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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • A newborn prairie rattlesnake is found basking with a large female.

    Serpents of the Badlands

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!”

  • Postdoctoral researcher Mikus Abolins-Abols peers into the nest of an American robin.

    Playing a parasite for science

    It’s 5:30 a.m. in the tree farms outside Urbana, but the birds have been up for an hour already. I sip my coffee, putting on rubber boots that will be little help against the dewy, waist-high grass. A couple of brown birds sit on telephone wires above me, and I have a feeling I am being watched. These are brown-headed cowbirds, which lay their eggs in other species’ nests and then let the nest’s owners raise the offspring.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.”

     

  • 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.

  • 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.

     

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Shelby Lawson stands in a grassy area with binoculars around her neck.

    Staging a threatening encounter at a blackbird nest

    It’s early morning, about 6 a.m. A light fog has settled over the marsh. I park my car, step out and double-check my backpack for all the necessary equipment before heading out. After a short walk on a narrow paved path, I veer into the unmarked marsh. I’m here to study how red-winged blackbirds respond to the vocalizations that signal nearby nest parasites called brown-headed cowbirds.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

     

     

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • Researchers are mapping the final three of 25 sacred pools at Cara Blanca, an ancient Maya pilgrimage site in central Belize.

    Searching for an ancient Maya pilgrimage path: The elusive pools

    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.

  • 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.

  • Phone cameras in action at the Bernie Sanders campaign event on March 12 at the University of Illinois.

    On the campaign trail: Breaking away from the pack

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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!”

  • Young woman sits on a fallen tree in the woods.

    Pondering a university's ecological impact

    Earth Day has one science writer pondering how much research conducted at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has direct ecological implications.

  • 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.