All posts by shanleychien

Museum of Science and Industry celebrates Pi Day

By Shanley Chien

Pie lovers and math enthusiasts unite! The Museum of Science and Industry is celebrating Pi Day this Saturday by giving away a free slice of pie or pizza to the first 314 attendees to arrive.

“The [museum’s] food court will typically have three or four selections of toppings and we’ll have dessert pies like coconut cream,” said Beth Boston, communications manager at the museum.

Guests will receive a voucher at the ticket stand and can redeem them at the museum’s Brain Food Court on the lower level.

The mathematical constant pi (π) is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter and that approximate value is 3.141592653. As an irrational fraction, decimal representation is never-ending.

That’s why Pi Day is celebrated every March 14, and this year is particularly special because it marks the next two digits in the constant’s succession: 3.14.15. (If you’re especially enamored, don’t forget to set your alarms for 9:26:53 a.m. and p.m. so the date and time represent pi’s first 10 digits.)

Boston said attendees can complement their math-themed day by visiting the museum’s new permanent exhibit: “Numbers in Nature.” The exhibit explores numerical patterns that are seen in the natural world, such as the golden ratio in spirals, Voronoi diagrams in cracks, and fractals in snowflakes.

The highlight of the exhibit is its centerpiece “Mirror Maze,” which features an 1,800-square-foot hallway of mirrors. The maze is designed with repeating equilateral triangles and mirrored walls to give it the appearance of infinite hallways.

Children explore the Mirror Maze in the Museum of Science and Industry’s new 1,800-square-foot permanent exhibit. (Museum of Science and Industry)

“By showcasing that fascinating numerical patterns that are all around us, we hope that both kids and adults alike will become inspired to discover more about how math, as a part of the STEM fields, is a strong and important presence in our daily lives,” said Kurt Haunfelner, MSI’s vice president of exhibits and collections in a press release. Stem fields cover science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

While some mathematicians, like University of Chicago math professor J. Peter May, plan on staying at home and proving theorems for Pi Day, others will take advantage of the homophonic pun and indulge their sweet and savory tooth.

“My family usually celebrates Pi Day by baking pies: pumpkin pie, apple pie, chicken potpie, etc. We typically invite some friends over or do a potluck type of thing,” said Dustin Belt, math lecturer at Northwestern University. “It is fun for the kids because they get to eat pie, and we talk about why on earth mommy and daddy are letting them eat so much dessert.”

But as much fun as it is to consume pie, Belt said it’s also important to take the day to appreciate the importance of math.

“We talk about the number pi, and that the day is also a fun way to remember about how math in general affects our lives in little and big ways everyday,” he said.

The Museum of Science and Industry is located at 5700 S. Lake Shore Dr. and is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Photo at top: Pi Day Pie (Tarehna Wicker/Flickr)

GMOs: The scarlet letters of the grocery aisle?

By Shanley Chien

You walk down the aisles at Whole Foods spotting milk, cookies, pasta, and a variety of other products with the “Non-GMO Project Verified” label. The label tells you the foods don’t contain genetically modified organisms  – GMOs.

But the image of a butterfly sitting on a blade of grass shaped like a check mark subconsciously reassures you that this product is “safe.” After all, if it’s safe enough for a butterfly, it’s safe enough for you and your family. You put it in your basket, perhaps because people like Dr. Oz and food blogger Vani Hari of Food Babe tell you GMOs are unhealthy.

GMOs add to the nutritional value and preservation of foods and most scientists vouch for their safety. But critics abound.

“We have the whole government working against us,” Hari said in an interview on the Carolina Connection Talk Radio. “They don’t want Americans to figure out that these could be causing health issues, that they haven’t been tested, and they are increasing pesticide and herbicide use.”

Organizations and advocacy groups such as the Non-GMO Project, Dr. Oz, Food Babe, and other anti-GMO crusaders say GMOs are unnatural and unhealthy, according to their websites. Continue reading

Chicago Bike Art Show Wheels to a Close

By Shanley Chien

Chicago Bike Winter Art Show wrapped up this year’s expo with a house party to complement the medley of offbeat art at Genesis Art Supply’s gallery in Bucktown.

The final event on Friday continued to showcase approximately 150 pieces of bike-inspired art and transformed the mezzanine level into a lounge with a donations-based bar and a DJ for live entertainment. All proceeds went to the South Chicago Velodrome Association.

Members of the Rat Patrol Bike Club, a pro-bike and anti-consumerism organization, showcased some of their unique bikes made from recycled parts and scrap metal, including their show-stealing “Can Crusher.” The inventive mechanical apparatus delighted attendees with its interconnected bike pieces that crushes cans as the person riding the art pedals.

Rat Patrol Bike Club. “The Can Crusher.” Recycled bike scraps. (Shanley Chien/Medill)

Chris Castellan, a 10-year member of the Rat Patrol and the artist behind “Go Die in a Bed Wreck,” has been attending the art show for four years. This is his first year contributing artwork, though. After he found the vintage 1950s bed frame dumped in an alley, he spent 10 hours of work over two days putting the piece of art together.

