Health and Science

Mapping the brain: Chicago researchers connect the network

By Amanda Koehn

A comprehensive map of the human brain is in the works with the promise of eventually creating new neurological treatments and diagnoses for mental illnesses, Alzheimer’s disease and other disorders.

The BRAIN Initiative researchers at the University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory and in labs around the country are in the beginning stages of mapping, starting with mice and moving up the scale to humans.

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La Mujer Guerrera: One woman’s struggle to overcome sexual assault

By Isabella Szabolcs

She spent the night before praying she would have the strength to tell her story and that God would never leave her side. She even wrote on her Facebook wall asking her friends for support and love. Despite her anxiety, she sits determined and ready to be interviewed under her alias Alicia Rodriguez. I can do this, she tells herself. It’s worth it. Despite her polished look with dyed blonde hair, silver eye liner, blush and lip gloss, the makeup can’t conceal the deep lines of pain etched into her face. Only in her fifties, her face bears the heavy weight of suffering.

Her daughter had asked her, “mama, why do you want to relive the horror of your past?” Despite the painful memories of sexual assault, Rodriguez says she’s willing to give the answer. Although her story is sadly not unique, Rodriguez is the exception. Most victims of sexual assault rarely speak out.

One out of every six women in the U.S. has been the victim of sexual assault but 68% of these assaults are not reported to police, according to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. Sexual Assault Program Director at Mujeres Latinas en Accion (Mujeres) Maritza Reyes says this is the problem. “These stories [of sexual assault] are not extraordinary. They happen everyday,” Reyes said. “We really need to look at ourselves as a culture, and a society that we allow this sort of violence to take place.” Victim blaming, she says is a common response. For many of the women she helps, coming out to family members can be more hurtful than the assault itself because of their reaction. It’s not uncommon for society to accuse the victims of lying and provoking the assault, to ask for details and to even tell the victims to forget the attack ever happened. In fear of criticism, these women end up staying quiet and living with the continued effects of sexual abuse, says Celia Guerra Granados, one of Mujeres’ Sexual Assault Program counselors. This is what Rodriguez wants to change. By sharing her story Rodriguez hopes to inspire victims to speak out and for society to listen. It’s a horrific journey to understand how she gathered this strength. It all goes back to where it started in the small town of Nayarit, Mexico. “I’ve had a very ugly life, but a very pretty one too,” Rodriguez said. Continue reading

Medill Newsmakers: lead poisoning, Chicago’s silent threat (VIDEO)

By Lydia Randall

You can’t see it, you can’t hear it, but it is one of the most potent threats facing Chicago kids.  Those who live in city’s most distressed neighborhoods are developing lead poisoning at five times the city’s average.  This edition of Medill Newsmakers examines the link between lead poisoning and violence and what’s being done to lower the rate of poisoning. Continue reading

Music therapy eases family’s hospital stay (VIDEO)

By Anne Arntson

After four months at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, Ireland Larson’s hospital room has become her own. It’s filled with stuffed animals, board games, handwritten notes, drawings of her favorite Disney princess, Ariel, family photographs and a heart-shaped electric guitar.

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Wrigley Field rats are still hanging around Wrigleyville (Video)

By Angela G. Barnes and Anne Arntson

Baseball fans are not the only ones hanging out in Wrigleyville. Since the start of the Wrigley Field renovation project last October, rats have been the bane of the resident’s existence.

Cubs officials say they continue to work with the city and Alderman Tunney’s office to combat the problem. But residents say more needs to be done.

Photo at top: The City implement rodent abatements to deal with Wrigley Field construction rat problem. (Angela G. Barnes/Medill)

Chasing nighttime thunderstorms with NOAA and NASA

By Lizz Giordano

The weather research teams waited anxiously for the nighttime storms to appear over the Great Plains. Scientists know very little about how the storms form but they do know how the rainfall from these storms sustains lives, property, agriculture and water resources. So the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA and more than 100 scientists gathered this summer in Kansas with truckloads of gear to study nocturnal thunderstorms that bring a majority of the summer rainfall to the Great Plains.

Daytime and nighttime storms require the same components to form. But at night, after the sun sets, the ground cools and the air becomes  more stable. This creates conditions that are less favorable for the formation of thunderstorm. Convection – the instability of warm air rising and cool air sinking – is key to thunderstorm formation. With the Plains Elevated Convection at Night (PECAN), project scientists are learning what triggers these nighttime storms.

I had a front row seat to the action, spending countless nights in the field with different weather research teams. I captured their search made with weather balloons, hurricane planes and mobile radar trucks.

(Click on any photo to begin the slideshow.)

Photo at top: Researchers parked their mobile weather radars from the University of Oklahoma and NOAA in a hotel parking lot in Lincoln, Nebraska. They collected storm data late into the night for the Plains Elevated Convection At Night (PECAN) weather research project. (Lizz Giordano/Medill)

Lizz Giordano joined the research teams as a Medill embedded reporting scholar. The scholarships are supported by a grant from the Carnegie Corp. of New York.

Missives from Mongolia: Chasing down the Ice Age

By Sarah Kramer

The Altai Mounts of western Mongolia may be concealing secrets amid the splendor. The breathtaking alpine landscape could hold clues to how abrupt climate change might have impacted our ancestors— and how it may impact our descendants.

This summer, a team of scientists, students and historians trekked through the hills and valleys of the Altai in Mongolia’s Bayan-Ölgii Province looking for traces of the last ice age.

“Everything’s immaculately preserved here,” said Aaron Putnam, currently an assistant research professor with the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in New York. Evidence of the enormous glaciers that covered the landscape can be found in gentle slopes, scuffed bedrock and spectacular valleys of the region— if you just know where to look.

Medill News Service reporter Sarah Kramer embedded with the team as they traversed the countryside and climbed into the Altai region, collecting rock samples that could provide insight into some of the most pressing questions in climate science: how and why did the last great ice age end. And what can that tell us about our future? Several stories are in the works and we will keep you posted.

You can see more photos and read the team’s updates from the field at PhD candidate Peter Strand’s blog for the University of Maine.

Medill embedded reporting scholarships are supported by a grant from the Carnegie Corp. of New York.

Photo at top: Reporter Sarah Kramer astride a Bactrian camel at a tourist outpost in the Gobi. For about $2 USD, those driving across the Gobi Desert can stop and ride camels and horses saddled with traditional Mongolian tack. The team enjoyed the jaunt, but decided to use horses to carry field research equipment up Tsagaan Gol Valley. (Credit: Caleb Ward)

Amputees discover new mobility with bionic leg (VIDEO)

By Angela G. Barnes and Anne Arntson

Remember “The Bionic Woman” from the ’70s?  Today scientists from Feinberg and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) have developed a smart robust bionic leg for above-the-knee amputees.

This new advanced leg will give patients better functionality and versatility to improve their natural walking patterns.

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Chicago’s Lunch Bus feeds children for free

By John Rosin and Carmen Lopez

During the school year, children from low-income families can receive discounted lunches. But in the summer, they don’t have access to the program. The Greater Food Chicago Depository is attempting to fill the gap by driving around Chicago’s West and South Sides, providing free lunches to children. Thousands of kids are fed each week, but the depository would like to get the word out to more families.

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Teen alcohol poisoning a major concern at Lollapalooza (VIDEO)

By Coral Lu and Sean Froelich

One of the biggest music festivals in the Midwest is back. More than 300,000 people attended Lollapalooza last year. Lollapalooza is not only a big entertainment spectacle, but also one of the biggest weekends for alcohol poisoning for minors in Chicago.

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