Say Goodbye to Trans Fats

Today, you can find hydrogenated butter with canola oil right next to trans fat-free margarine. Partially-hydrogenated soybean oil a few aisles down from Omega-3 fatty acids. Your friends tell you that you can eat fat as long as you avoid sugar, while doctors tell you to avoid some fats because they’ll clog your arteries and cause heart disease. Yes, the world of fats is as complex as it is diverse.  Continue reading “Say Goodbye to Trans Fats”

A Cell’s Search for Identity

All of us have gone through the torment of high school—the growing pains and the mood swings and the cliques. It turns out that during development the cells of your body also go through something similar to high school. Once a new cell is created in the developing embryo, the cell undergoes a process called cellular differentiation, where it responds to varying cues to choose what kind of cell it’s going to be, or rather how it should respond to the incessant “what do you want to be when you grow up” question. The process of cellular differentiation in embryonic development is very similar to school—the cell enters the process naïve and innocent about the world, and leaves with an idea of who and what it wants to be.

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Blood, Sweat, and… Saliva: How Our Bodily Fluids Can Save Us

Picture a fighter pilot commanding a plane as they engage in aerial combat.  When you think of the greatest threats to the pilot’s safety, you probably think of attacks from other aircraft or the risk of crashing the plane as they swiftly maneuver it between various obstacles.  But what about the potential for harm coming from inside the pilot’s own body?  For example, the stress the pilot is feeling might give him or her a heart attack.  Similarly, their severe dehydration could lead to heat stroke.  Both of these conditions would spell disaster for the pilot.  While often overshadowed by the inherent hazards of weapons and machinery, these ailments pose a very serious threat to the safety of military personnel.  But how can we know if someone is dehydrated or enduring dangerous levels of stress while they’re thousands of feet in the air? Continue reading “Blood, Sweat, and… Saliva: How Our Bodily Fluids Can Save Us”

On a Small Island in Indonesia: The Last Dragons on Earth

Halfway across the Earth, nestled deep within the Indonesian archipelago, lie two small, tropical islands unlike any others on the planet. From the United States, it takes at least three planes, a boat, and a couple of days to get there. By the time you dock at the main pier on one of these islands, you realize that you’ve stepped foot into an entirely different world. There is no technology – no cell service, no internet, no cars; not even paved roads. It’s just you, a guide, and the wilderness around you. Continue reading “On a Small Island in Indonesia: The Last Dragons on Earth”

Does Sprinkles McFluffington have Resting Cat Face?

Why is your cat so judgmental?  Sure, you’ve been lounging on the couch stuffing your face and binging on Netflix for like seven hours. But still.  A animal who uses their tongue to shower doesn’t get to judge us, right? Nevertheless, our cats seem to direct a thick layer of skepticism and condescension toward us, even though we prepare their meals, clean their litter boxes, and buy them toys filled with catnip. Continue reading “Does Sprinkles McFluffington have Resting Cat Face?”

Kombucha: the Science Behind the Craze

It seems like every year there’s a new miracle food. First it was kale, then it was açai bowls, and now kombucha (pronounced come-BOOCH-uh) is the new health craze. You may have heard friends or colleagues touting its benefits: “It prevents cancer!” “It fights off colds!” “It’s the fountain of youth!” Maybe you’ve recently hopped on the kombucha train, or have been drinking it for years, or, if you’re honest, maybe you have absolutely no idea what it is. (It’s a fermented tea drink, in case you were wondering).

Well, you’re in the right place! Let’s learn more about the science behind kombucha. We’ll explore how it is made and how it interacts with our bodies. And spoiler alert: while it’s probably not the fountain of youth, evidence suggests it could be really, really good for us.  

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Piping Plovers: Conservation in Action

You may have heard that some little birds, the Piping Plovers, are making big waves at Montrose Beach this summer in Chicago, as well as other beaches around the country. Piping Plovers are federally endangered in the Great Lakes region, with only about 80 nesting pairs. A Jersey Shore concert series was canceled this year to protect a nest that was found in the area, and just the other day, they cancelled the summer music fest Mamby, which was scheduled to happen at Montrose Beach in late August. Why all the fuss over one species of shorebird?  Continue reading “Piping Plovers: Conservation in Action”

The Hunt for the Elusive Neutrino

About 100 trillion neutrinos just passed through your body a second ago. Did you feel them? Neutrinos are one of the most abundant particles in the universe, but they’re also the most elusive. They can pass through just about anything, including your body, without being noticed. Now, imagine if we could harness this power. Imagine the possibilities if you could control a particle that can pass through anything undetected.

