Health and Science

VIDEO: WGN’s Paul Lisnek talks economics, Obamacare and the mayoral runoff

By Andrew Fowler and Matt Yurus

Medill’s Andrew Fowler and Matt Yurus bring you an in-depth conversation with WGN Political Analyst Paul Lisnek.  The TV and raido show host and author shares his perspective on Gov. Bruce Rauner’s plan to close the budget gap and diminish union power, a Supreme Court case that could end the Affordable Care Act and the one thing Chicagoans should ask themselves before voting in the runoff election on April 7.

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Senior centers rev up physical activities

By Siyao Long

Senior centers are no longer about Bingo for the 80-year-olds.  As more younger seniors in their 60s are coming in, North Center Satellite Senior Center added  Zumba dancing, line dancing and more physical activities to the programs.

Helen Tubog seeks out Zumba rather than Bingo at the senior center.

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Experts predict rise in heart infection with increase of heroin use

By Dani Anguiano

An infectious disease that can affect intravenous drug users is expected to increase as a result of rising rates of heroin use across the United States, according to Sharon Kelley, CEO of Associates in Emergency Medical Education based in Tampa, Florida.

“We’re already seeing increases of Endocarditis from all the increase in IV drug use,” Kelley said of the potentially life-threatening heart infection that affects heart valves by causing them to malfunction.

According to Dr. Robert Sade, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, there is a relationship between the condition and intravenous drug use. Continue reading

3D printing just became more delicious

By: Lucy Vernasco

3D printing is more delicious than ever. With more than 1,000 Kickstarter backers, PancakeBot is the world’s first 3D pancake printer.

“It’s a project I did for my kids to get them inspired. It’s a family project,” Miguel Valenzuela said about his invention. Valenzuela is a civil engineer, inventor and father living in Norway.

PancakeBot was first prototyped as a LEGO model before Valenzuela made it into the current machine.

Launched in 2013, PancakeBot won’t hit stores until mid 2015, but Kickstarter backers can get their own for half the anticipated retail price by pledging $149 dollars.

“I’ve always wanted to dabble with 3D printing, especially since it was coming online with Makerbot,” Valenzuela said. “I learned how to program with LEGO code, pretty much spent six months making a pancake machine out of LEGOs. We posted the video on YouTube and then it went viral. It was all made out of LEGOs except for the ketchup bottle”

The idea originated with a question from Valenzuela’s daughter as he was reading an article in Make Magazine about prototyping with LEGO, Valenzuela said.

“My daughter Lily asked, ‘What are you doing, dad?’ and I said I was reading about a guy who made a pancake stamping machine out of LEGOs. Her eyes opened up really big, and she turned to Maya, her sister, and yelled, ‘Papa’s going to build a pancake machine out of LEGOs!’”

Valenzeula began bringing his PancakeBot LEGO prototype to Maker Faires including one at The White House. After partnering with StoreBound, he began a Kickstarter campaign in order to reach a wider audience and bring the project to stores later this year.  PancakeBot, which comes with pre-loaded designs and an SD card for custom designs, lets users create pancakes in any pattern they can dream of.

And, yes, then you pour syrup on it and eat it. Valenzeula reveals more secrets about his Bot.

How long does the process take?

It depends on the size of the pancake, of course. For a simple one it can trace something out in 45 seconds to a couple of minutes, the outline of it, and then it needs to come back to fill. You can do the fill by hand, or you can do the fill with PancakeBot. You’re looking at three to four minutes for a decent sized pancake with a custom design and logo on it.

How does PancakeBot work?

The way it works is that you import the image for the background into the software. Then you have a window where you trace over the background. You trace lines. There are no curves, just lines. If you want to draw a circle, you draw a bunch of small lines. Once you draw your dark lines, you go back and you click a [15 second delay] into it. That allows the brown stuff to cook and get browner. Then you come back and do the fill. The fill fills it in with a lighter batter. Then you give it a flip and you have your image revealed to you. Every time you flip the pancake you don’t know exactly what you’re going to get, because you don’t know how long it’s cooked. The cool thing is the reveal. Like ‘ooh look at that, it came out perfect.’

PancakeBot printing a butterfly pancake
PancakeBot printing a butterfly pancake

You can print layers, but it’s very limited in the amount of layers it’ll print. The main thing is that pancake batter is in this liquid form, so it’s not like taking an apple and making it into liquid form and squirting it out. So there’s a natal progression of going from pancake batter to pancake. That’s what’s really cool about this. For stuff that has the same viscosity as pancake batter and you can cook it, the sky’s the limit on that. We use 3D printing technology and it uses the idea of food and cooking. It’s the only printer out there that actually cooks food while it’s being made. We went from LEGO to this.

How do you hope people use Pancake Bot?

Number one, I hope people will make pancakes out of it. I don’t want it to end there. I want people to look at what we’ve created here as a tool for learning, a tool for exploration and a tool for inspiring kids to look at technology in a different way. Now what we’re doing is we’re putting a computer system and machine into the kitchen and you can tell it what to do. You’re the artist now. We’re looking into allowing the user to hack it. They can upload their own programs to it, and draw out custom shapes. It would be nice to see it at places like Disney Land, resorts, hotels.

