Monday, January 04, 2010

Martin's work featured at national astronomical meeting

The work of Dr. John Martin, professor of astronomy-physics at UIS, was the focus of a press event at the American Astronomical Society (AAS) winter meeting in Washington D.C. on January 4. Martin, along with an international team of researchers, obtained new data about the Eta Carinae star system using a Near-Infrared Coronagraphic Imager (NICI) at the Gemini Observatory's Gemini South telescope in Chile.

In April 1843, the Eta Carinae system underwent a huge 20-year outburst that, throughout some of that period, made it the sky’s second brightest stellar object. During the “Great Eruption,” astronomers estimate that about 20 times the mass of the Sun was ejected into interstellar space. Today, astronomers study this relatively nearby stellar oddity to help understand the late evolution of massive stars – a messy process involving outflows, eruptions, strong magnetic fields and powerful jets.

The result of this activity is reflected in a new image captured by Martin and his team of researchers. Gemini Observatory released the image showing previously hidden forensic secrets at the ballistic core of the Homunculus Nebula, part of the Eta Carinae system. Adaptive optics were used to remove atmospheric blurring in the image.

Martin’s team used NICI to study gas and dust features surrounding the central star where the complex structure includes an intricate network of wispy clouds, inspiring the “Butterfly Nebula” moniker. The data also uncover a feature never directly imaged before called the Little Homunculus Nebula.

"The Homunculus is an evolving corpse of a dying star, and most of what we see is the visible outer layer, like a skin, from the Great Eruption. The Little Homunuclus is under that skin," Martin said. "The Gemini images have allowed us to perform something akin to an autopsy by peeling away the obscuring, outer dusty skin and giving us a glimpse of what’s inside. In the process, we're finding things we have never imaged before and didn't expect."

Eta Carinae, located only about 7,500-8,000 light years away, consists of at least two stars at its core, the largest of which is among the most luminous and massive stars in our galaxy having a mass of at least 100 times that of the Sun. The system is visible to the naked eye from the southern hemisphere and very low northern latitudes.

Martin and his team hope that their new observations will soon trace the uncertain history of a minor eruption in the Eta Carinae system in the late 1890s.

The research team also includes Etienne Artigau (University of Montréal, Canada, lead author on subsequent paper and previously at Gemini South), Kris Davidson (University of Minnesota), Roberta Humphreys (University of Minnesota), Olivier Chesneau (FIZEAU, France), and Nathan Smith (University of California).

Labels: , ,

Friday, September 25, 2009

UIS Student honored with Undergraduate Teaching Fellowship award

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) has selected Christopher Crockett from the University of Illinois Springfield as a 2009 award recipient of the ASM Undergraduate Teaching Fellowship (ASM-UTF).

This fellowship is aimed at highly motivated and competitive students who are interested in a career as an elementary or secondary school science teacher. Students will have the opportunity to develop a project to provide instruction in a scientific discipline in a local school or community setting in partnership with a mentor at their home institution and a teacher or site coordinator from the host site.

Each fellow receives up to a $2,000 stipend, a two-year ASM student membership, and travel support to the ASM Conference for Undergraduate Educators (ASMCUE). Awardees are also encouraged to submit abstracts and applications to attend the 2009 ASMCUE.

This year, nine applications were received and four were awarded. Of the four awardees, three students were from masters’ and doctoral institutions and one student was from a liberal arts institution.

Michael Lemke from the University of Illinois-Springfield is Christopher Crockett’s faculty mentor, while Mary Dawson from Taylorville High School is the K-12 site mentor. The title of the project is: Microbes: Improving the Environment.

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM), headquartered in Washington, D.C., is the oldest and largest single biological membership organization, with over 40,000 members worldwide. Please visit www.asm.org/students for more information on this fellowship or contact Michael Lemke at 217/206-7339 or Lemke.Michael@uis.edu.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Assistant Professor of Biology receives national grant to study brain stem development

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has awarded a Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development grant to the University of Illinois Springfield.

The $216,150 grant will help Assistant Professor of Biology Rebecca Landsberg, Ph.D. continue her research into the region of the brain known as the brain stem, which is involved in regulating sleep, breathing, and coordination of movement.

“While much is known about the function of the neurons in this region we are just beginning to get an appreciation for how these neurons arise during fetal development,” said Landsberg. “Furthermore, during gestation this region of the brain is susceptible to environmental influences such as retinoic acid (a common ingredient in facial cream) and alcohol.”

