News Bureau

Research News Campus News About

blog navigation

News Bureau - Research
Behind the Scenes

 

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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. 

  • 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.

  • llinois Natural History Survey graduate researcher Benjamin Williams follows the activities of ducks migrating along the Wabash River in southeast Illinois. The birds stop at wetlands and other habitats on their way to their summer nesting areas further north.

    Casting a net for conservation, and catching ducks

    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.

  • Patrick Earl Hammie

    Patrick Earl Hammie: My path to Illinois

    Patrick Earl Hammie is a professor of painting and sculpture whose work explores the body in visual culture, black experiences, cultural identity and family.

  • 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.

  • A cypress swamp near Snake Road in the Shawnee National Forest, near Harrisburg, Illinois.

    Snake Road Sojourn

    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.

  • BLOG: Finding a Home for the Bones of Tam Pa Ling

    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.

  • Two Brood X adults of the genus Magicicada rest on a fern leaf.

    Taking a cicada road trip

    CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – A tough semester and an even tougher year have just ended. I need a break. I’m fully vaccinated and want to escape the yearlong lockdown. And I’m an entomologist. What do I do?

    I grab my best friend, also an entomologist, and we hit the road, of course. This is the year of my people’s “Woodstock.”

     

  • U. of I. graduate student Christine Parker studies wild turkeys. Catching them is a challenge. The hood on the bird’s head calms it while the researchers work.

    Where the wild turkeys aren’t

    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!”

  • Entomology professor Alexandra Harmon-Threatt stands in a prairie with a clipboard in her hands. She is wearing a hat, a long-sleeved shirt and a mask. In the background, undergraduate student Sabine Miller carries a bucket of sandbags used to weigh down the tent traps.

    Building a prairie and watching for bees

    It’s early evening as I follow the researchers to their work site on the Phillips Tract, just east of Urbana. When we get there, I immediately notice two things: We are standing in a vast grid of prairie plots with neatly mowed paths between them, and there are tents – dozens of dollhouse-sized tents.

    Two years ago, entomology professor Alexandra Harmon-Threatt built this outdoor laboratory by planting more than 80 prairie species here, most of them flowering plants. Her mission is to attract wild ground-nesting bees. She is here to see which bees are showing up and how they’re doing. But that’s not all she’s after.

  • The author discovered stink bug babies on the underside of a leaf.

    Stink bug babies

    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.

  • Backstage at an American musical

    Lighting-design students from the University of Illinois theatre department get a backstage look at the technical aspects of the musical "Hamilton."

  • 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.

  • Photo of a woman pulling a lever on a letterpress while another student watches. They are framed by parts of the machine in the foreground.

    Using a 19th-century hand press to teach history of printing technologies

    Three students gather around an old iron letterpress at the Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab, preparing to make a print using 19th-century technology. The press requires all three students to operate it.

  • Dr. Katherine Kling and veterinary students Rita Chu and Nicole Andrews pose with Elliot, a senior rescue dog in treatment for a fractured jaw.

    One lucky dog

    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.

  • 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. 

  • 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.

  • 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.

     

  • The team searches atop a bluff not far from the Rio Grande.

    Searching the Texas brushland for a rare, temperamental plant

    The author and her colleagues search a South Texas scrubland for the federally endangered Zapata bladderpod, Physaria thamnophila. This rare endemic plant, a member of the mustard family, is named for the region and is found in only two counties in the United States.

  • 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.

  • Nesterenkonia, one of the microbial species used in this petri dish art, has been found in other high-altitude lakes in Argentina.

    BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world: The why

    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.

  • Photo of three women dancing in a studio. One is wearing a blue, black, white and green-striped sweater; one is in a lavendar sports bra; and one has a light blue baseball shirt knotted mid-torso.

    Bringing a game to life through dance

    I'm in my little sister's room, where I've grabbed her Bop It! toy from her desk. I will use this toy to structure the dance I'm choreographing. I have my little black notebook and favorite black pen nearby. My phone leans against my computer, ready to record. I pull the Bop It! lever to start the game.

