As I stood, gazing intently down near my feet, I felt the water flow past my knees. Even with my waders on, I could feel its cool relief in the summer sun. As I looked into the water, I caught a glimpse of a dark, circular shape under the muddy stream bed. I reached down to grab it, and as I pulled, I realized that it was not going to budge. What I thought was a lone bike tire was actually still attached to an entire bike, buried under the muck. I called my teammate, undergraduate researcher Sam Fredrickson, over and we traced the pattern of the metal crossbars and found a place to grip. With our combined effort, we pulled the frame free from under the layers of mud that had accumulated over it.Continue reading “A Day in the Life of a Garbage Scientist”
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?”
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”
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”
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”
Sometimes, simplicity is key to success. In our attempts to understand the evolution of animals, from small, single-celled protists to big, multi-cellular animals, we miss out on the story of a fascinating journey of a group of animals which make us wonder “What makes an animal, an animal?”. Continue reading “From Complex to Simple: the Curious Case of Myxozoans”
Plastic pollution in our oceans, lakes, and rivers has gained vast media attention over recent months, and rightly so: approximately 8.8 million tons of plastic are released into the oceans each year.
A mystery red gemstone is in front of you on a table. Is it a ruby? Is it a garnet? Is it a red diamond?
The DeYoung Red Diamond, held in the Smithsonian’s National Gem Collection in Washington D.C., presents a perplexing case. Observers originally thought the deep red 5.03-carat gem was a garnet. The large stone was set in a pin and purchased by a Boston jeweler at a flea market. The jeweler, S. Sydney DeYoung, noticed that stone held up better over time than a garnet should. After some testing, he realized that his stone was actually a rare red diamond. He extracted it from the pin and willed it to the Smithsonian, where it is now on display. Continue reading “The Mystery of the DeYoung Diamond”
This story begins with a giant worm that lives in one of the most inhospitable places in the planet. A giant, gutless, eyeless worm. Continue reading “Better Together: Symbiotic Relationships in the Sea”
Flashes of fiery light. Infinite sparkles. The hardest rock on the scale. A traditional symbol of both love and status.
Diamonds have fascinated people through the ages. Their flashy optic properties captivate the viewer and make us wonder, “What is it about a diamond that makes the light bounce around and sparkle?” Continue reading “Maximizing the Sparkle of a Diamond”
Animals are pretty remarkable – we can find them in virtually every environment on Earth, from the perpetually frozen hallows of Antarctica to the pressurized, pitch black depths of the ocean. Continue reading “Deep Ocean or Deep Freeze: How Animals Have Evolved to Survive”
The age-old question, “how did life begin?” has baffled humans for centuries. Many scholars have theorized about how life began, but in almost every case, they have agreed on one thing: in some way, the creation of life involved water. Continue reading “Did Life Begin in the Oceans?”
If you head outside and you walk to a freshwater river, stream, or lake, you will probably find some rocks covered in what looks like a slimy, green film. Continue reading “Diatoms: The Cheat Sheet for Studying Our Waterways”
Long before humans, dinosaurs, or plants, some of the first creatures on Earth were primitive single-celled organisms that survived exclusively from the energy of light. You might call them living fossils. Continue reading “Living Fossils Inspire Cures for Disease”