Landsberg will study the molecular events that occur during development that results in the production of different types of brain stem neurons and the effects environmental influences have upon this process.

The grant will be used to provide research opportunities in developmental biology to UIS undergraduates. Student who seek to begin a career in science greatly benefit from early exposure to the scientific research process.

“I greatly appreciate that the NIH recognizes the value undergraduates can bring to the research efforts at a school such as UIS,” said Landsberg.

The project described was supported by Award Number R15HD059922 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development or the National Institutes of Health.

For more information on the research contact Assistant Professor of Biology Rebecca Landsberg, Ph.D. at 217/206-7338 or by e-mail at rland3@uis.edu.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Undergraduate students presented research at AAAS meeting

UIS undergraduates presented their research at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago last month.

Kimberly Bartosiak and Adam Waters presented "Bacterial Diversity and Water Quality in Connected and Unconnected Lakes of the Illinois River Floodplain System," while Bronson McLeod and Lindsay Zscheck presented "Antimicrobial & Antioxidant Properties of Oak and Walnut Leaves."

The papers were co-authored by biology and chemistry faculty Keenan Dungey, Wayne Gade, Michael Lemke, Amy McEuen, Gary Trammell, Lucia Vazquez and Jim Veselenak. The research was part of UIS’ Merck/AAAS Undergraduate Science Research Program.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, October 10, 2008

UIS Prairie offers sustainability and opportunities to university

By Courtney Westlake



The state of Illinois had 22 million acres of prairie up until the 1820s, but since European settlers moved into area, there are now less than 2,500 acres. Caring for the prairie areas that remain is now extremely important, such as the beautiful prairie located on the south area of the UIS campus.

“We have such small remnants of prairie still left,” said Dr. Tih-Fen Ting, assistant professor of Environmental Studies. “By losing this part of the native ecosystem, we also put out a lot of other species that are associated with prairie, whether it be birds, mammals or insects. We hope that we can increase biodiversity locally and also help species that still depend on prairie for survival and reproductive needs.”

Prairie is a French word meaning ‘meadow,’ Ting said. A prairie system is made up of lot of grasses and flower species and is very productive. Prairie grasses and forbs have deep root systems, and once a plant dies, its roots decompose and become part of the soil.

The prairie at UIS was established in 1991 by the student organization Students Allied for a Greener Earth (SAGE). Bob Raebig, who was a SAGE member and later became the environmental health and safety officer at UIS, played a tremendous role for the prairie restoration, Ting said, and when he passed away in 2004, Ting took responsibility of maintaining the prairie, along with help from Joan Buckles, UIS superintendent of grounds.

“We can use this as a living laboratory to teach students about the prairie and its ecosystem,” Ting said. “Even though it’s only three acres right now, it’s still a nice opportunity to have that living laboratory on campus for students to be able to learn more about a prairie ecosystem.”

Having a restored prairie on campus is beneficial not only to the campus community but to the environment and to sustainability in general.

“Sustainability is a broad issue in the sense that it involves not only environmental stewardship but social responsibilities and economic wellbeing,” Ting said. “There are many ecological benefits the prairie can provide. It increases biodiversity in a human-dominant landscape. And it does not preclude the opportunity for other species to be able to co-exist with us, which is important for sustainability.”

The prairie is also appealing for its aesthetic value and provides a natural setting for people to come, Ting said.

“It's such a beautiful place, and I think people will get inspiration for all kinds of work,” she said.

In the early days, a prairie was maintained by fires from lightning or grazing done by bison, Ting said. Now, UIS uses the method of fire-prescribed burns to maintain the health of the prairie ecosystem. The Friends of Sangamon Valley assists UIS in conducting species inventory and prescribed burns.

“Those are the ways to prevent trees, brushes and shrubs from taking over the prairie ecosystem. We try to mimic the natural force with controlled fires,” Ting said. “The fire will help release nutrients from vegetation back to the soil so it will enhance soil productivity and help other plants to grow. It also helps to control a lot of invasive species as well.”

The UIS prairie gives the campus community the opportunity to be immersed in a different kind of natural setting, Ting said.

“I encourage everyone to come here. It’s right on campus, on west side of the Strawbridge-Shepherd House,” she said. “There are beautiful species and grasses. You can come, meditate, take a nice walk, and it will probably help with your day.”