  • Photo of Deke Weaver and other performers holding whale puppets.

    ‘CETACEAN’ performance shows connections between whales’ environment and humans

    Shafts of sunlight are coming through the skylights of the Stock Pavilion on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus, illuminating swirls of dust stirred up as several people standing on the dirt floor uncoil ropes, pulling them taut and twirling them in circles like lassos. It looks like the setting for a rodeo, but this is a nautical environment.

    “CETACEAN (The Whale),” the latest multimedia performance in “The Unreliable Bestiary,” tells stories about eco-anxiety and resilience in adjusting to changing conditions.

  • Several chickens gather around

    Learning from chickens

    The first thing I notice when we step through white double doors of the growers’ house is that every one of the 1,200 or so chickens in this enormous room has stopped whatever it was doing to stare at us. A few of the birds step closer, peering at our legs as if they want to peck our shoes. But they don’t. They’re just curious. Chickens, I realize, are gawkers.

  • Jessica Brinkworth’s daughter, Jordan Brinkworth-Sykes, age 10, plays the game “Stop the Pathogens!” created by U. of I. student Claire von Ebers in the evolutionary immunology class.

    Teaching generations of students about outbreaks – with art

    Most people don’t visit the health department to view student art, but here we are, in the busy main hall of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District. We are wearing face masks, reading artist statements and reviewing more than a dozen visual and digital explorations of influenza, respiratory syncytial virus, COVID-19 and – the trickiest of all health topics – human behavior. Nurses and dental assistants whiz by with young patients. People walk by to pick up birth certificates. Two kids sit in a corner and play with one of the art pieces.

    It’s obvious this isn’t just an art show. It’s an end-of-term presentation designed by students in my evolutionary immunology class for students in kindergarten through the eighth grade. These creative works are meant to show the youngsters how to prevent the spread of respiratory infections in the community. These kids are using the art exactly the way it was intended.

  • Salvaging the past in an ancient Maya settlement 

    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.

  • Beveroth bands a magnolia warbler.

    A marvelous morning of migratory bird banding

    My alarm is going off as I quietly, yet eagerly, get out of bed at the dark and early time of 4 a.m.  Today, I get to do something that I love and that also benefits bird conservation.

    I arrive just before dawn at the U. of I.’s Phillips Tract, a former farm that is now a 130-acre natural area just east of Urbana and is used for scientific research and student training. I unlock the gate, park and gather the supplies I keep on site. Then I wait for the volunteers to arrive. The team today is a dedicated mix of staff, graduate students and undergraduates – all of whom are committed to helping capture, band and monitor the birds that use this site.

     

     

  • Sunrise breaks through the mist on the banks of the Solimões River, better known as the Amazon.

    Unlocking the secrets of the Amazon River

    Next week, we’ll be in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, near the frontier town of Tefé, to conduct research on the river.

  • Melting rubber stoppers threaten millions of insect and arthropod specimens in the Illinois Natural History Survey collection.

    Saving our natural heritage, one stopper at a time

    The rubber stopper is sticky in my hands. I can see it drooping into the vial, threatening the two tiny insect specimens inside, a pair of small green stoneflies, Alloperla furcula. Vial stoppers should not be sticky, and definitely should not be melting into the glass vial holding these important reference specimens. I have to save them from total annihilation.

  • The 26th Meeting of the General Congress of Weights and Measures, Versailles, France.

    Saying goodbye to an old measure

    I'm video recording on three DSLR cameras today, which is the most I can handle by myself. But I don't want to miss a second of this event, because I flew to Paris the day before yesterday just to film this auditorium of international delegates. These serious-looking men and women are actually very excited. I know that because several of them have told me so. In a few minutes, they will cast their nation's vote on whether to accept the proposed redefinition of the kilogram.

  • Sleep-deprived for science: Graduate student Ananya Sen rests briefly on the office couch.

    Tracking an invisible world

    It’s 2 a.m. on a cold winter night. My timer beeps loudly, waking me up for yet another measurement. It’s been a long day; I’ve been tracking bacterial growth every two hours for the past 18 hours. I stumble off the couch that has served as a bed for countless graduate students before me. I go to my lab bench, pick up the test tubes that I need for my samples, and groggily set off to the incubation room.

