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”

The Strange History of Antidepressants

Ironically, despite the horrors of war, armed conflict has a way of advancing medicine. Gruesome injuries sustained on the battlefield provide opportunities for surgeons to experiment and test new approaches for treatment. During World War II for example, blood poisoning, bronchitis, and other infectious diseases contracted by soldiers created a demand for broad spectrum antibiotics, which encouraged British scientists to find new ways to produce penicillin on a mass scale.

Sometimes, weapons of war themselves have applications other than mass destruction. Consider hydrazine (N2H4), a chemical compound that received renewed recognition by the military-industrial complex in 1937 Germany. Continue reading “The Strange History of Antidepressants”

How Soon Will We All Have Hydrogen-Powered Cars?

Hydrogen-powered cars are a promising technology. They are clean, could potentially be powered by renewable energy, and plus, they just sound like the future, right?

Hydrogen-powered cars, also known as fuel cell vehicles, are a type of electric vehicle: they use electricity to run a motor that turns the wheels. The car contains pressurized tanks of hydrogen and it passes the gas through a fuel cell to generate the electricity to run the motor. You can think of a fuel cell as a kind of electric generator, but instead of running on gasoline, it uses hydrogen as fuel. Continue reading “How Soon Will We All Have Hydrogen-Powered Cars?”

The Truth about Cannabidiol (As Far as We Know)

“CBD.” Perhaps you’ve seen these letters shining bright, in green neon, on a store window in a seedy part of the city, fronting a shop with glass vials and trinkets lining the shelves and creepy men behind the counter. Or, maybe you took a stroll downtown on a sunny day and walked into CVS or Walgreens, only to see these same letters on small boxes lining the shelves next to the vitamins. You might be wondering what’s going on – how could the same compound be proudly sold in shady hemp shops and mainstream convenience stores at the same time? What is this confounded chemical? Continue reading “The Truth about Cannabidiol (As Far as We Know)”

A DIY Guide to Building a Quantum Computer

Imagine a computer that doesn’t use electrical devices to process information but instead uses individual atoms. These computers, called quantum computers, have the potential to solve all kinds of complex problems, from cancer to street traffic, which regular computers struggle to do. While these computers are still in development, and have been for a couple of decades, the first rudimentary versions have recently started to take form. Continue reading “A DIY Guide to Building a Quantum Computer”

The Moving Cells that Make Our Pups the Pups They Are Today

What makes dogs so doggy? You might have noticed that your dog has traits, like floppy ears, a curly tail, speckles or patches, or a cute, short nose,  that make it look pretty different from the wolf it’s descended from. For more than a century, scientists have wondered why so many domesticated animals, ranging from cows to pigs to mice, share traits like these that don’t exist in the wild animals they’re related to. Continue reading “The Moving Cells that Make Our Pups the Pups They Are Today”

The Space Dust In Your Backyard Can Change the Course of History

Every day, a fine sprinkling of dust covers your city or farm, landing across the roof of your house or onto the hood of your car. Some of it may settle in your hair, or onto the vegetables you eat in your salad. If you take a closer look, you’ll notice it isn’t just any dust – it’s oddly metallic and finely grooved.

And it’s from outer space. Continue reading “The Space Dust In Your Backyard Can Change the Course of History”

I Can Steal Your Data in Less Than 10 Minutes (With a Privacy-Back Guarantee)

It’s estimated that companies and governments will spend over $124 billion dollars this year on security measures to protect your data. But with a disguise, the right piece of specialized equipment (which is basically a USB stick on steroids that I could purchase for $49.99 during a Christmas sale), and about 10 minutes, I, a 20-year old college student, can make all that security worthless.

The problem with only investing in network security measures is this: While most data today is stored in a cloud, the cloud isn’t a real place, and your data has to be stored somewhere. If I can physically touch the computer where your data is stored, I win. Continue reading “I Can Steal Your Data in Less Than 10 Minutes (With a Privacy-Back Guarantee)”

Let’s Talk Quantum—A Revolution in Communication

If you reach into your back pocket or bag, a small device likely hides in the depths. Perhaps you’re holding it right now, using its screen to read these words. Of course, I’m referring to the cell phone which 92% of Americans now possess. This tiny device has utterly revolutionized our concept of communication and catapulted us into a new digital age in only a few decades—but also into an era of digital insecurity as millions per year are hacked through smartphone apps or other security compromises. As a result, industries and researchers have begun to explore the possibility of using fundamental laws of physics to create an impenetrable communication system. Continue reading “Let’s Talk Quantum—A Revolution in Communication”

Redrawing the Battle Plan Against Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria

Emily Collins has spent her life under the shadow of recurring bacterial infections. She spent a significant part of her childhood in the hospital, taking time off from her studies at her university, which cause her to lose her dream job of being a nurse. Emily suffers from chronic ESBL infections. ESBLs, or Extended-Spectrum-Beta-Lactamases, are bacterial chemicals that can break down a range of antibiotics, helping certain bacteria resist a large fraction of antibiotic treatments. As a result, these antibiotic-resistant infections are notoriously difficult to treat and can cause chronic, life-long infections.