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, July 07, 2008

Neginsky's work on Salome inspires Miller's editorial in technology magazine

Rosina Neginsky, UIS associate professor of Liberal Studies, Individual Option, and English, recently gave a sabbatical presentation about her new book Salome: The Image of a Woman Who Never Was (forthcoming, Edwin Mellon Press). The book examines myth-making and artistic depictions of Salome.

Colleague Keith Miller, professor of Computer Science, attended Neginsky's presentation and was inspired to write about it in "The engineer, the dancer, and the severed head," his first editorial as editor for the magazine IEEE Technology and Society.

The entire text of the editorial is available online through the Brookens Library homepage. Said Miller, "From the library homepage, click on the quick link 'A-Z list of databases,' then click on 'IEEE Xplore,' then click on 'Journals and Magazine' under the heading Browse, then click on 'T,' then click on 'Technology and Society Magazine,' then click on 'GO TO ISSUE,' and finally click on the PDF for the editorial.

"I know that's a pretty long list of clicks, but the more people do all that clicking, the more hits will be recorded by the IEEE, and the more money they will give to the society that sponsors the magazine." He added that UIS pays a fee for access to IEEE Xplore, "and this is one way all UIS students, faculty, and staff can take advantage of that resource.

"Of course, I would be tickled pink if lots of UIS library users wandered about on the Technology and Society website and read MANY of the articles there," he said.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Emiquon Field Station dedication held

By Courtney Westlake


It was a momentous occasion on Friday, April 25, as an excited crowd braved the strong winds and rain to celebrate the dedication and ribbon-cutting of the new Emiquon Field Station at the Emiquon Preserve located near Havana, Illinois, along the Illinois River.

The Illinois River is part of one of the greatest large-floodplain river ecosystems in the world. A century ago, most of the Illinois Rivers' floodplain was isolated from the river and converted to agricultural land, which significantly altered the natural ecological processes of seasonal flooding that sustained the ecosystem.

In 2007, however, the Nature Conservancy and UIS teamed up to transform 7,425 acres of land immediately adjacent to the Illinois River and owned by The Nature Conservancy back to its original state of a floodplain, which is one of the biggest transformations of its kind in the world.

UIS decided to establish the Emiquon Field Station to study, research, and document this incredible transformation and give students the opportunity to learn at the site. Dr. Michael Lemke, professor of biology at UIS, is the director of the field station.

During the field station dedication ceremony, Lemke explained how the restoration of the floodplain began and gave thanks to everyone involved who made the restoration and the field station possible.

"The physical function of the field station allows the vision that a lot of us have here; many of us have been busy studying this 7,000 acre-land restoration," he said. "A lot of planning and foresight has gone into this project. There is a chance for students here to learn biology, ecology, anthropology and many other disciplines."

The station features laboratories and an electronic classroom, Lemke said. The classroom lets instructors teach over the Web or bring guest speakers from distant locations to Emiquon, providing a connection to the rest of the world.

"Stories here at Emiquon aren't just for college-age students; we plan to share what is going on here with people from 'K to gray' through workshops, outreach and other ways," Lemke said. "I'm excited about sharing the stories here that have a global impact."

The Emiquon Project and the field station are right in line with UIS' goal to become one of the top five public, liberal arts universities in the country, said UIS Chancellor Richard Ringseisen.

"One of the phrases we like to use a lot is 'local excellence, global impact,' and if there's ever been an example of that, it certainly is this station," Ringeisen said. "This is an excellent and highly visible example of statewide and national recognition, so we're very excited today."

The field station is more than just a new building and observatory, Lemke said.

"It's also the people that work here. All of the people that have planned this and made it happen are part of the life of Emiquon," he said.

With the dedication of the new field station, UIS is becoming part of the long, rich history of the Emiquon floodplain, said UIS Provost Harry Berman.

"Dreams can come true," Berman said. "And with dreams come responsibility. At UIS, we now have a responsibility to take advantage of this wonderful facility and the splendid opportunities it offers to faculty and students. We will teach here, we will do research here, and in partnership with the Nature Conservatory, we will educate the public about biodiversity and conservation."

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day presenter encourages action for sustainable Future

By Courtney Westlake

UIS celebrated Earth Day on Tuesday, April 22 with a presentation on "Education and Action for a Sustainable Future" given by Dr. Debra Rowe, president of the U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development, on Tuesday evening in Brookens Auditorium.

