Esther Ngumbi: My path to Illinois Mar 23, 2020 8:00 am3009 views I grew up on the Kenyan coast, in a town called Mabafweni, in Kwale County. My parents were teachers, but their income was not enough to sustain us and send us to school. So, we also farmed. I got up early every day to work on the farm before school. When I was a young person working on my family farm, I saw every year that halfway through the growing season, insects would come and take away much of our food. And then drought would come and take much of what was left. This had a big influence on me. Excavating a cave without leaving campus Nov 14, 2018 8:30 am1918 views I’m in a cave with three identical waterfalls. The roar of water fills my ears as I look around, a little shakily. This is not what I was expecting when I showed up to Davenport Hall for an interview. But when I said, “Yes, I’d love to try out a virtual reality environment,” two students perched a headset on my head, adjusted the earphones and set me loose in this “cave.” I can hear anthropology professor Laura Shackelford gently guiding me. I’m aware that I’m in a room with her and the students, but I’m also in a cave, alone. Exploring an ancestral Maya neighborhood Sep 9, 2022 9:00 am1878 views We stand in the open fields of Spanish Lookout, a modernized Mennonite farming community in Central Belize, looking at what remains of ancestral Maya homes after years of plowing. White mounds, the remnants of these houses, pock the landscape as far as the eye can see, a stark reminder of what existed more than 1,000 years ago. The collapsed buildings look like smudges on an aerial photograph, but as archaeologists, we get to see them up close. With enough excavation and interpretation, we can eventually make sense of how these dwellings functioned in the deep human past. Exploring multispecies relationships by walking 'with' the forest in Sri Lanka Nov 28, 2023 6:15 am196 views Emma Lundin, a graduate student in tourism at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, discusses her research in a rainforest in Sri Lanka, exploring how to create sustainable nature-based tourist experiences by walking "with" the forest. Exploring the remnants of an ancient forest Sep 2, 2021 8:00 am2536 views At first glance, Trelease Woods looks like any other central Illinois woodland. There’s a well-worn track inside its fenced eastern edge, and the forest floor is littered with twigs and branches. But as I walk along the path with my companions, I notice that some of the trees are bigger than any I’ve seen in this area. Exploring the unknown: The Motmot sinkhole Jul 9, 2018 8:30 am1626 views Our first two days of searching are laden with humidity. Traversing the ridges and ravines of the Cara Blanca hills leaves us drenched in sweat as we ward off heat exhaustion beneath corozo palm leaves. Two years ago, during a helicopter reconnaissance over this dense jungle in central Belize, wildlife photographer Tony Rath spotted what is now our target: a cavernous hole overflowing with green vegetation, its edges marked by stark white cliff faces. We tried to reach the sinkhole last year, but our attempts were thwarted by a cliff we could not descend. This year, we’re trying again. This time, we came prepared. Extracting history from a cornfield Jul 17, 2019 12:30 pm6726 views When I get to the archaeological site, I’m surprised to see that it’s in the middle of an active cornfield. Dusty furrows with tiny sprigs of corn come to within about 10 feet of the dig. The researchers are already here, gently peeling back their tarps, assembling their gear and getting ready for another day. The tarps cover the excavation of one of about two dozen dwellings that stood on this site roughly 800 years ago. A short distance away, another team works on a second house. Finding an ancient Maya city in the jungles of Belize Aug 6, 2018 3:00 pm1261 views The jungles of central Belize contain thousands of species of insects, birds, reptiles, mammals, trees and flowers. They also contain ancient Maya cities, some of which remain unknown and unexplored. Finding clarity in the fog Dec 16, 2019 8:15 am693 views My hypothesis about how to improve wind-turbine efficiency arose unexpectedly one day as I was driving to Chicago to visit my fiancée. For some reason, my GPS chose to take me off the main highway and onto country roads, and I found myself traveling through a wind farm. It was a lucky coincidence: A thick mist lay on the horizon and, thanks to the fog, I could see the turbulence fields each turbine generated in its wake. Finding darters where no one thought to look Nov 29, 2018 11:15 am1910 views “Pull off in about a mile and a half,” I tell my colleague Josh Sherwood, an ichthyologist with the Illinois Natural History Survey. A minute goes by before he flips on the amber light bar over our heads and pulls the truck into the grass alongside the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway, about 60 miles west of Chicago. The ground is littered with trash, broken glass and bits of tire – like any major highway. A few feet away is a small, unnamed stream, barely more than 2 feet wide and less than 6 inches deep. “Why would anyone want to sample