Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Eli Chen

Science Reporter
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.

A cautionary sign at a fence around the West Lake Landfill Superfund site, which contains World War II-era nuclear waste.
File photo | Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 6 p.m. with details from a report — As Missouri lawmakers stress that time is running out to provide state assistance for moving residents away from the West Lake Landfill, environmental lawyers claim that the Superfund site has contaminated more homes in Bridgeton. 

Ongoing rain and the threat of more flooding kept downtown Eureka business owners from removing piles of sandbags Thursday morning, as planned. (May 4, 2017)
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Sharon Wasson, a Eureka resident and retired high school physical education teacher, treats her basement as her sanctuary. It’s where her office is, where she watches the news and where she decompresses after a long day.

But severe flooding this week along the lower Meramec River has transformed her basement into a source of stress. 

The Fenton Water Treatment Plant was knocked offline due to historic flooding.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI

The Meramec River is expected to crest at 40 feet on Wednesday, posing a threat to low-lying communities, including Valley Park, Eureka, Fenton and Kirkwood. 

As water levels rise along the same communities that were badly impacted by flooding in early 2016, some local environmentalists say that levees are responsible for the severe floods residents in the St. Louis area have experienced in recent years.

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville biology professor Danielle Lee examines a deer mouse with undergraduate student Jacquelyn Isom.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

On a humid, mid-April morning, nearly a dozen students were scattered around a small field across the street from Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville. They planted pink flags, strung measuring tape up and down the field and used machetes to clear their way through tall, prickly prairie grasses.

“Did I tell you about the fox? A fox just ran past Danielle’s foot. Like, really!” exclaimed their professor, Danielle Lee, an animal biologist at SIUE.

The fox sighting is important, as Lee and her students are trying to find out what rodents and other animals live near the campus. Lee and other scientists who study urban ecology are just starting to discover the ways in which human development affects wildlife.

A three-week-old Mexican gray wolf pup is examined by scientists at the Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka. The pup was born from artificial insemination that used thawed semen.
Endangered Wolf Center

The future is looking brighter for the endangered Mexican gray wolf, as scientists have announced the birth of the first pup of the species to be born from artificial insemination that used frozen semen. 

There are 130 Mexican gray wolves that remain in the wild, largely in Arizona and New Mexico. Some live at the Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka, where the new pup was born. In collaboration with the Saint Louis Zoo, scientists at the center have been collecting and freezing semen from endangered wolves for more than 20 years.

An adult female bluebird caught by a Southeast Missouri State University researcher.
Kathy Hixson

It’s been nearly 300 years since lead was first discovered in Missouri.

But the element's important role in the state's economy may come at a price to another natural resources. Scientists are planning to study the health effects of lead on local songbird populations.

The research, conducted by biologists at Southeast Missouri State University and the University of Missouri-Columbia, will take place in the Southeast Missouri Lead District, which contains the world’s largest deposits of galena, an important source of lead.

The Bagnell Dam at Lake of the Ozarks
Ameren Missouri

The dam that created Lake of the Ozarks is getting its first major upgrade in more than three decades. 

Ameren Missouri this week began demolishing the old, weathered concrete at the Bagnell Dam, home to the Osage Energy Center, the largest generator of hydroelectric power in the state. The $52 million project involves removing and adding more than 66 million pounds of concrete, and drilling holes to drain water that leaks under the dam.

A cautionary sign at a fence around the West Lake Landfill Superfund site, which contains World War II-era nuclear waste.
File photo | Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

A bill to create a buyout program for homes near the West Lake Landfill Superfund site in Bridgeton has been overwhelmingly approved by the state Senate. 

Under the proposal, residents of the Spanish Village subdivision near the site could apply to sell their homes to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. As many as 91 families could have the option to move away from the World War II-era radioactive contamination at the West Lake Landfill, which sits about 600 feet from the underground smoldering fire at the Bridgeton Landfill. Many residents have expressed concern about the potential health risks of living there.

Mild weather and moderate rainfall predicted for this summer could boost corn and soybean yields.
Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri corn and soybean farmers may see higher yields this year, as scientists from the University of Missouri-Columbia forecast mild weather and moderate rainfall this summer. 

Meteorological records show that dry, mild winters typically are followed by average to slightly more than average rainfall in the spring and summer. 

"The reason why that would be is just a switch in the jet stream pattern and now is the time of the year when we expect there to be wetter conditions in April and May," said Tony Lupo, a professor of atmospheric science at Mizzou. 