“I’ve seen photos of other people who’ve done them, so I wanted to see if I could,” Castellan said.

Chris Castellan. “Go Die in a Bed Wreck.” Used bed frame (Shanley Chien/Medill)

Although many of the larger pieces were quite avant-garde, attendees couldn’t walk past the entrance without stopping to appreciate the beauty and craftsmanship of Andrew Bedno’s helmet art that inspired bike safety.

Bedno, artist and head of the Chicago Critical Mass, spent 40 hours of labor on each helmet and said his inspiration for the art was to promote bike safety for his then-girlfriend.

“My girlfriend said she wouldn’t wear a helmet while biking unless it was incredibly beautiful, so I created these,” the artist said.

With the event over, Bedno plans to donate his art to a new bike shop opening soon in Evanston.

Event newcomer Ruth Sierra said she appreciates that the art show brings together the biking community because it is an essential part of her daily commute to the nonprofit organization she works for in the South Side. Sierra has always enjoyed biking and rides 50 miles a day in the summer, but doesn’t consider herself as “extreme” as the other cyclists in the community who bike regardless of weather conditions.

“It’s cool to see people are on the other side of the [biking] spectrum. They’re on the other side of extreme,” Sierra said. “If you’re a biker all year round, that’s your lifestyle, so you can see that these kids eat and sleep and dream bikes.”

That’s the case for Sierra’s friend Marco Rayos, who won’t let Chicago’s snowfall stop him from riding his bike, except for when it’s “snowpacolypse.”

“I need to get to where I’m going,” Rayos said. “It’s winter. It doesn’t stop me, but it does slow me down.”

Although the closing event was an overall success in attracting a large crowd and bringing the biking community together, the event was not without its hiccups. Stuart Hall, co-curator of the art show, said the “family-oriented” strip tease that was originally scheduled for the closing ceremony had to be cancelled due to last-minute scheduling conflicts. Instead, the event featured a special cabaret-esque appearance by Underwear Mass, a nonprofit group that promotes gender equality. The group’s coordinators Krystal Gordon, Barbra Mann and Joel Wiersema skated through the art gallery in their scantily clad orange outfits to encourage attendees to join their bike and skate event at Chicago Critical Mass’ July ride.

“It’s underwear fashion and all about being positive about your body,” Mann said. “All body types and sexual expressions are accepted.”

The 18th annual Chicago Bike Art Show may be over now, but biking aficionados can look forward to more upcoming events, including Critical Mass bike rides every last Friday of each month and the World Naked Bike Ride on June 13.

Photo at top: Steven Smock. “XTR.” Giclee print. $260 (Shanley Chien/Medill)

How about them Apples?

New genetically modified apples don’t brown when bruised

By Shanley Chien

It may take a few years for bins of Arctic apples to show up in grocery stores.

But the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved two types of these genetically modified apples that don’t turn brown when sliced. The flesh of the fruit stays a glowing white.

Canada-based Okanagan Specialty Foods specializes in agriculture biotechnology and created the genetically engineered Arctic Granny Smith and Arctic Golden apples.

“All we’ve done is reduce the expression of a single enzyme; there are no novel proteins in Arctic fruit and their nutrition and composition is equivalent to their conventional counterparts,” said Okanagan Specialty Fruit’s chief executive officer Neal Carter in a prepared statement.  Continue reading

18th Chicago Bike Winter Art Show Opens Friday

By Shanley Chien

Bike and art lovers rejoice! The 18th Annual Chicago Bike Winter Art Show opens Friday with a public reception at Genesis Art Supply.

Members of the Rat Patrol Bike Club, a pro-bike and anti-consumerism organization, uses recycled parts and scrap metal to hand-weld unique bikes.  The club showcases some of their offbeat creations that are guaranteed to entertain, such as their “tall bikes,” choppers, and the “can crusher,” an inventive mechanical apparatus composed of interconnected bike pieces that crushes cans as you pedal. Continue reading

Revving up your winter run for safety

By Shanley Chien

As temperatures drop, so do the number of people running outdoors. People increasingly move their workouts to the gyms or other safe havens from Chiberia, but dedicated runners willing to brave freezing temperatures to clock in the miles should consider a few extra safety tips.

Liliana Zecker, associate professor of language and literacy at DePaul University and an avid Evanston runner, refuses to let cold temperatures prevent her from doing what she loves. Continue reading

Measles numbers on the rise from Disneyland exposure

By Shanley Chien

The measles outbreak originating from people exposed to the virus at Disneyland over the holiday season is still spreading,  though there are no confirmed cases in Illinois associated with the theme park exposure.

The recent measles outbreak linked to the Disneyland exposure over the holiday season came on the heels of the country’s worst year of reported cases since the measles was declared eradicated in 2000. Continue reading