Northern Illinois University

Northern Today

Northern Today - January 7, 2008

High school students use NASA data
to research whether rain fell on Mars

Did it ever rain on Mars? Scientists have conducted research on the topic and debated the question for decades. Now high school students, using data from NASA, will be launching their own investigations.

Students at nearly a dozen schools, from Rockford to Maple Park to Naperville, will study the planet using an online lesson plan developed by NIU faculty researchers. A determination of whether it rained on Mars would have important implications in the study of whether the planet ever could have supported life.

The lesson is geared for high school sophomores, juniors and seniors. Any teacher can use the demo and/or sign up for an actual section of Mars to study at

“This is an ideal topic to engage students in the process of conducting scientific research because it is still hotly debated, leaving room for students to make real contributions through their own observation and analysis of data,” said Wei Luo, an NIU professor of geography.

“It’s quite possible that students will make some discoveries that researchers overlooked,” he added. “Mars is a large planet.”

Development of the lesson plan is an extension of Luo’s own NASA-funded research into the origin of valley networks or river-like landforms on Mars, which has implications on climate history of the Red Planet. He and Professor Kathy Kitts, who coordinates certification of science teachers in NIU’s Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences, developed the online lesson using Geographic Information Systems.

The NIU faculty members led a workshop this past fall for 16 high school teachers from across the region. The Mars lesson already has received excellent reviews from the students of Matt Leone, who teaches earth science at Libertyville High School and piloted the Mars lesson last spring.

Leone said he’s recommending it to other teachers.

“The kids think it’s great because it’s new and they’re actually doing research, rather than learning about somebody else’s (findings),” he said, noting that the lesson also is aligned with state standards.

“It fits perfectly into my curriculum,” Leone added. “We cover planetary geology and we also cover surface and groundwater processes, so students are applying knowledge that they’ve already learned in class.”

Students receive a section of Mars to study, along with its related topography and satellite imagery. They must determine whether valley networks in their section were formed predominantly by flowing rivers or by the action of groundwater, a process of erosion known as groundwater sapping.

“If surface runoff is the dominant erosion style on Mars, then it most likely points to an early warmer and wetter climate with an Earth-like hydrologic cycle, including rainfall,” Luo said. “On the other hand, if groundwater sapping is the dominant erosion style, the valley networks could have been formed under current climatic conditions, perhaps under a thick ice cover.”

With the teachers acting as facilitators, the students will extract information from the data, interpret their results, post them to a server and debate their findings with students working on the same section and on other sections.

After appropriate review, the students’ work will be saved in a permanent workspace on the server for all in the scientific community to access.

“I think the students are going to love it,” said Liz Losch, who teaches Ecological Biology and Dynamic Earth Systems at Naperville Central High School. She participated in the fall workshop and plans to use the Mars lesson in February.

“This is a great example of inquiry-based science, where the answers are not always black and white,” she adds. “It gets students to think outside of the box and be more complex thinkers. It also helps them construct ideas about how science is used in real life. Students are definitely interested in the possibility of life outside of our planet, allowing them to think critically about similar topics.”

NIU faculty researchers ultimately hope to stimulate the students’ interest in science.

“The whole point of this is that the students can do real research,” said NIU’s Kitts. “We want to get them interested in science and show them that they really can do it.”

Both Luo and Kitts note the Mars project is truly a team effort. Professor Wei-Chen Hung from the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment provided his expertise in assessment, and NIU research scientists Phil Young and Rick Schwantes in the Department of Geography assisted in development of the Web site. A number of graduate students also contributed to the lesson plan development.

Kendall Thu named editor
of national journal in anthropology

NIU anthropologist Kendall Thu has been appointed editor of “Culture and Agriculture,” a national peer-reviewed journal that has a readership among anthropologists and archaeologists, as well as researchers and practitioners in sociology, agricultural economics, food studies and policy sciences.

The journal now will be housed in the NIU Department of Anthropology.

“Manuscripts will be sent here to initiate the review process and the first phase of the actual journal production. I’m looking forward to involving students so they can experience the peer-review process from the inside,” Thu said. “I particularly appreciate the support of the anthropology department and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in bringing the journal here.”

Central to the journal’s mission is work exploring the connections between environment, ecology, agriculture and aqua-cultural practices, fisheries, natural resources, food processing and nutrition, as they relate to cultural dimensions of gender, class, property relations and labor processes.