Earth Day, an annual event since 1970, is a chance for people around the world to celebrate the planet and our responsibility toward it. (For more information about Earth Day, go here.)

Rowe is a faculty member and administrator at Oakland Community College in Michigan, where she creates and teaches interdisciplinary projects about futuring, environmental sustainability and a more humane society. She is also a senior fellow with the Association of University Leaders for a Sustainable Future, national co-coordinator of the Higher Education Association's Sustainability Consortium, founder of the Disciplinary Associations' Network for Sustainability, and senior adviser to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

As president of the U.S. Partnership, Rowe works with educational institutions across the country to integrate a sustainable worldview into formal education at all levels. "Sustainable development," as defined by the United Nations 2002 World Summit, is that which would improve the quality of life now without damaging the planet for the future.

Rowe discussed topics such as what sustainability is, what the challenges in creating sustainability are, what solutions already exist, what national trends are occuring and resources for the attendees.

"This isn't about saving the planet; the planet's going to be fine," she said. "It's just a question of what kind of species is going to be able to survive on the planet and with what quality of life."

United Nations declared a decade of development for sustainable development starting in 2005. According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, every ecosystem is degrading. Nearly half of the world's major rivers are going dry or are badly polluted, the fishing areas are collapsing or in decline, and there is dangerous climate change, Rowe said.

"With each breath you take, with each drink of water, each piece of food, you are receiving life-sustaining gifts from the ecosystem, and you're not paying the full price the way our economic system is structured," she said.

In higher education, we learn knowledge, values and skills, Rowe said, and we need to do two things with those.

"We need to change private choices and behaviors, or our habits," Rowe said. "And the second thing we need to do is change our public choices, our laws."

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

UIS celebrates Health Awareness Day

By Courtney Westlake


The campus community was able to get their health in check on Wednesday, April 2 during Health Awareness Day at UIS.

There were several speakers throughout the day in PAC room F. Cindy Ladage kicked off the event with a presentation about radon, and then Drs. Jim Bonacum, Hua Chen and Michael Lemke conducted a program about the Emiquon Project at 12 p.m. Finally, Dr. William Warren spoke about global warming and public health.

"Emiquon is one of the largest restoration projects in this country," Lemke said during his presentation. "Restoration ecology is not as simple as it might sound. You can't just add water into lakes and expect them to be the same. There are a lot of things that go into the study and restoration of these areas."

After Lemke explained the work going on at Emiquon (to read more, go here), Chen discussed the implications of the restoration on the climate, and Bonacum added perspectives about overall climate change.

During her presentation, Ladage, from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, spoke about what radon is and why residents should be concerned about radon present in their homes. Radon is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that enters the home through any opening between the building and the soil, Ladage said.

"The only way to tell if you have high levels of radon is to test for it," she said. "Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer next to smoking; it's a proven carcinogen."

There was also a variety of health information on topics such as smoking cessation, back care, skin care and more offered throughout the event, which lasted from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Area healthcare facilities set up booths for free health screenings, including cholesterol and blood sugar, vision, bone density and stress.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Graduate student begins novel research with award

By Courtney Westlake



As if balancing graduate level class work, a teaching assistantship and raising her five-year-old daughter isn’t enough, biology graduate student Ryan Roy will soon be putting her knowledge to the test through a novel investigation in microbiology.

Roy was recently named the recipient of a Grants-In-Aid of Research Award from Sigma Xi, a prestigious scientific research society. The Sigma Xi Grant-in-Aid of Research program has a highly competitive application process, and only approximately 20 percent of applicants receive any level of funding, said Dr. Mike Lemke, professor of biology at UIS.

"Sigma Xi is something that Dr. Lemke always encourages us to apply for," Roy said. "There are two opportunities a year, and I think the most money you can get is $1,000. It just happened to work for me this time; I was excited."

Though Roy has an undergraduate degree in math, she discovered a new interest in the field of biology while working in a hospital biology lab. After taking a few classes at UIS, she decided to pursue a master’s degree in biology.

Now in her second year as a grad student, Roy is focusing her research on simulating natural chemical (reduction - oxidation) conditions in the laboratory and assessing parts of the microbial community that may be enriched under different redox potential.

The rationale for Ryan's work is based on the fact that many conditions have been used to culture bacteria through simulating natural environment gradients, although cultured bacteria rarely exceeds one percent of the environmental assemblage. Culturing is important to the field of microbiology because it is the basis for the naming of new species, revealing the functional role in the environment and adding definition to unknown DNA sequence in databases, Lemke said.

