Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Eli Chen

Science Reporter
A total solar eclipse in 2006.
Franz Kerschbaum

Like any other day, the sun will rise on Monday. But close to noon in Missouri, the moon will start to cover the sun.

“You’re going to start to see little bits of the sun start to disappear, like someone slowly taking little bites out of a cookie,” said Anna Green, planetarium manager at the Saint Louis Science Center.

The sky will start to go dark quickly, like someone dimming the lights in a room. The air will also become colder, said Angela Speck, astrophysicist at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Charvonne Long, 26, has spent many weekends in Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park, St. Louis County's oldest park. She's opposed to the St. Louis Ice Center Project, which she thinks would disrupt the natural beauty of the area.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

More than 70 St. Louis area residents and environmentalists gathered in front of the St. Louis County Administrative Building on Tuesday to protest a proposal to build a 250,000-square-foot ice recreation complex in Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park. 

Holding signs that included pictures of local birds pasted on paper plates, local residents said they are concerned that the St. Louis Ice Center project could dramatically alter the appearance of the park. Environmentalists also fear that the facility of three indoor rinks and one outdoor rink could increase flooding. The site is on a floodplain that has experienced a couple of major floods in the last two years.

A Washington University researcher holds a piece of paper coated with tiny gold particles that can be used to test blood for Zika virus.
Washington University School of Medicine

Scientists at Washington University in St. Louis are developing a test for the Zika virus that produces results quickly and don't require refrigeration. 

To test for the Zika virus, which is transmitted by mosquitos and is linked to birth defects, blood samples have to be sent to a laboratory, where a positive or negative result is generated in a couple days. The blood and the chemicals used in the test have to be refrigerated. Researchers at Wash U's medical and engineering schools created a test for the virus using nanotechnology, or particles smaller than 100 nanometers. It shows results in a matter of minutes.

A laboratory at BioGenerator, the investment arm of BioSTL.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

A pharmaceutical company near Philadelphia has acquired Confluence Life Sciences, a St. Louis-based startup developing drugs to treat cancer, for $100 million. 

Confluence was founded by former Pfizer scientists who spent many years studying the kinase gene family, which play a role in inflammation. Aclaris Therapeutics, which manufactures drugs that address skin disease, wants Confluence's expertise in a molecule called the JAK inhibitor, which is a member of the kinase gene family. 

Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

A California law firm has released several dozen internal documents that show that Monsanto influenced research on glyphosate, Roundup’s key ingredient.

The lawyers represent farmers who claimed in a lawsuit that exposure to Roundup caused them non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The documents posted Tuesday on the law firm's website include email and memos that contain more evidence that the company had ghostwritten research on the health effects of glyphosate. They build on other evidence a federal judge unsealed in March

Angela Speck, an astrophysicist at University of Missouri-Columbia, tells a story at The Story Collider even at St. Louis Public Radio in May 2017.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Like it or not, science is a part of our lives. It affects our health, our environment and our understanding of who we are and how we fit in the universe. At a time when our knowledge of how the world works is quickly expanding, climate change is altering the planet, and the state of health care hangs in the balance, it’s especially important to share stories about what science means to us personally.

Astrophysicist Angela Speck, pediatrician Ken Haller and science reporter Eli Chen performed at The Story Collider podcast’s debut in St. Louis this past May.
St. Louis Storytelling Festival

Everyone has a personal connection to science.  

Maybe you were  reaching for a Nobel Prize with your high school science fair project until an unforeseeable error caused it to go down in flames. Or, perhaps you’ve been  a researcher on an expedition thousands of miles from home, surrounded by people who don’t understand what you’re doing there. Or, you’ve listened to your doctor diagnose you with a condition that you’ve never heard of before.

A view of the Mississippi River from Dubuque, IA, where government agencies, environmentalists, engineers and residents gathered to discuss flood risks along the upper Mississippi River.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Communities along the upper Mississippi River have seen a major uptick in heavy rains and flooding in the last decade.

