It wasn't feasible. Then we learned something that changed the entire expedition.Behind the ScenesBLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world: Expect the unexpectedJan 12, 2016 9:00 am398 views You may think that mountain expeditions are all about action, but in fact there's a lot more time spent sitting around. Plans may be perfect, but obstacles arise. The weather is unexpectedly cold, the ice on the lake is too thick, the snow on the mountain is melting much later in the season than normal.Behind the ScenesBLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world: The whyJan 4, 2016 11:30 am989 views MENDOZA, ARGENTINA - We head out to Fiambala tomorrow, near the base of Ojos del Salado, the tallest active volcano in the world. We will continue our acclimatization hikes at higher and higher altitudes before beginning our approach on the lake, where we hope to collect microbial samples without contaminating the lake with our own.Behind the ScenesBLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world - Climbing higherDec 31, 2015 9:15 pm681 views VALLECITOS, ARGENTINA - Mount Franke is a giant rock pile. Some of the rocks are attached to the mountain. Many, many others are not. The loose rocks are engaged in slow tumble down the mountainside. Hikers often help them along.Behind the ScenesBLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world - Day 2Dec 24, 2015 6:00 pm1459 views POTRERILLOS, ARGENTINA - The polar explorer Amundsen hated adventure and worked hard to avoid it. Adventures begin when things go wrong and are a sign of bad planning, he said. For us, the adventure began even before we landed in Argentina. One of our five giant duffle bags full of hignored-altitude gear never made it to Mendoza. All of my high altitude gear was in that bag. It took me four months to accumulate that gear.Behind the ScenesBLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world - DAY 1Dec 22, 2015 9:45 pm504 views MENDOZA, ARGENTINA -- We arrived in Mendoza, Argentina today and tomorrow we are going on our first trek: up from 2,080 meters to 2700 meters on Mount Mihlo, outside of Mendoza. This will begin the acclimatization process for us. Behind the ScenesBLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world - on the roadDec 21, 2015 6:30 am602 views IN TRANSIT – One of the reasons I felt comfortable joining this expedition was the attitude of the expedition leader, Francisco Seufferheld. He made it abundantly clear that this was to be a positive experience and that we were not to become so driven to reach the goal that we forgot to stay safe and have fun. It’s a good thing, too, because we will have to overcome a lot of obstacles to make it to the lake at the top of the volcano. The altitude is the most formidable challenge, but there are others.Behind the ScenesBLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the worldDec 14, 2015 2:00 pm1708 views CATAMARCA, ARGENTINA - Early in 2016, a small team will climb Ojos del Salado, the tallest active volcano in the world. Unlike most climbers who tackle this volcano, however, this group has little interest in reaching the summit. Near the end of their trek, they will veer off the summit path to visit a lake that holds something seen nowhere else on Earth at this altitude: liquid water. The team will try to collect soil and water samples from this lake to see what microbes might be living there.