blog postsRocks, moss and muddy tree rootsApr 13, 2018 7:45 am540 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.Double the traps, double the turkeysApr 10, 2018 8:45 am786 views I scan the woods around me, carefully eyeing the tree-line through the darkened windows on each side of my blind. I see no turkeys and go back to reading my book. After a few pages, I glance up again and jump in surprise as turkeys emerge over a hill in the field to my right. They are about 40 feet from the Netblaster. I text my crew to let them know our prey has arrived!Image of Research: Bare WitnessApr 4, 2018 8:15 am100 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: You are what you eatApr 3, 2018 8:15 am2780 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.”Image of Research: Kinetic structuresApr 2, 2018 8:30 am477 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.Tarantulas in a pickle jarMar 5, 2018 4:15 pm1772 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.Chasing waterfallsFeb 13, 2018 4:00 pm347 views MIRI, MALAYSIA — We awake from our post-training slumber at 6:30 a.m. for an activity unlike any of the team-building exercises we have experienced so far. This is only the first week of training for the Fulbright Program here. There are nearly 100 of us on this waterfall hike, braving the rain and humidity together to swim in one of Malaysia’s hidden pools.Telling stories and touching historyFeb 6, 2018 8:30 am5037 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.Ancient American goddesses on displayFeb 2, 2018 8:15 am2900 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. Learning from the LencaJan 29, 2018 9:00 am687 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.Weightless in San Luis PotosiDec 21, 2017 8:45 am1470 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.Titan the survivorNov 21, 2017 8:30 am853 views The first time I see Titan, a pit bull with mesothelioma in his chest, I give his owners “the talk.” The dog is breathing hard and fast because of the buildup of cancerous fluid around his lungs. Dogs develop some cancers that are very similar to human cancers. This is one that we don’t see very often and for which we don’t have really good treatment options, just like in humans. We eventually learn, however, that Titan is unique.From pythons and ferrets to coughing parrots: Adventures in exotic animal medicineNov 1, 2017 8:15 am454 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.Serpents of the BadlandsOct 24, 2017 9:45 am927 views 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.One lucky dogOct 16, 2017 9:00 am904 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.Healing Peter with T-shirts and silverOct 9, 2017 8:45 am772 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.Mitzi and the giant hairballSep 29, 2017 8:30 am864 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.Beautiful MuskSep 18, 2017 8:30 am631 views One summer day, just outside of East St. Louis, I drove by a wheat field ready for harvest. The low afternoon light cast a beautiful glow, and I was struck by a lone thistle growing amidst the wheat. I stopped my university vehicle with the official state seal on the side, set up my tripod and was busy photographing. I stopped only when I heard an ominous double click to my right. I am not a hunter, but I knew the sound of the hammers being drawn back on a double-barreled shotgun.Turkey tangoSep 12, 2017 8:30 am631 views During one late October visit to the Mermet Lake Conservation Area in southern Illinois, I noticed a shape approaching from the distance. The day was windy and wet, and my first thought was that a stray garbage can was rolling down the road. As we drove closer, the black-and-white blob resolved into a pair of yearling turkeys (called “jakes”) involved in a tussle.Stink bug babiesSep 5, 2017 8:45 am622 views While hiking in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, looking for unusual things to photograph, I found a hidden world of newly hatched stink bugs clustered around their empty eggshells.Restoring a lost heritageAug 8, 2017 8:00 am1637 views Searching for an ancient Maya pilgrimage path: Fire and waterAug 2, 2017 9:30 am687 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.Chamber singers, laughter and schnitzel with music: A few of my favorite thingsJul 31, 2017 2:30 pm442 views Illinois Chamber Singers got a taste of Europe this summer.Searching for an ancient Maya pilgrimage path: The elusive poolsJul 26, 2017 8:30 am786 views CARA BLANCA, Belize — Armed with a compass, a map, a GPS device and a drone, we begin our exploratory trek through the jungle. The thick vegetation is no match for our team of eight, six of whom are quick with a machete. Four hours after circumventing towering hardwoods and hacking our way through spidery vines, massive palm fronds and dense fern bushes, we stand at the edge of Pool 21, less than a kilometer from the road.Bird gets worm, makes historyJun 19, 2017 8:30 am1368 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’tMay 12, 2017 8:30 am1080 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 SojournApr 18, 2017 8:30 am1187 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 discoveryMar 29, 2017 8:00 am1153 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 ducksMar 22, 2017 8:15 am1258 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 timeDec 12, 2016 9:00 am965 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 boatDec 8, 2016 12:45 pm410 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 RiverNov 22, 2016 9:15 am1018 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 ServiceNov 17, 2016 11:00 am404 views The Symbols of Service exhibit at the University of Illinois Library tells the stories behind the tattoos of student veterans.The Cornfield Death MarchNov 3, 2016 10:15 am1983 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 SpringsNov 1, 2016 2:00 pm1706 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 ritesOct 13, 2016 9:30 am531 views A new book by anthropology professor Jane Desmond explores humans’ complex relationships with other animals.Poetry inspired by paintingOct 12, 2016 8:45 am167 views Poet Janice Harrington wrote her poem "Domino Players, 1943" based on a painting by African-American artist Horace Pippin.Backstage at an American musicalSep 28, 2016 1:15 pm1296 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 badlyJul 25, 2016 11:45 am611 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 countryJul 21, 2016 9:45 am456 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 civilizationJul 18, 2016 4:15 pm412 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 settingPreserving a fragile historyJul 7, 2016 12:15 pm430 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 plantsJun 29, 2016 2:30 pm878 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 pm1193 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, BelizeJun 13, 2016 1:00 pm1110 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 consequencesJun 7, 2016 10:30 am1662 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 am999 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 gardensMay 27, 2016 10:00 am2694 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 LifeMay 17, 2016 9:30 am1160 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 packApr 20, 2016 11:15 am792 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.