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  • BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world - Day 2

    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.

  • A pied-billed grebe, a bird that is built for swimming, not walking, scoots up a mud bank to catch an earthworm, a hunting behavior never before described in the scientific literature.

    Bird gets worm, makes history

    It’s a warm April evening, and the air and earth are still heavy with moisture from recent rains. I’m perched on a plastic patio chair on my balcony when something catches my eye. I grab my binoculars and make out the details of a small bird paddling around in a new retention pond. It’s a pied-billed grebe, and it’s acting oddly.

  • Drought and pilgrimage at the Cara Blanca Pools, Belize

    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. 

  • A census of ornate box turtles will help researchers determine the turtles’ status in Illinois.

    Searching for turtles in a sea of grass

    Searching for reptiles and amphibians is often quite tedious. You have to carefully scan ahead of each step for movement before a snake gets away, or spend hours flipping over logs to find the particular salamander you are looking for. Today, we’re searching for turtles. Luckily, we have help.

  • 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.

  • The team pauses for a moment in the Rio Valles, one of several collecting sites in San Luis Potosi.

    Weightless in San Luis Potosi

    OUTSIDE VALLES, MEXICO — When we first arrived at this stream, I knew we were in a special location. The clear, turquoise blue water rivals that of any picture from a Caribbean tour magazine. When I put my snorkeled face in the water, I can actually see mussels in the streambed below, something that doesn’t happen very often in Illinois streams. Collecting the mussels, however, is proving difficult.

  • The fossils of Madison County (Montana)

    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.

  • 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.

  • A newborn prairie rattlesnake is found basking with a large female.

    Serpents of the Badlands

    Tchk-tchk-tchktchk

    I stop dead in my tracks. Despite the howling prairie winds, that unmistakable sound cuts through the bluster and into my ears. My eyes search the ground, scanning through the prairie grasses, yucca, scoria and prickly pear. Nothing.

  • The team shuttles gear across the confluence of two creeks.

    Exploring the unknown: The Motmot sinkhole

    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.

  • 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.

  • Shelby Lawson stands in a grassy area with binoculars around her neck.

    Staging a threatening encounter at a blackbird nest

    It’s early morning, about 6 a.m. A light fog has settled over the marsh. I park my car, step out and double-check my backpack for all the necessary equipment before heading out. After a short walk on a narrow paved path, I veer into the unmarked marsh. I’m here to study how red-winged blackbirds respond to the vocalizations that signal nearby nest parasites called brown-headed cowbirds.

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

    Restoring a lost heritage

  • 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.

  • Kenneth Nixon, left, talks to police recruits about his own wrongful conviction at age 19 for a murder he did not commit.

    Changing police culture with stories of wrongful convictions

    I’m in a room with more than 100 police recruits and I can’t believe what I’m hearing. The future police officers are learning about the devastating consequences of criminal prosecutions gone wrong. These aren’t just abstract stories. More than a dozen exonerees are here to share their stories with the police recruits.

  • 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.

  • Photo of seven people in bright blue happi coats in a long, low Japanese riverboat on a pond.

    Building a traditional Japanese boat

    Japan House offered a Japanese boatbuilding apprenticeship, where students worked with boatbuilding expert Douglas Brooks to build a traditional riverboat in six days.

  • All the tarantulas shown here once shared a single pickle jar. They were meticulously separated and relabeled, and now are in proper storage.

    Tarantulas in a pickle jar

    Storing your dead tarantulas in a gallon-sized pickle jar is not the best solution to long-term preservation. Especially when those tarantulas are toe-tagged – like corpses in a morgue. But that’s what I find this morning when I open one of the dozens of metal storage cabinets in the chilly insect collection: a pickle jar full of tarantulas.

  • Aerial photo facing east – all the white smudges are ancestral Maya mounds.

    Exploring an ancestral Maya neighborhood

    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.

  • King Li, dean of the Carle Illinois College of Medicine, surprised Elizabeth Woodburn, then a bioengineering student at Illlinois, with her acceptance package.

    The journey to becoming a physician-innovator

    A member of the inaugural class recounts her application and surprise acceptance to the Carle Illinois College of Medicine

  • Professors David Huang and Laura Shackelford and their colleagues are designing Virtual Archaeology, a course that will allow students to experience an archaeology field dig without leaving campus.

    Excavating a cave without leaving campus

    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.

  • Steam from an Old Faithful eruption is more spectacular in winter because of the direct contact between the steam and the cold air. There is a silhouette of a bison cow absorbing the heat from the morning sun below the steam cloud.

    The art and science of Mammoth Hot Springs

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • A 6-foot wide gravel path snakes through Fred and Nancy Delcomyn’s backyard prairie, seen here in early November.

    Building back a tiny piece of prairie

    Early November may not be an optimal time to visit a tallgrass prairie in central Illinois. But if you know what to look for, as my two guides do, it’s as good a time as any.

    Despite recent heavy rains, the prairie looks as dry as a skull. Grass and flower stalks rattle in the cold breeze, and each plant appears to sport its own special array of desiccated seeds, leaves and flower heads. The ground is still damp but the tops of the plants are crispy.