While an intriguing idea, it’s this exact characteristic that kept neutrinos from being detected for nearly half a century after physicist James Chadwick first theorized their existence back in 1914. Continue reading “The Hunt for the Elusive Neutrino”

Liquid Rocks and Where to Find Them

Summer in Illinois can feel unbearably hot, but how hot is that exactly?  At 80ºF, Illinoisans can be found enjoying the sunshine and the reprieve from our winters.  At 100ºF, Chicagoans complain incessantly as cautionary heat warnings show up on billboards.  But what about, 200ºF?  Or 1000ºF?  These are the real extreme temperatures, and they are so hot that they literally melt rocks.  Believe it or not, parts of our very own planet heat up to these temperatures.  Continue reading “Liquid Rocks and Where to Find Them”

Stripping, Drugs, Neurosurgery: Living With Epilepsy

Somehow, the first seizure I recall makes me giggle. I was getting changed after sports at school, age 6-ish, when I had a focal seizure, a seizure that starts on one side of the brain. The problem really was that I was still only half-dressed when I started walking down the corridor in only my underwear. It wasn’t until I was about to enter the classroom that I came out of the seizure. Can you imagine how different my life might have been if I had half-flashed my classmates?!  Continue reading “Stripping, Drugs, Neurosurgery: Living With Epilepsy”

How to Take Great Photos: The Three Pillars of Photography

If you ever decide your smartphone camera isn’t cutting it and you want to buy a standalone DSLR camera, you’ll find that you have a lot more control over how your photographs come out. DSLRs come loaded with lots of features and settings that contribute to the overall look of your photographs, all of which are either controlled automatically by your phone or not available at all. Use these features the right way, and you can capture images your phone never could. Continue reading “How to Take Great Photos: The Three Pillars of Photography”

Viva Las Vagus

Chances are, you’ve had a few opportunities to be crippled by symptoms of anxiety in your life. Maybe it was a first day at a new job or a social occasion with no familiar faces. Perhaps it happened right before you needed to perform in front of an audience. These occasions can be few and far between for some or chronically debilitating for others. Any way you experience it, anxiety generally comes with the same set of symptoms—accelerated heart rate, increased blood pressure, an abrupt tightness in your stomach. What’s happening here is your body’s fight-or-flight response, the automatic physiological and psychological behaviors that prepare your body to react to a perceived danger. Continue reading “Viva Las Vagus”

The Bicycle: A Marvel of Physics and Engineering

Oh, how I love riding my bicycle! It has gotten me all over Chicago, all along the lakefront from the far south side to the north suburbs, through the college neighborhoods and the ethnic neighborhoods, residential ones and industrial ones, and through downtown. My bicycle has enabled me to explore parts of the city I never pass through or only stop in for specific reasons, with direct exposure to the sights, sounds, and smells of each local community. Continue reading “The Bicycle: A Marvel of Physics and Engineering”

Be a Superhero with Biomimicry

Have you ever wanted to build a suit that gives you superhuman capabilities?  What would you do if you could store energy in the fabric of your clothes or had gloves with extra sticky fingertips that could help you climb buildings?  What if you had special silverware that told you the ingredients in a suspicious looking meal, or nail polish that changed color based on the presence of an air contaminant?   Continue reading “Be a Superhero with Biomimicry”

Is the Measles Really That Bad?

It’s official. In 2019, the United States (U.S.) is experiencing the nation’s largest outbreak of measles since 1994.

As the pairing of “measles” and “outbreak” screams across the headlines of countless news outlets, the majority of us experience an internal and instinctive shrinking back. But why? Is this learned response necessary, or is it simply the result of scare tactics and media hype? Continue reading “Is the Measles Really That Bad?”

Join us for the 5th Annual Chicago Science Fest!

The Illinois Science Council invites you to join us at our 5th annual Chicago Science Fest!  We have a supercharged week of science lined up just for you, including our signature event: the Chicago Science Expo on Saturday, May 18th.  Check out our schedule of amazing events below, and click here to read more about each specific event. Continue reading “Join us for the 5th Annual Chicago Science Fest!”

Navigating the Space between Art and Science

As a high school student, I had a love of technical subjects, such as physics, math and computer programming. I also spent a great deal of time in art classes. I was blessed with a generous and dedicated art teacher (thank you, Leona Mackey).

Those interests overlapped for me in photography, which I dove into deeply. While shooting, I immersed myself in my senses. When composing, I leveraged intuition and critical thinking. And in the darkroom, I practiced my analytical thinking skills as I developed and printed my photographs. Continue reading “Navigating the Space between Art and Science”