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  • Portrait of the researchers observing a laboratory experiment

    Bubbling up: Previously hidden environmental impact of bursting bubbles exposed in new study

    Bubbles are common in nature and can form when ocean waves break and when raindrops impact surfaces. When bubbles burst, they send tiny jets of water and other materials into the air. A new study from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign examines how the interplay between bubble surfaces and water that contains organic materials contributes to the transport of aerosolized organic materials – some of which are linked to the spread of disease or contamination – into the atmosphere.

  • Portrait of researcher Ashish Sharma

    How can cities help accelerate climate action to meet COP26 goals?

    Last weekend, international negotiators approved the United Nations Glasgow Climate Pact at the 26th Conference of the Parties. Ashish Sharma, the Illinois research climatologist at the Illinois State Water Survey, spoke with News Bureau physical sciences editor Lois Yoksoulian about the takeaways from the COP26 and how the goals set at the global-level conference can be translated to the local level by U.S. cities.  

  • Photo of Atul Jain

    Six Illinois scientists rank among world's most influential

    Six faculty members at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have been named to the 2021 Clarivate Analytics Highly Cited Researchers list.

  • A portrait of researcher Xiao Su

    Sustainable electrochemical process could revolutionize lithium-ion battery recycling

    Spent lithium-ion batteries contain valuable metals that are difficult to separate from each other for recycling purposes. Used batteries present a sustainable source of these metals, especially cobalt and nickel, but the current methods used for their separation have environmental and efficiency drawbacks. A new technology uses electrochemistry to efficiently separate and recover the metals, making spent batteries a highly sustainable secondary source of cobalt and nickel – the reserves of which are currently dwindling.

  • Portrait of astronomy professor Leslie Looney

    A large asteroid will pass by Earth this week – should we worry?

    Recent weeks have witnessed a series of medium-to-large-sized asteroids cross paths with Earth’s orbit. The largest of the pack – asteroid 2004 UE – is on track to make its closest approach to the planet Nov. 13. University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign astronomy professor and chair Leslie Looney spoke with News Bureau physical sciences editor Lois Yoksoulian about what researchers refer to as near Earth objects and how much of a threat they are to the planet.

  • Portrait of researcher Atul Jain.

    Are global CO2 emissions rebounding to pre-COVID-19 levels?

    The Global Carbon Project recently published its 2021 Global Carbon Budget report, providing data on atmospheric carbon concentrations, emissions and trends. University of Illinois Urban-Champaign atmospheric sciences professor Atul Jain was part of an international team of scientists that contributed data to the report. Jain discussed the carbon budget and this year’s findings with News Bureau physical sciences editor Lois Yoksoulian.

  • Portrait of the researchers that participated in the study

    New analytical technique helps researchers spot subtle differences in subcellular chemistry

    Researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign can now rapidly isolate and chemically characterize individual organelles within cells. The new technique tests the limits of analytical chemistry and rapidly reveals the chemical composition of organelles that control biological growth, development and disease. 

  • A portrait of Illinois researchers involved in the study

    Tiny porous crystals change the shape of water to speed up chemical reactions

    Chemical engineers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign now understand how water molecules assemble and change shape in some settings, revealing a new strategy to speed up chemical reactions critical to industry and environmental sustainability. The new approach is poised to play a role in helping chemical manufacturers move away from harmful solvent catalysts in favor of water.

  • A portrait of Illinois researchers involved in the study.

    Ultrathin self-healing polymers create new, sustainable water-resistant coatings

    Researchers have found a way to make ultrathin surface coatings robust enough to survive scratches and dings. The new material, developed by merging thin-film and self-healing technologies, has an almost endless list of potential applications, including self-cleaning, anti-icing, anti-fogging, anti-bacterial, anti-fouling and enhanced heat exchange coatings, researchers said.  

  • A portrait of the Illinois researchers who contributed to the study.

    Study provides basis to evaluate food subsectors' emissions of three greenhouse gases

    A new, location-specific agricultural greenhouse gas emission study is the first to account for net carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide emissions from all subsectors related to food production and consumption. The work, led by University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign atmospheric sciences professor Atul Jain, could help identify the primary plant- and animal-based food sectors contributing to three major greenhouse gas emissions and allow policymakers to take action to reduce emissions from the top-emitting food commodities at different locations across the globe.

  • Photo of the researcher.

    New tool maps future climate costs for airlines, passengers

    Researchers built a mathematical model to calculate how much it will cost airlines to cope with rising temperatures in a changing climate.

