blog posts Extracting history from a cornfield Jul 17, 2019 12:30 pm6455 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. Surviving a football frenzy Nov 15, 2019 8:00 am6137 views Thirty-one. That’s the number the Illinois football coaching staff writes on the white board for the players to see. Many of the fans filing into Memorial Stadium today know this number, as well. Thirty-one is the number of points by which pundits predict Illinois will lose to Wisconsin. That’s a tough number. Doesn’t matter. My job as a university photographer is to tell the Illini story. There is always plenty to capture and celebrate. The weather is spectacular. It is Homecoming. Illinois has been competitive against some tough foes. I can work with that. Telling stories and touching history Feb 6, 2018 8:30 am5053 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. Chasing bumble bees on a patch of prairie Jul 20, 2020 1:30 pm4344 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. Govindjee's photosynthesis museum Jul 9, 2019 8:30 am4219 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 display Feb 2, 2018 8:15 am4140 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 guide to the Japan House gardens May 27, 2016 10:00 am4021 views Japan House has developed a mobile guide to its gardens, which visitors can listen to on their phones for a self-guided tour. Esther Ngumbi: My path to Illinois Mar 23, 2020 8:00 am2910 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. Lost but not forgotten: Why this Memorial Day is different May 21, 2018 10:00 am2895 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. Image of Research: You are what you eat Apr 3, 2018 8:15 am2801 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.” Girish Chowdhary: My path to Illinois Mar 26, 2020 8:00 am2760 views I was born in Mumbai, India, to parents who worked full-time. My mother, who was the first woman to work as an officer in the Maharashtra Civil Services, came in at a time when parental leave did not exist. Because of this, I spent my early years with my grandparents in Kumta, India. My grandfather was a university physics professor and instilled in me an interest and respect for science – particularly astrophysics. Rediscovering a path to the Milky Way May 6, 2020 8:15 am2338 views We’re standing on a roadside at the edge of a muddy expanse. I’m wearing rubber boots, but Tim Pauketat is going to get his feet wet. He left his waterproof boots in Indiana, but this won’t stop him from tromping out into the soggy, overgrown remains of the ancient city of Cahokia. Weighing bears, corralling otters and healing wild beasts Sep 30, 2019 8:15 am2250 views How do you weigh a fully grown American black bear? These veterinary medicine students know the answer, and it's a bit more complicated than just saying, "very carefully." Rohit Bhargava: My path to Illinois Apr 9, 2020 8:15 am2245 views I grew up in Jaipur, India, a city that is well-known for its architecture. My father is an architect, and I grew up helping him, looking at plans and making blueprints. I was always interested in building things. BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world Dec 14, 2015 2:00 pm2089 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. Creating an escape room experience Dec 10, 2021 8:30 am2053 views Students in Fine and Applied Arts and informatics learned how to create an immersive environment and to build puzzles to challenge the players and reinforce the story. The Cornfield Death March Nov 3, 2016 10:15 am2021 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. Discovering treasures in Library’s storage vaults May 30, 2019 9:00 am2002 views The University Library’s Oak Street Library Facility stores more than 4 million volumes in climate-controlled storage vaults. Hunting a creature that hunts me Aug 20, 2021 8:00 am1963 views It’s a sweltering summer afternoon. I’m pushing aside tree limbs and crunching leaves to get back to the trap that I baited two hours ago with dry ice to attract ticks. When I get closer, I can see a gossamer mist hovering over a bright white cloth in the dark underbrush. Dry ice “sublimates” in the open air, going from a solid to a gaseous state. It gives off a vapor of carbon dioxide gas that’s denser than the air, mimicking the breath of a tick host resting on the ground. The journey to becoming a physician-innovator Jul 17, 2018 9:00 am1927 views A member of the inaugural class recounts her application and surprise acceptance to the Carle Illinois College of Medicine Unearthing a fossorial snake Oct 12, 2020 9:00 am1918 views To the naked eye, it might appear as though I’m standing in a prairie oasis. Pockets of bright yellow goldenrod bring vibrancy to the sea of towering grasses. There’s not a soul in sight to spoil the serenity. A lone red-tailed hawk scouring the landscape from the top of a dead oak tree is my only companion. It’s not hard to imagine the entire region looking like this prior to European settlement, expanding miles and miles without interruption. I made the two-hour drive from Champaign to this tiny, fragmented prairie to search for an uncommon snake. Grace and healing: Parkinson's dance class opens pathways to body and mind Jun 12, 2020 8:15 am1907 views Laughter ripples across the dance floor. Bodies bend in an arc. For some, that arc is much less pronounced, but that’s not important. Any expansion of movement is a celebration for these dancers – they have Parkinson’s disease. This is a session of Dance for People with Parkinson’s, a tradition for more than 10 years at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Deciphering the history of a Chinese vase Oct 1, 2018 8:45 am1866 