Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Eli Chen

Science Reporter

Eli Chen is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio. She comes to St. Louis after covering the eroding Delaware coast, bat-friendly wind turbine technology, mouse love songs and various science stories for Delaware Public Media/WDDE-FM. Before that, she corralled robots and citizen scientists for the World Science Festival in New York City and spent a brief stint booking guests for Science Friday’s live events in 2013. Eli grew up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, where a mixture of teen angst, a love for Ray Bradbury novels and the growing awareness about climate change propelled her to become the science storyteller she is today. When not working, Eli enjoys a solid bike ride, collects classic disco, watches standup comedy and is often found cuddling other people’s dogs. She has a bachelor’s in environmental sustainability and creative writing at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and has a master’s degree in journalism, with a focus on science reporting, from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.

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File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis-area advocates for housing equality demand that private banks and other lenders put a temporary stop to foreclosures during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The St. Louis Equal Housing and Community Reinvestment Alliance on Thursday called on financial institutions to help people keep their homes while the region is under a stay-at-home order. The requests include moratoriums on evictions for mortgage-backed properties and halting reports of past-due payments to credit bureaus.

The new coronavirus has been detected in dozens of countries, including the United States. It gets its name from its protruding spikes, which resemble a crown.
Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 5:30 p.m., March 31 with comment from Washington University School of Medicine

St. Louis University doctors are using an experimental drug to treat hospitalized patients who test positive for COVID-19. 

The National Institutes of Health recently launched a study on remdesivir at SLU and about 60 research sites around the world. The intravenous drug has been used to treat a small number of COVID-19 patients, but there’s not enough evidence to show that any drug is an effective treatment. 

Determining whether remdesivir works could save lives, said Sarah George, an infectious disease researcher at SLU’s Center for Vaccine Development.

Frontier Health and Rehabilitation, a nursing home in St. Charles on March 27, 2020.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 5 p.m., March 31 with latest number of cases at Frontier Health and Rehabilitation

When dozens of nursing home residents in a Seattle suburb tested positive for COVID-19, people in St. Louis grew worried about their loved ones. 

Michael Allen immediately thought of his aunt, who has schizophrenia and a heart condition, and lives at Frontier Health and Rehabilitation in St. Charles. Allen grew more worried when her nursing home reported that residents there had tested positive.

Nursing homes across the country blocked access to visitors, began screening staff and residents multiple times a day, and are trying to follow guidelines from federal and local authorities.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and elsewhere are investigating whether transfusions of blood plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19 can prevent or treat the disease.
Getty Images via Washington University

Updated at 2:52 p.m. with comments from Dr. Jeffrey Henderson

Washington University researchers will soon begin testing a century-old technique that could help combat COVID-19.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday approved the university’s application to test plasma transfusion: isolating and transfusing antibodies from the blood of patients who have recovered from COVID-19 to those who are at high risk or are already ill from the virus.

2-ounce hand sanitizer bottles made by Switchgrass Spirits, a distillery in Wellson, Missouri
Switchgrass Spirits

Barbara Chappuis, the owner of Clarksville beauty shop Bee Naturals, found it impossible earlier this month to purchase the alcohol her company needs to make hand sanitizer. 

Global supplies of high-proof alcohol have become scarce due to the outbreak of COVID-19, the disease spread by the new coronavirus. But in Chappuis’ desperate search to acquire alcohol, she found an unlikely business partner: Switchgrass Spirits, a one-year-old distillery near north St. Louis.

St. Louis County Health Department co-director Spring Schmidt (left) and county executive Sam Page address reporters on Sunday, March 8, 2020, regarding Missouri's presumed first case of the new coronavirus.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI

As states confirm more cases of the new coronavirus disease, local health officials are recommending that people who have tested positive and those who’ve come in close contact with them isolate themselves at home for 14 days. 

Many states, including Missouri and Illinois, have laws that give health department directors the authority to enforce a quarantine on individuals who do not follow instructions to isolate themselves. 

Four residents and two workers at a St. Louis nursing home have tested positive for coronavirus.
Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio

Hospitals and doctors in the St. Louis area have been preparing for several weeks for a case of the new coronavirus disease to arrive in Missouri

That happened Saturday, when state and local officials announced that a St. Louis County woman is presumed to have COVID-19. She’s one of about 500 people known to have it in the U.S. The disease, which emerged in China late last year, has killed 3,800 people globally. 

