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Image from NASA Appollo 8 shown during the recent Art-Science Festival.
NASA Appollo 8 image shown during the April 23-25 Art-Science Festival.

Top Stories

(Note: Web articles are organized in descending order from the most recent to older articles.)

At Cena y Ciencias, Illinois Scientists Shine a (UV) Light on Fluorescence

May 7, 2021

What is fluorescence? What causes it? On May 3rd, during the final Cena y Ciencias (CyC) outreach of the semester, students from Dual Language programs in several local schools got a chance to explore the unique property. Shedding light on the subject during the virtual (Zoom) outreach, and demonstrating the hands-on activities, were several native-Spanish-speaking scientists from Illinois. In addition to teaching kids some science and leading some fun hands-on activities—all taught completely in Spanish—the scientists also served as role models, demonstrating for the youngsters that if people who come from similar backgrounds and speak in their language can be scientists, they can too.

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Megha Mattikalli and Rishin Pandit HackIllinois 2021 “Rekindled Connections” With The Tech Community

May 5, 2021

What exactly is HackIllinois? A student-run hackathon event developed to empower computer science students to produce technological solutions to problems society is facing, within one weekend. So, from April 9th to April 11th students at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign organized the annual student hackathon HackIllinois with the aim of developing projects on current problems facing society. Focusing on “Rekindling Connections” hundreds of participants from Illinois and beyond were able to network with industry professionals, mentors, and companies, while learning new skills through the workshops provided. HackIllinois staff as well learned how to adjust the once-in person event to a virtual event while maintaining the original mission of HackIllinois.

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A digital visualization of a black holeIllinois Art-Science Festival: Illuminating the Universe...from the Quantum World to the Cosmos

April 26, 2021

“The Art-Science Festival organizers invite you to celebrate the mysteries of the universe. From the quantum building blocks of matter to the elements of life on Earth to supernovae in faraway galaxies, our presenters will explore some of the biggest ideas in science. Through a dynamic mix of dance, music, fine arts, storytelling, and discussion, we will blur classical boundaries and take you on a journey through the cosmos.” – Festival organizers

The convergence of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and the Arts has made STEAM a buzzword over the last several years, especially in educational circles. However, to many scientists, researchers, and artists, art is not just an educational tool, but a viable means of expressing science. Enter a new buzzword: SciArt. So, during Illinois Physics’ first-ever Art-Science Festival @ Illinois 2021: The Illuminated Universe on April 23rd–25th, 34 presenters—artists, scientists, and sometimes a hybrid of the two—joined forces to present SciArt via a virtual “celebration of Nature, Humanity, and the Universe, explored through a confluence of the arts and sciences.”

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Engineering seniors Courtney Leverenz, Shivani Ganesh, Eugenia Maldonado, and Berat Gulecyuz by the Engineering Hall sign.Ready. Set. Go! Illinois Engineering Seniors Prepared to Change the World

April 22, 2021

Every year, Illinois graduates a crop of female engineers who are skilled, well prepared, knowledgeable about not just their field, but engineering overall, and well equipped to navigate the vagaries of the engineering world. The spring 2021 crop is even more well prepared, having weathered the adversity of completing part of their junior year and all of their senior year under COVID-19 restrictions. Meet Shivani Ganesh, Berat Gulecyuz, Courtney Leverenz, and Eugenia Maldonado—future engineers who are eager to get out there and make a difference—to change the world for the better! Below, the four friends share why they came to Illinois, some of their achievements, challenges they overcame, a key nugget of what they learned at Illinois that they know they’ll be using down the road, their dream job/how they intend to change the world, and advice for incoming engineering freshmen.

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Victoria FieldsHML 2021 Virtual Health Make-a-Thon Gives Citizen Scientists a Shot at Making Their Health-Related Innovations a Reality

April 19, 2021

Eyes on the prize, twenty teams of “citizen scientists” from across the state—students, healthcare workers, educators, entrepreneurs, community members, and professionals—participated in the Spring 2021 Virtual Health Make-a-Thon competition on Saturday, August 17th. The prize? A Maker Lab Innovation coin that would entitle the bearer to $10,000-worth of resources from the University of Illinois’s Health Maker Lab (HML) network. The citizen scientists' goal? To come up with a health innovation that would make a difference.

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I-MRSEC’s Music Video for EOH ’21 Plugs Graphene, 2D Materials

April 7, 2021

Although 2021’s Engineering Open House (EOH) was not the traditional live, on-campus event but virtual due to COVID-19, I-MRSEC researchers who are passionate about STEM outreach didn’t let that stop them. Unable to engage in person with the public, specifically the numerous children who usually attend, they figured out how to meet with them face to face anyway—via a music video. Their goals? To communicate about 2D materials research, to show the public how tax dollars are being spent, and to share benefits to be gained from scientific research. They also hoped youngsters watching might be intrigued and eventually pursue careers in research. Along with inspiring the public, they hoped to rekindle their own excitement by reminding themselves why they’d chosen science careers.

