blog postsTelling stories and touching historyFeb 6, 2018 8:30 am4995 views I slowly turn each page of Florence Lee’s large paper scrapbook, making sure not to wrinkle any of the items she placed inside. Its contents offer a snapshot of student life in the early 20th century at the University of Illinois: a laminated orange and blue button from a homecoming football game, a brochure from the Anti-Cigarette League of America, ribbons and tickets from Dad’s Day events and dozens of photographs of scenes around campus, including personal photographs of Florence Lee with her family and friends. All of these items were either glued or, in the case of some of the flat paper items, had their corners tucked into angled slots cut into the pages. The items that Florence Lee placed in this scrapbook come from her undergraduate years at the University of Illinois – 1917-20. This memento offers a window into that time.Extracting history from a cornfieldJul 17, 2019 12:30 pm3501 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.Image of Research: You are what you eatApr 3, 2018 8:15 am2741 views As a chef-turned-nutritional neuroscientist, I explore how the food we eat impacts the way we think. As a part of my graduate training, I design dietary interventions. The “cupcakes” in the image above are actually not cupcakes at all. They’re 90 percent egg powder with a dash of sugar and flour. In academic speak, they’re “tightly controlled isocaloric vessels of lutein that will serve as the intervention of a randomized control trial in preadolescents with below-average retinal lutein levels.”Lost but not forgotten: Why this Memorial Day is differentMay 21, 2018 10:00 am2620 views Illinois professor Scott Althaus tells the story of his extended family’s five-year search for the details of a relative’s last bombing mission during World War II, which also resulted in finding his plane.Govindjee's photosynthesis museumJul 9, 2019 8:30 am2540 views I am in Govindjee’s office suite and I don’t know where to look. Govindjee, a professor emeritus of plant biology who goes by the one name only, is a collector. There are layers of history here: artifacts and papers, books and photographs. There also are homemade scientific instruments that look like plumbing elbows, tiny satellites or props from vintage sci-fi movies.Ancient American goddesses on displayFeb 2, 2018 8:15 am2318 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. The Cornfield Death MarchNov 3, 2016 10:15 am1934 views My students and I are standing at the edge of a 73-acre cornfield. Covered in mud and sweat, we are dreading the task ahead. We are hunting the western corn rootworm, a menace to corn growers everywhere. BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the worldDec 14, 2015 2:00 pm1867 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. A guide to the Japan House gardensMay 27, 2016 10:00 am1863 views Japan House has developed a mobile guide to its gardens, which visitors can listen to on their phones for a self-guided tour.Discovering treasures in Library’s storage vaultsMay 30, 2019 9:00 am1728 views The University Library’s Oak Street Library Facility stores more than 4 million volumes in climate-controlled storage vaults.The journey to becoming a physician-innovatorJul 17, 2018 9:00 am1727 views A member of the inaugural class recounts her application and surprise acceptance to the Carle Illinois College of MedicineMapping the state budget impasse and its consequencesJun 7, 2016 10:30 am1638 views With maps and infographics, the Illinois Austerity Atlas visually chronicles the impacts the state budget impasse has had on social services, higher education, youth programs and public health.The art and science of Mammoth Hot SpringsNov 1, 2016 2:00 pm1628 views A new book by geology professor Bruce Fouke and photographer Tom Murphy brings together art and science in the study of Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park.Restoring a lost heritageAug 8, 2017 8:00 am1594 views Tarantulas in a pickle jarMar 5, 2018 4:15 pm1568 views Storing your dead tarantulas in a gallon-sized pickle jar is not the best solution to long-term preservation. Especially when those tarantulas are toe-tagged – like corpses in a morgue. But that’s what I find this morning when I open one of the dozens of metal storage cabinets in the chilly insect collection: a pickle jar full of tarantulas.BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world - Day 2Dec 24, 2015 6:00 pm1464 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.Exploring the unknown: The Motmot sinkholeJul 9, 2018 8:30 am1367 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.Preserving the Past in 3DMar 7, 2019 8:15 am1348 views We lug heavy equipment up a steep ravine in the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. A local landowner leads our team of archaeologists past a small waterfall up to the top of the bluff, where two rock shelters contain a number of ancient petroglyphs.Bird gets worm, makes historyJun 19, 2017 8:30 am1331 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.Excavating a cave without leaving campusNov 14, 2018 