  • A large land snail with eyestalks and a slimy foot

    Unified theory explains how materials transform from solids to liquids

    Years of meticulous experimentation have paid off for researchers aiming to unify the physics that defines materials that transition from solids to liquids. The researchers said a new theoretical model could help develop new synthetic materials and inform and predict civil engineering and environmental challenges such as mudslides, dam breaks and avalanches.

  • Photo of lead researcher, Xiao Su, in his laboratory.

    Less salt, more protein: Researchers address dairy processing's environmental, sustainability issues

    Researchers say the high salt content of whey – the watery part of milk left behind after cheesemaking – helps make it one of the most polluting byproducts in the food processing industry. In a new study, chemists demonstrate the first electrochemical redox desalination process used in the food industry, removing and recycling up to 99% of excess salt from whey while simultaneously refining more than 98% of whey’s valuable protein content.

  • Two researchers in a stand of sorghum.

    New imaging, machine-learning methods speed effort to reduce crops' need for water

    Scientists have developed and deployed a series of new imaging and machine-learning tools to discover attributes that contribute to water-use efficiency in crop plants during photosynthesis and to reveal the genetic basis of variation in those traits.

  • Silhouette of farm silos at sunset

    Nutrient-rich human waste poised to sustain agriculture, improve economies

    The future connection between human waste, sanitation technology and sustainable agriculture is becoming more evident. According to research directed by University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign civil and environmental engineering professor Jeremy Guest, countries could be moving closer to using human waste as fertilizer, closing the loop to more circular, sustainable economies.

  • An artist’s impression of an accretion disk rotating around an unseen supermassive black hole.

    Black hole size revealed by its eating pattern

    The feeding patterns of black holes offer insight into their size, researchers report. A new study revealed that the flickering in the brightness observed in actively feeding supermassive black holes is related to their mass.

  • Portrait of the researcher.

    How can the world prevent emerging infectious diseases, protect food security?

    According to a new report co-written by Illinois Natural History Survey postdoctoral researcher Valeria Trivellone, climate change, poverty, urbanization, land-use change and the exploitation of wildlife all contribute to the emergence of new infectious diseases, which, in turn, threaten global food security. Trivellone spoke with News Bureau life sciences editor Diana Yates about how global authorities can tackle these intertwined challenges.

  • Sheldon Jacobson and Janet Jokela stand outdoors.

    2020 deadlier than previous five years, even with COVID-19 numbers removed, study finds

    An upswing in death rates from non-COVID-19 causes in 2020 hit hard for men ages 15-64, according to a new study by computer science professor Sheldon H. Jacobson and internal medicine professor Janet Jokela.

  • Photo of researchers Yun Liu and Jeffrey Moore

    Chemical reactions break free from energy barriers using flyby trajectories

    A new study shows that it is possible to use mechanical force to deliberately alter chemical reactions and increase chemical selectivity – a grand challenge of the field.  

  • Illustration of a carbon reduction reaction at the surface of a silver nanoparticle in the presence of visible light.

    Light-harvesting nanoparticle catalysts show promise in quest for renewable carbon-based fuels

    Researchers demonstrated that small amounts of useful molecules such as hydrocarbons form when CO2 and water react in the presence of light and a silver nanoparticle catalyst, possibly paving the way for industrial-scale production of renewable carbon-based fuels. 

  • A microscope image of brilliantly colored crystals in a kidney stone.

    Geology helps map kidney stone formation from tiny to troublesome

    Advanced microscope technology and cutting-edge geological science are giving new perspectives to an old medical mystery: How do kidney stones form, why are some people more susceptible to them and can they be prevented?

  • Soybean field and sunshine

    Study: Fluorescent light clarifies relationship between heat stress and crop yield

    Scientists report that it is possible to detect and predict heat damage in crops by measuring the fluorescent light signature of plant leaves experiencing heat stress. If collected via satellite, this fluorescent signal could support widespread monitoring of growth and crop yield under the heat stress of climate change, the researchers say.

  • Portrait of researches in laboratory.

    Solid-state batteries line up for better performance

    Solid-state batteries pack a lot of energy into a small space, but their electrodes are not good at keeping in touch with their electrolytes. Liquid electrolytes reach every nook and cranny of an electrode to spark energy, but liquids take up space without storing energy and fail over time. Researchers are now putting solid electrolytes in touch with electrodes made of strategically arranged materials – at the atomic level – and the results are helping drive better solid-state battery technologies.

