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”

What Your 23andMe Results Mean for Your Health

Last year, the genetic testing company 23andMe announced they will start testing for mutations in the BRCA genes, the ones that predict whether a woman will develop breast cancer, with surprising accuracy. A year prior, the FDA approved 23andMe genetic tests for other complex conditions such as Late-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, and Celiac disease. Continue reading “What Your 23andMe Results Mean for Your Health”

Behold…The ISC Blog is Now “Science Unsealed”

To Our Loyal Readers,

2018 was an exciting year for the Illinois Science Council blog. We shifted from publishing articles whenever we had time to bringing you fresh content, every Monday (and even some other days sprinkled in between)! We published over 60 blogs from over 25 writers, ranging from graduate students in science to professional science communicators. We were able to share our passion for science with over 16,000 readers on topics ranging from why we have blood, to what makes cut diamonds so sparkly, to how and why we can control our dreams. Given our success over the past year, we decided that our blog finally deserves a name. Continue reading “Behold…The ISC Blog is Now “Science Unsealed””

Glioblastoma: This Cancer is Not a No-Brainer

In the summer of 2018, you probably heard the word “glioblastoma” popping up quite frequently in news reports upon the decline and death of American politician John McCain.  McCain was diagnosed with the aggressive class of brain cancer in July 2017, stopped treatment on August 24, 2018 and passed away the very next day. While this timeline might seem exceptional, the unfortunate reality is that McCain’s experience with glioblastoma is a very accurate representation of the rapid progression of the disease.  In fact, those afflicted by glioblastoma survive on average just over one year upon diagnosis.  Let’s explore what makes glioblastoma so evasive in nature and what scientists are doing to try to increase patients’ lifespans.   Continue reading “Glioblastoma: This Cancer is Not a No-Brainer”

A Spoonful of Insulin Makes the Blood Sugar Go Down

Imagine drinking ten glasses of sugar water. What would you do after? Wash out your mouth? Eat something salty? You’d probably eat or drink whatever it takes to get rid of the extremely sweet taste. In the same way, when your body encounters high blood sugar, it tries to lower your glucose back to normal levels. Insulin, meaning island in Latin, is a hormone that is made in your pancreas.  Its primary role is to reduce your blood sugar. Defective insulin secretion, which is the hallmark of diabetes, can have adverse consequences in the body, such as unintended weight loss, increased thirst, increased urination, vision problems, and skin problems. Continue reading “A Spoonful of Insulin Makes the Blood Sugar Go Down”

Never Mind the Ducks: Don’t Feed the Microbes!

You may have noticed signs that say “Don’t feed the ducks!” when walking in local parks with ponds or lakes.  While you may be tempted to feed the cute wild animals, you generally understand why you shouldn’t.  One of the problems with feeding wild animals is that they become dependent on humans for their food.  Another problem is that they can overpopulate places that humans frequent, like your local duck pond.  It’s easy to resist throwing some crackers out for ducks or squirrels, but have you ever thought about how your daily actions might be feeding organisms so small you can’t even see them, leading to toxic algal blooms? Continue reading “Never Mind the Ducks: Don’t Feed the Microbes!”

How Genetic Mutations Cause — And Prevent — Disease

Stephen Crohn, an artist from New York, lost a lot to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. For more than a decade, he watched his boyfriend, Jerry Green, as well as nearly all of his friends slowly grow sicker and perish from this mysterious illness. His passion for his art dried up, and survivors’ guilt consumed him.

But the one thing he didn’t lose during this scourge was his own life. The reason he survived was not luck, however. Rather, he made it through because he carried a rare genetic mutation that made him virtually immune to HIV. Continue reading “How Genetic Mutations Cause — And Prevent — Disease”

Living the Good Life in Uninhabitable Surroundings: How Microbes Adapt to Extreme Environments

Our planet is home to a diverse array of habitats. These can range from cozy, nutrient-rich, temperature-controlled havens to deadly, gruesome battlegrounds where only the fittest survive. Each habitat, no matter how extreme, serves as home to millions of microbes. For instance, the microbes in our bodies are only happy at a balmy 98.6 °F. They live a cozy life, feasting on food scraps and dead cells in and on our bodies. However, not all microbes live in such luxury. Continue reading “Living the Good Life in Uninhabitable Surroundings: How Microbes Adapt to Extreme Environments”