8:30 am1302 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.Weightless in San Luis PotosiDec 21, 2017 8:45 am1290 views OUTSIDE VALLES, MEXICO — When we first arrived at this stream, I knew we were in a special location. The clear, turquoise blue water rivals that of any picture from a Caribbean tour magazine. When I put my snorkeled face in the water, I can actually see mussels in the streambed below, something that doesn’t happen very often in Illinois streams. Collecting the mussels, however, is proving difficult.Finding darters where no one thought to lookNov 29, 2018 11:15 am1279 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.Backstage at an American musicalSep 28, 2016 1:15 pm1246 views Lighting-design students from the University of Illinois theatre department get a backstage look at the technical aspects of the musical "Hamilton."BLOG: Finding a Home for the Bones of Tam Pa LingApr 3, 2016 11:45 am1171 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.Image of Research: Graduate students reveal the wonders of discoveryMar 29, 2017 8:00 am1137 views Graduate students pair powerful images with compelling descriptions of research in the 2017 Image of Research competition.Coring and Exploring Ancient Maya LifeMay 17, 2016 9:30 am1121 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.Snake Road SojournApr 18, 2017 8:30 am1090 views 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.Casting a net for conservation, and catching ducksMar 22, 2017 8:15 am1069 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.The fossils of Madison County (Montana)Jun 20, 2016 2:15 pm1052 views Standing at the foot of the mountains, I look to the east. It’s still early and I have hiked up here alone to gather my thoughts. I can see why they call this “Big Sky Country.” The tree-covered foothills of the mountains behind me give way to rolling scrubland. Stunted trees mark the edges of dry creek beds cut into the soft rocks below. The sun sparkles on the surface of a reservoir in the valley several miles away, and beyond that, another mountain range rises to meet the sky. This is southwest Montana and I’m here to hunt.Searching for turtles in a sea of grassJun 5, 2018 9:45 am1051 views Searching for reptiles and amphibians is often quite tedious. You have to carefully scan ahead of each step for movement before a snake gets away, or spend hours flipping over logs to find the particular salamander you are looking for. Today, we’re searching for turtles. Luckily, we have help.Finding an ancient Maya city in the jungles of BelizeAug 6, 2018 3:00 pm1026 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. BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world: The whyJan 4, 2016 11:30 am1019 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.Where the wild turkeys aren’tMay 12, 2017 8:30 am990 views 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!”Unlocking the secrets of the Amazon RiverNov 22, 2016 9:15 am981 views Next week, we’ll be in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, near the frontier town of Tefé, to conduct research on the river.Salvaging the past in an ancient Maya settlement Jun 1, 2016 9:45 am968 views 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.Drought and pilgrimage at the Cara Blanca Pools, BelizeJun 13, 2016 1:00 pm951 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. Image of Research: A Pinch of Salt and ImaginationMar 31, 2016 9:15 am949 views 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.BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world: Timing is everythingJan 27, 2016 4:15 pm944 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.Journey to the riverbank and back in timeDec 12, 2016 9:00 am939 views 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.Saving our natural heritage, one stopper at a timeDec 12, 2018 9:00 am894 views 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.Drawing insights from ancient plantsJun 29, 2016 2:30 pm864 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.Bringing home the bones of Tam Pa LingApr 13, 2016 3:30 pm814 views Finding a home for the bones of Tam Pa Ling here in the capital city of Laos has special meaning for me.Saying goodbye to an old measureNov 16, 2018 12:30 pm799 views 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.The weavers of Tambo PerccaroJul 16, 2018 7:00 am784 views 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.On the campaign trail: Breaking away from the packApr 20, 2016 11:15 am783 views 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.Tracking an invisible worldJul 22, 2019 8:30 am778 views 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.One lucky dogOct 16, 2017 9:00 am766 views 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.Searching for an ancient Maya pilgrimage path: The elusive poolsJul 26, 2017 8:30 am765 views 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.Titan the survivorNov 21, 2017 8:30 am739 views 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.Bringing yesterday's plants to digital lifeJul 31, 2019 8:30 am705 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.