Doctors say expanded nationwide testing for COVID-19 could reveal how widespread the disease is. Infectious disease specialist Hilary Babcock spoke with St. Louis Public Radio’s Eli Chen about the new coronavirus and what the first case means for Missouri. 

Postdoctoral researchers Adam Bailey and Brett Case work on a vaccine to prevent the disease caused by the new coronavirus in a laboratory at the Washington University Medical Campus in March 2020.
Matt Miller | Washington University School of Medicine

As the number of COVID-19 cases climbs in the U.S., scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine are working on a vaccine to prevent the disease. 

Researchers are using a virus that’s harmless to humans and replacing a protein on its surface with one from the coronavirus that spreads the COVID-19 disease. That strategy could generate antibodies in the immune system that would attack the virus, said Sean Whelan, head of Wash U’s Department of Molecular Microbiology.

Walter Byrd checks on an overflowing sewer grate next to his home in Centreville. Like dozens of other residents, Byrd has raw sewage seeping through his yard. Jan. 27, 2020
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

CENTREVILLE — At least twice a day, Walter Byrd checks on the pumps on his yard. 

Like dozens of residents in the Metro East city of Centreville, Byrd has raw sewage seeping through his yard. A person can’t bear to stand in his yard during the summer because it smells like a “hog pen,” he said.

The city and its sewer utility, Commonfields of Cahokia, have neglected the sewer systems for decades. When there’s a heavy rain, the water often has nowhere to drain and floods parts of town.

Missouri S&T students Dibbya Barua and Justin Adler look at a water sample taken from Schuman Park Lake in Rolla, Missouri on July 26, 2019.
Sutapa Barua | Missouri University of Science and Technology

Students at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla are building a portable water filter that can help people who lack access to clean water. 

The graduate engineering students are using paper and nano-size silica particles to filter toxins produced by harmful growths of algae. They plan to demonstrate their project at the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Student Design Competition in June at a technology conference. 

Water-filtering technologies that exist on the market are often complicated and inaccessible to remote, rural communities that need them the most, said Sutapa Barua, a Missouri S&T chemical engineering professor who advises the students. 

Some structures on the Eureka High School campus remained mostly below water even as floodwater began to recede Thursday.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis County Council may soon approve restrictions on building in the flood-prone areas of unincorporated parts of the county to prevent damage from future floods. 

The St. Louis area has experienced three record floods in the past five years, causing severe damage to communities along the Meramec, Missouri and Mississippi rivers. The county council is considering a bill that would lower the amount of water development can displace from one foot to one inch.

Connor Highlander, a senior at St. Louis University, tests the Argus-2 satellite.
Michael Swartout | St. Louis University

A team of engineering students at St. Louis University this week will be listening for signals from a six-pound, tissue-box-size satellite in outer space. 

About 45 undergraduate students have spent nearly three years building the Argus-2 satellite. The International Space Station will deploy it and eight other satellites Wednesday as a part of a NASA science education program

The satellite will capture images of Earth and demonstrate how well memory storage devices perform in space, said Jeffrey Kelley, a senior majoring in aerospace engineering at SLU.

Sign at the main entrance to the old Monsanto headquarters reads Bayer Crop Sciences as of August 21, 2018
Bill Greenblatt | UPI

Bayer AG announced today that its researchers have discovered a molecule that it could use to develop new herbicide products. 

The biotech company is conducting field tests of the compound, which it hasn’t yet named. It’s been 30 years since scientists have developed an herbicide molecule, largely due to a lengthy regulatory process and the widespread use of Monsanto’s Roundup, which contains the molecule glyphosate.

Dicamba graphic
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri agriculture officials are struggling to address a backlog of complaints from farmers who allege that dicamba-based herbicide drift from another farm has damaged their crops. 

The Missouri Department of Agriculture has about 600 pending pesticide investigations. Some of them date back to 2016, the year that Bayer-owned Monsanto began selling its dicamba-tolerant soybeans. 

State legislators are considering a budget request the state agriculture agency made last week to hire more staff to help address complaints.