this site?” I ask myself. Finding one elusive bird Oct 16, 2020 8:15 am1370 views It’s hot and my shirt is sticking to my back. I part scrubby marsh vegetation with one hand and shield my face with the other. Hiking along the margins of Illinois’ only open-water quaking bog, I’m carrying five liters of swamp water in bottles in my backpack, my samples sloshing with each step. Collecting wetland water samples is far from glamorous. My feet are wet, my legs caked in mud, and I frequently swat at hordes of mosquitoes as I hike, sometimes with as much as 10 liters of water in my pack. I’m not interested in the water; rather, if all goes well, I will find my samples contain the DNA of mysterious marsh birds, called rails, that breed and migrate through Illinois wetlands. Finding time for play Dec 5, 2019 8:15 am961 views Before I step into the classroom, I hear children’s voices and feel the energy these five- and six-year-olds radiate. Once inside, I see bins of materials strewn about – a scene of organized chaos. The bins are full of toys, blocks, interactive cards, game pieces and other materials meant to develop the children’s fine motor skills and enhance their engagement with words and numbers. But I am keenly aware of a worrisome trend in classrooms like this one: They are devoting more time and attention to teaching academic content, thus reducing the time for play. Research suggests that the downward trend in time for play, coupled with growing stressors, could have negative implications for children’s mental health and, in turn, their long-term outcomes. Finding water closer to home Oct 10, 2018 8:00 am816 views It is just past noon as Zuze Dulanya, Evance Mwathunga and I climb out of the van. The shiny new handpump for Jimu Village sits where just last week a drill rig bored the hole for this much needed, much anticipated new water source. Beneath a nearby row of sweet gum trees, two long benches surround a lone, red-cushioned side chair. “Ha!” Zuze says. “We know who will be getting the hot seat today!” Following in the footsteps of early 20th century naturalist Elizabeth Kerr Jun 5, 2023 8:00 am756 views Trek through Colombia with graduate student Juliana Soto, who, with her all-female team of Colombian ornithologists, revisits landscapes to study and document the birds of the region. In preparing for the expedition, Soto discovered the work of naturalist Elizabeth Kerr, who in the early 20th century collected wild bird specimens in Colombia for the American Museum of Natural History. Following the sounds of prairie cicadas Sep 24, 2020 9:30 am1540 views When I arrive at the Loda Cemetery Prairie Nature Preserve, Katie Dana is already out there. She’s wearing knee-high boots to ward off chiggers and ticks, and she’s carrying an insect net. Dana is on the prowl for cicadas: the loudest insects on the planet. On this hot summer day, they do not disappoint. The males are in full chorus. From pythons and ferrets to coughing parrots: Adventures in exotic animal medicine Nov 1, 2017 8:15 am518 views Working with exotic animals in the Small Animal Clinic involves a lot of thinking on my feet. Each type of animal comes with unique needs and challenges. Parrots often have nutritional deficiencies and, like humans, can develop atherosclerosis – the result of a poor diet and too much sedentary time. (We sometimes refer to them as “perch potatoes.”) Reptiles and mammals tend to develop fungal infections on their skin. Birds, snakes and mammals need stimulation and like to explore – with sometimes tragic results. Gathering data to save a rare turtle Aug 13, 2020 9:00 am1744 views We are never more conscious of the summer sun than while struggling to unpack a trap full of turtles, watching with resignation as the wind slowly drags us and our kayak across the marsh. We are in Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area, about 50 miles southwest of Chicago. We visit these wetlands two weeks per month during the field season, which runs from May to October. Girish Chowdhary: My path to Illinois Mar 26, 2020 8:00 am2853 views I was born in Mumbai, India, to parents who worked full-time. My mother, who was the first woman to work as an officer in the Maharashtra Civil Services, came in at a time when parental leave did not exist. Because of this, I spent my early years with my grandparents in Kumta, India. My grandfather was a university physics professor and instilled in me an interest and respect for science – particularly astrophysics. Govindjee's photosynthesis museum Jul 9, 2019 8:30 am4470 views I am in Govindjee’s office suite and I don’t know where to look. Govindjee, a professor emeritus of plant biology who goes by the one name only, is a collector. There are layers of history here: artifacts and papers, books and photographs. There also are homemade scientific instruments that look like plumbing elbows, tiny satellites or props from vintage sci-fi movies. Grace and healing: Parkinson's dance class opens pathways to body and mind Jun 12, 2020 8:15 am1995 views Laughter ripples across the dance floor. Bodies bend in an arc. For some, that arc is much less pronounced, but that’s not important. Any expansion of movement is a celebration