"You can see (redox potential) in the soil, water and sediment, how it is a gradient and runs from a very positive redox potential to a very negative redox potential," Roy said. "But they don't usually use that as a culturing parameter for bacteria, so I'm just going to take what we know from nature that exists and try to use that to culture more bacteria because we don't have very many culturable bacteria."

By increasing culturability of environmental samples, more studies can follow on the isolation of novel cultured bacteria to name bacterial species and explain the bacterial function within their environments. Roy will begin her work probably within a month or so, she said.

"I’m waiting to get a couple of things in, like a redox probe, and trying to get organized right now," she said. "Hopefully it won't take too long to actually run experiment, and hopefully it will run smoothly. It shouldn't be too expensive of a project to run."

She is excited to know that she doesn’t need to worry about finding the funds to run her project now, though, thanks to the Sigma Xi Grants-In-Aid of Research Award.

"It's a little bit of relief just to know have some money I can use and not worry about ordering something if I need it for my research," she said. "It’s nice for the lab; just to have extra awards under Dr. Lemke's belt is good for him and good for the lab in the future. The more things you win, more things you can get, so hopefully it means something for the lab."

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Science continues to fascinate professor

By Courtney Westlake



Dr. John Martin jokes that, like most children, he became fascinated with outer space when he was four years old, except that he has been "stuck" in that stage ever since.

"I've always been interested in astronomy; it's my first love," he said. "I had really educated parents who told me that 'you need to do the math, you need to do the science.' A lot more people start out in science than make it to the end. You've really got to love it."

Martin, who has a Ph.D. in astrophysics, has been teaching at UIS since fall of 2006. He said picking the niche of astrophysics - "that a lot of people don't find as interesting as I do" - worked to his advantage when UIS was looking to hire an astrophysicist.

Martin's primary research interest within the field of astrophysics is studying what stars are made of. He admits that stellar astronomy isn't as popular as other topics in the field, but there are still many problems left unsolved in astrophysics because they're difficult.

"I was interested in more challenging problems, and this field presented me with those challenging problems," he said. "I'm basically a chemist that works with stars."

However, it wasn't the research that brought him to UIS, Martin said. It was the teaching, which he found he loves.

Martin is currently teaching two introductory physics classes, and he is essentially the only physics program faculty. He also teaches an astronomy course every semester; this semester, the course is called "Survey of the Universe", which is open not only to UIS students, but community members as well.

"A great thing about UIS is that it has this public affairs and public education mission," Martin said. "When Professor Emeritus Charles Schweighauser started the class, he contacted conference services and said he would be teaching the class and if they wanted to sign people up for non-credit, that's fine. We've just continued that; I think it's a great idea. Some of these non-traditional students bring experience into the classroom that a lot of our traditional students really seem to benefit from."

Martin said he sees the basic level astronomy class as a good course to reach numerous students "who might not otherwise have good thoughts about science". The class is geared toward students who might not have a science background but are interested in learning some of the basics.

"I really think it's important that we have a citizenry in this country that is educated about science," Martin said.

Students in Martin's physics classes are usually part of a pre-professional curriculum, such as pre-med or pre-dental, he said.

"For those students, I want to get through the course with the problem-solving mindset of physics," he said. "Med schools want students coming in to have exposure to that. What I want most for them is to do great on the physics part of the MCAT."

To further these students' studies in physics and sciences in general, Martin said he hopes that the astronomy and physics departments will expand.

"When I look at peer institutions, all of them have at least a physics minor and many have a physics major," he said. "Down the road, I see maybe an expansion in astronomy-physics, so we need to add some faculty and hopefully adding, down the road, a physics minor. It would be nice to be able to offer that instead of just a concentration through liberal studies."

Labels: , , ,

Friday, November 30, 2007

Working on Improving the Environment Keeps Professor Motivated

By Courtney Westlake



A self-described "outdoor person," Dr. Tih-Fen Ting is still getting used to the cold winter weather of Illinois after having spent most of her life in Taiwan and also living in California. That hasn't stopped her, though, from gaining a fast appreciation for the plains and animal life of Central Illinois, particularly the UIS prairie, where she spends much of her time exploring nature.

Ting, who came to UIS in 2003 after receiving her Ph.D. in Natural Resources and Environment, says that no matter the climate or location, the environment is always of utmost importance to her.