  • Serina Taluja scanned thousands of specimens belonging to the Illinois Natural History Survey Herbarium.

    Bringing yesterday's plants to digital life

    It’s about 65 degrees Fahrenheit in the herbarium, and the archival paper on which the plant specimen is mounted feels soft between my cold fingers. My hands are instantly warmed as I place the sheet in the light box. I check the computer monitor; everything looks good. I hit the spacebar.

  • 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.

  • Photo of U. of I. labor expert Teresa Cardador

    Teresa Cardador: My path to Illinois

    The concept of “meaningful work” isn’t something that’s found or discovered. It’s created over time through people and organizations with similar values to create meaning over time, said U. of I. labor expert Teresa Cardador in a presentation to the University of Illinois Board of Trustees.

  • 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.

  • Bringing home the bones of Tam Pa Ling

    Finding a home for the bones of Tam Pa Ling here in the capital city of Laos has special meaning for me.

  • BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world: Timing is everything

    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.

  • Photo of the researcher seated on a bluff overlooking former jungle and farmlands in Belize.

    Rescuing ancient Maya history from the plow

    Things have changed since I was last in Belize in 2018, when I excavated the ancestral Maya pilgrimage site Cara Blanca. Thousands of acres of jungle are gone, replaced by fields of corn and sugarcane. Hundreds of ancestral Maya mounds are now exposed in the treeless landscape, covered by soil that is currently plowed several times a year.

    Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I was awarded a three-year National Science Foundation grant to conduct a salvage archaeology project here in Belize. The goal is to collect as much information as possible before the mounds are plowed away.

  • 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.

  • Illinois Natural History Survey medical entomologist Jiayue (Gabriel) Yan peers through a viewing port as he works inside a sealed glove box, using tongs to carefully handle Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.

    Starving mosquitoes for science

    On a scorching summer day, I’m at work in the heart of the arthropod containment laboratory of the Medical Entomology Program. I place my hands in the rubber gloves that reach into a sealed workspace called the glove box, swiftly maneuvering to grab fully engorged mosquitoes. These insects have just fed on a blood meal infected with live dengue virus. They are now resting calmly on a chilled Petri dish, thanks to the low temperatures provided by the ice below.

  • 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.

  • In 2009, a fast-moving windstorm known as a derecho swept through this site, near Fountain Bluff in Illinois.

    Tracking a forest’s recovery one year after storm

    We walk out of the typical southern Illinois shady forest into a crazy jumble of fallen trees, thorny vines and tangled shrubs. It’s almost 100 degrees, the humidity is over 85 percent and all of the shade has disappeared. My lab mate and her undergraduate technician volunteered to work with me today, and I wonder what I’ve gotten them into.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Titan has staying power.

    Titan the survivor

    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.

  • The weavers gather in a community center in Tambo Perccaro.

    The weavers of Tambo Perccaro

    About 70 people are waiting for us in the courtyard of the community center when we arrive. They are llama herders, farmers and weavers. Many have walked for miles to be here, some with small children on their backs. We’re not sure what the community center staff told this crowd to get them to show up, but we’re here, and we’ve got something useful to share.

  • Lupas processes a tissue sample for analysis.

    Adjusting to these 'ever-changing times'

    My mask keeps my face warm as I make my way to the Wildlife Veterinary Epidemiology Laboratory this cold November morning. Campus is starting to empty out as students leave for the holidays. However, with cases of COVID-19 increasing again, many students may not return until next semester and many others will be isolating in their homes. Back in March, I worked remotely when the pandemic shut campus down, and since early summer, I have been working in person again. After the holidays pass, I hope we won’t have to give up our time in the laboratory to do virtual work alone.

  • Photo of social work professor Will Schneider standing with arms crossed in front of the logo at the School of Social Work

    Will Schneider: My path to Illinois

    Social work professor Will Schneider examines trends in child maltreatment and suggests that interventions for child neglect overlook the most likely cause.