Illinois Public Media News
The National Institutes of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency have awarded $2 million to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The grant will be used to create a new research center to study how exposure to common chemicals may affect childhood development.
Center director neurotoxicologist Susan Schantz said studies will focus on bisphenol A (BPA), which is widely used in plastics, and phthalates, which are components of many scented personal care products, like lotions and shampoos.
"We know from laboratory animal studies that both of these chemicals are endocrine disrupters," Schantz said, "so they can mess with certain hormonal systems in the body."
One study will involve pregnant women volunteers from local health clinics. "We're going to follow their health and take urine samples during their pregnancy so we can assess their exposure to the two chemicals, and then from the time their babies are born we're going to follow them developmentally," Schantz explained.
A related study at Harvard University will examine how exposure to BPA and phthalates relates to cognitive development in adolescents.
Once a year for the last 20 years, a park in Champaign becomes a kind of launching pad.
This year, the Great Annual Rocket Launch takes on the theme of 'The Year We Make Contact' - since it is 2010. Awards will include best Science Fiction or Fantasy Rocket and Best Flying Saucer Flight.
Jonathan Sivier with the group Central Illinois Aerospace says there's no telling how complex some of the amateur spacecraft will be. But he says there could be a wide variety of designs this year. "Some things that look like something from a movie or TV show or something like that." said Sivier. "We have a secondary theme of flying saucers, and then every year we have - 'what's the most impressive flight of the day?' 'what's best the best looking rocket of the day?'... it's all very arbitrary." Sivier says the projects vary, but adds he's amazed what some can do compared to when the group started in the early 90's. "There are some little bitty video cameras that are very tiny, but get really good results from their rockets," said Sivier. "And the variety of motors that are available for rockets these days is quite wide."
Sivier and some friends started Central Illinois Aerospace when they were students at Mahomet-Seymour High School. It now has more than 40 regular members, but he says many more come out for the annual rocket launch. It's from 10 to 4 Saturday in Dodds Park, and includes a potluck dinner.
A former administrator and researcher at Carle Foundation Hospital has settled her lawsuit against the Urbana firm.
Suzanne Stratton was Carle's vice president for research and had worked on breast cancer at the hospital's Cancer Center before she was fired in November of 2008.
Stratton charged that Carle had violated federal whistleblower laws by retaliating against her. Stratton had brought up allegations that Carle violated laws protecting human research subjects in its cancer studies.
Last week a federal judge approved both sides' agreement to settle the lawsuit with prejudice - that means Stratton won't be able to file another case on the same claim.
Carle spokeswoman Jennifer Hendricks Kauffman would not disclose any other terms of the agreement - in the suit, Stratton had sought to be reinstated and receive financial damages. Neither Stratton nor her attorney could be reached for comment.
A group monitoring animal research at the University of Illinois' Division of Animal Resources says some of them have become very ill, and one has died as a result of negligence.
The executive director of "Stop Animal Exploitation Now," Michael Budkie, says such a problem isn't unique to the U of I, noting that animals have died at 30 other research facilities around the country in the last few years. Citing reports obtained from the USDA, Budkie claims the U of I uses a large number of animals in painful projects without the benefit of anesthesia. In another instance, he says the university failed to report severe illnesses to federal authorities for a year, and that the principal investigator lost the records in that time.
"If a researcher can have severe illnesses come up with the animals and no one knows about it, and he or she does not bother to report it for a year, that indicates very clearly that the supervisory mechanisms for handling animals research at the University of Illinois-Urbana aren't functioning properly," Budkie contended.
While the reports don't cite specific animals, Budkie says similar work elsewhere involved chinchillas.
U of I Spokeswoman Robin Kaler says these are all isolated incidents that have been reported to the USDA, and that the process to identify problems keeps them from happening again. She says one of the animals died when it was mistakenly administered a glucose tolerance test in diabetes research. Kaler says it was euthanized when attempts to revive the animal were unsuccessful. She cites another case involving a formula to ensure the health growth of piglets, which were moved shortly after researchers realize they had outgrown their cages.
The University of Illinois and Urbana's Carle Foundation Hospital have cooperated on research in the past - but a new agreement is meant to elevate that cooperation by a few notches.
The U of I and Carle have launched a biomedical research alliance, with the university sharing space with Carle researchers in the Mills Breast Cancer Institute. The joint agreement will focus on four research areas: cancer, cardiology, neurosciences and gastrointestinal health.
Carle CEO Dr. James Leonard says the agreement will foster new communication between doctors on both sides.
"That may sound like well, 'didn't that go on all the time before'. and the answer is no", says Leonard. "We're both big institutions and we both focused on what we did. and this allows us to meet not at that interface."
Leonard hopes the research alliance will bring new medical advancements closer to patients and help attract physicians who want to practice and do research at the same time.
People from Wisconsin down to Missouri reported seeing a meteor that lit up the midwestern sky Wednesday night. It appeared a little past 10 PM.
At exactly that moment, Steve Baron was in the window seat of a Southwest Airlines jet flying from Las Vegas to Chicago. Suddenly, he saw a flash he describes as "impossibly bright."
