Spring 2017

Severe storms lab developing remote flash flood sensing system

By Puja Bhattacharjee

Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center, the oldest church camp in Oklahoma, hosts more than 50,000 kids and teens who come for summer camp each year. Falls Creek originates from the Washita River in Murray County and flows directly into the campgrounds named for it.

But flash floods now menace the camp and the facility all but closed after a 2015 flood left a few hundred campers stranded for more than 36 hours. So far, scientists do not know what caused the flooding.

With warming global temperatures, though, flash floods are becoming an increasing threat across many area of the US. So on a balmy April morning this spring, three researchers from the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) in Norman, Okla., drive more than 60 miles to the camp in a black pickup truck crammed with instruments in big boxes.

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After-school program teaches native children their heritage

By Jiayan Jenny Shi

Kelly Summers, 44, is a Chicago-born Native American who volunteers with Native Scholars, an after-school tutoring program at the American Indian Association of Illinois (AIAI). Every Tuesday afternoon, native children across Chicago meet at a church basement in Andersonville where they get homework assistance and cultural instruction.

Summers learned cultural traditions at a Menominee Indian reservation and from her late father. Now she tutors native children as a way to give back to the community and continue her father’s dream and mission.

Photo at top: Kelly Summers assists native children in their homework at the after-school program on May 16. (Jiayan Jenny Shi/MEDILL)

Building a better tornado warning system

By Puja Bhattacharjee

People start trickling into the National Severe Storms Laboratory holding coffee cups and laptops. By 8 a.m., eight people fill a room for the Spring Experiment. The laboratory in Norman, Okla., is open all year. But now it’s tornado season.

Researchers, forecasters, software developers, IT personnel and scientists from different parts of the country have come together for the annual experimental program held during the spring severe weather season to test and evaluate new techniques and tools for hazardous weather forecasting.

One of the goals this year is to continue testing software that could possibly eradicate false alarms, issue more accurate and detailed warnings for tornadoes and other severe weather. “The false alarm ratio of a one-hour forecast of a tornado should be smaller in the future if the research pans out – meaning fewer one-hour forecasts of tornadoes will be wrong,” says Greg Stumpf, who heads this program.

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Making materials in space – freeze it first

This summer a team of Northwestern University undergraduates will finalize instrumentation designs for a NASA satellite mission that will test the manufacturing of materials while in orbit.  The students are building the device for SpaceICE to study freeze-casting, a process that could eventually be used to build materials on other planets in space colonies.

“In terms of science fiction, the perfect use [of freeze-casting] would be to use soil on Mars and on the moon” to make bricks or other necessities. “We hope we will impact the creation of the first space habitats from planetary sources,” said materials science Professor David Dunand, the lead advisor for the SpaceICE project.

Why the Cavs’ future depends on these NBA Finals…

By Allie Burger

It’s now…or maybe not for a long time for the Cleveland Cavaliers if they don’t win the 2017 NBA Finals. Here’s a breakdown of all the moving parts in their organization that could be affected if they lose.

Photo at top: The Cleveland Cavaliers are tied for the oldest team in the NBA and do not have a draft pick until 2019. (Allie Burger/MEDILL)

Student researchers move step by step to prepare for NASA launch

By Lily Williams

A combined team of undergraduates at Northwestern University and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign are working together to build a satellite and instruments to test the fabrication of building materials in space.

The NASA mission is due to launch into orbit in the summer of 2018. It has two parts: a box-like satellite called a CubeSat (UIUC’s job) and a payload of instruments (NU’s job at the SpaceICE lab) to test freeze-casting . The instrumentation will freeze suspensions and study the corrugated structures of materials left behind in the freezing and thawing process. The undergraduate-only collaboration will determine if freeze-casting could be a viable mechanism for fabricating many different materials, from fuel cells to cocoa tablets, both on Earth and eventually on other planets.

The work is complex, rigorous and constantly evolving, especially because, as students graduate, they need to be replaced and re-trained from the ground up. Each university team not only has to design and test their own product, but also make sure that CubeSat and the SpaceICE payload work together.

Below are some photos that attempt to chronicle the day-to-day tasks of both teams, at NU and UIUC, where the satellite makers  need to configure their spacecraft for the instrumentation.

Photo at top: Northwestern materials science and engineering senior Jonathan Young spoons his suspension into the collection vestibule of the freezing instrument SpaceICE has specially designed for their research. (Lily Williams/MEDILL)

Mole brings Pilsen community together

By Alissa Anderegg

At the annual Mole de Mayo Festival, thousands of hungry Chicagoans come to explore the authentic Mexican flavors of the Pilsen neighborhood. This year’s festival marks the eighth anniversary of the event, where locals and visitors come to taste some of the best mole dishes in Chicago. Each year Mole de Mayo features a mole contest, where restaurants compete with their versions of the Mexican staple. The festival is organized by the Eighteenth Street Development Corporation, a non-profit organization that has been serving the Pilsen neighborhood for more than three decades.

Mole tacos are served at the eighth annual Mole de Mayo Festival. (Alissa Anderegg/MEDILL)

Video: Chicago co-ops gain momentum as sustainability, locavore movements grow

By Grace Austin

Today’s food co-ops in Chicago are not your hippie commune cooperatives of the 1960s and 1970s. They are for-profit businesses that are focused on local, healthy and sustainable produce and goods. But they are keeping the democratic nature of a traditional co-op as well as the emphasis on community engagement and philanthropy work.

Within the past few years, there has been a resurgence of co-ops across the country. Currently, there are about 150 that belong to the National Co+op Grocers association and about 130 are in the start-up phase.

In Northern Illinois, there are co-ops opening in Elgin, Rockford, McHenry, and Batavia.

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Rogers Park mac and cheese spot regrouped and reopened

By Mike Davis

Sometimes success forces businesses to take a step back. That’s what happened to the Midnight Mac and Cheeserie in Rogers Park.

After a crazy opening weekend in which owner and chef Antony van Zyl ran out of mac and cheese three days straight, he decided it was time to expand. Since then, he’s doubled the dining area, the kitchen space, and even hired more people.

Van Zyl didn’t anticipate the crowded start from day one.

“You have to build your business, you have to fight to get it going,” van Zyl said. “And that’s the way things normally work…it didn’t quite work that way.”

The Midnight Mac and Cheeserie operates daily from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Photo at top: The Midnight Mac and Cheeserie re-opens in Rogers Park after a busy first weekend. (Mike Davis/MEDILL)

Chicago fast-food workers continue call for a $15 minimum wage

By Wenjing Yang

Deshawn Bell, 35, is a fast food worker in Chicago. He has been working at a McDonald’s restaurant for the past ten years and struggles to make ends meet. He joined a march on May 23rd in downtown Chicago that drew 1,500 demonstrators from across the nation to call for a $15 minimum wage. The march was organized by the union-backed advocacy group ‘Fight for $15’ and was timed to send a message the day before the McDonald’s annual stockholder meeting.

McDonald’s Corp. had revenue of $24.62 billion in 2016. Every year, the company and its franchisees employ hundreds of thousands of people, but has long been a target of complaints about the wages it pays those workers.

The Oak Brook, Ill.-based fast food giant increased its hourly wages to $1 above local minimum wage at corporate-owned restaurants in 2015.

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