blog postsAdjusting to these 'ever-changing times'Nov 24, 2020 8:00 am788 views 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.A guide to the Japan House gardensMay 27, 2016 10:00 am3428 views Japan House has developed a mobile guide to its gardens, which visitors can listen to on their phones for a self-guided tour.Aiming for hoops and practicing EnglishMay 29, 2018 8:30 am397 views Saturday afternoons for your typical Malaysian high school student are drastically different than what they’re like in the United States. The overriding emphasis here on government exams and grades often confines these youngsters to hours of extra classes and studying, even on the weekends. One of our jobs as Fulbright English teaching assistants is to try to make learning fun by organizing special camps that promote conversational English. But as we get started, the students seem a bit wary.Ancient American goddesses on displayFeb 2, 2018 8:15 am3484 views A new exhibit at the U. of I.’s Spurlock Museum offers a glimpse of the artistic and spiritual legacy of the American Indian people who built Cahokia, a great, thousand-year-old urban center on the Mississippi River. “Cahokia’s Religion: The Art of Red Goddesses, Black Drink and the Underworld” displays artifacts recently returned from the St. Louis Art Museum, including three of more than a dozen red carved-stone goddesses that the Illinois State Archaeological Survey found in our excavations of this ancient metropolis. You can view these figures alongside other cultural objects that reveal a civilization’s core beliefs and values. A night in grizzly countryJul 21, 2016 9:45 am538 views We spent last night in Yellowstone’s backcountry, at Grebe Lake, a lovely lake at the base of the Washburn Range. For most of the students, this was their first experience backpacking: carrying a tent, sleeping bag and food into the backcountry. They had to learn a few new skills, like how to hang food from a bear pole. Some also had to adjust emotionally to the idea of sleeping in the middle of grizzly country.Backstage at an American musicalSep 28, 2016 1:15 pm1318 views Lighting-design students from the University of Illinois theatre department get a backstage look at the technical aspects of the musical "Hamilton."Beautiful MuskSep 18, 2017 8:30 am634 views One summer day, just outside of East St. Louis, I drove by a wheat field ready for harvest. The low afternoon light cast a beautiful glow, and I was struck by a lone thistle growing amidst the wheat. I stopped my university vehicle with the official state seal on the side, set up my tripod and was busy photographing. I stopped only when I heard an ominous double click to my right. I am not a hunter, but I knew the sound of the hammers being drawn back on a double-barreled shotgun.Between wilderness, tourism and civilizationJul 18, 2016 4:15 pm428 views We spent yesterday in Grand Teton National Park, hiking Cascade Canyon. Today we’re in Jackson, Wyoming, just south of the park and a very different settingBird gets worm, makes historyJun 19, 2017 8:30 am1406 views It’s a warm April evening, and the air and earth are still heavy with moisture from recent rains. I’m perched on a plastic patio chair on my balcony when something catches my eye. I grab my binoculars and make out the details of a small bird paddling around in a new retention pond. It’s a pied-billed grebe, and it’s acting oddly.BLOG: Discovering the bones of Tam Pa LingApr 4, 2016 1:30 pm478 views Tam Pa Ling cave sits at the top of Pa Hang Mountain, in Hua Phan Province, Laos. Every day, we climb the mountain and descend into the cave to dig. The view from outside the cave is spectacular, but its location means that the only equipment that we can use to dig through the wet clay of the cave floor is what we can carry up the mountain.BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the worldDec 14, 2015 2:00 pm2018 views CATAMARCA, ARGENTINA - Early in 2016, a small team will climb Ojos del Salado, the tallest active volcano in the world. Unlike most climbers who tackle this volcano, however, this group has little interest in reaching the summit. Near the end of their trek, they will veer off the summit path to visit a lake that holds something seen nowhere else on Earth at this altitude: liquid water. The team will try to collect soil and water samples from this lake to see what microbes might be living there. BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world: Changes in plansJan 20, 2016 9:15 am385 views We thought that the expedition was over. My husband's altitude sickness left only three of us to climb Ojos del Salado, make our way up the mountain in the thin air, find