"Like if you lit magnesium on fire", Baron explained. "It was like daylight outside, only it was the brightest day you've ever seen."
Baron, a vice president at Chicago-based Local TV L-L-C, is a former broadcast meteorologist. But this didn't look like any weather event Baron had ever seen.
Baron said he wonders, "Is it, like, a missile or something? Are we flying over a bombing range? Then it dawned on me that it had to be coming from outer space."
Scientists say he's probably right. The object is presumed to be a meteor entering the earth's atmosphere, or possibly, a piece of space junk.
Andy Ervin is a senior meteorologist with the National Weather Service in the Quad Cities. He says the object was a meteor, "certainly the brightest meteor I've ever seen". Ervin says most eyewitnesses the Weather Service has talked to say it was "exceptionally bright or probably the brightest thing most folks have seen in the sky beyond lightning or the sun".
Forecasters say a meteor shower called Gamma Virginids began April 4 and is expected to last to April 21 with peak activity Wednesday and Thursday. But they couldn't immediately confirm if the Midwest meteor was part of that shower.
(Additional reporting from the Associated Press)
A University of Illinois researcher back from Haiti says it was hard to separate his scientific work from the crisis surrounding him. Scott Olson is a professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering. He and a team of other geo-engineers examined if a process called liquefaction shook the Haitian soil so much that it could no longer support the structures on top of it - like the giant cranes at the capital's only port. The destruction blocked valuable aid from getting to victims. Olson sat down with AM 580's Tom Rogers to talk about the trip in both scientific and human terms.
It will be sometime next year before researchers can utilize the world's fastest supercomputer on University of Illinois Urbana campus -- but there's already a list of teams who will have first dibs when Blue Waters comes on line. And the U of I's National Center for Supercomputing Applications is seeking applications for more through mid-March.
Blue Waters is the result of a collaboration between the U of I and National Science Foundation, which is providing monetary awards to those researchers.
NCSA spokeswoman Trish Barker says it will take some time for research teams to adjust from a machine that does trillions of calculations each second to one that does a quadrillion every second. She says that will require an understanding of the huge computer's applications, or codes, in the same way we would use a common consumer program.
"They're written to run on supercomputers -- that means that things have been parallelized so that programs are sort of broken up and different pieces of them are being run on different parts of the supercomputer that are communicating with each other," Barker said. But those have to scale up now to take advantage of many many more processors than they're currently using. It's kind of like if you've tried to think about, I've used Microsoft Word on one computer -- what if I wanted to use it on five computers?
The first 18 teams learning Blue Waters' codes includes a group from the U of I's department of atmospheric sciences to build a tornado model. And another group on campus will study molecular dynamics.
Barker says the NSF awards are partially for travel... allowing teams to all meet on campus to begin researching the programming code for when Blue Waters comes on line. Some of the funding is also dedicated to getting the teams together to prepare their research.
A semi-trailer carrying nearly 200 hogs overturned on an interstate west of Champaign Monday, blocking traffic for several hours. The driver of the semi was unhurt. But an estimated 10 to 12 percent of the hogs were killed, including about a half-dozen who had to be euthanized at the scene, due to their injuries.
That work was done by veterinarians and students from the University Of Illinois College Of Veterinary Medicine, who were called to the scene by state police to help out.
Dr. Kris Clement of the U of I Vet-Med teaching hospital was one of those called to help with the injured hogs. She says that fortunately, traffic accidents involving livestock trucks happen rarely. But Clements says the accident gave her students valuable experience - including a lesson about when to step into an accident scene.
"Our role didn't start until the survivors got off the trailer because that's the biggest thing -- you've got to get the uninjured ones off the trailer so they can be taken away and you actually have the room to work with the injured ones," Clement said. "Our instinct is to want to help right away, but we can actually get in the way."
The semi overturned as it was turning off of westbound I-74 onto southbound I-57. All lanes and ramps were opened to traffic after the truck and the uninjured hogs were removed.
Illinois receiver Arrelious Benn will skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft.
The junior said at a news conference Wednesday he thinks he is ready for the National Football League and wants to take care of his family. But he says he won't forget the U of I.
"As I begin this adventure, I will always be proud to represent the University of Illinois", said Benn. "I will be a role model for inner-city kids and anyone who wonders if they really can realize their dreams. And one more thing, I will finish college --- and Ma, that's a promise".
"OK, I'll take you up on that", replied Benn's mother, Denise Benn, who joined him at the news conference.
"Rejus" Benn was a top prospect out of high school in Washington, D.C., and the Big Ten freshman of the year in 2007. The Illini went to the Rose Bowl that season. He struggled with the team the past two seasons. Illinois was 3-9 this season and Benn caught just 38 passes for 490 yards. But despite his disappointing junior season, Benn is considered a potential high-round pick. Draft expert and former NFL general manager Gil Brandt believes Benn will be a second-round pick.
(Additional reporting by Rob McColley for AM 580 News)
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