“Culture and Agriculture” is published three times a year by the Culture and Agriculture Section of the American Anthropological Association.

“While first and foremost a reflection of Kendall Thu’s standing among his peers, this appointment also points to the strength of the anthropology department at NIU,” said Christopher McCord, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Thu is a cultural anthropologist with specific interests in applied anthropology, food systems, public and environmental health and the anthropology of sports. His research focuses on the relationships between industrialized food systems, the environment, public health, rural social dynamics and state power and policy.

Thu has served as president of the Culture and Agriculture Section of the American Anthropological Association and on the executive board of the Central States Anthropological Society. He is a fellow in the Society for Applied Anthropology. He teaches courses in applied anthropology, medical anthropology, environmental anthropology and introductory cultural anthropology.

Bogdan Dabrowski named
American Physical Society fellow

Bogdan Dabrowski, a distinguished research professor in the NIU Department of Physics, has been named a fellow of the American Physical Society (APS) in recognition of his outstanding research in the area of materials science.

The distinction is awarded each year to no more than one-half of 1 percent of members of the APS, the leading organization of physicists worldwide. Dabrowski’s fellowship certificate will be presented during the annual APS meeting this March in New Orleans.

Dabrowski has been at NIU since 1990 and serves as director of the Laboratory for Materials Design within the Department of Physics.

His research integrates chemistry, physics and materials science and involves collaborations with Argonne National Laboratory and 30 other leading institutions in the United States and Europe. He has focused on understanding the crystal chemistry of complex materials, such as copper, manganese and other transition-metal oxides. Specifically, he examines the relationship between a material’s structural and physical properties, including conditions of formation.

Dabrowski’s work has applications in electronics, telecommunications, computers, energy storage and transportation and has resulted in two patents on new superconducting materials. His research also has attracted about $5 million in support from the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and the Office of Naval Research.

Dabrowski teaches a number of upper-level and graduate courses, including mathematical methods for physicists, an introduction to engineering materials and methods of analytical mechanics. He will spend the 2008-09 school year on sabbatical working with collaborators in Europe.

Art Museum celebrates Japanese art, benefactor’s donations

Some high culture of the Far East has come to NIU’s Art Museum.

From Tuesday, Jan. 15, through Friday, March 7, the museum presents the multifaceted “National/International Consciousness in Japan: Self, Place, and Society during the Nineteenth, Twentieth, and Twenty-first Centuries” project.

Exhibitions include “Ayomi Yoshida Installation,” “Ukiyo-e Prints from the Richard F. Grott Family Collection,” “Revisiting Modern Japanese Prints: Selected Works from the Richard F. Grott Family Collection” and, curated by NIU Professor Emerita Helen Merritt, “Japanese Pottery from the Richard F. Grott Family Collection.”

Japanese artist Yoshida has been in residency since late December to install a large scale site-specific installation exploring the physical aspects of the woodblock printmaking process.

During the final weeks of installation, beginning Tuesday, Jan. 15, the gallery will be open to the public so that visitors can view the process in progress and engage directly with Yoshida and her spouse and primary installation assistant, Bidou Yamaguchi. The public also is invited to the gala reception from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 24.

The Tsukasa Taiko Drummers will give a traditional Japanese drumming demonstration during the reception at 5:15 p.m. and again at 6 p.m. The Tsukasa Taiko drum ensemble will perform later that evening at 8 p.m. in the Music Building’s Boutell Memorial Concert Hall.

Yoshida is the fourth generation of the Japanese Yoshida family artist dynasty. Her temporary installation will both contrast and augment the concurrent Richard F. Grott Family Collection exhibitions at the NIU Art Museum.

Her installations utilize the exact same tools and carving techniques of traditional wood block printmaking and carry the artistic evolution of Japanese printmaking to today. 

Her artworks explore the physical aspects of the woodblock printmaking process, which involves carving into the wood, rolling ink onto the resulting raised areas, and then pressing paper against the block thus transferring the image from the raised surface to the paper. 

A working artist for nearly 30 years, Yoshida’s works have been featured in the British Museum, the Minneapolis Institute of Art and other venues including several international print biennials. Yoshida created her only permanent installation for Target Corporation at its Minneapolis headquarters from 2003. She also designed limited edition gift wrap with Target in 2006 to distribute in its stores under the moniker “Ayomi Yosida: ART + DESIGN.” She is currently working on a second series of gift wrap which will be available in May.