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Chris GeorgeHML 2021 Health Make-a-Thon Orientation Prepares Finalists for Competition

March 30, 2021

Hopeful that “the next big idea in healthcare” could be theirs, on March 25th, the 20 finalists for the virtual Health Make-a-Thon competition to be held later in the spring (April 17, 2021) participated in an orientation session. Sponsored by the Carle Illinois College of Medicine (CI MED) and Illinois’ Health Maker Lab (HML), the Make-a-Thon Orientation familiarized the 20 teams of “citizen scientists” with key personnel, resources, competition logistics, and three special speakers provided contestants with relevant information that would come in handy during the Make-a-Thon, as well as their journey toward entrepreneurship.

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Andrea Perry shows Franklin students how to take apart the magnetic drawing board they received in their kitMusical Magnetism: Encouraging Franklin Middle Schoolers to Express Science Via the Arts

March 24, 2021

What does art have to do with science? And vice versa? Some might opine, “Absolutely nothing!” However, those who orchestrated and taught I-MRSEC’s spring 2021 Musical Magnetism curriculum to Franklin STEAM Academy’s seventh and eighth graders would beg to differ. They suggest that art—including music videos, haiku, glass sculptures—even tap dance—can be used to communicate about science. Thus, as part of the program, several Materials Science experts shared about their favorite science topics, with some addressing how specific arts might be used to express them. By the program’s end, students had not only learned about science—they’d even tried their hand at describing the science they’d experienced via various art forms.

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Carmen PaquettePaquette Conveys Her Love of Science, Dance to Franklin STEAM Students Via Musical Magnetism

"As a kid, I found science fascinating; it felt like a good mystery book, and the more I learned, the more I understood about the world, as well as myself.” – Carmen Paquette

“I have always loved to dance. My parents constantly had music playing in the house growing up, and they often tell me that I came into the world dancing.” – Carmen Paquette

March 9, 2021

Carmen Paquette loves science. (Her dad, a material scientist, used to quiz her on the names and atomic numbers of the elements.) Carmen Paquette also loves tap dancing. (Her parents claim she came into the world dancing.) And she’s particularly passionate about expressing science via the arts—specifically, tap dance. So, when I-MRSEC planners decided that their spring 2021 edition of the Musical Magnetism curriculum at Franklin STEAM Academy would emphasize using the arts to convey science ideas, it makes sense that they would invite the summer 2019 I-MRSEC REU participant back to be involved. So, on February 18th, the materials scientist/professional tap dancer shared how she combines her two passions—science and dance—using dance to illustrate scientific concepts.

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An Engineering Exploration participant exhibits the tower they built as part of the engineering challenge related to Civil Engineering.SWE’s Engineering Exploration Outreach Lives Up to Its Name

March 2, 2021

“What is engineering?” This is one question SWE Illinois sought to answer during its virtual Engineering Exploration outreach on Saturday, February 20, 2021. Their simple explanation was: “It’s the application of science and math to solve problems.” Their bit-more-in-depth exploration of this question included introducing the 77 middle school participants to several engineering disciplines and what engineers in these fields do. Sponsored by the Illinois chapter of Society of Women Engineers (SWE), with the assistance of other engineering students, the outreach taught the younger students briefly about a few disciplines; led them in some related hands-on activities; and showed them that engineers can come in all shapes, sizes, genders, and ethnicities.

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Isabel Diaz, a 5th year Civil & Environmental Engineering senior and long-time WYSE volunteer leads the young participants in the Hot Cocoa Machine mini-workshopChiS&E’s Family STEM Day Helps Chicago Youngsters Progress Along the STEM Pipeline Toward Engineering

February 23, 2021

For Chicago kids (and parents) stuck inside because of the frigid winter weather, the ChiS&E Family Winter STEM Day on February 13th came just in the nick of time. A win-win for both the kids and their folks, the virtual outreach provided sessions and activities that were both educational and entertaining. For instance, parents discovered resources that might make sending their kids downstate to Illinois affordable. Plus, while doing creative, hands-on activities and bonding with the family over STEM, their kids learned a bit about the various engineering disciplines they were exploring. And hopefully, after successfully completing the activities, the kids discovered that they too have what it takes to become engineers someday.

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Kathy WalshOn Her First Foray into STEAM, Kathy Walsh Acquaints Franklin Students with Microscopy, Haiku

On this microscope
The lens moves up step by step,
Saves what's in focus.

