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. Continue reading →
In Puerto Rico, I learned that butterflies are more resilient than dinosaurs
By Justin Agrelo
There’s a square in downtown Adjuntas, Puerto Rico that when standing inside of it feels like you’ve hopped into a postcard or a history book about Spanish colonization.
The square is paved in white cement and gray cobble. Its fountain, benches, and pillars are all polished in white. Small patches of vibrant, neatly trimmed grass break up the monotony of the space.
Colorful Spanish colonial buildings line the square and a mountain can be seen in the distance, just above the bell tower of the town’s central church.
The square and its surrounding streets are almost empty except for three older gentlemen. The men break from their conversation and coffee to examine our group of unfamiliar faces, standing not far from them with cameras around our necks and cell phones stretched out.
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.
Medill News Service journalist Lauren Robinson is embedding this spring with Northwestern University researchers studying freeze-casting for a planned space launch.
Cristabella Wolff, an undergraduate materials science student, drops liquid succinonitrile (SCN) into a container of cupric-oxide (CuO) nanoparticles. To the human eye, this looks like a handful of powdery soot. But soon, Wolff will have a suspension of the two materials that can be used for freeze-casting, a process that creates microscopically porous molds used in manufacturing of materials. Wolff and others studying freeze-casting at Northwestern University plan to send suspensions like this one to the International Space Station for a series of freeze-casting experiments. The scientists are using SCN for the project because, among other reasons, it is compatible with equipment on-board the ISS used for sublimation, a key part of the freeze-casting process.
Before the SCN can be dropped into the CuO particles – each of which measures about 20 to 30 nanometers in diameter – it has to be gently heated until it becomes a liquid. That takes about a half-hour. A nanometer measures in at a mere 1 billionth of a meter.
Once the SCN is liquid, Wolff can drop it into the container of CuO particles. She has calculated the precise amount to add to get to a 10 percent volume, meaning the nanoparticles will make up 10 percent of the suspension.
Next, the mixture needs to be sealed off so that it can be shaken, evenly dispersing the particles. Wolff tracks down the high-tech supplies for this endeavor — such as tape.
Wolff straps the container into a device that shakes it until the CuO particles are dispersed. The container gets shaken three times, in 2-minute intervals.
In between shakes, the suspension is kept warm, ensuring that the SCN remains in liquid form and doesn’t congeal. In its solid state, reached at room temperature, it takes on a waxy consistency.
Wolff monitors the shaking process to ensure the tape doesn’t come undone and affect the dispersing of the particles.
At last, the suspension is ready to go. Wolff uses a syringe to dispense the solution onto a glass slide, used to microscopically observe the creation of a dendritic mold by freeze-casting.
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 →
I traveled to India for the first time in my life for an all-too-brief three weeks’ of learning how farmers are adapting to increasing drought in the central province of Telangana with water conserving greenhouses.
Hyderabad and environs are about as far inland as can be at this latitude. But in the heart of the city, the human-made Hussain Sagar Lake serves as a community hub. The lake is surrounded by parks and temples, and you can take a ferry to a statue of the Buddha in the middle of the lake.
My first day in Hyderabad, I walked along the beautiful lake’s east side. It’s cut off from the rest of the city by an elevated highway, the “Tank Bund,” and layered with litter and trash along the banks. Near the hotel where I stayed, a family of feral pigs picked at garbage on a dry river bed that feeds into the lake.
A province conservation group has put up signs asking people to keep the lake shore clean and trash free. The group established a row of planters filled with palm trees to beautify this portion of the waterfront. On the other side, fruit vendors and cane juice stalls offer respite from the 95-degree weather. A cold bottle of water will only set you back 20 rupees, or about 30 cents USD.
Visitors should come prepared for the high volume of swastika graffiti and understand that it means “all is well” in its use by Hindus and Buddhists long before Nazi Germany adopted the symbol. Here, the former meaning persists. Tthe swastika also has been used as a symbol for the sun dating back millennia.