Richard F. Grott, head of his own consulting firm, Richard G. Enterprises, Inc., spent 25 years in top-level management with Encyclopedia Britannica and 15 years living and working in Asia.

He not only collected modern prints, but actually met many of the famous artists associated with the sôsaku hanga movement. Artists in this vein represented a clear departure from the traditional collaborative and commercial “craft” of the ukiyo-e print tradition. Sôsaku hanga artists sought to exert their originality and expressive powers as modern artists by creating prints with their own hands.

Selections from Grott’s donation and family collection also display the fundamental differences between Japan’s ukiyo-e tradition of the Edo period (1615-1867) and modern 20th century prints. The exhibitions will introduce technical and thematic features of the traditional multicolor woodblock prints created through publishers who brought together the expert skills of carvers, printers and designers.

A catalog with an essay co-authored by NIU Professor Emerita Helen Merritt and NIU Art History Assistant Professor Helen Nagata, alongside research and writing from NIU undergraduate and graduate students from a seminar on Japanese prints in spring 2007, will supplement this exhibition.

The NIU Art Museum is located on the west end of the first floor of Altgeld Hall. The galleries are open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and by appointment for group tours. Exhibitions are free; donations are appreciated.

The exhibitions of the NIU Art Museum are funded in part by the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, the Friends of the NIU Art Museum and the Arts Fund 21. Support also has come from The Japan Foundation New York and the James and Helen Merritt Foundation of the School of Art. The JASC Tsukasa Taiko drum performance is supported in part by a Venture Grant from the NIU Foundation and the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.

For more information, visit or call (815) 753-1936.


Cindy Phillips, director of ITS Telecommunications and Customer Service, has been elected president of the board for the INSIGHT 100 organization.

INSIGHT 100 is an organization of large institutions covering the education, commercial, financial and government sectors.

All member organizations own and/or operate a large carrier-grade Nortel telephone switch, and the INSIGHT 100 group is a forum for these organizations to discuss concerns, applications and performance of the phone switch. The group also makes recommendations to Nortel on development and strategies.

NIU has owned and operated its own telephone switch since 1985.

Target helps Community School
link museum with hands-on art

DeKalb’s Target store recently presented the NIU Community School of the Arts and the NIU Art Museum with an award of $1,500 to provide arts programs for children and adults in the community.

The award was made as part of Target’s community relations program to support local initiatives.

“Seeing Art/Making Art” is a project that connects museum exhibits shown at the NIU Art Museum with hands-on art projects taught by NIU artists and faculty.

Children ages 7 to 11 and parents are invited Saturday, Jan. 26, for a private tour of Japanese prints on exhibit in Altgeld Hall. Participants learn some historical aspects of Japanese printmaking, mostly examining the works of the Modern Creative Print Movement in Japan.

The tour moves to the Art Building for a project in which participants learn how to make their own prints using a technique that mimics the soft color mixing of some of the Japanese prints on display.

Leading the tour and teaching the class is NIU Art Museum curator and artist Jessica Witte will lead the tour and teach the class. The class is free, but pre-registration is required and space is limited. Today is the deadline for pre-registration.

More information is available at or by calling (815) 753-1450. More information the NIU Art Museum is available at or by calling (815) 753-1936.

Financial aid available for Community School

Students 18 and younger who want to pursue their study of the arts, but who cannot afford the full cost, are invited to apply for financial aid for the spring semester. The NIU Community School of the Arts offers a wide variety of art, music, and theatre classes, including private music lessons and ensembles.

The deadline for financial aid applications is today. Application forms are available by calling (815) 753-1450 or online at

The NIU Community School of the Arts is located in Room 132 Music Building.

Workshop to explore dynamics of governmental collaborations

“Governmental Cooperation, Collaboration, and Consolidation in the New Economy” is the title of the next CLA workshop, scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 10. This workshop will explore the changing dynamics between units of govern­ment.

Current research and writings on the topic about “the strains on the system” will be debated. Do old models really work, and if so, for how long? What can be done better? What can be done together? What shouldn’t be done anymore?

Regions and regionalism also will be explored. Are they really dirty words or simply modern recognition that the world and inter­governmental relations has changed?

This workshop, which will be team-taught by Bob Gleeson, faculty from Public Administration and a panel of practitioners, also will take a closer look at networks and collaborations, particularly their logical models and some real-world local government examples.

