blog posts Bird gets worm, makes history Jun 19, 2017 8:30 am1450 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. Where the wild turkeys aren’t May 12, 2017 8:30 am1277 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!” Snake Road Sojourn Apr 18, 2017 8:30 am1351 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. Image of Research: Graduate students reveal the wonders of discovery Mar 29, 2017 8:00 am1173 views Graduate students pair powerful images with compelling descriptions of research in the 2017 Image of Research competition. Casting a net for conservation, and catching ducks Mar 22, 2017 8:15 am1431 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. Journey to the riverbank and back in time Dec 12, 2016 9:00 am1031 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. Life onboard the research boat Dec 8, 2016 12:45 pm435 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. Unlocking the secrets of the Amazon River Nov 22, 2016 9:15 am1053 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. Symbols of Service Nov 17, 2016 11:00 am446 views The Symbols of Service exhibit at the University of Illinois Library tells the stories behind the tattoos of student veterans. The Cornfield Death March Nov 3, 2016 10:15 am2059 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. The art and science of Mammoth Hot Springs Nov 1, 2016 2:00 pm1872 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. Pet burials blur the line between human and animal rites Oct 13, 2016 9:30 am704 views A new book by anthropology professor Jane Desmond explores humans’ complex relationships with other animals. Poetry inspired by painting Oct 12, 2016 8:45 am293 views Poet Janice Harrington wrote her poem "Domino Players, 1943" based on a painting by African-American artist Horace Pippin. Backstage at an American musical Sep 28, 2016 1:15 pm1351 views Lighting-design students from the University of Illinois theatre department get a backstage look at the technical aspects of the musical "Hamilton." Tourists behaving badly Jul 25, 2016 11:45 am645 views So far this year, Yellowstone has seen a record number of visitors – and what seems to be a record number of visitors disobeying the rules. A night in grizzly country Jul 21, 2016 9:45 am572 views We spent last night in Yellowstone’s backcountry, at Grebe Lake, a lovely lake at the base of the Washburn Range. For most of the students, this was their first experience backpacking: carrying a tent, sleeping bag and food into the backcountry. They had to learn a few new skills, like how to hang food from a bear pole. Some also had to adjust emotionally to the idea of sleeping in the middle of grizzly country. Between wilderness, tourism and civilization Jul 18, 2016 4:15 pm440 views We spent yesterday in Grand Teton National Park, hiking Cascade Canyon. Today we’re in Jackson, Wyoming, just south of the park and a very different setting Preserving a fragile history Jul 7, 2016 12:15 pm451 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. Drawing insights from ancient plants Jun 29, 2016 2:30 pm904 views I’m sitting near the top of our fossil excavation site in southwest Montana, my hammer and shovel ready. I have a perfect view of the mountains. A wall of fossil-laden shale lies before me, and I’m ready to dig in. This is our fourth day digging, and despite the early hour, I'm trembling with excitement. Today I might find something new, something no human has ever seen. The fossils of Madison County (Montana) Jun 20, 2016 2:15 pm1449 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. Drought and pilgrimage at the Cara Blanca Pools, Belize Jun 13, 2016 1:00 pm1342 views 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. Mapping the state budget impasse and its consequences Jun 7, 2016 10:30 am1679 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. Salvaging the past in an ancient Maya settlement Jun 1, 2016 9:45 am1074 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. A guide to the Japan House gardens May 27, 2016 10:00 am4216 views Japan House has developed a mobile guide to its gardens, which visitors can listen to on their phones for a self-guided tour. Coring and Exploring Ancient Maya Life May 17, 2016 9:30 am1212 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. On the campaign trail: Breaking away from the pack Apr 20, 2016 11:15 am805 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. Bringing home the bones of Tam Pa Ling Apr 13, 2016 3:30 pm898 views Finding a home for the bones of Tam Pa Ling here in the capital city of Laos has special meaning for me. BLOG: Discovering the bones of Tam Pa Ling Apr 4, 2016 1:30 pm534 views Tam Pa Ling cave sits at the top of Pa Hang Mountain, in Hua Phan Province, Laos. Every day, we climb the mountain and descend into the cave to dig. The view from outside the cave is spectacular, but its location means that the only equipment that we can use to dig through the wet clay of the cave floor is what we can carry up the mountain. BLOG: Finding a Home for the Bones of Tam Pa Ling Apr 3, 2016 11:45 am1308 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. Image of Research: A Pinch of Salt and Imagination Mar 31, 2016 9:15 am1008 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. Blog: Expedition to the highest lake in the world: The child decides Mar 16, 2016 5:45 pm646 views El Nino stops many – but not all – climbers from scaling Ojos del Salado in 2016 BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world: Timing is everything Jan 27, 2016 4:15 pm958 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. BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world: Changes in plans Jan 20, 2016 9:15 am402 views We thought that the expedition was over. My husband's altitude sickness left only three of us to climb Ojos del Salado, make our way up the mountain in the thin air, find the lake, collect the biological samples and get back down safely. It wasn't feasible. Then we learned something that changed the entire expedition. BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world: Expect the unexpected Jan 12, 2016 9:00 am445 views You may think that mountain expeditions are all about action, but in fact there's a lot more time spent sitting around. Plans may be perfect, but obstacles arise. The weather is unexpectedly cold, the ice on the lake is too thick, the snow on the mountain is melting much later in the season than normal. BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world: The why Jan 4, 2016 11:30 am1148 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. BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world - Climbing higher Dec 31, 2015 9:15 pm725 views VALLECITOS, ARGENTINA - Mount Franke is a giant rock pile. Some of the rocks are attached to the mountain. Many, many others are not. The loose rocks are engaged in slow tumble down the mountainside. Hikers often help them along. BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world - Day 2 Dec 24, 2015 6:00 pm1484 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. BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world - DAY 1 Dec 22, 2015 9:45 pm532 views MENDOZA, ARGENTINA -- We arrived in Mendoza, Argentina today and tomorrow we are going on our first trek: up from 2,080 meters to 2700 meters on Mount Mihlo, outside of Mendoza. This will begin the acclimatization process for us. BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world - on the road Dec 21, 2015 6:30 am623 views IN TRANSIT – One of the reasons I felt comfortable joining this expedition was the attitude of the expedition leader, Francisco Seufferheld. He made it abundantly clear that this was to be a positive experience and that we were not to become so driven to reach the goal that we forgot to stay safe and have fun. It’s a good thing, too, because we will have to overcome a lot of obstacles to make it to the lake at the top of the volcano. The altitude is the most formidable challenge, but there are others. BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world Dec 14, 2015 2:00 pm2120 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.