  • Group portrait of researchers Wawrzyniec Dobrucki, Zhongmin Zhu, Viktor Gruev, Zuodong Liang, Steven Blair and Shuming Nie.

    Mantis shrimp-inspired camera provides second opinion during cancer surgery

    Some of the world’s greatest innovations, such as Leonardo da Vinci’s flying machine, owe their strength and elegance to natural design. Researchers from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have returned their gaze to the natural world to develop a camera inspired by the mantis shrimp that can visualize cancer cells during surgery.

  • Portrait of researchers.

    Previously unrecognized tsunami hazard identified in coastal cities

    A new study found overlooked tsunami hazards related to undersea, near-shore strike-slip faults, especially for coastal cities adjacent to faults that traverse inland bays. Several areas around the world may fall into this category, including the San Francisco Bay area, Izmit Bay in Turkey and the Gulf of Al-Aqaba in Egypt.

  • Photos of new NAS members

    Three Illinois faculty members elected to National Academy of Sciences

    Three University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign professors have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest professional honors a scientist can receive. Physics professor Nadya Mason and chemistry professors Ralph Nuzzo and Wilfred van der Donk are among 120 newly elected U.S. members – 59 of whom are women, the most elected in a single year – and 30 international members in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.

  • Spliced portrait showing all four winners.

    Four Illinois faculty members elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

    University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign College of Education Dean James Anderson, physics professor Nadya Mason, chemistry professor Nancy Makri and materials science and engineering professor Kenneth Schweizer have been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the oldest honor societies in the nation.

  • Portrait of lead author, Junghwan Kim

    COVID-19 mobility restrictions effective for short duration, study finds

    Attempts at restricting people’s mobility to control the spread of COVID-19 may be effective only for a short period, researchers said. A new study examines people’s mobility for seven months during the pandemic in the United States using publicly available, anonymized mobile phone data.

  • Portrait of professor Gary Parker at the Sangamon River in Mahomet, Illinois.

    Channel migration plays leading role in river network evolution, study finds

    Satellite views of Earth’s major river systems reveal their familiar treelike drainage patterns. The pattern – called dendritic – and its prevalence suggests that it may be the optimal state in which rivers exist. Challenged by the knowledge that numerical models of drainage evolution have yet to substantiate this assumption, researchers are now thinking of rivers as existing in a persistent reorganizational state instead of being in a set, stable configuration. Understanding this has implications for land use and infrastructure management decisions.

  • Portrait of postdoctoral researcher Pengcheng Sun

    New 3D microbatteries stand up to industry standard thin-film counterparts

    The thin-film lithium-ion batteries used in microdevices such as portable and medical electronics may supply a good amount of power relative to their mass, but do not provide enough power for many devices due to their limited size. Researchers have introduced a fabrication process that builds microbatteries with thick, 3D electrodes using lithography and electrodeposition – and seals each unit in a gel electrolyte-filled package. The new prototype shows the highest peak power density of any reported microbatteries, the researchers said.

  • An artist’s conception shows the brilliant light of two quasars residing in the cores of galaxies in the chaotic process of merging. The gravitational tug-of-war between the two galaxies stretches them, forming long tidal tails and igniting a firestorm of star birth.

    Hubble Space Telescope spots double quasars in merging galaxies

    NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is seeing double, uncovering two very close pairs of quasars that existed 10 billion years ago. The objects are close together because astronomers believe they resided in a pair of merging galaxies.

  • Group portrait of researchers Manuel Hernandez, Rachneet Kaur and Richard Sowers.

    Machine learning helps spot gait problems in individuals with multiple sclerosis

    Monitoring the progression of multiple sclerosis-related gait issues can be challenging in adults over 50 years old, requiring a clinician to differentiate between problems related to MS and other age-related issues. To address this problem, researchers are integrating gait data and machine learning to advance the tools used to monitor and predict disease progression.

  • Group photo of Beckman Institute director Jeffrey Moore, left, postdoctoral researcher Hai Qian and materials science and engineering head Nancy Sottos

    Fast-acting, color-changing molecular probe senses when a material is about to fail

    Materials that contain special polymer molecules may someday be able to warn us when they are about to fail, researchers said. Engineers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have improved their previously developed force-sensitive molecules, called mechanophores, to produce reversible, rapid and vibrant color change when a force is applied.

  • A portrait of University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign researchers Martin Gruebele, right, and graduate student Huy Nguyen.

