General Interest

Freeze-casting materials in space: Meeting the challenges of vacuums and microgravity

Northwestern University’s SpaceICE team, led by Northwestern Professor David Dunand, is preparing to test freeze-casting of materials in space, in collaboration with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Bradley University. Fabricating materials is essential for a journey to Mars or for future space colonies. The SpaceICE team is pioneering the freeze-casting instrumentation for the small CubeSat, a cubic satellite that UIUC is building for the 2018 NASA-funded mission. Medill reporter Lakshmi Chandrasekaran is embedding with the researchers as the mission efforts rev up this summer.

By Lakshmi Chandrasekaran

I was meeting with Krysti Scotti, who kick- started the Northwestern University’s SpaceICE project in the Dunand Lab while she was still an undergraduate. She just finished her bachelor’s degree this spring and is starting work on her Ph.D. as SpaceICE readies for a space launch.

While waiting for Krysti to arrive at the lab, I met with another of Dunand’s first-year Ph.D. students, Stephen Wilke, as he completed freeze-casting experiments with iron oxide nanopowder. We chatted for a bit and I learned that his wife (a fifth year Ph.D. student in environmental sciences at NU) is pursuing a career in science writing in California through a mass communication fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. It is a small world and I often seem to be running into Ph.D.s, pursuing science communication as a career! That’s what I am doing in graduate school at Medill after working as a science reporter with a Ph.D. in mathematics. The graduate program gives us a chance to embed with science research teams to produce in-depth stories and I am embedding with SpaceICE.

Krysti arrived a bit late for our 11 a.m. meeting and dashed into the lab! “I overslept,” she says. Considering, that she was up until 6 a.m. working on the research, I am not too surprised.

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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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Saint John the Baptist gets a makeover at the Art Institute

By Puja Bhattacharjee

A newly restored “Scenes from the life of Saint John the Baptist” by Bartolommeo di Giovanni is among the paintings and objects on display in “Saints and Heroes: Art of Medieval and Renaissance Europe,” which opened on March 20 at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Scholars believe the painting adorned a Florentine home in the late 1400s. It was a spalliera painting– a painting hung at shoulder height. It was originally part of a series of paintings that would have decorated a room.

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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.

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)

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)

Undergraduate SpaceICE researcher wins prestigious engineering award

By Lily Williams

Undergraduate materials science senior Lauren Kearney heads to Northwestern University’s SpaceICE lab on most days to work on the design for the team’s freeze-casting instrumentation that will launch in a NASA mission next year.

Kearney won one of two of Northwestern’s Hilliard Awards for leadership, scholarship and service. Each year, the university’s materials science and engineering department awards two of its undergraduates the prestigious  award.

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Construction begins on separate bicycle, runner lanes on Chicago lakefront trail

By Grace Austin

The Chicago Lakefront Trail runs for 18 miles along Lake Michigan, drawing in runners, dog walkers, beach goers, roller bladers and bicyclists. It passes marinas, beaches and public art that includes massive sculptures.

But congestion during the warmer months, especially between bike riders and joggers, has created an outcry for separate lanes. With a $12 million gift from Chicago billionaire Ken Griffin, new construction is beginning that will do just this.

Photo at top: Construction will likely take the whole summer to complete, according to the city. Grace Austin/MEDILL