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”

Why Jet Lag Sucks: Your Body Clock and You

One weekend in early May, I endured one of the most confusing experiences in my life: a two-legged, 24-hour flight across 13 time zones. I took off from Chicago on Saturday evening, and 24 hours later, I arrived in Bali on Monday morning. In that 24 hour period, I ate two dinners and two breakfasts, while lunchtime didn’t exist. I couldn’t tell when I was supposed to be hungry or go to sleep, so I ate when food was placed in front of me and I tried to sleep when I got tired. Continue reading “Why Jet Lag Sucks: Your Body Clock and You”

Does Climate Change Make Hurricanes Stronger?

At 7:15 AM ET on Friday, September 14, 2018, Hurricane Florence made landfall along the coast of North Carolina as a Category 1 storm. Although, by this point, it had weakened from its peak intensity as a Category 4 hurricane, Florence still inundated communities in the region with torrential rains and a sizeable storm surge before dissipating over the east coast within a few days. Despite its monopoly over the airwaves in September, however, Florence was only one of four storms in the Atlantic at the time of landfall (the other three being tropical storms Helene, Isaac, and Joyce). Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Olivia (which was a Category 4 storm at peak intensity) had just dumped copious quantities of rain over Hawaii, and Typhoon Mangkhut in the west Pacific was still threatening populations in southeast Asia. In October, Hurricane Michael made landfall over the Florida panhandle with wind speeds only 2 mph shy of a Category 5 rating, making it the most powerful hurricane to hit the US since Andrew in 1992. How could so many terrible storms develop in such a short time span? Does climate change have anything to do with this? To figure that out, we first need to learn about what hurricanes are and how they form. Here’s an overview: Continue reading “Does Climate Change Make Hurricanes Stronger?”

Diabetes in Low-Income Communities: Its Causes and Its Solutions

According to the Center for Disease Control, in 2014, over 29 million people had diabetes in the United States – a disease that is more common among the poor, the less educated, and racial and ethnic minorities. While some people inherit genetic susceptibility to Type 2 diabetes, the onset of this disease can be exacerbated by factors that are all common to underserved neighborhoods, such as poor diet, lack of exercise, and limited access to quality healthcare. This is a complex problem that requires a multifaceted solution. Continue reading “Diabetes in Low-Income Communities: Its Causes and Its Solutions”

Tardigrades: The Animals That Defy Nature

Picture an animal that can live anywhere: hot springs to solid ice, mountaintops to the deepest sea levels, spanning a temperature range of -458 °F to 302 °F. Imagine that this animal can survive in outer space, live through global mass extinctions, and persist for 30 years without food or water. Sounds like science fiction? Well, these animals are real, and they’re known as tardigrades. Continue reading “Tardigrades: The Animals That Defy Nature”

Chemical Warfare: an Assault on your Nervous System

You’re out protesting for a cause that’s near-and-dear to your heart.  You’re used to getting jostled around in the crowd, but this time things are getting out of hand.  What began as an afternoon of impassioned speeches interspersed with emphatic chants has devolved into yelling, chaos, and panic.  Suddenly, you’re drooling and your muscles are gripped tighter than ever before, paralyzing you.  Everything goes out of focus as your pupils constrict.  Trying desperately to breathe, you tumble to the ground and succumb to seizures.  You’re terrified.  Is this the end? Continue reading “Chemical Warfare: an Assault on your Nervous System”

The Science of Grilling vs. Barbecue

Autumn is officially here, and if you’re anything like me, you’re a little sad that the smell of charcoal and mosquito spray is going away with the summer. I’m also always a little sad knowing that I won’t have the treat of my husband’s latest barbecued meal on my Dixie plate when dinner time rolls around in the winter months. Whether it is the hundreds of pounds of pulled pork he makes for our family’s annual pig roast in Michigan or a simple charred salmon with fresh corn on the back porch, the fish skin delicately charred and greasy as you flake it onto your fork, I will surely miss it. Continue reading “The Science of Grilling vs. Barbecue”

The Genetics of Bliss

The phrase “nature vs. nurture” calls to mind the idea that the traits that make us who we are, such as our strength, weight, and personality, result from a complex combination of genetic factors and life experiences.  This combination is so, well, complicated that scientists still haven’t entirely figured out where genetics ends and environmental contributions take over in the way our traits develop. After all, our genetics and life experiences are constantly influencing one another throughout our lifetime.  
Continue reading “The Genetics of Bliss”

Alzheimer’s Disease: Causes, Preventative Measures, and Ideal Outcomes

Have you ever wondered how people develop Alzheimer’s disease? Is it something that begins before the person or anyone else around them fully realizes that someone’s memory lapses are actually a symptom of something bigger? Is it all at the mercy of our genes, or can we take actions that lower the chances, or better yet, prevent the disease from occurring altogether? Finally, if a close family member or friend is diagnosed, what can we do to help alleviate the symptoms and slow down the pace of the illness? Continue reading “Alzheimer’s Disease: Causes, Preventative Measures, and Ideal Outcomes”