for these dancers – they have Parkinson’s disease. This is a session of Dance for People with Parkinson’s, a tradition for more than 10 years at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Healing Peter with T-shirts and silver Oct 9, 2017 8:45 am1390 views As a veterinary dermatologist, I see my share of unusual cases. I’ve treated a cheetah with dental disease, an itchy wallaroo, an alpaca with allergies and an alligator snapping turtle with an obstructed throat. But infections in dogs, cats and other critters can be among the most difficult conditions to treat. Highlights for the season Dec 20, 2018 12:00 pm911 views The Rare Book and Manuscript Library collection includes holiday- and winter-themed books and images, such as photographs of snowflakes, a depiction of a 1683 frost fair on a frozen River Thames and illustrations of Norse folk tales. Hunting a creature that hunts me Aug 20, 2021 8:00 am2442 views It’s a sweltering summer afternoon. I’m pushing aside tree limbs and crunching leaves to get back to the trap that I baited two hours ago with dry ice to attract ticks. When I get closer, I can see a gossamer mist hovering over a bright white cloth in the dark underbrush. Dry ice “sublimates” in the open air, going from a solid to a gaseous state. It gives off a vapor of carbon dioxide gas that’s denser than the air, mimicking the breath of a tick host resting on the ground. Hunting Goodenough Days Nov 30, 2020 9:15 am550 views HUNTING GOODENOUGH DAYS aptly describes what I am doing during the isolation of 2020. These words are surnames found among the 7,000 headstones that I have photographed during my travels to cemeteries seeking new names that are parts of speech – words that I can use to create poetry for my visual books that investigate language, history and life’s events. Image of Research: A Pinch of Salt and Imagination Mar 31, 2016 9:15 am1015 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. Image of Research: Bare Witness Apr 4, 2018 8:15 am150 views Deaths from homicides, accidents, disasters or armed conflicts can result in unknown human remains that require identification before further investigation. To identify these remains, an anthropologist can piece together details about a person’s life from their bones. The accuracy of such anthropological methods depends on the diversity of available skeletal research collections, of which there are few around the world. Image of Research: Graduate students reveal the wonders of discovery Mar 29, 2017 8:00 am1182 views Graduate students pair powerful images with compelling descriptions of research in the 2017 Image of Research competition. Image of Research: Kinetic structures Apr 2, 2018 8:30 am729 views As an architecture student, I came across a whole new world of kinetic structures. I learned that almost any form can be given mobility and deployed by calculating its geometry accurately and by strategically selecting the joints to allow rotation. Image of Research: You are what you eat Apr 3, 2018 8:15 am2814 views As a chef-turned-nutritional neuroscientist, I explore how the food we eat impacts the way we think. As a part of my graduate training, I design dietary interventions. The “cupcakes” in the image above are actually not cupcakes at all. They’re 90 percent egg powder with a dash of sugar and flour. In academic speak, they’re “tightly controlled isocaloric vessels of lutein that will serve as the intervention of a randomized control trial in preadolescents with below-average retinal lutein levels.” In pursuit of Indiana bats Jun 22, 2021 8:00 am828 views An hour before the sun goes down, my colleagues and I arrive at our site: a human-made pond in the middle of the forest. The high-pitched croaking of Cope's gray treefrogs greets us as we get out of our truck. Surrounded by trees and full of salamanders, these ponds are an essential water resource for our forest-dependent bats. We do a brief survey of the site, then set up our mist nets around the pond’s perimeter. We’re hoping to catch our target species – the Indiana bat, Myotis sodalis. In search of ‘white birds in a nest’ Jul 23, 2018 5:15 pm790 views It’s summer in the Florida Panhandle, and we are either drenched in rain or covered in sweat. The mosquitoes are out in full force, and the risk of stumbling upon a venomous snake in the seepage slope and swamps is palpable. If I can look beyond the immediate discomfort, the payoff is enormous. Interweaving technology and tradition Jun 19, 2019 9:00 am545 views The MakerBot on my desk is making sounds like waves on a beach. Back and forth, back and forth, it gradually builds up my design in layers. My work focuses on the cosmogony and mythology of Zapotecan motifs. I am especially captivated by the fretwork designs of the archaeological site of Mitla, Oaxaca in Mexico. Journey to the riverbank and back in time Dec 12, 2016 9:00 am1044 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. Learning from chickens Oct 19, 2022 8:00 am874 views The first thing I notice when we step through white double doors of the growers’ house is that every one of the 1,200 or so chickens in this enormous room has stopped whatever it was doing to stare at us. A few