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  • Illinois Natural History Survey medical entomologist Jiayue (Gabriel) Yan peers through a viewing port as he works inside a sealed glove box, using tongs to carefully handle Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.

    Starving mosquitoes for science

    On a scorching summer day, I’m at work in the heart of the arthropod containment laboratory of the Medical Entomology Program. I place my hands in the rubber gloves that reach into a sealed workspace called the glove box, swiftly maneuvering to grab fully engorged mosquitoes. These insects have just fed on a blood meal infected with live dengue virus. They are now resting calmly on a chilled Petri dish, thanks to the low temperatures provided by the ice below.

  • Graduate student Emma Lundin sitting on a boulder with the forest behind her

    Exploring multispecies relationships by walking 'with' the forest in Sri Lanka

    Emma Lundin, a graduate student in tourism at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, discusses her research in a rainforest in Sri Lanka, exploring how to create sustainable nature-based tourist experiences by walking "with" the forest.

  • Microscope image

    Tracking the traffic between our cells

    We adjust a lens, and a bright constellation swirls into view – points of colored light hung against a deep-hued backdrop. They are not stars, but extracellular vesicles: tiny packages of molecular cargo in nanosized lipid carriers, released by all cells in the body. We are launching a new project with the goal of not only visualizing EVs in living tissue, but also tracking their dynamics. We have been named 2023 Allen Distinguished Investigators by the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation for this purpose.

  • Photo of workers on the slop of Altgeld Hall's roof with the bell tower in the background and tiles piled on wooden planks on the roof.

    Renovating historic Altgeld Hall

    The slabs of sandstone that make Altgeld Hall one of the most recognizable buildings on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus have been covered in scaffolding for months. But the results of the renovation work going on there are apparent, as the dark gray stone is restored to a pinkish hue. The work is part of a multiphase project that includes exterior and interior restoration of the building.

  • Photo of Deke Weaver and other performers holding whale puppets.

    ‘CETACEAN’ performance shows connections between whales’ environment and humans

    Shafts of sunlight are coming through the skylights of the Stock Pavilion on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus, illuminating swirls of dust stirred up as several people standing on the dirt floor uncoil ropes, pulling them taut and twirling them in circles like lassos. It looks like the setting for a rodeo, but this is a nautical environment.

    “CETACEAN (The Whale),” the latest multimedia performance in “The Unreliable Bestiary,” tells stories about eco-anxiety and resilience in adjusting to changing conditions.

  • Photo of a gardener in a sun hat with yellow flowers in the foreground.

    Volunteers maintain ‘first gallery’ of flowers outside Krannert Art Museum

    It’s one of the hottest days of the summer, but a dozen people have gathered with their water bottles, sun hats and gardening tools in front of Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. They're starting early in the morning, before it gets even hotter, amid blooms of pink, purple, yellow, orange and white. They're clipping the spent flowers from zinnias and the dead leaves from day-lilies, weeding and watering.

  • Kenneth Nixon, left, talks to police recruits about his own wrongful conviction at age 19 for a murder he did not commit.

    Changing police culture with stories of wrongful convictions

    I’m in a room with more than 100 police recruits and I can’t believe what I’m hearing. The future police officers are learning about the devastating consequences of criminal prosecutions gone wrong. These aren’t just abstract stories. More than a dozen exonerees are here to share their stories with the police recruits.

  • The author, Juliana Soto, holds a sooty ant tanager.

    Following in the footsteps of early 20th century naturalist Elizabeth Kerr

    Trek through Colombia with graduate student Juliana Soto, who, with her all-female team of Colombian ornithologists, revisits landscapes to study and document the birds of the region. In preparing for the expedition, Soto discovered the work of naturalist Elizabeth Kerr, who in the early 20th century collected wild bird specimens in Colombia for the American Museum of Natural History.

  • Photo of two chimes players moving the levers to play the Altgeld Chimes, seen from below.

    Preserving the sound of the Altgeld Chimes

    Early on a sunny Sunday morning, the chimes tower in Altgeld Hall is filling up with people. Students climb the steep staircase to the tower, several of them carrying snacks. They are all chimes players who will perform for a recording of chimes music.

  • Photo shot from overhead of a line of people walking down a circular staircase.