Participants will be stimulated to ponder and critically assess “how long can we go on/operate like this?” Professional insight will be presented as to what’s realistic, what’s on the horizon and what might be mandated with regard to governmental consolidation and cooperation.

Registraion for the course and more information about CLA and its upcoming workshops are online.

Exciting spring semester planned
for Community School students

The NIU Community School of the Arts has an exciting spring semester planned.

Classes, lessons and ensembles begin in January. Highlights of the season include the Honors Recital featuring the six winners of the talent scholarship competition perform Saturday, Jan. 26. On Wednesday, Feb. 20, DeKalb teen Jaimie Sachay performs a viola concerto with the CSA Sinfonia.

Many soloists can be heard Sunday, Feb. 10, at the Performathon, the event that raises money to provide scholarship support for young people in the community to further their studies of the arts. The event features an afternoon of solo and group performances, a bake sale, a music swap, face painting and a raffle. This year’s Performathon is a celebration of the community school’s 20th anniversary.

Private music lessons begin in January and are available on all instruments. Teachers are students and faculty in the NIU School Music as well as community artists. String ensembles for children, a Celtic band, a guitar ensemble, a group guitar class and a full orchestra are a few of the music offerings in spring. 

Art classes for adults and children are also available, including a new class, “Drawing from Nature.” The popular theater games class for children returns.

The NIU Community School of the Arts is sponsored by the College of Visual and Performing Arts. Classes and lessons are taught on campus. Scholarships for families in financial need are available. Applications forms are due today. More information about the program, the Performathon and scholarships, as well as application and registration forms, are available at or by calling (815) 753-1450.

Community Dance School begins spring session Jan. 14

The Community Dance School at NIU, sponsored by the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, begins its spring 12-week session Monday, Jan. 14.

Adult and children classes are taught in creative movement, ballet, tap, Irish step dancing, jazz/hip-hop and ballroom/Latin/swing. Registration is from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 12, and from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 13, in Anderson Hall studio 130. The cost per class is $95.

For more information, call Diane Rimmer at (815) 756-4092 or Outreach Services at (815) 753-0277. 

LGBT, PRISM invite knitters

What do Katharine Hepburn, Vanna White, and Sarah Jessica Parker have in common? They are all avid knitters.

Whether new to knitting, a skilled crocheter or somewhere in between, join the gathering at Neptune Central’s Fireside Lounge from 9 to 10 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 16, for snacks and creativity. Finished crafts will be donated to Hope Haven, DeKalb’s homeless shelter.

Other dates are Feb. 13, March 12 and April 16. The LGBT Resource Center and PRISM are co-sponsors.

Class promotes art to reach students with special needs

NIU will offer a class at University Center in Grayslake for teachers interested in learning how art can be used to help students with special needs. The course begins Thursday, Jan. 17, and meets from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday evenings. “Art for Special Needs Populations” is designed for teachers and includes a wide variety of teaching styles and content. No art experience is required.

The course is available for undergraduate and graduate credit to those who have the academic credentials. The class explores these topics through group activities, stations, games, and art making. Among the topics covered are:

  • theories of special needs.
  • outsider artists.
  • adaptations of lessons, curriculum and art media/tools.
  • IEPs.
  • assessment issues for special needs students.
  • the culture of disability.
  • developmentally delayed signifiers and social implications.
  • prejudice and stereotypes.
  • fears of difference.
  • multiple intelligences and non-traditional intelligence.
  • classroom climate.
  • attitudes.
  • compassion.

The instructor is Susan Metcalf, a visiting assistant professor in the NIU School of Art. Metcalf received her doctorate in education (specializing in art education) from NIU in 2001. She was awarded a certificate of recognition by the NIU Center for Accessibility Resources in 2001. She was an elementary art teacher for many years in Buffalo Grove and has written many articles on the topic of art education and special needs.

Students must be registered as an NIU student to take the class. Information is available on the NIU Web site about how to register as an NIU student and for the class at On the A-Z index, click on Registration and Records.

Contact Deborah Booth, director of the Office of External Programs in the College of Visual and Performing Arts at (815) 753-1450 or for more information.

NIU memorabilia featured at January DAWC exhibition

NIU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences External Programming retiree Steven Johnson will exhibit items from his collection of NIU and DeKalb postcards, as well as NIU collectibles such as spoons, pitchers, candy dishes, ash trays and bowls, during January in the DeKalb Area Women’s Center (DAWC) Galleries.

Johnson’s collection began shortly after his employment at NIU in 1981.