Residents, environmentalists, engineers and government agencies agree that they need a coordinated strategy to manage flooding. That could be particularly important in coming years, as scientists predict that climate change will likely bring more heavy rain to the region.

Mizzou researchers studied fossils of clams called Abra segmentum valves that had been infected by trematodes, collected from nothern Italy.
Scientific Reports

Fossil records suggest that there could be another consequence of climate change and rising sea levels: an increase in parasitic worm infections. 

Scientists at the University of Missouri-Columbia and the University of Bologna studied clams collected in northern Italy that date back to the Holocene Epoch, a time when the planet was warming up after the Ice Age. Parasitic worms called trematodes, also known as flukes and flatworms, would attempt to feed on these ancient clams and the clams would respond by developing pits to keep them out.

By looking at the pits, the researchers learned that the presence of trematodes increased during relatively short periods of sea level rise.

The Sny Island Levee System in Illinois is one of 10 levee systems that have exceeded their authorized heights, according to a survey conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers' Rock Island District this year.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Nancy Guyton has lived by the Mississippi River her entire life. She and her husband farm in Annada, a small town on the Missouri side of the Mississippi River. She knows that growing crops on the floodplain comes with some risks.

The Guytons’ farm, about 65 miles north of St. Louis, endured major floods along the Mississippi in 1993 and 2008. But since 2008, she’s noticed more flood events.

Eureka resident Sharon Wasson sits in her basement, which still hasn't been completely put back together after the severe flooding that occurred in May.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Two months ago, retired physical education teacher and Eureka resident Sharon Wasson spent four days trying to keep sewer water from entering her basement. An armada of blower fans covered the floor. Members of Eureka High School’s football and wrestling teams packed the place, pumping water out of Wasson’s house.

Two months later, the basement where she once spent most of her time is still a work in progress. Having dealt with the major flooding in May and in December 2015, Wasson is conflicted about staying in Eureka.

Lone Star ticks are one of the most common ticks in Missouri. It carries ehrlichiosis, which causes flu-like symptoms, among other diseases.
Provided |U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Amid an increase in tick-borne illnesses this year, Missouri health officials have launched a study to trap and test ticks for diseases. 

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study ticks at Meramec State Park. The research, which began in June, aims to understand how ticks spread rare diseases, such as the Bourbon and Heartland viruses. Last month, a Missouri resident tested positive for the Bourbon virus.

Missouri Botanical Garden restoration biologist James Trager standing at one of the naturally-occurring glades in the Shaw Nature Reserve.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

While the Ozarks are known for forests, but visitors to the highland region also will find open, desert-like areas between trees that contain a special combination of rare plants and animals  found in few other places. 

The areas, called glades, are hot and dry places with thin soils. To a visitor, the rocky appearance of glades make them look like an old road that has been overtaken by tall grasses. They're defined by the type of rocks that lie underneath, which in Missouri are largely limestone and dolomite. Glades were once more common in Missouri's Ozarks, but since they need to be burned to exist, the areas have disappeared over the last century as forest managers sought to suppress fires. 

Scientists are conducting controlled fires at the Shaw Nature Reserve to understand how to best conserve them.

Maryville University biologist Kyra Krakos studies flowers at the Shaw Nature Reserve.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Among the many ways rising global temperatures are changing the environment, from shrinking polar ice caps to rising sea levels, research in recent years has shown that climate change also is causing flowering plants and pollinating bugs to fall out of sync.

This summer, Maryville University biologist Kyra Krakos and her students are studying the effects of climate change on flowers and pollinating insects, particularly bumblebees, at the Shaw Nature Reserve about an hour outside St. Louis. Meteorologists have observed more erratic weather patterns over time, such as this year's mild winter, which has caused flowers to bloom at times when they shouldn't.

Monsanto's widely-used weed killer Roundup on a shelf in Home Depot.
File photo | Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, will be added to the list of chemicals California warns are known to cause cancer.

The state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment has posted a notice on its website that glyphosate will be added to the list on July 7. A California judge denied Monsanto's request to block the state from doing so, but the company has filed an appeal.

