All posts by karynsimpson2018

The Tiniest Terror: The unknown threats behind microplastics, and how researchers are trying to stop them

By Karyn Simpson
Medill Reports

Two summers ago, Lisa Erdle cast a net from a research vessel on Lake Ontario, dissected the unlucky fish in the boat’s laboratory, and placed each of their guts carefully in jars to be frozen and sent back to her lab in Toronto.

“You need a little bit of a strong stomach,” Erdle said of the gory work, but these macabre parcels weren’t the most disturbing product of that trip. It’s what can’t be seen at first glance that is most alarming.

Back at her lab, University of Toronto Ph.D. candidate Erdle puts her carefully stored fish guts through a chemical digestion process that eats away all the organic matter. It’s then that, through the microscope, she can start to see the tell-tale multicolored signs.

Plastic.

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Through the ‘Woof’ – Education could help curb Siem Reap’s sky-high dog population

By Karyn Simpson
Medill Reports

SIEM REAP, Cambodia – “There’s a dog!”

We moved closer to the house and waited patiently for the dog’s barks to bring its owner out to the street – a routine we’d perfected over 10 days of interviews. We learned quickly that, when trying to talk to dog owners in Siem Reap, Cambodia, finding a dog and letting it sound the alarm proved to be the most expedient way to bring its family outside to speak with us.

Finding a dog in Siem Reap’s Svay Dangkum Commune isn’t hard. Overpopulation of dogs is a major issue in the area, and dogs seem to be everywhere – trotting down the orange dirt road in front of us, peeking out from storefronts, napping under tables and digging through the informal garbage dumps that build up on street corners. Some of these dogs belong to owners – residents often let their dogs roam free, as opposed to locking them in a yard or walking them on a leash like “barangs” (western dogs). Some of the dogs that wander the commune, though, are strays or street dogs who must take care of themselves.

But why are there so many dogs, and what can be done to combat overpopulation and improve the health and welfare of both house pets and street dogs in Siem Reap? The matter could be as simple as increasing education and awareness about medical care and sterilization, preliminary research from The School for Field Studies suggests.

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You people are driving me batty: Humans and the noise that comes with them are stressing out Cambodia’s vulnerable bat population

By Karyn Simpson
Medill Reports

SIEM REAP, Cambodia — Passersby usually look at the camera first.

Propped lens-up on an upside-down, red laundry basket in the middle of the street, the setup understandably draws attention. Inevitably, their eyes follow the camera’s angle upward, tilting their heads back to squint at the leaves – or what they think are leaves – rustling on the branches above.

Their eyes widen when they realize that the biggest leaves are actually bats. But recent, preliminary research by The School for Field Studies in Siem Reap, Cambodia, suggests that these bats might be as unsettled by us as we are by them.

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Students apply science to make an environmental difference in Cambodia

By Karyn Simpson
Medill Reports

SIEM REAP, Cambodia – From looking at religious merit release practices in and around Siem Reap, to exploring “pet culture” and animal welfare in households, to investigating the effects of noise pollution on a vulnerable bat population, students at The School for Field Studies in Cambodia are doing more than just studying abroad.

These students are investigating environmental concerns that face Cambodian communities today with hopes that their research can help inform environmental policy and action in the future. Through their programs, SFS is training students to do community-relevant research – that is, research that can make a difference.
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Cambodia meshes traditional and modern worlds in Khmer New Year celebration

By Karyn Simpson
Medill Reports

SIEM REAP, Cambodia – Click. I duck. Click click. I take two steps back, one to the left. Click click. I lift my camera. Focus. Click the shutter once, twice more, and spin around, clutching my camera to my chest and catching a stream of cold water on my back. I’m rapidly getting soaked, but my camera is dry.

With eye-catching decorations, reverent religious ceremonies and near-constant water fights, this past week’s Khmer New Year celebration is every photographer’s dream – and nightmare. Sprinkling people with water is a blessing in many cultures, and while Cambodia’s New Year’s water fights hark back to those customs, holding a camera doesn’t give you immunity to blasts of water from the hoses, buckets and neon water guns that nearly everyone above the age of three seemed to be wielding.