    Cheap, nontoxic carbon nanodots poised to be quantum dots of the future

    Tiny fluorescent semiconductor dots, called quantum dots, are useful in a variety of health and electronic technologies but are made of toxic, expensive metals. Nontoxic and economic carbon-based dots are easy to produce, but they emit less light. A new study that uses ultrafast nanometric imaging found good and bad emitters among populations of carbon dots. This observation suggests that by selecting only super-emitters, carbon nanodots can be purified to replace toxic metal quantum dots in many applications, the researchers said.

  • Dried ground with mudcracks and grass growing around edges.

    Short-term climate modeling forecasts drought for Southeast US

    Many climate models focus on scenarios decades into the future, making their outcomes seem unreliable and problematic for decision-making in the immediate future. In a proactive move, researchers are using short-term forecasts to stress the urgency of drought risk in the United States and inform policymakers’ actions now.

  • Xiaohui Zhang, left, Andrew Smith, Kelly Swanson, Erik Nelson, Mark Anastasio and Junlong Geng are part of a team working to clarify the relationship between obesity and inflammation while on the hunt for obesity-fighting drug therapies.

    3D microscopy clarifies understanding of body's immune response to obesity

    Researchers who focus on fat know that some adipose tissue is more prone to inflammation-related comorbidities than others, but the reasons why are not well understood. Thanks to a new analytical technique, scientists are getting a clearer view of the microenvironments found within adipose tissue associated with obesity. This advance may illuminate why some adipose tissues are more prone to inflammation – leading to diseases like type 2 diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disorders – and help direct future drug therapies to treat obesity.

  • Illinois researchers are part of multi-institutional team that found that solvents spontaneously react with metal nanoparticles to form reactive complexes that can improve catalyst performance and simultaneously reduce the environmental impact of chemical manufacturing.

    Mysterious organic scum boosts chemical reaction efficiency, may reduce chemical waste

    Chemical manufacturers frequently use toxic solvents such as alcohols and benzene to make products like pharmaceuticals and plastics. Researchers are examining a previously overlooked and misunderstood phenomenon in the chemical reactions used to make these products. This discovery brings a new fundamental understanding of catalytic chemistry and a steppingstone to practical applications that could someday make chemical manufacturing less wasteful and more environmentally sound.

  • Portrait of Junghwan Kim outside a university building.

    Culture shapes willingness to share personal data to reduce COVID-19 spread

    Culture, civic-mindedness and privacy concerns influence how willing people are to share personal location information to help stem the transmission of COVID-19 in their communities, a new study finds. Such sharing includes giving public health authorities access to their geographic information via data gathered from phone calls, mobile apps, credit card purchases, wristband trackers or other technologies.

  • Illinois researchers Aimy Wissa, Marianne Alleyne and Ophelia Bolmin studied the motion of a click beetle’s jump and present the first analytical framework to uncover the physics behind ultrafast motion by small animals.

    Latch, load and release: Elastic motion makes click beetles click, study finds

    Click beetles can propel themselves more than 20 body lengths into the air, and they do so without using their legs. While the jump’s motion has been studied in depth, the physical mechanisms that enable the beetles’ signature clicking maneuver have not. A new study examines the forces behind this super-fast energy release and provides guidelines for studying extreme motion, energy storage and energy release in other small animals like trap-jaw ants and mantis shrimps.

  • Portrait of researchers standing outside a campus building.

    New process more efficiently recycles excess CO2 into fuel, study finds

    For years, researchers have worked to repurpose excess atmospheric carbon dioxide into new chemicals, fuels and other products traditionally made from hydrocarbons harvested from fossil fuels. The recent push to mitigate the climactic effects of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has chemists on their toes to find the most efficient means possible. A new study introduces an electrochemical reaction, enhanced by polymers, to improve CO2-to-ethylene conversion efficiency over previous attempts.  

  • A new climate model that makes projections specific to urban areas predicts that by the end of this century, average warming across global cities will increase by 1.9 degrees Celsius to 4.4 C, depending on the rate of emissions.

    New data-driven global climate model provides projections for urban environments

    Cities only occupy about 3% of the Earth’s total land surface, but they bear the burden of the human-perceived effects of global climate change, researchers said. Global climate models are set up for big-picture analysis, leaving urban areas poorly represented. In a new study, researchers take a closer look at how climate change affects cities by using data-driven statistical models combined with traditional process-driven physical climate models.

  • Masks are an important tool for fighting COVID-19 but wearing one can make it difficult for others to hear us speak. Using a unique laboratory setup, Illinois researcher Ryan Corey tested how different types of masks affect the acoustics of speech.

