blog posts Finding clarity in the fog Dec 16, 2019 8:15 am657 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 am1747 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 am1121 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 am935 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 am770 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 the sounds of prairie cicadas Sep 24, 2020 9:30 am838 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 am480 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 am1372 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 am2755 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 am4204 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 am1902 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 am1267 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 pm864 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 am1871 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 am534 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 am1005 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 am119 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 am1168 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 am609 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 am2801 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 am753 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 pm750 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 am520 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 am1013 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 the Lenca Jan 29, 2018 9:00 am834 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 pm425 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 am2875 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 am1191 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 am1673 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 am507 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 am594 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 am1431 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. One lucky dog Oct 16, 2017 9:00 am1110 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 am797 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 am1314 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 am639 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 am1177 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 am252 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 am761 views Earth Day has one science writer pondering how much research conducted at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has direct ecological implications. Preserving a fragile history Jul 7, 2016 12:15 pm443 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. Preserving the Past in 3D Mar 7, 2019 8:15 am1671 views We lug heavy equipment up a steep ravine in the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. A local landowner leads our team of archaeologists past a small waterfall up to the top of the bluff, where two rock shelters contain a number of ancient petroglyphs. Reading history in the soil Jan 28, 2020 8:30 am620 views “Huh.” Looking down at the material in the glass beaker, I’m perplexed. I’m trying to determine the ratio of silt to clay in my sample and something isn’t right. The sediments in my beaker came from the floor of a religious shrine in Cahokia, an ancient Native American metropolis that grew up in and around present-day St. Louis, 900-1,000 years ago. Rediscovering a path to the Milky Way May 6, 2020 8:15 am2323 views We’re standing on a roadside at the edge of a muddy expanse. I’m wearing rubber boots, but Tim Pauketat is going to get his feet wet. He left his waterproof boots in Indiana, but this won’t stop him from tromping out into the soggy, overgrown remains of the ancient city of Cahokia. Restoring a lost heritage Aug 8, 2017 8:00 am1705 views Rocks, moss and muddy tree roots Apr 13, 2018 7:45 am566 views It’s a summer day in June, and as my husband and I approach the Great Smoky Mountains National Park visitor center, I have one goal in mind: I want to see something extraordinary. At my request, the ranger at the visitor center pulls out a map, smiles and immediately points to the tallest waterfall in the area: Ramsey Cascades. Getting there will require hiking a rugged 8-mile trail that gains 2,200 feet in elevation. Our reward: a 100-foot waterfall – something you won’t find in Illinois. Rohit Bhargava: My path to Illinois Apr 9, 2020 8:15 am2237 views I grew up in Jaipur, India, a city that is well-known for its architecture. My father is an architect, and I grew up helping him, looking at plans and making blueprints. I was always interested in building things. Salvaging the past in an ancient Maya settlement Jun 1, 2016 9:45 am1050 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. Saving our natural heritage, one stopper at a time Dec 12, 2018 9:00 am1009 views The rubber stopper is sticky in my hands. I can see it drooping into the vial, threatening the two tiny insect specimens inside, a pair of small green stoneflies, Alloperla furcula. Vial stoppers should not be sticky, and definitely should not be melting into the glass vial holding these important reference specimens. I have to save them from total annihilation. Saying goodbye to an old measure Nov 16, 2018 12:30 pm954 views I'm video recording on three DSLR cameras today, which is the most I can handle by myself. But I don't want to miss a second of this event, because I flew to Paris the day before yesterday just to film this auditorium of international delegates. These serious-looking men and women are actually very excited. I know that because several of them have told me so. In a few minutes, they will cast their nation's vote on whether to accept the proposed redefinition of the kilogram. Searching for an ancient Maya pilgrimage path: Fire and water Aug 2, 2017 9:30 am718 views It is our final day in the field and we are searching for the last of the ancient Maya ceremonial pools, Pool 25. Mud sucks at our boots as we wade through a jungle swamp. The sap from black poisonwood trees (Metopium brownie) burns our skin. Spike-covered trees snag us, while others swarm with ants. The grassland around this last pool should be a welcome relief. At the edge of the jungle, however, we are met with cutting grass, aptly named for its razor-sharp edges, rising well above our heads. The knee-deep water hides holes that catch us unaware.