"Environment has always been something I have cared about and been concerned with; it probably started with my appreciation of nature," she said.

After getting acquainted with UIS, Ting quickly became involved with Students Allied for a Greener Earth, or SAGE, as the faculty adviser in 2004. The only student environmental club on campus, SAGE seeks to find a balance between meeting human needs while still maintaining ecological integrity, Ting said.

"The reason to do that is so that we can actually have a sustainable future with what we are doing with the current generation and not undermining what the future generations can do," she said.

As part of its strategic plan, the UIS campus is striving to be a model in promoting environmental sustainability and is now taking action with plans for a green roof on the new residence hall, Founders Hall, and more.

"The green campus is a huge movement in the nation," Ting said. "What UIS is doing is what a lot of institutions are doing, and what we are making sure of is that we are keeping up and doing a lot of the right things."

There are many small things that the individual can do to make a huge change in environmental sustainability, Ting said. This includes being aware of water conservation, turning off the lights and computer when not in use and being diligent about recycling.

"It doesn't take much effort to recycle and make it a daily habit," she said. "Don't be a passive bystander; an individual can make a difference if everyone acts."

The future of
the environment and nature relies on the actions of people today, Ting said, and there is no reason more can’t be done. Thanks to a grant from Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, UIS is now working to expand its recycling program. Ting also encourages people to buy more local food in order to support local farmers and producers and to promote organic farming, which will increase sustainability of local agriculture.

Ting said she hopes to eventually see all new buildings compliant with LEED standards (Leadership in
Energy and Environmental Design), which includes being energy-efficient, being conservative in water usage, using recycled materials and having an interior with carpet and paint that have low emission of harmful fumes.

Students and others interested in environmental sustainability and keeping the campus green are encouraged to learn about SAGE, its mission and its future events, Ting said. (Check out more information on SAGE here).

"Humans are an integral part of the ecosystem,” Ting said. “What we are doing impacts the environment; I think it's very important we have to be conscious of what we are doing. Whether clean air to breathe or clean drinking water, those are services we get from having a healthy environment."

Labels: , , ,

Friday, November 09, 2007

Internationally-known Astronomers Encourage the Sciences at UIS

By Courtney Westlake



Dr. Roberta Humphreys has high hopes for the future of women in the sciences and encourages women to pursue their interests despite challenges, she said during a brown bag discussion that was part of two public presentations on Friday, November 9.

Humphreys' presentation was called "A Conversation on Being WISE: Women in Science and Engineering." Friday evening, at 7:30 p.m. in University Hall, room 2008, Dr. Kris Davidson will speak on "The Violent Supernova Impostor."

Davidson and Humphreys are both faculty members at the University of Minnesota, where Davidson is Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in Astronomy and Humphreys is Institute of Technology Distinguished Professor of Astronomy. Both collaborate with UIS Assistant Professor of Astronomy/Physics John Martin on ongoing research projects involving the Hubble Space Telescope and the Gemini Telescope in Chile.

Humphreys' seminar focused on how women can succeed professionally in scientific fields. She discussed her own experiences, as well as issues that women regularly encounter in academia and science, before opening the discussion to questions and comments from participants.

She also recommended several books, including "Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women" by Virginia Valian and "The Science Glass Ceiling" by Sue Rosser for further reading on the topic.

During her program, Humphreys offered a chart of numbers, showing a slow, but steady increase in the number of women pursuing their bachelor's, master's and Ph.D.'s in the sciences, including engineering, computer science, physics and more.

"When I got my Ph.D. in 1969, astronomy had the largest percentage of women, at 6 percent," Humphreys said. "Physics was at 2 percent, and math was non-existent."

Now, the culture is changing for the better, Humphreys said, and it seems every decade opens the door a little wider for women in all fields.

"Fields have become more family-friendly. But the question is, the numbers tell us things are changing, but is it a level playing field?" she asked. "I would say no, it isn't. But it will be someday. Eventually the numbers will rule."

Humphreys anticipates that women will begin to rise in leadership positions and change the policies. It all starts, however, with encouragement in the grade schools and high schools, she said.

"There is becoming a realization down through the grade schools, the middle schools and the high schools that they are going to need that preparation, not only for the sciences but to get into the best colleges," she said. "I think more and more that things are changing."

