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
Trustees at The University of Illinois are making some big changes to its struggling online degree program.
Trustees first approved Global Campus in 2006. It was designed to be a branch of the University of Illinois solely online, just like the Urbana-Champaign or Springfield campuses. Only 400 or so students are currently enrolled. Administrators were expecting thousands.
The new Global Campus plan will make the three U of I campuses control the online format. But Trustee Larry Eppley says he's concerned the new version will run into the same problems the program encountered when it was first created.
"We got caught up tripping over ourselves when we couldn't even convince everyone to allow their online programs to be listed on Global Campus," Eppley said. He said the new format will put more pressure on the three campuses and faculty.
The three campuses are expected to present their online programs in July.
Seven months after University of Illinois trustees agreed to let the school's Global Campus try to become a standalone, degree-granting institution, they're about to consider scaling it back.
University trustees meeting in Chicago Thursday will consider a measure that would start reshaping the university system's online effort based on a report put together by faculty.
That report calls for winding down the online global campus as it exists and opening again next year with a smaller staff and budget under the control of the university's three campuses.
The measure calls for more study on how to change Global Campus but makes clear that trustees are unhappy with low enrollment. Global Campus has 426 students but was expected to draw thousands.
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:
You can get information about emergencies in Champaign County by email or text message through a new service being launched this week by local public service agencies
County residents can sign up for the new service at champcoprepares.com. It's similar to the emergency system the University of Illinois set up in the wake of the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings.
Urbana Fire Department Division Chief Tony Foster says it's easy to sign up. "It asks you general questions like your name and address, your email address, and then what phone number you would like that text or email sent to," said Foster. "It then will allow you to select weather warnings, if you want information from the University of Illinois sent to you, or something else like that. It will prompt and send that information to your wireless device."
Foster says if you work far from home, you can get information for both areas by writing in the zip codes for both places.
champcoprepares.com is getting its official unveiling this week. Foster says other counties in Illinois are also launching the service.
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.
One of the leading researchers of a plan for securing the nation's power grid says any long-range strategy will have to include a number of protections.
William Sanders heads the Information Trust Institute at the University of Illinois. It's part of the Trustworthy Cyber Infrastructure for the Power Grid, or TCIP, which includes work at three other universities. Sanders says recent news reports of attempted cyber attacks on the grid show it has real vulnerabilities, and need to be taken seriously. He says the consortium is responsible for rebuilding the grid's entire Information Technology infrastructure. And Sanders believes it's not a simple matter of blocking out one hacker's virus:
"Too much today, the problem is that people take band aid approaches," says Sanders. "Patch a vunerability here, patch a vulnerabllity there. And obviously we should do that. But the real solution is looking forward to a new architecture that ends this sort of cat and mouse game that we have going right now." The White House isn't providing any details on the recent 'intrusions' to the power grid. Sanders says any serious attempt will likely involve a number of things in sequence that include not only cyber attacks, but physical damage. He says a 'cascading' failure could also occur, which may involve human error as much as the other factors.
TCIP is a $7.5 million dollar project funded by the National Science Foundation... with support from the US Departments of Energy and Homeland Security.
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.