Health and Science

Veggie co-op in North Lawndale brings fresh produce to residents with dietary restrictions

By Trina Ryan
Medill Reports

On a breezy Saturday afternoon, Reynaldo Engram arrives at work early to sift through boxes of carrots. He performs this task with painstaking precision, holding each carrot up to the light, rubbing his thumb slowly over its dirt-speckled orange skin. As hub assistant at Farm on Ogden, a spacious agriculture facility on the West Side of Chicago, Engram’s responsibilities include anything from watering plants to sweeping floors to cleaning bathrooms. “I do what I’m asked,” says the 59-year-old, smiling. But today he has an important job, one he takes seriously: inspecting produce for defects. He wants to make sure the most attractive-looking vegetables go out to his neighbors of North Lawndale.

“I want everyone to feel as strong and healthy as I do,” he says. “Not too many folks around here can say they feel that way at my age.”

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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.
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College athletes tackle mental health

By Max Goodman
Medill Reports

Take a moment and think about the amount of responsibilities that are on any college varsity athlete’s plate…

These student athletes have a full slate of practices, games, classes, assignments and meetings on a daily basis. Not to mention seeking out sleep, a social life, relationships, family matters and time to just relax.

On this episode of Medill Newsmakers we take a deep look at how these busy, high pressure and often overwhelming schedules impact the mental health of these young adults.

Photo at top: Kiley Jones, pitcher on the Loyola Ramblers softball team, smiles while examining the diamond. (Kiley Jones/@kileyjones00 on Instagram)

Swimming with the trash

By Stephanie Fox
Medill Reports

Only days after his 51st birthday, Ben Lecomte found himself miles off the coast of Tokyo, swimming next to a small boat filled with scientists, a doctor and a film crew. Everyone on the vessel watched in awe as Lecomte finished his 8 hours in the water that day–a feat he would repeat multiple times over the next 6 months as he approached his final North American destination.

His goal? To swim from Tokyo to San Francisco as a fundraising tool to raise awareness about pollution in the ocean. But irreparable damages to the boat’s mainsail caused his trip to be cut short, forcing him to stop in Hawaii.

That was last summer. Continue reading

Indiana kids meet an opossum, a skunk and an owl. Oh,my.

By Stephanie Fox
Medill Reports

Sitting cross legged on the floor, a group of children smiled excitedly as a small creature walked up to each of their feet, wiggled its nose and moved on. The children’s hands fidgeted in their laps, itching for a chance to touch an animal that most people are terrified to even look at.

“Can I pet her?” one of the smaller girls asked as the creature waddled out of the semi-circle the children had formed.

A child watches as Toona the opossum explores. (Stephanie Fox/Medill)

“No. We’re not going to pet her,” said Nicole Harmon, who has the title of “humane educator” at the Moraine Ridge Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Valparaiso, Indiana. The center falls under a parent organization called Humane Indiana which initially only took in domestic animals until July of 2014 when it decided to expand to accommodate the large number of calls received about injured wildlife.

As Harmon spoke, she walked over and scooped up the wandering opossum from the floor and cradled it like a baby. Continue reading

Goat yoga: Connecting with animals, the earth and each other

By Stephanie Fox
Medill Reports

Floral incense float to the floor in a swirl of smoke. A cool breeze sneaks through the window cracks and echoes the sounds of the country. Outside, the sun is shining, but inside Blue Sky Farm’s make-shift yoga studio the low-light and metal star-covered walls elicit a feeling of serenity reminiscent of the forest in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Much like Shakespeare’s classic comedy, things aren’t always what they seem.

Circling the women sitting cross-legged on mats are six baaing, leaping and headbutting baby goats. For the yoga students, the goats are a hilarious addition to an otherwise relaxing activity. To the goats, the yoga students are something they jump off in a flailing ball of hoof and fur. Continue reading

Madrid’s Cajal Institute fosters collaboration among international neuroscientists

By Valerie Nikolas
Medill Reports

A Japanese postdoctoral fellow, two Spanish doctoral candidates, an Italian undergraduate and an American journalist walk into a neuroscience research institute in Spain.

It’s 2 p.m. and the Cajal Institute’s break room is abuzz with the sounds of scientists eating packed lunches, discussing the latest episode of Game of Thrones and debating which country has the best coffee.

I’m at the Cajal Institute for a three-week embedded science reporting assignment, during which I will work closely with scientists here to learn about their research and communicate their findings. The Cajal Institute—the oldest neuroscience institute in Spain—was founded by Santiago Ramón y Cajal, the Nobel Prize-winning father of modern neuroscience.

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Stoned drivers targeted by new breathalyzer technology

By Brady Jones
Medill Reports

Slowed reaction time. Reduced ability to make decisions. Impaired coordination. Memory loss. Difficulty in problem-solving. These are some of the symptoms listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describing people who drive under the influence of marijuana. And right now, it is very difficult for law enforcement officials to determine when these drivers are sharing the road with you—and may be responsible for causing an accident.

Detecting recent marijuana use by drivers is far more difficult for law enforcement than detecting the presence of alcohol. Currently, testing can’t be done for marijuana using on-site breath samples. Now, a new device that aims to provide a reliable solution to this growing concern is being developed—and law enforcement officials welcome the potential of the new technology.

As more states move to legalization for recreational purposes, marijuana is more accessible to people with limited or no experience using it. The ability to successfully detect drivers that have smoked or ingested the drug becomes paramount to keeping drivers safe. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the main psychoactive compound in marijuana that produces the feeling of being high, does not show up on current, traditional breathalyzer devices used by law enforcement to detect blood alcohol content.
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Bird walk celebrates biodiversity on Northwestern’s campus while reckoning with its past

By Hannah Magnuson
Medill Reports

Northwestern University’s Evanston campus serves as home base to a host of travelers this spring — but students hustling to and from classes may not have noticed. That’s why Josh Honn, digital humanities librarian at Northwestern Libraries, decided to host a bird walk Monday morning around the eastern edge of the campus where migratory birds have settled after flying north from Mexico and Central and South America.

“It just seemed like a perfect opportunity to bring faculty, students, families and community members together to celebrate spring and to get to know campus a little better in both its animal life and nature,” Honn said.

The Birds & Breakfast event showcased the animals and plants that share space with the campus buildings, infrastructure and student life — a feature made especially noteworthy in light of the United Nations’ report on biodiversity released last week. The report warned that human activity has placed more than 1 million species worldwide in danger of extinction.

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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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