“I came across some old postcards of Altgeld Hall at an auction, bought them and that started the collection. I then added postcards of DeKalb schools, homes, businesses and the main street, and have always enjoyed showing them to people from DeKalb and NIU,” he says.

“A few years later, a friend found a candlestick with a picture of Altgeld Hall and asked if I wanted it,” Johnson recalls. “Since then friends have found many additional ceramic and china pieces decorated with NIU’s most famous landmark.”

A free, public reception is scheduled from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 20. The exhibition of DeKalb postcards and NIU memorabilia is open for public viewing from 7 to 9 p.m. Fridays, from 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 8, and by appointment throughout the month.

The DAWC is located at 1021 State Street in DeKalb. Parking is available in the paved lot off of Eleventh Street, one-half block south of the building. The handicapped-accessible lift can be reached from the alley north of the building.

For more information, or to arrange a group showing, call gallery director Anna Marie Coveny at (815) 758-1351.

Retirement reception scheduled
for College of Ed’s Jim Lockard

The NIU community is invited to help wish Jim Lockard a happy retirement and to celebrate his contributions to the College of Education and NIU during his many years on campus.

The event takes place from 3 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 22, in the Sky Room of the Holmes Student Center.

PCSOGI offers travel funding for professional development

NIU’s Presidential Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity has limited travel funds available to help support faculty, staff and students who wish to attend conferences, workshops or seminars for the purpose of learning about or presenting scholarship on lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender topics.

Individuals requesting funds will be asked to submit a PCSOGI Request for Travel Support form, including a breakdown of costs and other sources of funding support. Travel taking place during the current fiscal year (through June 30) is eligible for funding. More information and an online request form is available at

For more information, contact Julia Lamb, PCSOGI finance committee chair, at (815) 753-1591 or via e-mail

Alumni Association invites explorers to Costa Rica, Holland

Tired of all the snow and ice? Plan an exciting getaway with the Alumni Association. Trips are planned to Costa Rica in March and to Holland in April.

Unsurpassed natural beauty awaits travelers on this exploration of Costa Rica’s natural wonders. This tropical and secure paradise features lush rainforests, beautiful beaches, cloud forests, abundant wildlife, dynamic volcanoes, vanishing ecosystems and warm and hospitable people. It’s nature’s museum.

In Holland, visitors will find vibrant flower gardens, quaint villages, windmills and markets of all kinds. This touring itinerary includes the Anne Frank House, Keukenhof Gardens and the annual Flower Parade in Noordwijk. Visit the famous cheese market of Zaanse Schans and learn first-hand how the Dutch make their wooden shoes.

Visit the Alumni Association Web site or call (815) 753-1452 for more information.

Media Services offers SMART classroom training

Media Services will offer training on the use of the audiovisual equipment in Provost-sponsored
SMART classrooms.

A new hardware keypad for equipment control is being added over winter break. Instructors either can continue using the podium control icon on the computer desktop or press buttons on the hardware keypad.

Both new and returning instructors should benefit from these brief seminars:

  • 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 9, in DuSable Hall 348
  • 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 10, in DuSable Hall 348
  • By appointment Friday, Jan. 11. Call (815) 753-0172.

These seminars are open-ended and run continually. A complete demonstration with hands-on practice could take 30 minutes.

If you cannot attend one of the above sessions, call a SMART classroom trainer to arrange a more convenient time. Please note that it is difficult to schedule a weekday training session once the semester begins because these rooms are in almost constant use.

Media Services offers training
in SMART monitor, Notebook

The computer monitors in all 106 Provost-sponsored general purpose SMART classrooms throughout campus have been replaced with SMART interactive monitors. These touch screens can activate software by using a stylus instead of a computer mouse. The stylus also can be used to annotate and highlight over anything displayed on the computer monitor in a variety of ways.

Media Services will offer an introductory training on the use of these interactive displays from 1 to 2 p.m. Friday, Jan. 11, in Cole Hall 101. SMART Technologies representatives will demonstrate the hardware and introduce the accompanying software.

HSC to host Bridal Expo

NIU will host the Northern Illinois Bridal Expo from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 13, at the Holmes Student Center Duke Ellington Ballroom. The expo will feature more than 40 exhibitors, a groom’s room, a bridal fashion show and taste testing. Admission is free and includes a complimentary buffet. Parking is available at the visitors’ lot on Carroll Avenue, just south of the Student Center. For more information, visit