An illustration of pollution, 2017
Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

For years, Granite City had some of the worst air quality in Illinois. But a new effort to track greenhouse gases could help reduce the city’s air pollution and improve public health.

For 18 months, Washington University researchers tracked levels of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide from Granite City municipal operations. The area has historically dealt with high levels of particulate matter pollution, largely from the local U.S. Steel plant. The plant idled temporarily at the end of 2015 but began operating again this year.

A drawing of St. Louis resident Mychal Vorhees hearing an animal inside her chimney.
Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

About a month ago, Mychal Voorhees heard a strange noise near her apartment.

“I was just sitting at home watching TV and I heard what sounded like a bird outside,” said Voorhees, who lives in the Saint Louis Hills neighborhood. “Then I realized it was much closer to me, that is was in the chimney, in the fireplace.”

Initially, she thought the animal was stuck in her fireplace, so she opened the damper and attempted to remove it with a broom. Then, she called her landlord, who sent a wildlife control expert to her home. The expert told her that the bird had built a nest above her fireplace. But he couldn’t remove it because it was a chimney swift, a species protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

A comparison of what flames look like on Earth versus in zero gravity.
NASA video screenshot

Despite how long ago humans began using fire, the substance is still a mystery to scientists. Researchers at Washington University are hoping to answer some fundamental questions about it by studying flames in space. Earlier this month, they launched an experiment to do this to the International Space Station.

When a flame burns on Earth, gravity pulls cold, dense air to the base of it, causing hot air to rise. The upward flow of air is what gives flames the familiar teardrop shape. However, a flame acts differently in space.

Saint Louis University Robert Pasken and his graduate student Melissa Mainhart perform a test run of a weather balloon that they plan to launch during the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

It's not just astronomy nerds who are preparing for the total solar eclipse in August. Scientists are also using the event, which has not occurred in Missouri since 1442, as an opportunity to gather data. 

St. Louis is one of 30 locations across the U.S. where scientists will launch large balloons into the upper layers of the Earth's atmosphere during the eclipse, as a part of the NASA and NSF-sponsored Eclipse Ballooning Project. On Tuesday afternoon, Saint Louis University and Jefferson College researchers performed a test-run of their balloon, which will carry a radiosonde, an instrument that measures wind speed, humidity, barometric pressure and other conditions of the atmosphere. They will also be using Ameren Missouri's network of weather monitoring stations, called Quantum Weather

Bombus balteatus, commonly known as the golden-belted bumblebee, pollinates a sky pilot in Colorado.
Candace Galen

When  a native bee received federal protection under the Endangered Species Act for the first time earlier this year, it drew an attention to a growing public concern.

Many  bee species in the United States have become threatened or have declined sharply in the last couple decades. Since native bees are crucial to pollinating crops, scientists are making a major push to keep track of them.

Researchers at Webster University and the Saint Louis Zoo are inviting residents to help the effort by leading a bee photo survey in Forest Park this Saturday. Images taken at the St. Louis Bee Blitz will help scientists better understand the abundance of various native species that live in the area.

A total solar eclipse seen from Australia in November 2012.
Romeo Durscher | NASA

This August, people in parts Missouri will be able to see a total solar eclipse, an event that has not been visible in the area since 1442. The next isn’t expected to take place until the year 2505.

To prepare the public for this once in a lifetime event, local astronomy groups have organized the St. Louis Eclipse Expo this weekend. The event will feature about 80 exhibitors, vendors selling astronomy equipment, photography workshops and talks on the history and science of eclipses.

Bombus balteatus, commonly known as the golden-belted bumblebee, pollinates a sky pilot in Colorado.
Candace Galen

A buzzing bee may not sound like much to most people but to bee scientists, there’s a lot to learn from the noises bees make when they fly and pollinate flowers.

On Wednesday, researchers at Webster University, Lincoln University and the University of Missouri-Columbia released a study in the journal PLOS One that concludes that recording bees can help track pollinator activity. That could provide scientists with data to aid conservation of species that have experienced falling populations.

