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  • Graduate student Lucas Buccafusca looks for ways to improve the efficiency of wind farms. He had a key insight on a foggy day near a wind farm in central Illinois.

    Finding clarity in the fog

    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.

  • Scientists are finding Iowa darters in Illinois streams that are too small to map.

    Finding darters where no one thought to look

    “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.

  • Photo of a wooden boardwalk (with wooden rails) cutting through tall vegetation on either side. The sun rises to the right, casting long shadows on the boardwalk, which doglegs to the left a bit.

    Finding one elusive bird

    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.

  • Graduate student Mary Lyons studies teachers’ strategies for supporting young children’s play-based learning.

    Finding time for play

    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.

  • Everywhere we went in Zomba District, we attracted large crowds of curious kids.

    Finding water closer to home

    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!”

  • A male M. dorsatus calls loudly from a compass plant flower stem in Loda Cemetery Prairie Nature Reserve.

    Following the sounds of prairie cicadas

    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.

  • A trip to the veterinarian was required after a ferret made an unfortunate decision.

    From pythons and ferrets to coughing parrots: Adventures in exotic animal medicine

    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.

  • Photo of a hand holding a Blanding's turtle that has retreated into its shell.

    Gathering data to save a rare turtle

    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.

  • Agricultural and biological engineering professor Girish Chowdhary.

    Girish Chowdhary: My path to Illinois

    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.

  • Plant biology professor emeritus Govindjee, who has made key contributions to the scientific understanding of photosynthesis, is also an archivist and historian of photosynthesis research.

    Govindjee's photosynthesis museum

    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.

  • Gary Stitt, 61, stretches his arms to the sky as people gather for a Dance for People with Parkinson’s class at Krannert Center.

    Grace and healing: Parkinson's dance class opens pathways to body and mind

    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.

  • Whirlpool baths were only part of the solution for Peter the goldendoodle.

    Healing Peter with T-shirts and silver

    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

    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.

  • Vector ecologist Holly Tuten stands under a tree and buttons up her white coveralls.

    Hunting a creature that hunts me

    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.

  • Image of the word "Goodenough" from a gravestone.

    Hunting Goodenough Days

    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

    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.

  • Graduate student Matthew Go aims to broaden the understanding of Filipino skeletal variation, an effort that will enhance efforts to identify human remains.

    Image of Research: Bare Witness

    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. 

  • Graduate student Lisa Schlein describes the origin of the word, "cancer."

    Image of Research: Graduate students reveal the wonders of discovery

    Graduate students pair powerful images with compelling descriptions of research in the 2017 Image of Research competition.

  • Kinetic structures can be folded into smaller volumes for storage or transport.

    Image of Research: Kinetic structures

    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.

  • Lutein-rich “cupcakes” are part of a study that seeks to understand the role of nutrition in children’s brain health.

    Image of Research: You are what you eat

    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.”

  • Gloved hands hold an Indiana bat.

    In pursuit of Indiana bats

    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.

  • U. of I. natural resources and environmental sciences graduate student Sara Johnson and her colleagues search for an elusive white flower in the Florida Panhandle.

    In search of ‘white birds in a nest’

    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.

  • Carrillo-Estrada silver casting

    Interweaving technology and tradition

    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.

  • An afternoon storm passes over the river banks we were examining, halting field work for a while.

    Journey to the riverbank and back in time

    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.

  • This small fish farm in El Tablon, Honduras, draws water from a sacred space at the base of the community.

    Learning from the Lenca

    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.

  • Our faithful research boat, the Lima de Abreu I, in the harbor at Tefé. We have lived on the boat during our time on the Amazon.

    Life onboard the research boat

    Given the confining nature of our vessel, many routines that require no thought or preparation in our everyday lives become chores on the boat.

  • This B-24 crew, plus an additional crewman, was lost on a bombing mission during World War II. A relative of Illinois professor Scott Althaus was among them, and he led a research project to learn the details of that final mission.

    Lost but not forgotten: Why this Memorial Day is different

    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.

  • Spangler, wearing an orange U. of I. sweatshirt, smiles as she grasps a pork loin with tongs over a hot grill.

    Making meat much more than a meal

    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

    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.

  • The Valley of Peace Archaeology project team explore an ancient Maya site in central Belize.

    Maya Rituals Unearthed

    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.

  • Researchers can learn about the life of a river without seeing the animals that live there.

    Measuring the unseen life of a river

    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 has a problem that isn’t easily solved.

    Mitzi and the giant hairball

    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.

  • Dr. Katherine Kling and veterinary students Rita Chu and Nicole Andrews pose with Elliot, a senior rescue dog in treatment for a fractured jaw.

    One lucky dog

    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.

  • Phone cameras in action at the Bernie Sanders campaign event on March 12 at the University of Illinois.

    On the campaign trail: Breaking away from the pack

    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

    Patrick Earl Hammie: My path to Illinois

    Patrick Earl Hammie is a professor of painting and sculpture whose work explores the body in visual culture, black experiences, cultural identity and family.

  • Dogs, cats, monkeys, rabbits, parrots, lions and horses are buried in Le Cimitière des Chiens (the Dogs’ Cemetery) in the Parisian suburb of Asnières.

    Pet burials blur the line between human and animal rites

    A new book by anthropology professor Jane Desmond explores humans’ complex relationships with other animals.

  • Postdoctoral researcher Mikus Abolins-Abols peers into the nest of an American robin.

    Playing a parasite for science

    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

    Poet Janice Harrington wrote her poem "Domino Players, 1943" based on a painting by African-American artist Horace Pippin.

  • Young woman sits on a fallen tree in the woods.

    Pondering a university's ecological impact

    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

    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.

  • A limestone boulder with petroglyphs carved into it sits inside a rock shelter with a view toward the Mississippi River floodplain, below. One of the carvings is of a superhuman eye with a cross-in-circle motif at its center.

    Preserving the Past in 3D

    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.

  • Illinois State Archaeological Survey postdoctoral researcher Rebecca Barzilai maps and collects soil samples from the floor of a religious shrine in Greater Cahokia, an ancient Native American settlement on the Mississippi River in and around present-day St. Louis.

    Reading history in the soil

    “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.

  • “All these native stories talk about what happens when you die: Your soul goes to the edge of the world, jumps into the Milky Way and climbs into the sky,” says Illinois State Archaeological Survey director Timothy Pauketat.

    Rediscovering a path to the Milky Way

    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.

  • Researchers, including Parkland College student Kaleb Cotter, sift through materials uncovered in excavations of native mounds in Robert Allerton Park.

    Restoring a lost heritage

  • Lori Fuller's paintings will be exhibited at the Illini Union Art Gallery, April 18 - May 31, 2018. A trip to Ramsey Cascades in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park inspired her work.

    Rocks, moss and muddy tree roots

    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.

  • Bioengineering professor and Cancer Center at Illinois director Rohit Bhargava

    Rohit Bhargava: My path to Illinois

    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 

    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.

  • Melting rubber stoppers threaten millions of insect and arthropod specimens in the Illinois Natural History Survey collection.

    Saving our natural heritage, one stopper at a time

    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.

  • The 26th Meeting of the General Congress of Weights and Measures, Versailles, France.

    Saying goodbye to an old measure

    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.

  • Hacking their way through cutting grass, researchers make their way to the last of 25 pools to be mapped and surveyed in Cara Blanca, Belize.

    Searching for an ancient Maya pilgrimage path: Fire and water

    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.