SIUE psychology professor Stephen Hupp lets a class of preschoolers at the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center in East St. Louis touch a robot named Mo after a lesson on human emotions in March 2017.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

One morning at the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center in East St. Louis, an unusual guest arrived to greet more than a dozen preschoolers, who gathered on a ketchup-colored mat, surrounded by cubby shelves, Clifford books and crayon drawings.

The visitor, a white robot with blue patches of armor on its head and joints, stood about 2 feet tall. It had arms and legs, like a person, but its plastic face had no expression.

Missouri Solar Energy Industry Association

The solar industry is employing more people in Missouri, according to a report that was released this week by a renewable energy nonprofit.

The Solar Foundation reported that Missouri added more than 500 jobs in the industry in 2016, a 28 percent increase over the previous year. Most of the jobs are based in the St. Louis area, followed by Jackson, Texas and Greene counties. Clean energy advocates attribute this growth to plummeting costs of solar to consumers and rising public awareness.

Ameren Missouri's largest coal-fired power plant in Labadie, Missouri.
File photo | Veronique LaCapra I St. Louis Public Radio

President Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order today that would relieve coal-dependent states such as Missouri from having to comply with strict carbon emissions limits. The plan to eliminate the Clean Power Plan was announced earlier this week by Environmental Protection Agency Chief Scott Pruitt. 

About 77 percent of electricity generated in Missouri comes from coal. Under the Clean Power Plan, Missouri would have to cut its carbon pollution by nearly a third by 2030, based on 2012 levels. Coal-fired power plants would be required to curb their greenhouse gas emissions and over the long term, and utility companies that operate them would have to transition away from coal to wind, solar and other renewable energy sources. Missouri is one of 28 states challenging the rule in court.

But local environmentalists say there are consequences to removing the Clean Power Plan.

In 1962, laughter epidemic afflicted several communities for more than two years in present-day Tanzania.
Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

In 1962, a strange epidemic swept through several communities in Tanganyika, present-day Tanzania. It wasn’t a virus, but laughter among teenage schoolgirls. The contagious laughter, which lasted for about two and a half years, afflicted about 1,000 people and forced at least 14 schools to temporarily shut down.

Experts later determined that the origin of the epidemic was psychological, perhaps related to stress caused by the presence of British colonialism. But such events have raised scientific questions about why humans can’t control behaviors such as laughing, yawning, coughing and shivering — and why they spread among groups of people.

“We are a part of a human herd whose behavior is often the involuntary playing out of an ancient neurological script that is so familiar that it goes unnoticed,” wrote neuroscientist Robert Provine in his book, "Curious Behavior."

Workers for the Metropolitan Sewer District begin to demolish a house on Greer Avenue as a part of program to turn vacant properties into green spaces. (March 22, 2017)
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District has started demolishing abandoned buildings to kick off a $13.5 million project to build green spaces in the city.

The Urban Greening Program is a part of MSD’s $100 million initiative to divert rainwater from entering the city’s sewers and contaminating local waterways. It’s also a key portion of a settlement agreement in 2012 with the Missouri Coalition for the Environment and the Environmental Protection Agency that requires the sewer district to spend $4.7 billion over the next two decades on improvements to sewer systems in St. Louis and St. Louis County, a larger effort called Project Clear.

Monsanto's widely-used weed killer Roundup contains glyphosate, a chemical that's been the subject of multiple lawsuits that allege that it's linked to cancer.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Monsanto is facing more pressure to compensate farmers and farm workers who allege that its leading pesticide product caused them to develop cancer. 

A Los Angeles-based law firm on Friday filed 136 new cases against the company in St. Louis County Circuit Court. The lawsuits allege that exposure to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, caused the plaintiffs to develop non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

An adult Eastern massasauga in southwestern Michigan.
Photo provided | Eric T. Hileman

Illinois scientists are studying an endangered species of rattlesnake to find ways to revive its numbers. 

The Eastern massasauga once was widespread in the Midwest, living mainly in the Great Lakes region. Over several decades, its population declined dramatically. The species lives in wetlands, many of which have been drained to to build farms. Northern Illinois University biologist Richard King said it's also the only venomous snake in its range, which has made it a target.

File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

The debate over the safety of Monsanto’s weed killer Roundup has become more complicated, as newly released emails suggest the company had ghostwritten scientific research on glyphosate, the pesticide’s key ingredient.

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