    'Blind Field Shuttle' brings a new perspective to campus walk

    University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign staff and students took part in the participatory artwork “Blind Field Shuttle” by artist Carmen Papalia, which offers participants the opportunity to explore the world without sight.

  • Landowners gather in a circle at a field site.

    Preserving Illinois forests, one landowner at a time

    Go Behind the Scenes with U. of I. Extension forestry and research specialist Christopher Evans, who leads a training program for landowners who want to learn how to maintain healthy forests.

  • Photo of Tyrone Phillips standing in an empty theater and smiling and gesturing, wearing a White Sox ball cap and a black hoodie.

    Returning to Illinois theatre to direct, mentor students

    Tyrone Phillips, an Illinois theatre program alumnus and the artistic director of Chicago’s Definition Theatre, returned to direct students in a play this spring.

  • Greenhouse student worker Eric Sylvester cuts dead branches from a queen sago palm tree.

    Nurturing a tropical paradise in the heart of the Midwest

    Lexi Gomez is knee-deep in a pond when I first see her in the U. of I. Plant Biology Greenhouse and Conservatory. A fifth-year senior who will graduate this semester, Gomez dips a net in the dark water to clear the pond of debris fallen from the lush jungle of tropical plants that looms above. She attacks the work with gusto.

  • Jessica Brinkworth’s daughter, Jordan Brinkworth-Sykes, age 10, plays the game “Stop the Pathogens!” created by U. of I. student Claire von Ebers in the evolutionary immunology class.

    Teaching generations of students about outbreaks – with art

    Most people don’t visit the health department to view student art, but here we are, in the busy main hall of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District. We are wearing face masks, reading artist statements and reviewing more than a dozen visual and digital explorations of influenza, respiratory syncytial virus, COVID-19 and – the trickiest of all health topics – human behavior. Nurses and dental assistants whiz by with young patients. People walk by to pick up birth certificates. Two kids sit in a corner and play with one of the art pieces.

    It’s obvious this isn’t just an art show. It’s an end-of-term presentation designed by students in my evolutionary immunology class for students in kindergarten through the eighth grade. These creative works are meant to show the youngsters how to prevent the spread of respiratory infections in the community. These kids are using the art exactly the way it was intended.

  • Photo of a woman pulling a lever on a letterpress while another student watches. They are framed by parts of the machine in the foreground.

    Using a 19th-century hand press to teach history of printing technologies

    Three students gather around an old iron letterpress at the Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab, preparing to make a print using 19th-century technology. The press requires all three students to operate it.

  • Photo of three women dancing in a studio. One is wearing a blue, black, white and green-striped sweater; one is in a lavendar sports bra; and one has a light blue baseball shirt knotted mid-torso.

    Bringing a game to life through dance

    I'm in my little sister's room, where I've grabbed her Bop It! toy from her desk. I will use this toy to structure the dance I'm choreographing. I have my little black notebook and favorite black pen nearby. My phone leans against my computer, ready to record. I pull the Bop It! lever to start the game.

  • Beveroth bands a magnolia warbler.

    A marvelous morning of migratory bird banding

    My alarm is going off as I quietly, yet eagerly, get out of bed at the dark and early time of 4 a.m.  Today, I get to do something that I love and that also benefits bird conservation.

    I arrive just before dawn at the U. of I.’s Phillips Tract, a former farm that is now a 130-acre natural area just east of Urbana and is used for scientific research and student training. I unlock the gate, park and gather the supplies I keep on site. Then I wait for the volunteers to arrive. The team today is a dedicated mix of staff, graduate students and undergraduates – all of whom are committed to helping capture, band and monitor the birds that use this site.

     

     

  • Photo of Tamar Dallal wearing a face mask and seated at a table, with a low, curving vase in the foreground and twig of red maple leaves coming from the vase.

    Vivifying ikebana: Japanese flower arranging

    Sitting at the long covered tables in the heart of Japan House, I close my eyes. All 18 of us do. We are students in the Japan House class Ikebana: The Art of Japanese Flower Arrangement. Professor Kimiko Gunji is introducing our sixth ikebana arrangement, and this is our first step. My socked feet glide on the smooth hardwood floor as I sit in silence and think. What kokoro – emotion, essence, idea – do I want to convey?

