Stories by alex ruppenthal

Chicago Offers 25 Drop-Off Sites for Recycling Your Christmas Tree

(Irene Tostado / Chicago Park District)

Trees collected through Chicago’s annual holiday tree recycling program are turned into mulch and wood chips for use at Chicago Park District locations. 

Chicago Warming Centers: 113 Places to Escape the Cold This Winter

Winter in Chicago, 2013 (David Wilson / Wikimedia Commons)

As winter weather arrives, Chicagoans can seek refuge from the cold at 113 public buildings designated as warming centers. 

EPA Adds Abandoned Chicago Dumping Ground to Superfund Cleanup List

A Chicago Department of Public Health sign warns passersby about hazardous materials at a 67-acre property west of Wolf Lake at 126th Place and Avenue O. (Alex Ruppenthal / WTTW News)

A 67-acre Southeast Side site served as a dumping ground for Republic Steel for nearly 30 years. Inspection records show the property is contaminated with lead, cyanide, mercury and other potentially harmful pollutants. 

Chicago ‘Genius Grant’ Recipient Teaching Course on Urban Sustainability

Emmanuel Pratt (Courtesy MacArthur Foundation)

Emmanuel Pratt will use a South Side community farm he developed as a “living laboratory” to teach students about contemporary sustainability initiatives. 

The ‘Failure Boost’: How Early Career Letdowns Lead to Future Success

(Moose Photos / Pexels)

Northwestern researchers studied the careers of young scientists and found that failure early in one’s career leads to greater success in the long term – at least for those who stick with it.  

Field Museum’s New Meteorite Contains Stardust That Predates the Solar System

A 4-pound piece of a meteorite that struck Costa Rica earlier this year was handed over to the Field Museum on Oct. 7, 2019. (John Weinstein / Field Museum)

A 4-pound chunk of a rare type of meteorite that crashed into a Costa Rican village this spring has found its way to Chicago, and experts say the rock likely contains clues to the origins of life on Earth.

Harms Woods Near Glenview is Illinois’ Newest Nature Preserve

Harms Woods (Courtesy North Branch Restoration Project)

The state has recognized a 169-acre section of Harms Woods, which is home to 400 different plant species, as an official state nature preserve, the highest level of protection for land in the state.

Battle Shields and War Bonnets: Field Exhibit to Showcase Native American Women and Warriors

An Apsáalooke war bonnet with a long tail, indicating that it was worn by only chiefs or accomplished warriors. (John Weinstein / Field Museum)

The first-of-its-kind exhibit in 2020 will explore the history and culture of the Apsáalooke people, an indigenous group known for its horsemanship, artistic pursuits and matriarchal ways of life.

Illinois Tech Gets $150M Gift to Train Students for Tech Careers in Chicago

(Illinois Institute of Technology / Facebook)

Ten business leaders are behind the donation – the largest cumulative gift in the university’s history – which will fund scholarships and new campus facilities. 

Illinois Appeals Federal Decision Denying Flood Assistance for Residents, Businesses

Illinois National Guard soldiers move sandbags through flood waters at East Cape Girardeau, Illinois, on June 12, 2019, as they construct a sandbag levee to control flooding in the community. (Barbara Wilson / Illinois National Guard)

Gov. J.B. Pritzker is asking the federal government to reconsider its decision to deny monetary aid to residents and businesses affected by near-record levels of flooding that hit Illinois this spring.

How Scientists Are Turning Plastic Trash into High-Quality Liquids

(Kevin Gessner / Flickr)

A team led by several Chicago-area researchers has developed a new method to “upcycle” single-use plastics into a number of commonly used products, such as motor oils, detergents and cosmetics. 

City Animal Shelter Completes $1.5 Million Medical Unit Renovation

Chicago Animal Care and Control staff prepare a dog for surgery inside the shelter’s renovated medical unit. (Courtesy Chicago Animal Care and Control)

Chicago Animal Care and Control says its renovated facility and new medical equipment will allow staff to evaluate animals more quickly and carry out surgical procedures that will ultimately lead to more adoptions.

Lincoln Park Zoo Lion Sahar Died of Encephalitis Caused by Fungal Infection

Sahar, Lincoln Park Zoo's 9-year-old male lion, died Sept. 27 while living temporarily at a zoo in Kansas. (Courtesy Lincoln Park Zoo)

Sahar, a 9-year-old African lion, arrived in Chicago in 2012 and became a favorite among staff and visitors. He died unexpectedly last month while living at a zoo in Kansas. 