February 17, 2021

The above haiku by Kathy Walsh describes one of the toys the MRL scientist gets to play with day in, day out—a 3D Optical Profiler. Specializing in nano/microscale surface topography, she uses the instrument to help researchers in their materials analysis by taking very accurate 3D measurements of the roughness or height of a material’s or specific object’s surface. So, when presented with the opportunity to participate in I-MRSEC’s Musical Magnetism curriculum and share her love of microscopy with Franklin STEAM Academy seventh and eighth graders, she jumped at the chance. Also thrilled that the program’s STEAM emphasis meant adding the Arts to STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), she further embraced the opportunity to expose the young people to another passion of hers—writing haiku about science.

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A CPS student shares during the December 5th session.Illinois Undergrads Encourage ChiS&E CPS Students Toward Possible Careers in Engineering

January 19, 2021

“This is an opportunity to contribute to the narrowing of the opportunity gaps.” – Lara Hebert.

Instead of sleeping in or vegging out on Saturday mornings during fall, 2020, Lara Hebert and around 16 or so engineering undergrads in the WYSE LEADers program, along with several others, exposed around 80 Chicago Public School (CPS) students to engineering. Devoting their mornings to virtual classes, the volunteers led the middle and high schoolers in some fun, hands-on activities ranging from Scratch to circuits to Arduinos. Have no idea what those are, what they do, and/or how they work? Well, about 80 CPS students now do, thanks to Hebert and her cohorts. Plus, students learned about engineering careers, tips on how to apply to Illinois, and what being a student at Illinois might be like.

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Charles Hallowell shares with CISTEME365 educators during the PD session.CISTEME365 Provides Year-Round PD/Community to Illinois Teachers in Support of Informal STEM Education Efforts to Underserved Students

January 4, 2021

As part of its year-round emphasis, CISTEME365 (Catalyzing Inclusive STEM Experiences All Year Round) held an all-day professional development (PD) session on Wednesday, December 2nd, for educators from eight participating schools. An initiative of the University of Illinois’ Grainger College of Engineering, in partnership with NAPE (the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity), CISTEME365 provided the PD session via Zoom, incorporating videos and printed materials, as well as using materials from kits that had been mailed participants. The goal of the session was to provide educators with equity/inclusion training, plus allow them to experience for themselves hands-on, project-based learning activities prior to having the students in their clubs try them out.

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CIMED student participating in the fall 2020 student-centered Health Make-a-Thon sponsored by the Carle Illinois College of Medicine (CIMED).Carle Illinois Student-Centered Health Make-A-Thon Addresses Racism as a Health Crisis

December 30, 2020

Racism as a Health Crisis—this was the theme of the fall 2020, student-centered Health Make-a-Thon sponsored by the Carle Illinois College of Medicine (CIMED). Coming up with innovative ideas and solutions to address this year’s theme were eight teams of CIMED students, engineering students, health care professionals, and community members. The Saturday, December 5th virtual event was held via Zoom this year due to COVID-19, with a “Dolphin” Tank comprised of CIMED, university, industry, and community experts serving as judges to determine which teams would receive the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place awards of $5000, $3000, and $2000, respectively.

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Jong HwangLiebenberg's ME270 Students Repurpose Products for Final Design Project

December 17, 2020

For students in Leon Liebenberg’s ME 270 (Design for Manufacturability) course, nothing could be more apropos than the old saying, “One man's trash is another man's treasure." For the final mini-project of the semester, the mostly Mechanical Science and Engineering (MechSE) students were to repurpose trash (a discarded product or products) into a product with a non-medical application. So, in an online competition held via Zoom during the final class period on December 8th, the top five projects were presented, after which classmates, the professor and his TAs, and special visitors invited to the session voted for their favorite. The treasure? The top three winners not only received accolades, but students with stellar final projects could contribute significantly to their final grade...and possibly come up with a repurposing design that could somehow make a difference down the road.

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CEE student describes what being an Illinois student is like.IMAGINE Family STEM Nights Strive to Interest Underrepresented Students in Engineering

"Scientists in textbooks and on TV don't look like me." "No one in my family has done it." "Math is hard, and you can't do science if you're not good at math." "Only A+ students go to STEM." "The 'cool' kids don't go to STEM." "Math is for 'nerds.'" "A math degree won't pay the bills." "I don't want to work in a lab." "I'll need to go to grad school and that means a lot of student debt." "STEM degrees are more expensive." "I'll never get into X University." "I'll never get a scholarship." – Rafael Tinoco Lopez on misconceptions about STEM.