Kasey Fowler-Finn, a St. Louis University biologist, puts the finishing touches on part of the "Too Hot to Sing" exhibit at the SLU Museum of Art. Jan 9 2020
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Kasey Fowler-Finn wants people to hear how climate change could alter the lives of a sap-feeding insect that’s smaller than a fingernail. 

The St. Louis University biologist studies how rising temperatures could affect the mating calls of treehoppers. Fowler-Finn and Virginia-based sound artist Stephen Vitiello used that research to produce an exhibit, called “Too Hot To Sing,” that opens today at the SLU Museum of Art

Some structures on the Eureka High School campus remained mostly below water even as floodwater began to recede Thursday.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has developed a plan to help eight municipalities and three counties along the Meramec River better prepare for floods. 

Agency officials recently released a report recommending numerous strategies that include buying out properties and restoring wetlands in the flood plain for areas that have a high risk of being flooded. Communities along the river have dealt with three record floods since 2015. 

Municipal and county governments will decide in March whether to adopt the corps’ plan. Doing so would help them better inform residents about flood plain development, said Hal Graef, a St. Louis corps program manager. 

Christine Anyeko, a laborer in Uganda's northern Amuru district, weeds a field of cassava, banana and beans by hand.
File Photo | Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation plans to build a nonprofit organization in St. Louis to advance technologies that would help small farms in developing countries. 

The nonprofit, to be named Gates Ag One, will focus on more rapidly developing seeds and technologies that could help farmers in south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa raise yields. 

The foundation also aims to help growers adapt to more frequent droughts, floods and other extreme weather events brought on by climate change.

Barbara Chicherio, of the Gateway Green Alliance, protests Monsanto outside the Civil Courts Building on Jan. 24, 2020.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

A St. Louis circuit court judge has postponed a trial for a lawsuit that alleges the Monsanto weed killer Roundup caused people to develop cancer. 

Opening statements in the case were scheduled for Friday. But Judge Elizabeth Hogan continued the case indefinitely to give attorneys for Monsanto and four plaintiffs time to work on a settlement, according to a statement from Bayer.

Lumber collected from a building in the Vandeventer neighborhood on Nov. 21, 2019.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

For years, an empty three-story warehouse on the corner of Dr. Martin Luther King Drive and Whittier Street was just another eyesore in north St. Louis. 

But last summer, workers began to dismantle the 136-year-old building and saved about $250,000 worth of brick, lumber and other materials. The city had selected the former moving and storage warehouse as its first project to deconstruct, or take apart, a building to salvage its components. 

Unlike demolition, deconstruction saves valuable materials that would otherwise end up in a landfill. It also doesn’t emit harmful pollutants into the surrounding community and provides more jobs because it requires more workers. 

A person testing out a cooling wearable device developed by University of Missouri engineers.
University of Missouri

Engineers at the University of Missouri-Columbia are developing a wearable device that could provide much-needed cooling on extremely hot days. 

The device is a small wired patch made out of a special type of porous plastic that doesn’t require any fans, pumps or electricity to cool the wearer. The technology reflects sunlight away from the body to reduce the person’s exposure to heat.

A photo of a yard the Environmental Protection Agency is removing lead pollution from.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Jefferson County health officials plan this year to increase testing for lead contamination in residential areas near where companies mined for heavy metals several decades ago. 

The county’s health department will work with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to educate residents about potential lead contamination in their yards. The agencies also are encouraging parents to have their children’s blood tested for lead.

May 29, 2019 A kayaker paddles down flooded Main Street west of Grafton. The river had reached 32 feet, on its way to a projected crest of 36.3 feet, which would be the second highest on record and less than two feet below the record set in 1993.
File Photo | Brent Jones | St. Louis Public Radio

Since last spring, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has paid nearly $70 million to Missouri residents who filed flood insurance claims.

Payments are likely to keep accumulating, as claims are still being processed and more flooding could occur this year. The National Weather Service predicts that above-average precipitation and abnormally moist ground conditions in the Upper Midwest this winter could increase the chance of major flooding in the St. Louis region in the spring. 

Floodwaters have swamped many homes and businesses in Missouri this year, including the Lewis and Clark Boat House and Museum in St. Charles, shown here in May. The Red Cross will host a series of events to help disaster victims apply for aid.
Red Cross of Missouri and Arkansas

An advisory group's recommendations to Gov. Mike Parson that state and federal agencies largely focus on repairing and strengthening levees will not do enough to protect communities from floods, environmentalists say.