Completed PancakeBot pancake
Completed PancakeBot pancake

Do you ever get tired of pancakes?

The kids still love pancakes. They never get sick of them. I love pancakes too, so I think that shows a little bit. What the challenge is is challenging ourselves to come up with different designs and pushing ourselves to see what we can come up with and things like that.

Have your kids been inspired from you invention?

Totally! Now my kids are inventing stuff and making things. They’re playing with robotics and [are] interested in programming. The kids look at things differently now. They say, “Dad, can you build a robot for this?” They’re seeing now that technology can be used on a daily basis.

This project would not have been possible without the Maker community, because this is one of the reasons we decided to do it, is to inspire kids to get involved with technology. The Maker community has been very awesome in helping us out.

Photo at top: A butterfly pancake created by PancakeBot.

Food waste in the crosshairs of NUvention entrepreneurs

By Bryce Gray

That tomato on your salad and other produce items across the U.S. endure an odyssey of more than 1,300 miles from the field to your local grocery store. That journey not only costs energy, but also time that cuts into shelf life and contributes to $7 billion worth of domestic food waste annually.

When it comes to freshness, the dizzying logistics of this system require food to be picked when under-ripe and treated with chemicals and costly refrigeration until it reaches far-off consumers.

“This is a very complex system,” said Aidan Mouat, a chemistry Ph.D. candidate and the CEO of Hazel Technologies, speaking at last week’s end-of-term presentations for entrepreneurial NUvention Energy students at Northwestern University. “We’d like to say, ‘Let’s stop all that. Let’s just come up with a solution that works well and drops into a number of different spaces and just stops that senescence process – that ripening process.’” Continue reading

Southeast Siders: No End in Sight For Pet Coke

By Sarah Kramer

Jessica Loy had lived in her new two-story home for three months when her youngest son, Carlos Gonzalez, Jr., 5, started showing the same symptoms of asthma his twin sister, Carla Gonzalez.

Carla has suffered from asthma since she was a baby, Loy said, but Carlos didn’t have a history of the same problems. He’d never needed a nebulizer treatment. Now he does. Now Loy has to convince the energetic kindergartner to sit still for 10 minutes, breathing in vaporized liquid through a small plastic mask, twice every day.

“My doctor asked me what happened, what did you do differently?” Loy said. “Nothing. We just moved.” Continue reading

Chris Borland’s Early Retirement Raises Questions About Football’s Future

By Bennet Hayes

The Monday retirement of Chris Borland, 24 years young and poised for a successful and lucrative NFL career, has sparked serious concern that on-field safety issues may turn young players away from football.

Dave Jacobs, the VP of Health and Safety for Chicagoland Youth Football League, said Borland’s decision is likely to increase already prevalent concerns about the safety of football, particularly among parents contemplating their children’s participation in the sport.

“For lack of better words, we’re under attack,” Jacobs said. “The game is as safe as it’s ever been, but I think we now have the biggest challenge yet to make sure kids still enjoy the sport and are coming out to play it.” Continue reading

Creative. Energetic. Talkative. Narcoleptic?

By Priyam Vora

“It was what everybody jokes about when somebody falls asleep somewhere in a chair at a holiday party like you know ‘Oh you must be narcoleptic,” said Regis Watson, Annie’s mother. “I mean it was always a joke.”

Annie was diagnosed with narcolepsy when she was 6 years old, a long painful year after Annie started showing symptoms when she was 5.

“It took us some time before we knew Annie had narcolepsy because she was just so bright,” said Regis Watson, Annie’s mother. “She is fabulously smart.”

Video reporting by Priyam Vora/Medill; videography by Ronak Vora

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that impacts 1 in 2,000 people in the U.S., according to Narcolepsy Network. The disorder is characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness and an overwhelming sense of tiredness and fatigue throughout the day. Continue reading

Chicago start-ups embrace digital health

By Jin Wu

2014 proved to be a stellar year for digital health. According to data from Startup Health, a New York based digital health accelerator, $6.5 billion was invested into the digital health sector in 2014, up 124 percent from 2013. The money is coming not only from venture capital, but also from the private sector as well as individual partners. Continue reading

Jails lack resources to care for heroin addicts, experts say

By Dani Anguiano

Sonja Radtke, 30, a recovering heroin addict, says experiencing heroin withdrawal feels a lot like going through hell, but it is much worse in jail where treatment is limited.

“Like, I throw up blood and have seizures when I get sick, but [jail staff] really don’t do anything,” Radtke said of her withdrawal experience while incarcerated in an Illinois jail.

Similarly, Chenel Jones said the pain that she experienced while withdrawing from heroin was so intense that she became delusional.

“Because it’s hell,” Jones said. “I just asked God to take my life. I had gave up – it’s so painful and it’s so sickening.”

The jails where Radtke and Jones experienced withdrawal are among the more than 5,000 jails and prisons across the United States, many of which lack the resources to provide treatment for heroin withdrawal and detoxification. The National Commission on Correctional Health Care says methadone-based treatment is highly effective for opiate addiction, but only a handful of facilities have a methadone program, such as Rikers Island’s Key Extended Entry Program. Heroin use has reportedly skyrocketed across the country in recent years leaving more and more facilities ill-equipped to offer treatment. Continue reading