All posts by laurenrobinson2019

Despite launch delay, NU undergrads plow ahead with redesign for NASA freeze-casting experiments

By Lauren Robinson
Medill Reports

Young scientists are racing to deliver by October a satellite payload of instruments to test freeze-casting — technology that could free space explorers from expensive, time-consuming deliveries of supplies from Earth.

The team of Northwestern University undergraduates building the innards for a small satellite called a “CubeSat” missed the launch window last year but are getting ready for another try.

“The sample container failed,” explains Kristen Scotti, a graduate student and mentor for SpaceICE, the initiative creating the CubeSat instrumentation to test freeze-casting for eventual manufacturing needs in space. Essentially, the glass containers for three sample suspensions were cracking, and anything less than airtight would jeopardize the freeze-casting process, dependent upon controlled temperatures and accurate readings.
Continue reading

Northwest Indiana residents grapple with implications of dead swans

By Lauren Robinson
Medill Reports

Northwest Indiana is a region of many small refuges. For its human occupants, that might be a quiet spot on Whihala Beach facing north, toward Chicago’s glimmering skyline. For wildlife, that might be a bird sanctuary by a casino in Hammond — or perhaps a discharge of warm water from a British Petroleum plant into an otherwise frozen Lake Michigan. The oil refinery, like the ArcelorMittal steel factory and Whiting Metals, spans hundreds of acres of real estate in the area, and its machinery stretches into the sky, a metallic forest visible from afar.

Carolyn Marsh, who is my tour guide on a cold, gray weekday in February, is no longer naive about the competing realities of the natural world and industry. When she moved to Whiting in the 1980s, she had her eyes fixed northward, from that refuge on Whihala Beach that factored into her decision to buy a home here. “I did not know how bad the pollution would be,” she says. “Nobody talked about it because there were jobs. Jobs, jobs, jobs.”

Continue reading

The trials and tribulations of freeze-casting to manufacture materials in space

Medill News Service journalist Lauren Robinson is embedding this spring with Northwestern University researchers studying freeze-casting for a planned space launch.

Click the first photo in the gallery above for a photo essay showing how a freeze-casting suspension is created.


Krysti Scotti’s enthusiasm for her pioneering freeze-casting work at Northwestern University is contagious enough to brighten the coldest and wettest days.

Scotti is hosting my embedded-reporting assignment at SpaceICE, where scientists in professor David Dunand’s lab are preparing to test freeze-casting — a way to manufacture materials — in a NASA satellite mission and on the International Space Station. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is building the actual CubeSat satellite for the mission.
Continue reading

Plans for former coal plant irk Pilsen activists

By Lauren Robinson
Medill Reports

This story has been revised to reflect the status of Hilco’s relationship to the former Fisk site.

Seven years after Pilsen residents celebrated the closure of the Fisk coal plant, activists are gearing up for a new campaign: to demand input in the site’s redevelopment and oppose the continued operation of diesel-fired “peaker” plants.

Continue reading

How to beat the winter blues

By Lauren Robinson
Medill Reports

Vanessa Ford is a psychotherapist based in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago. She treats clients with anxiety, depression, PTSD, addiction and other mental health issues.

Early Sunday, Chicagoans will set their clocks back. They’ll bid farewell to that last sliver of daylight at the tail end of the 5 o’clock hour. Temperatures will drop, and winter will hit, bringing cold, dark and overcast days.

Short, sunless days can prove debilitating for millions of Americans, especially women and young adults. As seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD) sets in, those afflicted may encounter symptoms such as energy loss, weight gain or social withdrawal. Fortunately, people who are prone to seasonal depression can take steps now to improve their wellbeing in the depths of winter, says Ford, a licensed clinical social worker since 2000 who has owned her own psychotherapy practice since 2007.

Continue reading

In Chicago suburb, candidates’ environment message easy on climate change

By Lauren Robinson
Medill Reports

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. — Calling for a stronger focus on renewable energy and protection of the Great Lakes, the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club hosted a day of action on a recent Saturday in support of two pro-environment Democrats campaigning for the state legislature.

The Democrats – Sen. Julie Morrison and House hopeful Bob Morgan – spoke of specific ways to safeguard the environment in the Midwest, where temperatures are forecast to increase as a result of climate change. But, facing a polarized electorate, they avoided invoking the issue of climate change.

“Unfortunately, I think the phrase ‘climate change’ has been politicized too much by the right,” said Anthony Vega, a Sierra Club Illinois organizer. “What we’ve seen is candidates from across Lake County and the state of Illinois say that they are 100 percent for clean energy or sustainable transportation. It’s talking about climate change in another way, so it doesn’t trigger the partisan clique.”
Continue reading

‘Renaissance Woman’ embraces new phase of life and gender identity at 75

By Lauren Robinson
Medill Reports

Stefanie Clark describes her regular stints volunteering at the Art Institute of Chicago as a way she can give back to the community that kept her moving forward during a tumultuous time in her life.

“This is one of my things I look forward to the most,” said Clark, 75, her gray hair swept into a small bun as she greets people at the doors of the museum. Indeed, the former financier, whose business card and email signature bear her self-ascribed moniker “Renaissance Woman,” wears many hats.
Continue reading

Duckworth: Administration ‘stonewalling’ efforts to visit shelter for immigrant children

By Lauren Robinson
Medill Reports

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois) said Friday that the federal government is “stonewalling” her attempts to visit a Des Plaines facility that houses immigrant children taken from their families at the U.S. border.

Duckworth, flanked by American Civil Liberties Union staff at a news conference at the John C. Kluczynski Federal Building, also accused President Donald Trump’s administration of missing a Thursday deadline to return those children to their guardians.

“How many court orders does the Trump administration need before it reunites these families?” she asked.
Continue reading