By Lakshmi Chandrasekaran
The house came down piece by numbered piece. In mid-September, the House by Northwestern (HBN) team dismantled the entire home they built over the summer, and FedEx-ed it off to Denver.
The solar-powered sustainable house, Enable is an official entry in the eighth Solar Decathlon competition, sponsored by the United States Department of Energy. Northwestern University will be participating for the first time.
The Solar Decathlon features a total of 11 collegiate teams that includes European teams from Switzerland and Netherlands. The teams compete for a total of $2 million in prize money with the first place team receiving $300,000.
The NU team geared up to the challenge and designed a 994-square-foot house entirely powered by solar energy for the showcase this October in Denver. The competition started in 2002 and is held once every two years. Some of the teams this year are veterans of multiple competitions. And the houses will be open for public tours, showcasing each team’s vision in bringing to life their fully functional solar-powered houses, over two long weekends from October 5- October 9, 2017, and October 12- October 15, 2017.
“This is expected to attract tens of thousands of visitors,” says Manasi Kaushik, a member of the Communications team at HBN and a graduate student at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern.
By Lakshmi Chandrasekaran
“Think of how it wraps completely around our planet, connecting us all as one global family – living and breathing under one shared sky,” says Wilmette artist and environmental activist Ben Whitehouse of the sky. “It only stands to reason we should take great care of it for each other,” he adds.
And Whitehouse hopes to bring people together across cultures to reflect on the beauty of the sky with his latest citizen art event – the Sky Day project.
In order to create an awareness about our rapidly changing environment, Whitehouse created an education-focused non-profit organization called Only One Sky. And the Sky Day project is a unique part of this initiative, where 150 organizations from more than 12 nations and photo buffs from across the United States will take pictures of the sky and tweet them through September 22. If you’d like to participate in the Sky Day Project, take a photo of just the sky, and tweet it with the hashtags: #SkyDayProject and #NU_CCRG. You also can go to the Only One Sky website, click on the Sky Day Project to register and obtain a group-specific handle for your tweets. Photo collages of the sky taken from different regions of Earth will appear on the website.
“The art-based initiative provides a launching point for the use and sharing of science and art-based curriculum” through the skydayproject.org website, says Whitehouse’s collaborator, climate scientist Daniel Horton of Northwestern University. In partnership with Horton and “with the input of talented artists, scientists, parents, educators, writers, child development experts and social scientists we are building Only One Sky as an interactive educational platform to offer teachers, parents and kids imaginative lesson plans, inspiring ideas, great articles, innovative projects, forums for discussion and exciting opportunities for international collaboration,” Whitehouse says. Only One Sky is just getting started and has already posted two educational pieces this week.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
By Wenjing Yang
A silent protest in downtown Chicago attracted 170 survivors of sexual violence, their supporters and victim advocates. The lunch-hour protest was a visual demonstration of the silencing of survivors of sexual violence, the organizers said.
They wore T-shirts bearing the stories of sexual assault survivors in order to raise awareness.
“There’s usually a lot of stigma around sexual violence,” said Brendan Yukins, prevention educator at Rape Victims Advocates. “By having people standing here with shirts that tell their stories, it erases a little bit of that stigma.”
“We are doing it in such a public space,” said Megan Blomquist, director of education and training at RVA. ”This really demonstrates a public show of support for survivors.”
After an hour, they broke the silence.
Photo at top: Participants wearing handmade shirts stand silently. (Wenjing Yang/MEDILL)
By Alissa Anderegg and Stephanie Rothman
Logan Square is a trendy, up-and-coming neighborhood that has seen thriving new businesses and rising rents. But gentrification is pushing out the Latino population that has lived there for decades. According to U.S. Census data, in the last 15 years, Logan Square has seen the most Latino displacement of all 77 Chicago neighborhoods.
Young teens at the Logan Square Neighborhood Association are getting involved to try to preserve their culture in the face of gentrification. These teenage activists are speaking out against the changes that are directly affecting their families, neighbors and local businesses.
Photo at top: An installation dedicated to the heritage of Logan Square families is on display at the XingonX Cultural Festival, sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association. (Alissa Anderegg/MEDILL)