Researchers have found an opportunity for public education in a Hollywood blockbuster. "The DaVinci Code" offered a rich backdrop of religious history in laying out its plot. And in its sequel "Angels and Demons," author Dan Brown injects physics - the Vatican is threatened by a bomb planted by the shadowy organization the Illuminati. Its explosive charge is based on antimatter stolen from CERN, the Swiss particle physics laboratory that produces antimatter in its Large Hadron Collider. Physicists want to step in with some caveats. University of Illinois professor Kevin Pitts says CERN, the collider and antimatter are very real, but he tells AM 580's Tom Rogers that antimatter's potential is just starting to be realized.
Illinois Public Media News
An astronaut from Central Illinois will lead NASA's space shuttle mission this afternoon.
The commander leading a seven-member crew on the shuttle Atlantis to the Hubble Space Telescope is University of Illinois graduate Scott Altman. This mission has been long-delayed, originally scheduled for last October. On-board equipment that transmits data back to Earth broke down, and it's taken months for engineers to prepare replacement equipment that the Atlantis crew will take to the Hubble.
This is one of 8 or 9 final missions for the Space Shuttle program. It's expected to be phased out either next year or early 2011, depending on government funding. Altman, who was on three other shuttle missions, says he'd like to believe the U of I could play a role when the Orion space capsule resumes manned missions around 2015.
"When I came to NASA, I'd hoped I would be one of the first people to visit Mars and go beyond where we've been. Now I realize it's the next generation that's going to do that, and it's the people I talk to at Illinois who are going to make that happen and be a key part of that," Altman said. "I kind of envy them (for) that opportunity."
Altman says he's happy to pass the torch to potential astronauts, but he admits he's envious of them when making return visits to his alma mater. Altman received a master's degree in aeronautical engineering from the U of I in 1990. He's a native of Pekin.
NASA is preparing for a phase-out of its space shuttle program. The shuttle will be replaced by the Orion space capsule. But there will be a 4 to 5 year gap in between the last shuttle launch and the first voyage of the Orion. AM 580's Jeff Bossert talked with the commander of the most recent shuttle mission, University of Illinois graduate Lee Archambault, for his thoughts on the future of the US space program:
From your computer screen to your cellphone to much of what you hear on this radio station, the world is filled with digital media that make it possible for people to express themselves in ways unheard of a generation ago. Now, the University of Illinois is launching a new institute dedicated to promoting arts that use digital media. It's called the edream Institute. AM 580's Jim Meadows spoke with its director, Dr. Donna Cox.
The federal economic stimulus contains millions of dollars in research funding - money the University of Illinois is competing for, against dozens of other research institutions.
That's putting an unprecedented burden on the office that handles grant applications, which has already seen a big increase in grants over the past five years. The director of the Office of Sponsored Programs and Research Administration, Kathy Young, says they're still getting a handle on the crush of activity.
"We can't staff for what we don't know about yet," said Young. "It's going to be a concerted effort of the existing staff to shoulder the burden and do what we can. My management team and I are looking at what tasks we can parse off to keep the subject-matter experts working on the really critical issues."
Young says temporary staff may be able to handle the rest of the workload. The U of I says the federal government itself is also undergoing a flood of requests for grants from the National Institutes of Health, Department of Energy and other agencies that have gotten billions of dollars in research money. Federal officials expect a 60 percent increase in grant activity over the next six months.
There are fewer than 500 whooping cranes in the world. And on Thursday afternoon, a veterinary surgeon at the University of Illinois Urbana campus will operate on one of them.
The young crane was found earlier this month in a field near the central Illinois town of Gridley, with a badly broken leg. It's part of a carefully monitored whooping crane flock based in Wisconsin. Dr. Avery Bennett of the U of I Veterinary Teaching Hospital says the bird's lower left leg bones are broken in "countless" places. But he says chances for recovery are good.
Bennett says he plans to stabilize the broken leg bones with carbonized rods. He says they'll be attached on the outside of the leg with pins connecting to the ends of the broken bones. Bennett says while the bones are mending, the bird's weight will actually be carried by the external rods, allowing it walk around until the broken bones knit.
Such devices are called external skeleton fixation devices. And Bennett says they're essential, because the whooping crane must get on its feet as soon as possible to survive.
The crane's broken leg bones could be healed in about a month. During that time, Bennett says they face another challenge --- how to keep the whooping crane from getting too used to human contact. He says if the crane loses its healthy fear of humans, it may spend the rest of its life in a zoo.
Officials at Archer Daniels Midland's massive Decatur ethanol plant are showing off an 84 million dollar project to study a way to keep more carbon dioxide from reaching the atmosphere.
ADM is the first of seven sites around the nation to begin the process of storing more than a million tons of CO2 deep underground rather than letting it escape into the air. Researchers point to CO2 as a key factor in global warming.
Illinois State Geological Survey director Robert Finley says the experiment is beginning with a test well dug more than a mile into the rock formations under the plant to see how well it can handle the injected gas.
"With a relatively pure source of CO2 coming from ADM's ethanol fermentation facility here in Decatur combined with excellent geology suitable for testing carbon sequestration immediately below the Decatur area and in fact throughout central Illinois, that gives us an opportunity to carry out this test here at Decatur," Finley said.
It'll be another year before ADM will actually inject large amounts of CO2. Finley believes the Illinois Basin can hold many times more carbon dioxide than ADM, the proposed FutureGen coal plant and other industries in central Illinois can produce.
Bill Hammack has been doing a lot of thinking about east-central Illinois' water supply. You may know him as WILL's "Engineer Guy," bringing complex scientific issues closer to home. All this week, Bill is taking a look at how we use water, how much we have and how we manage it for the future. The different ways we use water at home may seem obvious - but in Part 4, Bill finds some ways we may never have suspected.
Each year antibiotics save millions of lives. But many antibiotics are increasingly losing their effectiveness. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana are now tackling this problem. In their search for new lifesaving antibiotics, the National Institutes of Health have awarded a group of scientists a $7 million grant. Michael Koliska reports.