Parson created the Flood Recovery Advisory Working Group last summer after record flooding along the state’s major rivers caused widespread damage to many Missouri communities. The group mostly consists of regulators, levee district representatives and members of agriculture associations.

There are no scientists and conservationists to acknowledge that climate change will worsen floods and promote long-term solutions to prevent flood damage, said Maisah Khan, water policy director at the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.

Mitch Leachman of the St. Louis Audubon Society spoke against a proposal to use tax increment financing to pay for pumps and levees in a low-lying area in Maryland Heights.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

The Maryland Heights TIF Commission has rejected a controversial plan to build pumps to drain a frequently flooded area near the Missouri River. 

Commission members voted 7-5 Friday against recommending that the Maryland Heights City Council approve the city’s plan to create a $151 million tax increment financing district. City officials proposed using the TIF district to pay for pumps and levees in a 2,409-acre area called the Maryland Park Lake District.

Area landowners supported the plan to build infrastructure to control flooding. Environmentalists opposed it, saying that it will lead to development that will worsen flooding in the St. Louis region.

The main levee in Winfield failed May 4, 2019, near the Pillsbury grain elevator on Pillsbury Road.
File Photo | Winfield Foley Fire Protection District

An advisory group Gov. Mike Parson appointed to study ways to address flooding has released a report that recommends state and federal agencies repair and strengthen levees, especially in rural areas hit severely by prolonged flooding this year. 

Record flooding in 2019 overtopped and breached dozens of levees along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, causing damage to many farms and communities. Some parts of western Missouri experienced flooding for as long as seven months.

An infrared photograph of an ancient Egyptian female mummy with tattoos on her neck.
Anne Austin

Five years ago, archaeologist Anne Austin stood in an ancient Egyptian tomb, staring at strange markings on the neck of a mummified woman. 

She placed a scanning device over the mummy to cast infrared light, an invisible light often used to detect heat. Almost like magic, several tattoos revealed themselves, Austin said. 

Since then, Austin has used infrared photography to study tattoos on seven Egyptian mummies.

A box turtle
Shawn Klein

On a chilly, gray morning in Forest Park, three St. Louis Zoo scientists switched on 20-inch-long antennas to begin their search for a turtle named Pumpkin. 

Pumpkin is one of nine box turtles in Forest Park that scientists have tagged with tracking devices. Researchers at the St. Louis Zoo and St. Louis University are tracking box turtles in the city’s largest park and in a remote area in southwest St. Louis County to study how they thrive in urban and rural environments.

Palmer and her colleagues at the zoo recently reported in the journal Frontiers that the three-toed box turtles in the park have a higher mortality rate than the ones they tracked in the woods near Washington University’s Tyson Research Center.

A robin in the snow.
Greg Munteanu | St. Louis Public Radio

An annual winter bird-watching event kicks off this weekend, giving people the chance to learn about birds and collect data for wildlife scientists.

Nature lovers in the St. Louis area will gather in parks and wildlife refuges to partake in the National Audubon Society’s 120th Christmas Bird Count from Dec. 14 to Jan. 5. There are 20 gatherings taking place in Missouri and almost 90 in Illinois.

An illustration of flooded homes.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Keeping vacant, flood-prone lands free of development could save taxpayers billions, according to conservation scientists. 

In a study published this week in the journal Nature Sustainability, the Nature Conservancy, University of Bristol and other institutions found that every $1 spent acquiring undeveloped properties in the 100-year floodplain — which have a 1% chance of flooding in any given year — returns $5 that would be spent on emergency services, flood insurance claims and other flood damage costs if those properties became developed.

A view of Lake Taneycomo in February 2018.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 1:09 p.m. with comments from environmentalists A Missouri environmental advocacy group is suing the Environmental Protection Agency, claiming that it has failed to prevent farm runoff from polluting Missouri’s lakes. 

The EPA last December approved a plan the Missouri Department of Natural Resources developed to monitor nutrient pollution in the state’s lakes. Excessive amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus that largely come from farm runoff can threaten aquatic wildlife and public health.