Labels: , , ,

Friday, October 26, 2007

Emiquon Provides Endless Opportunities for UIS

By Courtney Westlake



Strong gusts of wind swept over the lake and fields on a recent Saturday as Dr. Michael Lemke guided a group tour near Thompson Lake in western Illinois. Though the shallow waters are just starting to gain the appearance of a lake, the land’s new look is a vast improvement from the previous decades of farmland.

The 7,425 acres of land located near the towns of Lewiston and Havana (about 45 miles northwest from Springfield on the Illinois River), is known as Emiquon, which is owned by The Nature Conservancy. Emiquon is now in the beginning stages of a transformation from farmland to its natural state as part of one of the largest restorations in the country.

A century ago, much of the Illinois River’s floodplain was converted to agricultural lands. The changes that occurred to the land eliminated or changed the important ecological processes of seasonal flooding that sustained the productivity and diversity of the Illinois River ecosystem.

But the past few years have brought about plans to restore this area of land, Lemke said. Now, UIS is currently working on the construction of the Emiquon Field Station, which will provide the opportunity for UIS students and researchers, and the general public, to learn more about the restoration and the natural state of the land.

Lemke, an associate professor of biology at UIS, is now serving as the director of Emiquon and the field station, which is slated to be finished in the next couple of months. The field station will train students in field biology techniques, help students and the public to learn more about the natural processes of the floodplain, freshwater ecology and the restoration, and teach them how to research effectively.

There are a variety of ways for students to become involved with Emiquon and the future field station, Lemke said. Current projects include students studying water quality, and there are other projects “on deck”, Lemke said, including matching up students and researchers to conduct studies and take on various projects in the area. And volunteerism is always a great method of involvement.

“My vision for field station is that it will be a very busy place. Students who would like to go out and get their hands dirty and help take out species that are invasive could volunteer in that way – some different plants and so forth,” he said. “Besides volunteers, classes are another way to get involved.”

Hybrid courses and online classes will give students the ability to learn about topics online and conduct field studies, Lemke said.

“And we’ll be having more and more fieldtrips once the field station is done, as well as workshops,” he added. “This past week we had about 40 students go out and explore biodiversity out there.”

Eventually, the Nature Conservancy has plans to open up the Illinois River so that the floodplain lake can connect, which will add a whole new level of complexity and ecological function to study, Lemke said. UIS is providing key services in recording what occurs during the restoration, which could offer ways to conduct more restorations up and down the Mississippi River, Lemke said.

“I think not to tell the story of the Emiquon Restoration would be a real disservice to society,” Lemke said. “There are real lessons here. To take on a restoration project of this size and learn from that, and then use that as a blueprint for other restorations has implications not only for habitat and wildlife, but also for water quality and just sound environmental management.”

“We’re here on the ground level and we’ll be able to follow it, which makes this a wonderful opportunity.”

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

UIS Chemistry Club Gets Creative with Celebration

By Courtney Westlake



Brightly-colored concoctions bubbling over in the Public Affairs Center on Thursday had many passerby stopping with interest, and members of the UIS Chemistry Club took the opportunity to educate their audience and showcase fascinating chemistry demonstrations.

"We are doing these demonstrations that anyone else could do with simple household chemicals," said Dr. Harshavardhan Bapat, Assistant Professor of Chemistry and faculty adviser of the Chemistry Club.

In honor of National Chemistry Week, the Chemistry Club planned an array of events, starting with the clebration of Mole Day on Tuesday, Bapat said.

"The mole measures a huge collection of either atoms or ions or anything like that; the mole is kind of like a chemist's dozen," Bapat said. "To remember the number, which is 6.022 x 10 to the 23, chemists try to remember it on the 23rd of October (the tenth month)."

The club held a presentation on Mole Day by making ice cream using liquid nitrogen, and then on Wednesday, Oct. 24, the Chemistry Club held a drawing for a free t-shirt.

The celebration of National Chemistry Week will be capped off on Monday evening, Oct. 29, with a program called "Is it Chemistry or is it Magic?," Bapat said. The free presentation will be held in Brookens Auditorium at 7 p.m. and will include unique and compelling chemistry demonstrations by nationally-known chemists from Illinois State University and Heartland Community College in Bloomington.

"The main idea is to make people aware that chemistry is an absolutely important and central science to our lives," Bapat said. "We really can't have all of the amenities and luxuries that we are so used to without chemistry. Chemistry is everywhere, and it plays an extremely important role in our wellbeing, as well as our lives."

Labels: , ,