    I’m here with Fred Delcomyn and James Ellis, the authors of “A Backyard Prairie,” a book about Fred and Nancy Delcomyn’s personal project, a 3-acre swath of prairie that they began installing near their home in 2003 and have nurtured ever since.

  • Joseph Spencer, center, with undergraduate student Joe Griffin, left, and U. of I. alumnus Brody Dunn, right, work to clear western corn rootworm beetle traps from a muddy cornfield.

    The Cornfield Death March

    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. 

  • 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.

  • BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world

    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.

     

  • students Duncan McMillan and Mary Kate Baughman work on solving a puzzle in an escape room.

    Creating an escape room experience

    Students in Fine and Applied Arts and informatics learned how to create an immersive environment and to build puzzles to challenge the players and reinforce the story.

  • Deciphering the history of a Chinese vase

    Scientists are helping determine the age of an antique Chinese porcelain vase in Krannert Art Museum’s collection through an X-ray fluorescence analysis of its paint.

  • Young whip-poor-will on the ground blends in with the leaf litter

    Waiting for the sun to set to find a rare bird

    When most people are just getting home from their workdays, I’m about to start mine. I am a researcher studying the breeding behavior of the Eastern whip-poor-will (Antrostomus vociferus), a cryptic bird that is primarily active after sunset as it forages on the wing for moths. So – for the summer, at least – I also am nocturnal.

  • 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.

  • Veterinary medicine students perform general wellness checks on the animals at Wildlife Prairie Park in Peoria County. Zoological resident Lauren Kane helps guide the students as they examine Molly, an American black bear.

    Weighing bears, corralling otters and healing wild beasts

    How do you weigh a fully grown American black bear? These veterinary medicine students know the answer, and it's a bit more complicated than just saying, "very carefully."

  • 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.

  • Scene of wetland with low-growing vegetation and flowers in the foreground, yellowing grasses beyoond that and a line of immature trees in the distance.

    Unearthing a fossorial snake

    To the naked eye, it might appear as though I’m standing in a prairie oasis. Pockets of bright yellow goldenrod bring vibrancy to the sea of towering grasses. There’s not a soul in sight to spoil the serenity. A lone red-tailed hawk scouring the landscape from the top of a dead oak tree is my only companion. It’s not hard to imagine the entire region looking like this prior to European settlement, expanding miles and miles without interruption. I made the two-hour drive from Champaign to this tiny, fragmented prairie to search for an uncommon snake.

  • Photo of two chimes players moving the levers to play the Altgeld Chimes, seen from below.

    Preserving the sound of the Altgeld Chimes

    Early on a sunny Sunday morning, the chimes tower in Altgeld Hall is filling up with people. Students climb the steep staircase to the tower, several of them carrying snacks. They are all chimes players who will perform for a recording of chimes music.

  • Photo of workers on the slop of Altgeld Hall's roof with the bell tower in the background and tiles piled on wooden planks on the roof.

    Renovating historic Altgeld Hall

    The slabs of sandstone that make Altgeld Hall one of the most recognizable buildings on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus have been covered in scaffolding for months. But the results of the renovation work going on there are apparent, as the dark gray stone is restored to a pinkish hue. The work is part of a multiphase project that includes exterior and interior restoration of the building.

  • 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.

  • Greenhouse student worker Eric Sylvester cuts dead branches from a queen sago palm tree.

    Nurturing a tropical paradise in the heart of the Midwest

    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.

  • “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.

  • Image of facility coordinator Jimmy Gonzalez using a lift to shelve books at the top of the stacks.

    Discovering treasures in Library’s storage vaults

    The University Library’s Oak Street Library Facility stores more than 4 million volumes in climate-controlled storage vaults.

  • 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.”

  • 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.

  • Three men stand in the woods near a depressed track and a fallen tree.

    Exploring the remnants of an ancient forest

    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.

  • Entomology professor Esther Ngumbi describes the life events that led her to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

    Esther Ngumbi: My path to Illinois

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • A guide to the Japan House gardens

    Japan House has developed a mobile guide to its gardens, which visitors can listen to on their phones for a self-guided tour.

  • Information sciences graduate student Joseph Porto searches through the scrapbook of a student who attended the university 100 years ago.

    Telling stories and touching history

    I slowly turn each page of Florence Lee’s large paper scrapbook, making sure not to wrinkle any of the items she placed inside. Its contents offer a snapshot of student life in the early 20th century at the University of Illinois: a laminated orange and blue button from a homecoming football game, a brochure from the Anti-Cigarette League of America, ribbons and tickets from Dad’s Day events and dozens of photographs of scenes around campus, including personal photographs of Florence Lee with her family and friends. All of these items were either glued or, in the case of some of the flat paper items, had their corners tucked into angled slots cut into the pages. The items that Florence Lee placed in this scrapbook come from her undergraduate years at the University of Illinois – 1917-20. This memento offers a window into that time.