Public Affairs

American Ninja Warrior growth sparks Olympic bid effort

By Junie Burns
Medill Reports

Initially, American Ninja Warrior structured its TV presence so that the top Americans could compete in Japan. But as the show gained popularity and athletes became more skilled and aggressive, the show catapulted into a larger market, leaving NBCUniversal affiliate G4 for a new home on NBC ‘s prime time schedule.

Japan began airing a ninja-style sports entertainment special in 1997 where 100 athletes competed on a rigorous four-stage obstacle course called “Sauske.” G4 adapted this format in the United States to create American Ninja Warrior.

Now, the success of the television show carries over into local gyms and ninja gyms while competitive leagues continue to pop up across the country. Patrick Losh, co-owner of the Hanover Park ninja gym Muscleball Ninjas, is the co-founder of Athlete Warrior Games, one of the up-and-coming ninja warrior competitive leagues based in the Midwest.

Losh, a native of Illinois, trained at Muscleball Ninjas for six years before launching Athlete Warrior Games with gym co-owner and 5-time American Ninja Warrior veteran Tyler Yamamuchi.

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4,000 floating robots take on climate change

By Elena Bruess
Medill Reports

I ziplined recently with a scientist who told me that her work involved almost 4,000 floating robots and a massive global computer database that could help her predict the future of our world’s climate.

This was during a break in the Comer Climate Conference and the woods behind conference headquarters held many mysteries, including a zipline and now – for me – the world’s most interesting researcher. I quickly scribbled “should probably catch up with her” in a notebook.

I did. She gave a presentation on her work the next day to climate scientists from across the nation gathered at the annual science meetup in southwestern Wisconsin. Continue reading

Homegrown Residency spotlights local Chicago musicians

By Chris McConaghey
Medill Reports

Every Tuesday night, Uncommon Ground’s Live Intimate Listening Rooms spotlight artists who might otherwise be plugging up to amplifiers in their garages and basements. Here, they get their chance to perform in front of a room filled with friends, family, and other Chicago local music fans.

Artists such as Danielle “Miss Jones” Jones – who has been singing since she was 10, but never really considered herself as a performer – are provided the opportunity to debut their material live and uncut. Jones, 21, is an Indiana native who moved to Chicago right after she graduated high school. She now deems herself as an amateur pianist and a practiced vocalist.

She will be performing Tuesday night, romancing the audience with soft ballads about her life. Continue reading

Chicago Marathon runner Brigid Kosgei sets a new women’s world record

By Junie Burns
Medill Reports

It took 17 years to the day for Brigid Kosgei of Kenya to set a new women’s world record in running this year’s Chicago Marathon in 2:14:04. On October 13, 2002, Great Britain’s Paula Radcliffe set the Chicago Marathon course record and a world’s record for a woman runner with a time of 2:17:18.

Coming just one day after Kenyan runner Eliud Kipchoge broke the two hour barrier by completing the Vienna marathon in 1:59:40, Kosgei’s world record wraps a historic weekend of distance running for Kenya.

“I come here to run my own race,” Kosgei said.  “I have been training good. I was happy.”

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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

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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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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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

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)