Declines in pollinating species have alarmed scientists, environmentalists and policymakers, since many crops depend on native wild bees.

Western harvester ants create tunnels in a gel farm in a laboratory at Webster University.
Provided by Webster University

A study at Webster University has revealed that Monsanto's weed killer Roundup can significantly change ant behavior.

Researchers began two years ago to study how ants are affected by man-made contaminants, including Roundup. The product has become controversial recently due to allegations that its key ingredient, glyphosate, causes cancer in humans.

The ant study hasn't been published yet, but student researchers noted that the herbicide significantly affected western harvester ants.

Washington University graduate student Jarod Roland tries out a device that detects electrical signals in his brain and casues his hand to open and close in response.
Leuthardt Lab at Washington University

A mind-controlled robotic glove under development by Washington University scientists could give hope to those whose hands have become paralyzed due to a stroke. 

In the journal Stroke, researchers reported some success with using the device, called the Ipsihand, to help stroke patients regain the ability to grasp objects. A  group of 10 patients wore the robotic exoskeleton over the hand, wirelessly connected to a cap fastened to the head that reads brain signals that tell the hand to open and close.

Forest Park Forever Nature Works field coordinator Billy Haag holds a turtle trap at a manmade waterway in the park.
Courtesy of Forest Park Forever

Scientists have started to take stock of the turtles that live in Forest Park to protect them from upcoming construction projects and improve their habitat.

The project, called the Wildlife Impact Mitigation and Inventory Plan, aims to catalog the different species that live in the park, particularly along a 2.5-mile waterway. 

Southeast Missouri State University graduate student Kathy Hixson prepares to draw blood from a male bluebird at the Madison County Mines Superfund Site in Fredericktown, Missouri
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

In Fredericktown, Missouri, three women walked towards what looked like a Martian landscape.

An illustration of pollution, 2017
Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

The Environmental Protection Agency awarded St. Louis Community College a $200,000 grant last week to support a job training program focused on cleaning up contaminated waste sites.

About 450,000 abandoned and contaminated waste sites exist across the country. Remediation of such sites requires special expertise on handling different types of waste, such as PCBs and lead. Training workers can help empower communities that are most burdened by toxic waste sites, said Stan Walker, the Brownfield and Land Revitalization Branch Director for EPA Region 7.

This radiation warning sign is one of many posted on the chain link fence surrounding part of the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton, Mo.
File photo | Sarah Skiold-Hanlin | St. Louis Public Radio

The Environmental Protection Agency has found no evidence of radioactive waste from the Manhattan Project in two Bridgeton homes close to the West Lake Landfill Superfund site. 

Federal officials began testing homes in late 2016 in response to a lawsuit filed in November by a married couple in the Spanish Village subdivision against landfill owner Republic Services and 10 other companies.

The welcome sign for the Spanish Village neighborhood in Bridgeton May 2017
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Residents of a Bridgeton neighborhood were denied the chance to move away from the West Lake Landfill Superfund site after Missouri lawmakers last week rejected a bill that would have paid for a state agency to buy their homes.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, would have allowed 91 families in Spanish Village, the closest neighborhood to the landfill, to sell their properties to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. The Senate overwhelmingly passed the bill last month, but when the bill moved to a conference committee, lawmakers cut funding for the bill from $12.5 million to $1 million. The measure failed in the House, 79-65. 

Engineers at Washington University used locusts to test a nasal spray that could be used to treat brain cancer and other diseases.
Washington University

Washington University researchers are developing a device that could vastly improve how doctors treat cancer and other diseases in the brain. 

Delivering drugs to the brain is complicated because the three-pound organ is shielded by a complex network of blood vessels, called the blood-brain barrier, that keeps out foreign substances. However, the fortress of vessels works so well that it's challenging to provide medication through a pill or an injection.

The Wash U device could change everything. It would deliver tiny particles by nasal spray.

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