Illinois AG Raoul, Chicago Intervene in Lawsuit Over Coal-Plant Emissions


A group of 30 states and cities are taking legal action to defend the federal government’s authority to regulate emissions from coal-fired power plants. 

Report: Climate Change Threatens Survival of Most North American Birds

A piping plover (Lorraine Minns / Audubon Photography Awards)

Hundreds of bird species in North America are at risk of extinction from climate change, according to an alarming new report from the National Audubon Society.

PAWS Chicago to Open New Outreach Center in Englewood

Since 2014, PAWS Chicago has operated a door-to-door outreach program aimed at reaching areas of the city with the highest rates of homeless pets. (Courtesy PAWS Chicago)

The no-kill animal shelter will expand services that have reached 13,000 pets and 6,600 families in Englewood since 2014 as it strives to be an “animal welfare anchor in a community where there are no other pet resources.”

Lincoln Park Zoo Polar Bear Participates in ‘Voluntary’ Blood Test

Siku, a male polar bear at Lincoln Park Zoo, pictured in 2016. (Julia Fuller / Lincoln Park Zoo)

Zoo staff had been working with Siku, a 9-year-old male polar bear, for about a year to train him on behaviors that helped staff collect his blood. 

New Group to Connect Veterans in Illinois With Careers in Clean Energy, Sustainability

Maj. Erich Bergiel, right, inspects the solar panels on the roof of the Marjeh Fruit and Vegetable Packing Facility in Afghanistan while he talks with Abdul Rahman, a renewable energy engineer. (Master Gunnery Sgt. Phil Mehringer / U.S. Department of Defense)

An increasing number of veterans are pursuing careers in fast-growing environmental sectors, like solar and wind energy, says Jessica Klinge, who will lead the Illinois chapter of Green Veterans.

Duckworth, Booker File Bill to Reduce Cost of Solar Energy for Poor Families

(Free-Photos / Pixabay)

The Low-Income Solar Energy Act would expand an existing program and create new ones to make solar energy more affordable for low-income Americans. 

Fearing the ‘Insect Apocalypse’? Renowned Entomologist Says ‘Get Rid of Your Lawn’

Dr. May Berenbaum, professor of entomology and head of the Department of Entomology at the University of Illinois (Courtesy University of Illinois)

The polar bear has become the poster child for climate change, but increasing temperatures impact many forms of life – including insects. Dr. May Berenbaum weighs in on what that means for the rest of life on Earth. 

You Can Now Smell Sue the T. Rex’s Breath at the Field Museum

New sensory features allow Field Museum visitors to smell the rotting-flesh stench of Sue the T. Rex’s breath. (Martin Baumgaertner / Field Museum)

New “sensory stations” allow visitors to get a more intimate experience of the museum’s iconic dinosaur – including the stench of Sue’s post-meal breath.

Lincoln Park Zoo Lion Sahar Dies Unexpectedly During Temporary Stay in Kansas

Sahar, Lincoln Park Zoo's 9-year-old male lion, died Sept. 27 while living temporarily at a zoo in Kansas. (Courtesy Lincoln Park Zoo)

Sahar, a 9-year-old African lion, died last week while living temporarily at Rolling Hills Zoo in Kansas as Lincoln Park Zoo renovates its lion house. 

Illinois Among 17 States Suing Trump Administration Over Weakened Endangered Species Act Rules

A piping plover on Waukegan Beach in 2018. (Ethan Ellis / Flickr)

Experts say proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act could harm a number of troubled species found in Illinois, including the piping plover shorebird, rusty patched bumblebee and other animals and plants. 

New Crocodile Species Identified With Help of Skulls in Field Museum’s Basement

A New Guinea crocodile. (Midori / Wikimedia Commons)

By examining 51 crocodile skulls, Field Museum scientist Caleb McMahan was able to identify a previously unclassified species native to New Guinea. 

Report Details Human and Economic Costs of Flooding in Illinois, US

Flooding in Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood on April 18, 2013. (Center for Neighborhood Technology / Flickr)

Illinois experienced more than 1,500 flood events from 2000 to 2018 – an average of 1.5 floods per week – resulting in $3 billion in property damages, according to a new report from the American Geophysical Union.

Northwestern Launches Hub to Boost Science via Artificial Intelligence

(geralt / Pixabay)

How does scientific discovery happen? And what goes right when the process works? Those are some of the questions behind a newly launched center at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.