blog postsBLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world: Timing is everythingJan 27, 2016 4:15 pm944 views We had finished our acclimatization training. We had arranged for a truck to take us - again - across the vast Catamarca wilderness to base camp of Ojos del Salado. We had recruited two young men with mountaineering experience to join the expedition.Image of Research: A Pinch of Salt and ImaginationMar 31, 2016 9:15 am945 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.Salvaging the past in an ancient Maya settlement Jun 1, 2016 9:45 am948 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.Where the wild turkeys aren’tMay 12, 2017 8:30 am952 views It is cold and windy, and we have been out for hours. We are driving to our trap site after lunch when we suddenly stop, and at least a dozen wild turkeys walk in front of our truck. I shout to my techs, “Get out of the truck, herd them to the net, but be careful not to chase them!”Finding an ancient Maya city in the jungles of BelizeAug 6, 2018 3:00 pm958 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. Unlocking the secrets of the Amazon RiverNov 22, 2016 9:15 am964 views Next week, we’ll be in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, near the frontier town of Tefé, to conduct research on the river.The fossils of Madison County (Montana)Jun 20, 2016 2:15 pm996 views Standing at the foot of the mountains, I look to the east. It’s still early and I have hiked up here alone to gather my thoughts. I can see why they call this “Big Sky Country.” The tree-covered foothills of the mountains behind me give way to rolling scrubland. Stunted trees mark the edges of dry creek beds cut into the soft rocks below. The sun sparkles on the surface of a reservoir in the valley several miles away, and beyond that, another mountain range rises to meet the sky. This is southwest Montana and I’m here to hunt.BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world: The whyJan 4, 2016 11:30 am1013 views MENDOZA, ARGENTINA - We head out to Fiambala tomorrow, near the base of Ojos del Salado, the tallest active volcano in the world. We will continue our acclimatization hikes at higher and higher altitudes before beginning our approach on the lake, where we hope to collect microbial samples without contaminating the lake with our own.Casting a net for conservation, and catching ducksMar 22, 2017 8:15 am1021 views I'm sitting in a camouflaged blind when the sun breaks the horizon and lights up the southeast Illinois wetland. Hidden by cattails and other vegetation, I watch my breath and note how cold my feet are despite the thick wool socks and insulated waders I’m wearing. A hundred yards away, ducks – most of them mallards or American green-winged teal – begin to drop from the sky to land on the water along the shore, right near my bait.Snake Road SojournApr 18, 2017 8:30 am1046 views SHAWNEE NATIONAL FOREST, Ill. — There is nothing between us but my camera lens and a half meter of thick southern Illinois air. I peer over my camera, mesmerized by his vertical pupils fixed on me, his heat-sensing pits tracking my every move. He inflates his lungs to exaggerate his already impressive girth. This meter length of muscle is coiled like a spring and poised to strike. Despite being surrounded by 15 thrilled herpetology students and a cacophony of calling tree frogs, the only sound that fills my ears is the ceaseless rattling.Finding darters where no one thought to lookNov 29, 2018 11:15 am1081 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.Excavating a cave without leaving campusNov 14, 2018 8:30 am1091 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.Coring and Exploring Ancient Maya LifeMay 17, 2016 9:30 am1102 views It is early May in central Belize, nearing the end of the dry season. While farmers anxiously await the beginning of the rainy season vital for crops, archaeologists hope it starts as late as possible. Tropical storms transform the landscape, making it difficult to get around, even in four-wheel-drive vehicles. Also, excavating in the clayey mud is not fun.Image of Research: Graduate students reveal the wonders of discoveryMar 29, 2017 8:00 am1131 views Graduate students pair powerful images with compelling descriptions of research in the 2017 Image of Research competition.BLOG: Finding a Home for the Bones of Tam Pa LingApr 3, 2016 11:45 am1152 views I am a paleoanthropologist, and with a team of researchers from France and Laos, I have explored the mountains of northern Laos since 2008. We have been looking for evidence of the earliest humans that migrated out of Africa and into Southeast Asia. Since 2009, we have excavated at Tam Pa Ling (“Cave of the Monkeys”), where we discovered fossils of the earliest modern humans living in this part of the world. Since then, we have found the bones of at least three people who lived in this cave around 50,000 years ago. Today, these bones will find a permanent home in a new museum in Vientiane.Backstage at an American musicalSep 28, 2016 1:15 pm1220 views Lighting-design students from the University of Illinois theatre department get a backstage look at the technical aspects of the musical "Hamilton."Weightless in San Luis PotosiDec 21, 2017 8:45 am1270 views 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.Exploring the unknown: The Motmot sinkholeJul 9, 2018 8:30 am1323 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.Bird gets worm, makes historyJun 19, 2017 8:30 am1326 views 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.BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world - Day 2Dec 24, 2015 6:00 pm1463 views POTRERILLOS, ARGENTINA - The polar explorer Amundsen hated adventure and worked hard to avoid it. Adventures begin when things go wrong and are a sign of bad planning, he said. For us, the adventure began even before we landed in Argentina. One of our five giant duffle bags full of hignored-altitude gear never made it to Mendoza. All of my high altitude gear was in that bag. It took me four months to accumulate that gear.Tarantulas in a pickle jarMar 5, 2018 4:15 pm1490 views 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.Restoring a lost heritageAug 8, 2017 8:00 am1570 views The art and science of Mammoth Hot SpringsNov 1, 2016 2:00 pm1594 views A new book by geology professor Bruce Fouke and photographer Tom Murphy brings together art and science in the study of Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park.Mapping the state budget impasse and its consequencesJun 7, 2016 10:30 am1606 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.The journey to becoming a physician-innovatorJul 17, 2018 9:00 am1668 views A member of the inaugural class recounts her application and surprise acceptance to the Carle Illinois College of MedicineA guide to the Japan House gardensMay 27, 2016 10:00 am1775 views Japan House has developed a mobile guide to its gardens, which visitors can listen to on their phones for a self-guided tour.BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the worldDec 14, 2015 2:00 pm1835 views CATAMARCA, ARGENTINA - Early in 2016, a small team will climb Ojos del Salado, the tallest active volcano in the world. Unlike most climbers who tackle this volcano, however, this group has little interest in reaching the summit. Near the end of their trek, they will veer off the summit path to visit a lake that holds something seen nowhere else on Earth at this altitude: liquid water. The team will try to collect soil and water samples from this lake to see what microbes might be living there. The Cornfield Death MarchNov 3, 2016 10:15 am1906 views My students and I are standing at the edge of a 73-acre cornfield. Covered in mud and sweat, we are dreading the task ahead. We are hunting the western corn rootworm, a menace to corn growers everywhere. Ancient American goddesses on displayFeb 2, 2018 8:15 am2107 views A new exhibit at the U. of I.’s Spurlock Museum offers a glimpse of the artistic and spiritual legacy of the American Indian people who built Cahokia, a great, thousand-year-old urban center on the Mississippi River. “Cahokia’s Religion: The Art of Red Goddesses, Black Drink and the Underworld” displays artifacts recently returned from the St. Louis Art Museum, including three of more than a dozen red carved-stone goddesses that the Illinois State Archaeological Survey found in our excavations of this ancient metropolis. You can view these figures alongside other cultural objects that reveal a civilization’s core beliefs and values. Lost but not forgotten: Why this Memorial Day is differentMay 21, 2018 10:00 am2327 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.Image of Research: You are what you eatApr 3, 2018 8:15 am2699 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.”Telling stories and touching historyFeb 6, 2018 8:30 am4973 views 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.