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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.”

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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. 

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!”

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Graduate student Jeannie Larmon surveys the landscape before the trek.

    Finding an ancient Maya city in the jungles of Belize

    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. 

  • Field archaeologists Marie Meizis and Doug Jackson work together to record their data.

    Extracting history from a cornfield

    When I get to the archaeological site, I’m surprised to see that it’s in the middle of an active cornfield. Dusty furrows with tiny sprigs of corn come to within about 10 feet of the dig. The researchers are already here, gently peeling back their tarps, assembling their gear and getting ready for another day.

    The tarps cover the excavation of one of about two dozen dwellings that stood on this site roughly 800 years ago. A short distance away, another team works on a second house.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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. 

  • Drawing insights from ancient plants

    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 crew spends an afternoon preparing GPS transmitters with cords that will be tied to turkeys.

    Double the traps, double the turkeys

    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 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.

  • Illinois Natural History Survey avian ecologist Bryan Reiley looks for rare birds on conservation lands.

    Destination: Conservation

    I’m soaking wet from head to toe after walking through a mile of head-high dew-covered grass. Finally, I make it to my destination: an overgrown field dotted with copses of shrubs next to the Spoon River in western Illinois. I take the caps off of my binoculars. I’ve got my clipboard, a new data sheet and the stopwatch app on my phone ready to go. For the next 10 minutes, I will make a note of every bird I see or hear (mostly hear), recording its species and estimating how far away from me it is.

  • The team: Doctoral students Amir Malvandi and Nahla Kreidly, and food science professor Graciela Padua standing in their lab at the Agricultural Engineering Sciences Building.

    Dehydrating plant proteins at the speed of sound

    Food scientists at the University of Illinois devised an energy-efficient, cost-effective method for drying plant proteins using high-frequency ultrasound.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Coring and Exploring Ancient Maya Life

    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.

  • Photo of sea lions gathered on the breeding beaches of one of the Channel Islands

    Connecting a virus to cancer – in sea lions

    I distinctly remember the first day I saw the images proving our hypothesis about the connection between a herpesvirus and urogenital cancer in wild California sea lions. Our research team was the first to use a revolutionary technique to probe preserved cancerous tissue from marine mammals as we looked for signals of specific viral genes.

    And we found them: Wherever there was tumor, there also was a strong signal of multiple cancer-promoting viral genes, called oncogenes. There were no viral genes in the adjacent cancer-free tissue. This meant that the virus clearly played a role in cancer development and was not merely a bystander in the animals’ reproductive tracts.

  • Fulbright grantees set out into the wilderness as part of a team-building exercise in Malaysia.

    Chasing waterfalls

    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.

  • Tommy McElrath stands in tall prairie and swings his net after a bumble bee.

    Chasing bumble bees on a patch of prairie

    It’s hot and the key to the gate doesn’t work. Heavy clouds hover to the north and east, and a distant rumble warns of potential rain.

    “Looks like you’re going to get the full prairie experience,” Tommy McElrath says.

    To our right is Trelease Woods, a remnant 65-acre patch of old-growth forest owned by the University of Illinois. To the left, a slice of restored prairie. We’re here to get a glimpse of what’s left of the 18 species of bumble bees recorded here in decades past.

  • Chamber singers, laughter and schnitzel with music: A few of my favorite things

    Illinois Chamber Singers got a taste of Europe this summer.

  • A heap of thick noodles is topped with a pile of crushed peanuts, scallions and red chili.

    Celebrating our diversity

    NOTE: This post describes events prior to the coronavirus epidemic.

    It is snowing again, and I turn to look through the bus window as it slowly pulls into the final stop. I hide my face in my scarf, hoping to stop the cold air sneaking in. It has been almost six years since I moved to the Midwest from Taiwan, but I still cannot deal with winter and snow. Once off the bus, I follow footprints to the Wildlife Veterinary Epidemiology Laboratory and push open the glass door.