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. Tarantulas in a pickle jar Mar 5, 2018 4:15 pm1840 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. Making meat much more than a meal May 18, 2022 8:00 am1834 views The grills are already fired up as I approach the Meat Science Laboratory on the U. of I. campus. It’s midmorning on a spring day that’s chillier than it should be. Well-worn charcoal and gas grills are stationed in a wide arc on a lawn flecked with violets. In front of each grill stand three students for whom eating burgers for breakfast is now commonplace. The art and science of Mammoth Hot Springs Nov 1, 2016 2:00 pm1825 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. Excavating a cave without leaving campus Nov 14, 2018 8:30 am1780 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. Finding darters where no one thought to look Nov 29, 2018 11:15 am1763 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. Restoring a lost heritage Aug 8, 2017 8:00 am1707 views Preserving the Past in 3D Mar 7, 2019 8:15 am1676 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. Mapping the state budget impasse and its consequences Jun 7, 2016 10:30 am1673 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. Exploring the remnants of an ancient forest Sep 2, 2021 8:00 am1653 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 sinkhole Jul 9, 2018 8:30 am1541 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. Weightless in San Luis Potosi Dec 21, 2017 8:45 am1526 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. BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world - Day 2 Dec 24, 2015 6:00 pm1480 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. Mitzi and the giant hairball Sep 29, 2017 8:30 am1453 views Mitzi is a longtime survivor of lymphoma. It’s been five years since her last chemotherapy treatment, but she has been vomiting and her owners are afraid the cancer is back. Her stomach feels very weird – kind of doughy, like there is a big lump of bread in there. That’s not how tumors feel; tumors are usually firm. The X-rays reveal a mass, but it looks like strange material in her stomach. We decide to go in with an endoscope. Bird gets worm, makes history Jun 19, 2017 8:30 am1430 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. Saving an endangered breed of donkey Jun 3, 2022 8:00 am1421 views Nothing I’ve read about the Baudet du Poitou donkeys prepares me for my first sight of them. They are girthy, with massive round bellies and oversized ears that swoop forward and back, sometimes independently of one another. They are covered in thick hair that hangs in shaggy tufts, “like mammoth fur,” says my companion on this adventure in equine medicine, Public Affairs senior photographer Michelle Hassel. We’re here today with veterinarian and Ph.D. student Dr. Giorgia Podico to observe these exotic animals and check on their reproductive status. Podico is part of a team that is trying to impregnate these donkeys, which are endangered and in need of conservation. Building a traditional Japanese boat Apr 6, 2022 12:15 pm1420 views Japan House offered a Japanese boatbuilding apprenticeship, where students worked with boatbuilding expert Douglas Brooks to build a traditional riverboat in six days. Searching for turtles in a sea of grass Jun 5, 2018 9:45 am1413 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. Building back a tiny piece of prairie Nov 15, 2021 8:00 am1403 views Early November may not be an optimal time to visit a tallgrass prairie in central Illinois. But if you know what to look for, as my two guides do, it’s as good a time as any. Despite recent heavy rains, the prairie looks as dry as a skull. Grass and flower stalks rattle in the cold breeze, and each plant appears to sport its own special array of desiccated seeds, leaves and flower heads. The ground is still damp but the tops of the plants are crispy. I’m here with Fred Delcomyn and James Ellis, the authors of “A Backyard Prairie,” a book about Fred and Nancy Delcomyn’s personal project, a 3-acre swath of prairie that they began installing near their home in 2003 and have nurtured ever since. Casting a net for conservation, and catching ducks Mar 22, 2017 8:15 am1392 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 pm1384 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. Gathering data to save a rare turtle Aug 13, 2020 9:00 am1379 views We are never more conscious of the summer sun than while struggling to unpack a trap full of turtles, watching with resignation as the wind slowly drags us and our kayak across the marsh. We are in Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area, about 50 miles southwest of Chicago. We visit these wetlands two weeks per month during the field season, which runs from May to October. Backstage at an American musical Sep 28, 2016 1:15 pm1341 views Lighting-design students from the University of Illinois theatre department get a backstage look at the technical aspects of the musical "Hamilton." Patrick Earl Hammie: My path to Illinois Apr 2, 2020 8:45 am1318 views Patrick Earl Hammie is a professor of painting and sculpture whose work explores the body in visual culture, black experiences, cultural identity and family. Snake Road Sojourn Apr 18, 2017 8:30 am1294 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. BLOG: Finding a Home for the Bones of Tam Pa Ling Apr 3, 2016 11:45 am1289 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. Building a prairie and watching for bees Aug 6, 2020 8:30 am1280 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. Drought and pilgrimage at the Cara Blanca Pools, Belize Jun 13, 2016 1:00 pm1279 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.