blog postsTelling stories and touching historyFeb 6, 2018 8:30 am4938 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.Image of Research: You are what you eatApr 3, 2018 8:15 am2633 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 am2151 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.Ancient American goddesses on displayFeb 2, 2018 8:15 am1890 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 am1877 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 pm1797 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 am1746 views Japan House has developed a mobile guide to its gardens, which visitors can listen to on their phones for a self-guided tour.Mapping the state budget impasse and its consequencesJun 7, 2016 10:30 am1588 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 pm1542 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 am1531 views BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world - Day 2Dec 24, 2015 6:00 pm1461 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.Tarantulas in a pickle jarMar 5, 2018 4:15 pm1305 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.Bird gets worm, makes historyJun 19, 2017 8:30 am1305 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.Weightless in San Luis PotosiDec 21, 2017 8:45 am1210 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.Backstage at an American musicalSep 28, 2016 1:15 pm1182 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 am1140 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 am1126 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 am1067 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 am1013 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: Expedition to the highest lake in the world: The whyJan 4, 2016 11:30 am1004 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.Casting a net for conservation, and catching ducksMar 22, 2017 8:15 am968 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.Image of Research: A Pinch of Salt and ImaginationMar 31, 2016 9:15 am944 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 pm942 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.Unlocking the secrets of the Amazon RiverNov 22, 2016 9:15 am939 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 am917 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.Journey to the riverbank and back in timeDec 12, 2016 9:00 am915 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.Where the wild turkeys aren’tMay 12, 2017 8:30 am910 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!”The fossils of Madison County (Montana)Jun 20, 2016 2:15 pm892 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.Drawing insights from ancient plantsJun 29, 2016 2:30 pm847 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 pm790 views Finding a home for the bones of Tam Pa Ling here in the capital city of Laos has special meaning for me.Drought and pilgrimage at the Cara Blanca Pools, BelizeJun 13, 2016 1:00 pm787 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. On the campaign trail: Breaking away from the packApr 20, 2016 11:15 am776 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.One lucky dogOct 16, 2017 9:00 am741 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 am711 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.BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world - Climbing higherDec 31, 2015 9:15 pm688 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.Titan the survivorNov 21, 2017 8:30 am674 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.Searching for turtles in a sea of grassJun 5, 2018 9:45 am641 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.Mitzi and the giant hairballSep 29, 2017 8:30 am625 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.BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world - on the roadDec 21, 2015 6:30 am607 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.Beautiful MuskSep 18, 2017 8:30 am599 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.Blog: Expedition to the highest lake in the world: The child decidesMar 16, 2016 5:45 pm586 views El Nino stops many – but not all – climbers from scaling Ojos del Salado in 2016Tourists behaving badlyJul 25, 2016 11:45 am580 views So far this year, Yellowstone has seen a record number of visitors – and what seems to be a record number of visitors disobeying the rules.Searching for an ancient Maya pilgrimage path: Fire and waterAug 2, 2017 9:30 am552 views It is our final day in the field and we are searching for the last of the ancient Maya ceremonial pools, Pool 25. Mud sucks at our boots as we wade through a jungle swamp. The sap from black poisonwood trees (Metopium brownie) burns our skin. Spike-covered trees snag us, while others swarm with ants. The grassland around this last pool should be a welcome relief. At the edge of the jungle, however, we are met with cutting grass, aptly named for its razor-sharp edges, rising well above our heads. The knee-deep water hides holes that catch us unaware.Turkey tangoSep 12, 2017 8:30 am525 views During one late October visit to the Mermet Lake Conservation Area in southern Illinois, I noticed a shape approaching from the distance. The day was windy and wet, and my first thought was that a stray garbage can was rolling down the road. As we drove closer, the black-and-white blob resolved into a pair of yearling turkeys (called “jakes”) involved in a tussle.Double the traps, double the turkeysApr 10, 2018 8:45 am520 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!BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world - DAY 1Dec 22, 2015 9:45 pm507 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. Rocks, moss and muddy tree rootsApr 13, 2018 7:45 am473 views It’s a summer day in June, and as my husband and I approach the Great Smoky Mountains National Park visitor center, I have one goal in mind: I want to see something extraordinary. At my request, the ranger at the visitor center pulls out a map, smiles and immediately points to the tallest waterfall in the area: Ramsey Cascades. Getting there will require hiking a rugged 8-mile trail that gains 2,200 feet in elevation. Our reward: a 100-foot waterfall – something you won’t find in Illinois.Learning from the LencaJan 29, 2018 9:00 am433 views The warmth of the cookstove fire belies the blustery wind outside, whipping through the pines and occasionally lifting the corrugated steel roof under which we sit uneasily. I am with my volunteer interpreter/research assistant/daughter, sitting at a small wooden table in the kitchen. We are in Llano Largo, the highest point in Central America and also the client community of my course in international water-system design, Honduras Water Project.Serpents of the BadlandsOct 24, 2017 9:45 am430 views Tchk-tchk-tchktchk I stop dead in my tracks. Despite the howling prairie winds, that unmistakable sound cuts through the bluster and into my ears. My eyes search the ground, scanning through the prairie grasses, yucca, scoria and prickly pear. Nothing.Healing Peter with T-shirts and silverOct 9, 2017 8:45 am419 views As a veterinary dermatologist, I see my share of unusual cases. I’ve treated a cheetah with dental disease, an itchy wallaroo, an alpaca with allergies and an alligator snapping turtle with an obstructed throat. But infections in dogs, cats and other critters can be among the most difficult conditions to treat.