Health and Science

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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Physical therapy and communication science labs research pioneering treatments

By Colleen Zewe
Medill Reports

ACL injury treatment options and cycling as a physical therapy for older adults with Parkinson’s are just a few of the groundbreaking areas of testing for all ages at the University of Pittsburgh’s Physical Therapy and Translational Research Center.

My embedded reporting project is at the University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences Neuromuscular Research Lab has opened the doors to many other departments, labs and research areas pursuing pioneering work. This week, I toured PT-CTRC and the Laryngeal Biology Laboratory, part of the Department of Communication Science and Disorders.

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Dads who exercise may pass down cognitive benefits to their offspring

Mouse study shows offspring of active fathers are better at learning and remembering

By Valerie Nikolas
Medill Reports

Men, if you want smarter kids, it may be time to hit the gym.

When it comes to baby-bearing, women often get the brunt of the responsibility, especially before a child is born. But new evidence shows that a dad’s morning run or lifting session may be responsible for more of his offspring’s cognitive traits than previously thought.

Researchers at the Cajal Institute, a neuroscience research center in Madrid, found in a study with mice that offspring of active fathers learn and recall information better than the offspring of sedentary dads. The study, published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), cites “paternal physical activity as a direct factor driving offspring’s brain physiology and cognitive behavior.” Continue reading

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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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.”

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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.
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Hyderabad, India, captures a nexus of ancient and modern culture

By Aaron Dorman
Medill Reports

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.

Hussain Sagar Lake at sunset. Aaron Dorman/Medill

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.

Fruit vendor along the Take Bund in Hyderabad. Aaron Dorman/Medill.
A temple on the banks of Hussain Sagar Lake in Hyderabad. Aaron Dorman/Medill.

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.

Swastika graffiti is a common site in Hyderabad; here it is a symbol for peace. Aaron Dorman/Medill.

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.

My first friend in India, the stray who has discovered that the Kheyti staff will give him food and water. Aaron Dorman/Medill.

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)

Pests or pets: a history of how pigeons took over the Windy City and what organizations are doing about it

By Stephanie Fox
Medill Reports

After spending the day with family celebrating her husband’s birthday, Chava Sonnier received a call that made her heart skip a beat.

“I don’t think he’s going to make it,” her friend said on the other line.

Despite the call coming in at around 10:30 at night, Sonnier hopped in her car with the hope of saving a life.

When she encountered the wounded, he was paralyzed, crippled with his legs bowing out at right angles. Blood oozed from his chest and face. His eyes barely opened.

Despite Sonnier being a certified nurse, her patient that night wasn’t human. He was a pigeon. Continue reading