  • Several chickens gather around

    Learning from chickens

    The first thing I notice when we step through white double doors of the growers’ house is that every one of the 1,200 or so chickens in this enormous room has stopped whatever it was doing to stare at us. A few of the birds step closer, peering at our legs as if they want to peck our shoes. But they don’t. They’re just curious. Chickens, I realize, are gawkers.

  • Photo of the author

    Bringing an enslaved potter's story to the Met

    As we climb the mountain of stairs that leads to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and step inside, I’m struck by the scale and grandeur of what lies before me and the complexity, beauty and discourse it offers. I want to take in the entire museum, but I am most excited to see the stoneware jug that I first encountered while excavating in 2011. This jug is part of the museum’s “Hear Me Now: The Black Potters of Old Edgefield, South Carolina” exhibition.

  • Aerial photo facing east – all the white smudges are ancestral Maya mounds.

    Exploring an ancestral Maya neighborhood

    We stand in the open fields of Spanish Lookout, a modernized Mennonite farming community in Central Belize, looking at what remains of ancestral Maya homes after years of plowing. White mounds, the remnants of these houses, pock the landscape as far as the eye can see, a stark reminder of what existed more than 1,000 years ago. The collapsed buildings look like smudges on an aerial photograph, but as archaeologists, we get to see them up close. With enough excavation and interpretation, we can eventually make sense of how these dwellings functioned in the deep human past.

  • The team searches atop a bluff not far from the Rio Grande.

    Searching the Texas brushland for a rare, temperamental plant

    The author and her colleagues search a South Texas scrubland for the federally endangered Zapata bladderpod, Physaria thamnophila. This rare endemic plant, a member of the mustard family, is named for the region and is found in only two counties in the United States.

  • Young whip-poor-will on the ground blends in with the leaf litter

    Waiting for the sun to set to find a rare bird

    When most people are just getting home from their workdays, I’m about to start mine. I am a researcher studying the breeding behavior of the Eastern whip-poor-will (Antrostomus vociferus), a cryptic bird that is primarily active after sunset as it forages on the wing for moths. So – for the summer, at least – I also am nocturnal.

  • Photo of the researcher seated on a bluff overlooking former jungle and farmlands in Belize.

    Rescuing ancient Maya history from the plow

    Things have changed since I was last in Belize in 2018, when I excavated the ancestral Maya pilgrimage site Cara Blanca. Thousands of acres of jungle are gone, replaced by fields of corn and sugarcane. Hundreds of ancestral Maya mounds are now exposed in the treeless landscape, covered by soil that is currently plowed several times a year.

    Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I was awarded a three-year National Science Foundation grant to conduct a salvage archaeology project here in Belize. The goal is to collect as much information as possible before the mounds are plowed away.

  • Spangler, wearing an orange U. of I. sweatshirt, smiles as she grasps a pork loin with tongs over a hot grill.

    Making meat much more than a meal

    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.

  • Photo of seven people in bright blue happi coats in a long, low Japanese riverboat on a pond.

    Building a traditional Japanese boat

    Japan House offered a Japanese boatbuilding apprenticeship, where students worked with boatbuilding expert Douglas Brooks to build a traditional riverboat in six days.

  • students Duncan McMillan and Mary Kate Baughman work on solving a puzzle in an escape room.

    Creating an escape room experience

    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.

  • A 6-foot wide gravel path snakes through Fred and Nancy Delcomyn’s backyard prairie, seen here in early November.

    Building back a tiny piece of prairie

    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.

  • Shelby Lawson stands in a grassy area with binoculars around her neck.

    Staging a threatening encounter at a blackbird nest

    It’s early morning, about 6 a.m. A light fog has settled over the marsh. I park my car, step out and double-check my backpack for all the necessary equipment before heading out. After a short walk on a narrow paved path, I veer into the unmarked marsh. I’m here to study how red-winged blackbirds respond to the vocalizations that signal nearby nest parasites called brown-headed cowbirds.

  • Three men stand in the woods near a depressed track and a fallen tree.

    Exploring the remnants of an ancient forest

    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.

  • Vector ecologist Holly Tuten stands under a tree and buttons up her white coveralls.

    Hunting a creature that hunts me

    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.

  • Gloved hands hold an Indiana bat.

    In pursuit of Indiana bats

    An hour before the sun goes down, my colleagues and I arrive at our site: a human-made pond in the middle of the forest. The high-pitched croaking of Cope's gray treefrogs greets us as we get out of our truck. Surrounded by trees and full of salamanders, these ponds are an essential water resource for our forest-dependent bats. We do a brief survey of the site, then set up our mist nets around the pond’s perimeter. We’re hoping to catch our target species – the Indiana bat, Myotis sodalis.