December 14, 2020

While young African-American, Latino/a, and Indigenous students might face a lot of real challenges in regards to choosing careers in STEM, according to Civil Engineering Assistant Professor Rafael Tinoco Lopez, some misconceptions concerning representation, skills, social life, future perspectives, and resources could be contributing to their not considering STEM careers. To rectify this, he and numerous other folks from both the University and the community are taking part in IMAGINE (Identifying Misconceptions of Access of Underrepresented Groups in Engineering) Family STEM Nights. Their goal? To foster inclusion of underrepresented students in engineering by helping middle grade students and their families learn more about engineering, especially specific disciplines. Plus, IMAGINE isn't just focusing on familiarizing students with what engineering is. Planners hope to address misconceptions about skills needed to be an engineer; foster discussion regarding issues of equity, access, and representation in engineering; and talk about resources available for first-time college students.

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STEAM TRAIN: Middle Schoolers Perform Autonomous, Student-Driven Research Encouraged by Near Peers STEAM TRAIN: Middle Schoolers Perform Autonomous, Student-Driven Research Encouraged by Near Peers

December 2, 2020

“So, it’s kind of a combination of working with these different levels of students and giving them the reins rather than us telling them what they should do.” – Daniel Urban

Every Tuesday afternoon after school, six groups of around 24 excited Franklin STEAM Academy students hang around online a bit longer to conduct independent research on topics of import to them via a scientific exploration project called “STEAM TRAIN.” Mentoring the 6th–8th grade students are some near peers—Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB) undergrads, grad students, and post docs, plus—even closer in age to the target group—a dozen University Laboratory High School (Uni High) students. The hope is that experiencing research by exploring issues they’re passionate about might foster the middle schoolers’ love of science—and possibly even solve some of today’s intractable problems.

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Alec Tiffany demonstrates to Franklin students how to begin their sourdough starter.ENVISION PhD Students Use the Science of Breadmaking to Attract Franklin Eighth Graders to STEM

November 20, 2020

You pull a couple of slices of bread out of the bag. You slather them with peanut butter and jelly, or construct a BLT, then take a big bite. But did you ever wonder how flour is transformed from loose powder to semi-structured slices that can hold sandwich fixin’s? Exactly what is the science behind breadmaking?

During fall 2020, four Illinois engineering PhD students, Emil Annevelink, James Carpenter, Drew Kuhn, and Aleczandria Tiffany, did a Zoom outreach at Franklin STEAM Academy, a Champaign middle school whose focus is on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics). The goal behind the October and November virtual visits was to impart the science behind breadmaking to Katie Lessaris’ eighth grade science classes. Members of ENVISION (ENgineers Volunteering In STEM EducatION), a Registered Student Organization whose sole purpose is to provide opportunities for engineering grad students to do STEM outreach, the PhD students sought to not just communicate science, but to share how they ended up in engineering, serve as role models in that they too had overcome challenges, and to foster the middle schoolers’ interest in STEM. Of course, the fact that sourdough bubbles and smells added to the fun!

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Marilyn Porras-Gómez in the animated video segment that was part of her Virtual Cena y Ciencias Provides Hispanic Role Models, Encourages Hands-on “Kitchen Science”—All Done in Spanish

November 12, 2020

Why does holding your nose when taking medicine make it not taste as bad? What is surface tension on liquids? What do scientists do in labs? What are crystals and how do they form?

Noted above are just some of the questions I-MRSEC’s Virtual Cena y Ciencias (CyC) hopes to answer during its Spanish-language, science outreach events for local Hispanic and dual-language-program school children. But, to adhere to COVID-19 social distancing mandates, CyC, scheduled for the first Monday of the month throughout the fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters, is being held online until further notice. Despite the change of venue, the COVID-19-friendly events, like their no-social-distancing-required predecessors, feature lectures and/or demonstrations followed by hands-on science—with a caveat. The "kitchen science" activities feature science that can be done with materials available in most homes. Plus, in addition to the exposure to science, the youngsters will experience it in Spanish, offered by Hispanic scientists who serve as role models.

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Nobel Project Seeks to Pique Marginalized Students’ Interest in Computer Science Nobel Project Seeks to Pique Marginalized Students’ Interest in Computer Science

November 9, 2020

“Really, one of the goals of the Nobel Project is to provide young people with unprecedented access to the University of Illinois—the land grant mission...If our youth are to become computer scientists, to become the next Nobel Laureate, to become sociologists—whatever it is that their gifts and talents are urging them to be—we can support them in that effort.” — Ruby Mendenhall

According to statistics, very few faculty and industry professionals in Computer Science (CS) are from marginalized populations. For instance, only around 2% of employees in CS are Black; plus, percentages from marginalized groups are also low in medicine and other STEM fields. Seeking to address this issue is STEM Illinois’ Nobel Project, headed up by Dr. Ruby Mendenhall, Assistant Dean for Diversity and Democratization of Health Innovation at the Carle Illinois College of Medicine (CI MED), and an Associate Professor in African-American Studies in the Department of Sociology. The Project’s goals over the next two years are to hold workshops and other activities designed to get young people from marginalized groups interested in CS.

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