the lake, collect the biological samples and get back down safely. It wasn't feasible. Then we learned something that changed the entire expedition.BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world - Climbing higherDec 31, 2015 9:15 pm714 views VALLECITOS, ARGENTINA - Mount Franke is a giant rock pile. Some of the rocks are attached to the mountain. Many, many others are not. The loose rocks are engaged in slow tumble down the mountainside. Hikers often help them along.BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world - DAY 1Dec 22, 2015 9:45 pm526 views MENDOZA, ARGENTINA -- We arrived in Mendoza, Argentina today and tomorrow we are going on our first trek: up from 2,080 meters to 2700 meters on Mount Mihlo, outside of Mendoza. This will begin the acclimatization process for us. BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world - Day 2Dec 24, 2015 6:00 pm1477 views 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.BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world: Expect the unexpectedJan 12, 2016 9:00 am439 views You may think that mountain expeditions are all about action, but in fact there's a lot more time spent sitting around. Plans may be perfect, but obstacles arise. The weather is unexpectedly cold, the ice on the lake is too thick, the snow on the mountain is melting much later in the season than normal.BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world - on the roadDec 21, 2015 6:30 am620 views IN TRANSIT – One of the reasons I felt comfortable joining this expedition was the attitude of the expedition leader, Francisco Seufferheld. He made it abundantly clear that this was to be a positive experience and that we were not to become so driven to reach the goal that we forgot to stay safe and have fun. It’s a good thing, too, because we will have to overcome a lot of obstacles to make it to the lake at the top of the volcano. The altitude is the most formidable challenge, but there are others.Blog: Expedition to the highest lake in the world: The child decidesMar 16, 2016 5:45 pm635 views El Nino stops many – but not all – climbers from scaling Ojos del Salado in 2016BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world: The whyJan 4, 2016 11:30 am1134 views 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.BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world: Timing is everythingJan 27, 2016 4:15 pm952 views 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.BLOG: Finding a Home for the Bones of Tam Pa LingApr 3, 2016 11:45 am1241 views 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.Bringing home the bones of Tam Pa LingApr 13, 2016 3:30 pm849 views Finding a home for the bones of Tam Pa Ling here in the capital city of Laos has special meaning for me.Bringing yesterday's plants to digital lifeJul 31, 2019 8:30 am952 views 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.Building an orchestra of brassFeb 20, 2019 11:00 am729 views Everything is chaos. We don’t have all our music. We don’t have a permanent rehearsal space. I’ve never had my own ensemble before. Everything is unfamiliar, and everything has come together much more last-minute than I had hoped for. But for this first-ever rehearsal of the University of Illinois Saxophone Ensemble we all share one thing – excitement.Building a prairie and watching for beesAug 6, 2020 8:30 am1221 views 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.Building trust in a market for women vendorsFeb 13, 2020 8:15 am366 views This market street, like many others in the city, bustles with activity on a cold December morning as men and women set up shops on the sidewalks for the rest of the day. But something sets this market apart from the rest. This Sunday market is a mahila bazaar, a retail zone set aside for women vendors only. Casting a net for conservation, and catching ducksMar 22, 2017 8:15 am1359 views I'm sitting in a camouflaged blind when the sun breaks the horizon and lights up the southeast Illinois wetland. Hidden by cattails and other vegetation, I watch my breath and note how cold my feet are despite the thick wool socks and insulated waders I’m wearing. A hundred yards away, ducks – most of them mallards or American green-winged teal – begin to drop from the sky to land on the water along the shore, right near my bait.Catching bats for conservationMay 18, 2021 8:00 am583 views The sun just dipped below the horizon and the warm early spring air mixes with the stone-chilled currents flowing out of the mine entrances. The nets are all hung and now we are just waiting for the bats to show up. This is my first mist-netting trip, but I have been warned this will not be a