Brains and brawn: How the brain controls muscular contractions in athletic performance

By Colleen Zewe
Medill Reports

Have you ever had an electrical current sent from your brain to your arm to research strength? Surprisingly, it doesn’t hurt – it’s done for the sake of neuromuscular research at the University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences Neuromuscular Research Lab.

The lab uses a magstim rapid transcranial stimulator, called a TMS for short. The TMS machine uses copper wires to send electrical signals through the skull, creating an electrical signal to the intended muscle. When I had a current sent through my body, it felt like being tapped on the knee for a reflex test.

Doctoral student Anne Beethe uses these electrical signals in her research to study the bilateral deficit phenomenon. It is a big term explaining some common experiences. Weightlifters: Have you ever noticed that you can lift 100 pounds with  your right or left arm, but when you try to lift 200 pounds with both arms at the same time, you can’t as easily lift all that weight? This week, I learned more about Anne Beethe’s research on the bilateral deficit phenomenon, or the idea that bilateral movement is more difficult than unilateral.

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Ukrainians in Chicago vote in presidential election where comedian secures landslide victory

By Andrew Sweeney
Medill Reports

Ukrainians in Chicago cast their ballots on Sunday in the final round of the Ukrainian presidential election pitting incumbent president and oligarch Petro Poroshenko against comedian Voldomomyr Zelenskiy.

Zelenskiy triumphed in a landslide win of 72.3 percent and has pledged to continue Ukraine’s movement towards Europe after the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution.

However, Zelesnkiy’s victory came as a disappointment for many in Chicago’s Ukrainian community, who primarily originate from Poroshenko’s electoral heartland of Western Ukraine.

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Northwestern’s Erro heats up in April after slow start

By Andre Toran
Medill Reports

Northwestern second baseman Alex Erro walked around the batting cage into the batter’s box, swiping rubber pellets into the air as he dug his cleats into the turfed surface at Rocky and Berenice Miller park, and prepared to swing.

Line drive up the middle. Line drive up the middle. Then again, line drive up the middle. One final cut, and Erro drove deep fly ball off the left-field wall.

Swing after swing, Erro squared up balls, jumping off the bat of his compact right-handed swing, whizzing passed the mesh net that shielded Northwestern assistant coach Dusty Napoleon from Erro’s assault.

That was Erro’s second round of batting practice Tuesday before Northwestern’s matchup against UIC, a bite-size sample of what opposing pitchers have had to face over the past month, now that Erro has put early season troubles behind him.

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Conservation, Culture, Community: The School for Field Studies in Cambodia

By Karyn Simpson
Medill Reports

SIEM REAP, Cambodia – If you turn left off the main road going west out of Siem Reap, Cambodia, you’ll find yourself on a sandy path not quite wide enough for two tuk-tuks.

You’ll bounce along the uneven road as the rush of city traffic abruptly gives way to the gentle hubbub of everyday community life. Take a right, then a left on unmarked dirt roads, past the dog with the orange fur and the second family selling clothing – everything from jeans to formal dresses – and you’ll find a tall metal gate, green paint chipping in the hot sun. This is the entrance to the School for Field Studies, an international study abroad program that not only immerses students into Cambodian culture, but also gives them first-hand experience in performing community-relevant research. Continue reading

Illinois vape shops prepare for statewide increase in smoking age

By Andrew Sweeney
Medill Reports

A statewide ban on sales of tobacco and e-cigarettes to those under 21 years of age will go into effect in Illinois on July 1st of this year.

The City of Chicago enacted a similar ban in 2016, which led to a 36% drop in smoking among 18-to-20-year-olds, according to the city’s Department of Public Health. Several other municipalities in the Chicagoland area have implemented similar measures.

Some suburban tobacco and vape shop owners worry about the economic impact on their stores when the age increase goes into effect this summer.

Photo at top: Shawn Sahlberg, manager of Vapors Unlimited, an e-cigarette shop in Lyle, Ill., is worried that the age change will affect his business. He say’s he’ll lose current customers who are under 21. “We thought about going to the town hall and seeing if we could kind of grandfather-in the 19 and 20-year-olds,” he said. (Andrew Sweeney/MEDILL)

LGBTQ+ youths in Little Village find their voice on the air

By Thomas Ilalaole
Medill Reports

There are many stories in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago, but some are only recently being spoken and heard. Through a program at Yollocalli Arts Reach, two LGBTQ+ students are telling their stories — and the stories of their community — on a weekly radio show.

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Tuned up: What’s behind Northwestern baseball’s air guitar craze?

By Andre Toran
Medill Reports

Baseball, more than any major sport in America, is all about its unwritten rules.

Its traditionalistic nature doesn’t carry the celebratory flair basketball or football does. There aren’t pre-planned touchdown celebrations. No, ‘And one!’ screams or arms extended in celebration, as the pointer finger and the thumb meet to form a three. And no, there’s no Lance Stephenson-esque air guitars.

Instead, the celebrations baseball fans usually see occur at the close of a game (a mosh pit at home plate after a walk-off, or outfielders meeting in center field after the game’s last out for a celebratory handshake), but rarely within the game’s confines.

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Scientists explore using bacteria as building blocks for alternative fuels

Researchers at Northwestern University’s Jewett Lab use E. coli and other strains to innovate new renewable compounds

By Valerie Nikolas
Medill Reports

At Northwestern University’s Jewett Lab in the Center for Synthetic Biology, researchers aim to create sustainable chemicals and materials out of existing organic compounds. Using cell-free metabolic engineering, they isolate the structural components from existing organisms, such as E. coli, and manipulate them to create new compounds. These types of reactions are called “cell-free” because they occur outside the confines of a cell.

“We focus on E. coli because it is super well-studied,” said Ashty Karim, research fellow and assistant scientific director at the Jewett Lab. “We know a lot about how it functions and how to manipulate it to do our engineering objectives.”

The lab’s engineering objectives are to create sustainable and renewable chemicals that can be used for biofuels and in manufacturing.

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Used as the new black: Environmentally conscious shoppers are choosing thrift stores

By Karleigh Stone
Medill Reports

Rapidly changing fashion trends can be harmful to the environment, according to a recent analysis by a U.N. consortium. In what’s known as “fast fashion,” retailers constantly flip the floor stock to match popular styles. That has led to production facilities creating more clothing than ever before.

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Double amputee discovers new abilities through contemporary dance

By Josephine Chu
Medill Reports

Through contemporary dance, Kris Lenzo shows the world that disabled people are no different from other dancers.

Lenzo lost both legs in a work accident nearly 40 years ago but has stayed active since his injury. He played wheelchair basketball for years before transitioning to contemporary dance at Momenta Dance Company in Oak Park, Ill., in 2003. Lenzo performs in several group pieces, solo routines and partner dances throughout the year.

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