  • Two Brood X adults of the genus Magicicada rest on a fern leaf.

    Taking a cicada road trip

    CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – A tough semester and an even tougher year have just ended. I need a break. I’m fully vaccinated and want to escape the yearlong lockdown. And I’m an entomologist. What do I do?

    I grab my best friend, also an entomologist, and we hit the road, of course. This is the year of my people’s “Woodstock.”

     

  • A gloved researcher holds an Eastern red bat, Lasiurus borealis.

    Catching bats for conservation

    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.

  • Young woman sits on a fallen tree in the woods.

    Pondering a university's ecological impact

    Earth Day has one science writer pondering how much research conducted at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has direct ecological implications.

  • Photo of sea lions gathered on the breeding beaches of one of the Channel Islands

    Connecting a virus to cancer – in sea lions

    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.

  • Image of the word "Goodenough" from a gravestone.

    Hunting Goodenough Days

    HUNTING GOODENOUGH DAYS aptly describes what I am doing during the isolation of 2020. These words are surnames found among the 7,000 headstones that I have photographed during my travels to cemeteries seeking new names that are parts of speech – words that I can use to create poetry for my visual books that investigate language, history and life’s events.

  • Lupas processes a tissue sample for analysis.

    Adjusting to these 'ever-changing times'

    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.

  • Photo of a wooden boardwalk (with wooden rails) cutting through tall vegetation on either side. The sun rises to the right, casting long shadows on the boardwalk, which doglegs to the left a bit.

    Finding one elusive bird

    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.

  • Scene of wetland with low-growing vegetation and flowers in the foreground, yellowing grasses beyoond that and a line of immature trees in the distance.

    Unearthing a fossorial snake

    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.

  • A heap of thick noodles is topped with a pile of crushed peanuts, scallions and red chili.

    Celebrating our diversity

    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.

     

  • A male M. dorsatus calls loudly from a compass plant flower stem in Loda Cemetery Prairie Nature Reserve.

    Following the sounds of prairie cicadas

    When I arrive at the Loda Cemetery Prairie Nature Preserve, Katie Dana is already out there. She’s wearing knee-high boots to ward off chiggers and ticks, and she’s carrying an insect net. Dana is on the prowl for cicadas: the loudest insects on the planet. On this hot summer day, they do not disappoint. The males are in full chorus.

  • Photo of a hand holding a Blanding's turtle that has retreated into its shell.

    Gathering data to save a rare turtle

    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.

  • Entomology professor Alexandra Harmon-Threatt stands in a prairie with a clipboard in her hands. She is wearing a hat, a long-sleeved shirt and a mask. In the background, undergraduate student Sabine Miller carries a bucket of sandbags used to weigh down the tent traps.

    Building a prairie and watching for bees

    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.

  • Tommy McElrath stands in tall prairie and swings his net after a bumble bee.

    Chasing bumble bees on a patch of prairie

    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.

  • Gary Stitt, 61, stretches his arms to the sky as people gather for a Dance for People with Parkinson’s class at Krannert Center.

    Grace and healing: Parkinson's dance class opens pathways to body and mind

    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.

  • “All these native stories talk about what happens when you die: Your soul goes to the edge of the world, jumps into the Milky Way and climbs into the sky,” says Illinois State Archaeological Survey director Timothy Pauketat.

    Rediscovering a path to the Milky Way

    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.

  • The team: Doctoral students Amir Malvandi and Nahla Kreidly, and food science professor Graciela Padua standing in their lab at the Agricultural Engineering Sciences Building.

    Dehydrating plant proteins at the speed of sound

    Food scientists at the University of Illinois devised an energy-efficient, cost-effective method for drying plant proteins using high-frequency ultrasound.

  • Bioengineering professor and Cancer Center at Illinois director Rohit Bhargava

    Rohit Bhargava: My path to Illinois

    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.

  • Photo of social work professor Will Schneider standing with arms crossed in front of the logo at the School of Social Work

    Will Schneider: My path to Illinois

    Social work professor Will Schneider examines trends in child maltreatment and suggests that interventions for child neglect overlook the most likely cause.