Nevertheless, capturing the beauty of the city festooned in decorations, of Cambodians and foreigners alike diving into the games and water fights, is worth the certain soaking.

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Conservation, Culture, Community: The School for Field Studies in Cambodia

By Karyn Simpson
Medill Reports

SIEM REAP, Cambodia – If you turn left off the main road going west out of Siem Reap, Cambodia, you’ll find yourself on a sandy path not quite wide enough for two tuk-tuks.

You’ll bounce along the uneven road as the rush of city traffic abruptly gives way to the gentle hubbub of everyday community life. Take a right, then a left on unmarked dirt roads, past the dog with the orange fur and the second family selling clothing – everything from jeans to formal dresses – and you’ll find a tall metal gate, green paint chipping in the hot sun. This is the entrance to the School for Field Studies, an international study abroad program that not only immerses students into Cambodian culture, but also gives them first-hand experience in performing community-relevant research. Continue reading

Dinosaurs, Bones and Art, Oh My!

By Karyn Simpson
Medill Reports

When Paul Sereno and his team at the Fossil Lab at the University of Chicago find dinosaurs, they typically just look like bits of crushed bone and rock.

How do these paleontologists, fossil preparators and paleo artists transform these fragmented fossils into life-size, flesh-and-bone dinosaurs? It takes hundreds of hours, extensive research, and just the right combination of art and science.

Photo at top: Reconstructed dinosaur model at the Paul Sereno Fossil Lab (Karyn Simpson/ MEDILL)

Putting the “giving” back in Thanksgiving

By Karyn Simpson
Medill Reports

The In Her Shoes Foundation put the “giving” back in Thanksgiving this year.

The organization, accompanied by more than 70 volunteers, spent Thanksgiving Day at Grasmere Residential Home, a specialized mental health rehabilitation facility. There, the volunteers helped serve Thanksgiving lunch to the residents, played board games and made gratitude collages with them as part of the In Her Shoes Foundation’s Giving Back Program. Why is giving back to your community on Thanksgiving so important? “Holidays can be a tough time for people with mental illnesses,” said Kasia Wereszczynska, founder and executive director of In Her Shoes Foundation, “and taking time to truly listen to and talk with people can help them feel supported and encouraged.”

Scientists investigate how the “ocean pump” is slowing global warming

By Karyn Simpson
Medill Reports

Scientists are taking a serious look at ocean biological systems that temper carbon levels in the atmosphere and trap them in the ocean depths, a way to slow global warming and put off the 2° C temperature rise that would trigger disastrous levels of sea level rise, extreme temperatures, rainfall and drought.

Climate scientist Jennifer Middleton calls these systems the ocean’s biological carbon pump and explained how it works at the annual Comer Climate Conference in southwest Wisconsin this fall.

Middleton, a post-doctoral research scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, is studying these systems in the hope that scientists can find ways to use them to help mitigate the effects of climate change related to fossil fuel emissions.

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What can we do to slow climate change?

By Karyn Simpson
Medill Reports

Columbia University geochemist Wallace Broecker, one of the founding fathers of climate science, laid it on the line. The two ways we know of to bring down civilization are nuclear bombs or carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, the driving force of climate change, he said this fall during an interview at the Comer Conference on abrupt climate change. “It’s got the seeds of really terrible chaos on the planet and we’ve got to start to respect that.”

Within days of the conference, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change cautioned that even raising the global temperatures by 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) could have disastrous effects on sea level rise, extreme temperatures, rainfall and drought. And we’ve already raised temperatures 1 degree globally.

What needs to change to mitigate the accelerating threat? Scientists sharing their latest research at the 2018 conference say we need to move swiftly toward a sustainable energy system and  trap the carbon dioxide emissions from continued near-term needs for fossil fuels. Meeting the challenge offers wide-ranging opportunities for innovation and economic growth, said Penn State climatologist Richard Alley at the conference. Continue reading