of the birds step closer, peering at our legs as if they want to peck our shoes. But they don’t. They’re just curious. Chickens, I realize, are gawkers. Learning from the Lenca Jan 29, 2018 9:00 am927 views The warmth of the cookstove fire belies the blustery wind outside, whipping through the pines and occasionally lifting the corrugated steel roof under which we sit uneasily. I am with my volunteer interpreter/research assistant/daughter, sitting at a small wooden table in the kitchen. We are in Llano Largo, the highest point in Central America and also the client community of my course in international water-system design, Honduras Water Project. Life onboard the research boat Dec 8, 2016 12:45 pm450 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. Lost but not forgotten: Why this Memorial Day is different May 21, 2018 10:00 am3039 views Illinois professor Scott Althaus tells the story of his extended family’s five-year search for the details of a relative’s last bombing mission during World War II, which also resulted in finding his plane. Making meat much more than a meal May 18, 2022 8:00 am2020 views The grills are already fired up as I approach the Meat Science Laboratory on the U. of I. campus. It’s midmorning on a spring day that’s chillier than it should be. Well-worn charcoal and gas grills are stationed in a wide arc on a lawn flecked with violets. In front of each grill stand three students for whom eating burgers for breakfast is now commonplace. Mapping the state budget impasse and its consequences Jun 7, 2016 10:30 am1687 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. Maya Rituals Unearthed Aug 14, 2018 8:00 am556 views Deep in the untamed lowlands, we search for artifacts buried under hundreds of years of sediment. We are excavating two ancient Maya sites nestled in the sacred landscape of Cara Blanca in central Belize. Both date to A.D. 800-900, when prolonged and severe droughts struck this region, disrupting the daily life of the Maya. Measuring the unseen life of a river Sep 24, 2019 8:00 am624 views It’s morning on the bayou. I’m in the Calcascieu River at the Fort Polk Joint Readiness Training Center in Louisiana, and the river is teeming with life. The bank is littered with freshwater mussel shells, no doubt a feast for a raccoon last night. Cricket frogs bounce around at my feet as if loaded with tiny coiled springs. Mitzi and the giant hairball Sep 29, 2017 8:30 am1949 views Mitzi is a longtime survivor of lymphoma. It’s been five years since her last chemotherapy treatment, but she has been vomiting and her owners are afraid the cancer is back. Her stomach feels very weird – kind of doughy, like there is a big lump of bread in there. That’s not how tumors feel; tumors are usually firm. The X-rays reveal a mass, but it looks like strange material in her stomach. We decide to go in with an endoscope. Nurturing a tropical paradise in the heart of the Midwest Mar 10, 2023 8:00 am2519 views Lexi Gomez is knee-deep in a pond when I first see her in the U. of I. Plant Biology Greenhouse and Conservatory. A fifth-year senior who will graduate this semester, Gomez dips a net in the dark water to clear the pond of debris fallen from the lush jungle of tropical plants that looms above. She attacks the work with gusto. One lucky dog Oct 16, 2017 9:00 am1265 views The first time we see Elliot, he has a fractured jaw and a bad prognosis. He is a senior rescue dog. The family has only had him for a couple of years, but their 16-year-old daughter has given him his own tiny purple Mohawk hairdo. Clearly, he’s a keeper. The family isn’t sure how Elliot broke his jaw. They say maybe he took a spill off a table. But the dog has such severe dental disease that anything could have caused it. On the campaign trail: Breaking away from the pack Apr 20, 2016 11:15 am810 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. Patrick Earl Hammie: My path to Illinois Apr 2, 2020 8:45 am1421 views Patrick Earl Hammie is a professor of painting and sculpture whose work explores the body in visual culture, black experiences, cultural identity and family. Pet burials blur the line between human and animal rites Oct 13, 2016 9:30 am766 views A new book by anthropology professor Jane Desmond explores humans’ complex relationships with other animals. Playing a parasite for science Aug 21, 2018 9:00 am1498 views It’s 5:30 a.m. in the tree farms outside Urbana, but the birds have been up for an hour already. I sip my coffee, putting on rubber boots that will be little help against the dewy, waist-high grass. A couple of brown birds sit on telephone wires above me, and I have a feeling I am being watched. These are brown-headed cowbirds, which lay their eggs in other species’ nests and then let the nest’s owners raise the offspring. Poetry inspired by painting Oct 12, 2016 8:45 am328 views Poet Janice Harrington wrote her poem "Domino Players, 1943" based on a painting by African-American artist Horace Pippin. Pondering a university's ecological impact Apr 22, 2021 8:00 am812 views Earth Day has one science writer pondering how much research conducted at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has direct ecological implications.