Continue reading “Redrawing the Battle Plan Against Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria”

How Cameras Work: From Lens to Sensor

Everyone has a digital camera on their phone these days, but you, the aspiring photographer, might be thinking it’s time to summon the courage and upgrade to a higher-end camera. But if you browse the cameras on Amazon, you might notice that with higher quality comes more and more specs – odd strings of letters and numbers that make no sense to you. “What in all heck do ISO, megapixels, and f-stop mean?” you ask. Then, you head to a store to try one out. You gravitate towards one that’s within your price range, you pick it up, and you snap a picture. But as you press down on the shutter button, you hear a series of clicks and whirs. “I thought this thing was digital! What are all of those sounds?” you continue wondering. Then, you suddenly realize you know a lot less about how cameras work than you thought. Continue reading “How Cameras Work: From Lens to Sensor”

Why Chicago Set Records with Another Polar Vortex

For those of us here in Illinois, the end of January this year was mind-blowingly frigid. Wind chills dipped as low as minus 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit in parts of the upper Midwest, and in Chicago it was not much warmer than that. In fact, temperatures that week were substantially colder in the states along the Great Lakes than in the world’s northernmost permanent settlements on the island of Spitsbergen in Norway, where daylight will be returning this month for the first time since October. Whenever temperatures get lower than normal here in the US, there are many people (our president included) who question the existence of climate change. Continue reading “Why Chicago Set Records with Another Polar Vortex”

Immunity: How Vaccines Keep You Healthy

“It’s just like riding a bike!”

We usually say this when we’re trying out a task or a skill that we may have learned long ago, and have not used for a while, but can still execute like no time has passed. Think back for a moment to that time when you were learning this persistent skill. What exactly did you need to learn that stuck with you all this time? Your brain and muscles learned how to stay balanced, how to pedal and how to steer, and how to do all of those things at once. It was a pretty complicated task to learn. Continue reading “Immunity: How Vaccines Keep You Healthy”

Three Ingredients for a Perfect Cocktail

While there is an exception to every rule, most bartenders recognize that there are really two types of cocktails: sours and bitters. These flavors temper the taste of alcohol, as most people don’t enjoy straight 40% alcohol booze. The first thing bartenders can do to give their drinks flavor – the first step in creating the perfect cocktail – is to add a source of sugar, often in the form of simple syrup (just sugar and water) or vermouth. However, a drink with just booze and sugar would taste cloyingly sweet to most people, so bartenders often add something else to counteract the sweetness, and this is where the two families of drinks now diverge into bitters or sours. Continue reading “Three Ingredients for a Perfect Cocktail”

Surprising Uses for Gemstones

From diamond rings to sapphire earrings to garnet necklaces, people have gotten into the habit of wearing and cherishing gemstones.  Maybe it’s their rich colors, their sharp facets, or the way the light glimmers when it hits them; natural crystals are definitely some of Earth’s most extraordinary materials. Somehow, along with all its craggy rocks and chalky surfaces, nature finds ways to arrange atoms into (nearly) perfect patterns, and the result is the smooth, clear crystals we love to wear.  But gems aren’t special just because of their aesthetic appeal. Because of their purity and the way they shine, scientists covet them for use in the laboratory too! Continue reading “Surprising Uses for Gemstones”

Gasping for Air in the Colorado Rockies

Last year, my friends and I went hiking in the awe-inspiring mountains in Denver, Colorado.  The five of us are all active people, but certainly not elite athletes. As we left the car and glanced out at the beginning of the trail, I thought, “That’s barely a mild incline; this will be easy.”  We grabbed our water bottles and set out for the first peak. But scarcely halfway to the first resting point, I began to gasp for air. I willed my quadriceps to keep pushing up the trail, but each step left me weary and feeling weak.  “How could I possible be this out of shape?” I wondered.  After training as a ballet dancer for 20+ years, I had considered myself reasonably physically fit, but this mountain was showing me otherwise.   Continue reading “Gasping for Air in the Colorado Rockies”

Using Science to Step Up Your Cocktails

In the midst of the cocktail revolution, there’s no shortage of online recipes for aspiring home mixologists to shake or stir at the end of the day. However, outside of (often long) lists of (often obscure) ingredients to throw together, there’s little out there to provide an understanding of why we’re combining these ingredients and what makes a good drink. With that in mind, let’s dive into the ideas about why some drinks work, and explore how you can optimize and improve the taste of your beverages. Continue reading “Using Science to Step Up Your Cocktails”