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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Members of the Northwestern University SpaceICE lab present a preliminary design for their freeze-casting instrumentation via conference call with NASA. Materials science Professor David Dunand, (right) directs the SpaceICE lab.
Krysti Scotti solders a new computer for taking temperature readings on suspension samples. The lab mixes suspensions of microscopic particles and water to freeze and thaw. As they freeze the suspensions, they take temperature readings to see how the suspension structures change with the corresponding colder temperatures.
Krysti Scotti teaches Jonathan Young, a SpaceICE undergrad, how to use their multiple hand-built computers for taking temperature readings of suspensions.
Notes and instructions for making the suspension the students will test in freeze-casting. The students have to make their own suspension for testing. It took months to even decide what kind of particles would compose the best kind of suspension for freeze-casting in space. They decided on silver-coated glass particles because they don’t coagulate and they can also remain in suspension for long periods of time without settling out of the suspension.
The circuit board SpaceICE uses is composed of multiple computation systems. The team can order parts of it online, but they ultimately have to manually assemble the boards in a way that will allow them to conduct their own specific experiments.
The spinning fan will take a few hours to freeze the suspension above it in the white container. SpaceICE designed and built this fan instrument.
As part of his senior design project, Jonathan Young sets up the computer program that he will use to test the nucleation point of a suspension he has made. That means the exact moment the suspension begins to freeze.
Three members of the SpaceICE team from left to right: Jessica Li, Yingda Hu and Andy McIntosh. The three have come together for an electronics meeting to discuss some new parts they need to order for the testing instrumentation.
Yingda Hu sketches out a simplified design flow for the electronics of the freeze-casting payload during an electronics meeting. In addition to the programming and electronics team, SpaceICE also has science and engineering teams. Each meet weekly.
UIUC’s clean room. UIUC’s role in the NASA-funded mission is to design CubeSat, the bread box-sized satellite that will house NU’s freeze-casting payload from the SpaceICE lab. The plastic curtains prevent excess dust or potentially harmful debris from contaminating their satellite parts. Students are required to dress in lab coats and gloves before entering the clean room to work on the CubeSat.
Inside UIUC’s clean room, the CubeSat and it’s myriad parts await assembly and testing.
UIUC equipment for designing and conducting experiments. Undergraduates with appropriate training and knowledge will use liquid nitrogen, extremely hot ovens and intense vacuums to study the potential effects of space on their satellite designs.
Every surface of the UIUC lab is covered in instrumentation as CubeSat construction moves forward. Some of this instrumentation is relevant to the project, other instrumentation is there just to satisfy the engineer’c constant curiosity.
A UIUC workstation where undergraduates and graduates can come in to plan and design the CubeSats. UIUC began working on CubeSats in 2001, and students are currently working on five different CubeSat projects. Much of the actual construction work is done in the clean room.
Students at UIUC devised this chamber for testing all of their satellites in zero gravity. The CubeSats will go inside of the cage-like structure, which will detect signals bounced off the instrumentation inside and translate it into data the researchers can interpret.
A list of tasks the UIUC lab teams plan on completing before launch. Each lab has a different mechanism for recording and dividing duties. With so many students coming and going, a white board is a logical way to keep everyone updated.
UIUC students designed and constructed this device for building their own machinery. It could save them time rather than having to outsource production of all of their designs.
Despite designing highly sophisticated instrumentation, UIUC students still rely on post-it notes for reminding others not to interfere with sensitive equipment.
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)
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.
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.
By Alissa Anderegg
Last week, the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago (MSI) unveiled its latest exhibit, Robot Revolution. The national touring exhibit features 40 robots from around the world—including Japan, Poland, Denmark, Germany, China, Canada, South Korea and across the United States. Visitors of all ages can interact with the robots, which are divided into different aspects of robotics: cooperation, skills, smarts and location.
The exhibit also aims to increase student interest and involvement in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields through hands-on interaction with the robots on display. Robot Revolution will run now through February 4, 2018.
Photo at top: RoboThesbian, a life-sized humanoid robot, greets visitors as they enter The Museum of Science and Industry’s latest exhibit, Robot Revolution.(Alissa Anderegg/MEDILL)
By Allie Burger
April is Overflow Action Month on the Chicago River. Because of how the city’s sewer system was designed, sewage can enter the river during heavy rains when the drains overflow.
To promote awareness of the issue, and to encourage water conservation, Friends of the Chicago River invited residents to “photobomb” the river.
Photo at top: The event included almost 200 participants downtown. (Friends of the Chicago River)
By Puja Bhattacharjee
Sean Waugh is building two mobile mesonets from scratch In the Research Vehicle Equipment Bay of the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) in Norman, Okla. These mobile weather stations measure temperature, pressure, humidity and wind in any conditions. But old vehicles with low floors make it difficult to chase tornados and other severe storms across dirt roads and uneven terrain.
So, NSSL rented two pickup trucks from the federal government. NSSL is the weather research lab under the federal government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization (NOAA).
Waugh builds a metal frame around each rental car, one red and one black. The frames hold the instruments to track the intensity of tornadoes and other severe weather. They also shield the cars from hail by adding wire meshing to the tops of the frames.
Spring is a busy time for meteorologists – chasing tornadoes and taking atmospheric measurements to study and analyze during the rest of the year. The season has been quiet so far, this year and for a few years now in the Oklahoma area. Single tornadoes touch down in a day but not the multiples that are so dangerous for communities but offer ideal conditions to study storms. Storm chasers are watching beyond Oklahoma, of course, and Canton, Texas, was hard hit in April. But NSSL did not have an active watch there. So, until the storms show up, lab meteorologists are busy preparing for when it does.