Elaborate mosques and temples line the other side of the Tank Bund. Some of these structures are ages old, such as the one across the street from my temporary home in Secunderabad.
Meanwhile, at the Kheyti Project office where I am embedded as a reporter, a street dog has discovered that benevolent humans there will feed him. He and I have become friends. Kheyti’s work here involves providing farmers with efficient greenhouses that help them grow crops in this drought-ridden area, providing harvests and easing poverty.
Kheyti has installed nearly 100 greenhouses already and project founders hope to have as many as 1,000 in place by the end of the year. My reporting will focus on the moving target of sustainable farming as climate change threatens the farmers’ crops and livelihood within coming decades – or even sooner.
A Hindu Temple in downtown Hyderabad. (Aaron Dorman/Medill)
SDE BOKER, ISRAEL — Two hours south of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, where political drama unraveled amid Tuesday’s Israeli elections, I finished my morning coffee and stepped out into the blinding desert sunshine.
I’m spending this month at the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research, which are part of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. The main BGU campus is located in Be’er Sheva, the Negev desert’s largest city. But I’m at the BIDR outpost 45 minutes south, in Sde Boker, where I’m embedded with researchers tackling water stewardship in the Middle East. I’m reporting by observation and taking notes I’ll later use for Medill News Service stories. Continue reading →
The topic of sexual assault and misconduct is nothing new, but conversations among men about the role they can play in prevention is. For generations, masculine sexual aggression has been dismissed as “boys will be boys” or locker room talk. Now that society is demanding accountability where sexual violence or misconduct occurs, new conversations and allegations are expanding communication and enforcement.
“The most salient issue is getting men to stop abstracting the issue, to stop thinking of sexual violence as something that happens around them rather than something they contribute to” said David Fishman. He is the president of the Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault group at Northwestern University. MARS provides training to fraternities on campus about masculine identity and the role it can play in sexual assault.
“The biggest challenge is getting each and every one of us, myself included, to recognize places that we contribute to a culture of violence.” Fishman said. Continue reading →
A guide to keeping your digital information exactly that: yours
By Tyler Sonnemaker Medill Reports
Has your personal information leaked in a data breach? (Not sure? Use this tool to find out). How about passwords — still using “password” or “123456” for everything? Do you want to keep prying eyes away from health records, personal finances or information about your children?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions and want to better protect yourself online, this guide is for you. If you’re still wondering why you should care about cybersecurity or privacy, learn how tracking and hacking can impact even average internet users. Continue reading →
Uranium, arsenic, lead … have you ever thought about these metals contaminating the water you use and drink every day? Once they reach a certain level, these elements can cause illness and even endanger your life. This is what has been happening in the Navajo Nation with its centuries old history and culture.
Spread across portions of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, the Navajo Nation possesses the largest land among Indigenous tribes. The territory encompasses spectacular scenery across vast areas but that makes it harder to test and address the water contamination problem on this land.
How severe is the contamination? Earlier this month, we took a reporting trip to the Navajo Nation to observe and inquire. Listen to the podcast and see what we found out about the water there.
A lone mosquito patrols the Yamada family to stock up on blood for the coming winter. You are Mister Mosquito, an uninvited guest who pesters the hapless Yamada family. They want you dead. You want to bite. The battle is on.
Quirky as it sounds, Mister Mosquito is a Japanese video game released by ZOOM Inc. in 2001. Unlike U.S. video games that depict post-apocalyptic journeys or commando attacks, Mister Mosquito allows you to experience the hardship of a mosquito’s life.
“In Japanese video games, there are craftsmanship and culture that you don’t see in other countries,” said John Davis, co-founder of BitSummit, an annual Kyoto indie game festival. “Japan never shies away from having anime, strong female protagonists or other types of subjects in games. There has never been a cookie-cutter approach to game semantics.” Continue reading A mosquito can become a video game hero in Japan→