    Disposable surgical masks best for being heard clearly when speaking, study finds

    Researcher Ryan Corey recently heard from a friend who teaches at a school where some of the students have hearing loss. The friend wanted to know if he had any ideas to help her communicate with these students while wearing a mask to slow the spread of COVID-19. Corey, who also has hearing loss, did not know what to tell her. So, he headed to the Illinois Augmented Listening Laboratory to look for solutions.

  • The annual Carbon Budget Project report found that among other trends, the global COVID-19 pandemic restrictions caused a record drop in CO2 emissions for 2020, says Illinois atmospheric sciences professor and report co-author Atul Jain.

    2020 a bad year in many respects, but what about global carbon emissions?

    The Global Carbon Project recently published the Global Carbon Budget 2020, giving world leaders access to data on atmospheric carbon concentrations, emissions and trends. Illinois atmospheric scientist Atul Jain was part of an international team of scientists that contributed data to the report. Jain talked about the carbon budget and this year’s findings with News Bureau physical sciences editor Lois Yoksoulian.

  • Illinois researchers developed a spherical lens that allows light coming into the lens from any direction to be focused into a very small spot on the surface of the lens exactly opposite the input direction. This is the first time such a lens has been made for visible light.

    Researchers confront optics and data-transfer challenges with 3D-printed lens

    Researchers have developed new 3D-printed microlenses with adjustable refractive indices – a property that gives them highly specialized light-focusing abilities. This advancement is poised to improve imaging, computing and communications by significantly increasing the data-routing capability of computer chips and other optical systems, the researchers said.

  • Carl Bernacchi is one of six faculty members from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign named as AAAS Fellows this year.

    Six Illinois faculty members elected AAAS Fellows

    CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Six professors at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have been elected 2020 Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

    Evolution, ecology and behavior professor Alison Bell; plant biology professor Carl Bernacchi; bioengineering professor Rohit Bhargava; materials science and engineering professor Paul Braun; chemistry professor Prashant Jain; and materials science and engineering professor Nancy Sottos are among the 489 scientists to be awarded the distinction of AAAS Fellow this year.

  • Illinois history professor David Sepkoski’s book “Catastrophic Thinking” examines how concerns about threats to the planet and human race came to be.

    Today's catastrophic concerns shaped by past interactions between science, culture

    A global pandemic, wildfires and hurricanes have made 2020 a year of catastrophes. David Sepkoski’s new book “Catastrophic Thinking” looks at how current-day concerns about threats to both the planet and the human race came to be. Sepkoski is a history professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, specializing in the history of science.

  • Individual photos of each of the three researchers described in this release.

    Three Illinois scientists rank among world's most influential

    Three faculty members at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have been named to the 2020 Clarivate Analytics Highly Cited Researchers list. The list recognizes leading researchers in the sciences and social sciences from around the world. It is based on an analysis of journal article publication and citation data, an objective measure of a researcher’s influence, from 2009-2019.

    The highly cited Illinois researchers this year are: materials science and engineering professor Axel Hoffmann, crop sciences and plant biology professor Stephen Long, and plant biology professor Donald Ort.

  • Professor Richard Sowers, left, and recent graduate Daniel Carmody have developed a new computer algorithm that will help urban planners understand and measure traffic congestion and suggest alternative routes.

    Driver behavior influences traffic patterns as much as roadway design, study reports

    Urban planners may soon have a new way to measure traffic congestion. By capturing the different routes by which vehicles can travel between locations, researchers have developed a new computer algorithm that helps quantify regions of congestion in urban areas and suggests ways around them

  • Sheldon Jacobson and Janet Jokela stand outdoors.

    Study of non-COVID-19 deaths shows 2020 increase in several demographics

    March through May saw a significant increase in deaths over previous years – and not just from COVID-19, says a new study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

    When deaths attributed to COVID-19 were removed from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention totals, the death rate in several demographics outpaced the same period in 2019, the study found. The timeframe represents the first three months of response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.

  • Illinois engineers Kwiyong Kim, left, Xiao Su, Johannes Elbert and Paola Baldaguez Medina are part of a team that developed a new polymer electrode device that can capture and destroy PFAS contaminants present in water.

    Copolymer helps remove pervasive PFAS toxins from environment

    Researchers have demonstrated that they can attract, capture and destroy PFAS – a group of federally regulated substances found in everything from nonstick coatings to shampoo and nicknamed “the forever chemicals” due to their persistence in the natural environment.