typical experience.Celebrating our diversitySep 28, 2020 8:15 am1084 views 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. Chamber singers, laughter and schnitzel with music: A few of my favorite thingsJul 31, 2017 2:30 pm458 views Illinois Chamber Singers got a taste of Europe this summer.Chasing bumble bees on a patch of prairieJul 20, 2020 1:30 pm3418 views 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.Chasing waterfallsFeb 13, 2018 4:00 pm357 views MIRI, MALAYSIA — We awake from our post-training slumber at 6:30 a.m. for an activity unlike any of the team-building exercises we have experienced so far. This is only the first week of training for the Fulbright Program here. There are nearly 100 of us on this waterfall hike, braving the rain and humidity together to swim in one of Malaysia’s hidden pools.Connecting a virus to cancer – in sea lionsMar 31, 2021 8:00 am456 views 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.Coring and Exploring Ancient Maya LifeMay 17, 2016 9:30 am1183 views It is early May in central Belize, nearing the end of the dry season. While farmers anxiously await the beginning of the rainy season vital for crops, archaeologists hope it starts as late as possible. Tropical storms transform the landscape, making it difficult to get around, even in four-wheel-drive vehicles. Also, excavating in the clayey mud is not fun.Deciphering the history of a Chinese vaseOct 1, 2018 8:45 am1538 views 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.Dehydrating plant proteins at the speed of soundApr 17, 2020 1:15 pm1174 views Food scientists at the University of Illinois devised an energy-efficient, cost-effective method for drying plant proteins using high-frequency ultrasound.Destination: ConservationFeb 12, 2019 8:15 am598 views 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.Discovering treasures in Library’s storage vaultsMay 30, 2019 9:00 am1960 views The University Library’s Oak Street Library Facility stores more than 4 million volumes in climate-controlled storage vaults.Double the traps, double the turkeysApr 10, 2018 8:45 am821 views I scan the woods around me, carefully eyeing the tree-line through the darkened windows on each side of my blind. I see no turkeys and go back to reading my book. After a few pages, I glance up again and jump in surprise as turkeys emerge over a hill in the field to my right. They are about 40 feet from the Netblaster. I text my crew to let them know our prey has arrived!Drawing insights from ancient plantsJun 29, 2016 2:30 pm890 views I’m sitting near the top of our fossil excavation site in southwest Montana, my hammer and shovel ready. I have a perfect view of the mountains. A wall of fossil-laden shale lies before me, and I’m ready to dig in. This is our fourth day digging, and despite the early hour, I'm trembling with excitement. Today I might find something new, something no human has ever seen.Drought and pilgrimage at the Cara Blanca Pools, BelizeJun 13, 2016 1:00 pm1192 views After driving the winding dirt roads of Yalbac Ranch, we venture for 20 minutes into a steep ravine surrounded by dense jungle. Cicadas sing to us from above as we approach Pool 1, a 60-plus-meter-deep cenote (steep-sided sinkhole fed by groundwater). It is difficult to see the pool at first. But, as the truck tires grind over loose limestone, making those sitting in the back of the truck bounce, a water temple and the pool appear to emerge from the jungle. Previous VOPA excavations show that 1,300 years ago, Maya came from different regions of the lowlands to this sacred pool. Esther Ngumbi: My path to IllinoisMar 23, 2020 8:00 am2772 views 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.Excavating a cave without leaving campusNov 14, 2018 8:30 am1709 views 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.Exploring the remnants of an ancient forestSep 2, 2021 8:00 am918 views 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.Exploring the unknown: The Motmot sinkholeJul 9, 2018 8:30 am1478 views 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.Extracting history from a cornfieldJul 17, 2019 12:30 pm6268 views 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.Finding an ancient Maya city in the jungles of BelizeAug 6, 2018 3:00 pm1146 views 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. Finding clarity in the fogDec 16, 2019 8:15 am624 views 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.Finding darters where no one thought to lookNov 29, 2018 11:15 am1663 views “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.Finding one elusive birdOct 16, 2020 8:15 am927 views 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.