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Stories by Alex Ruppenthal

Adler’s Popular ‘What is a Planet?’ Exhibit Returns This Week

(Courtesy Adler Planetarium)

Starting Friday, planetarium visitors will have another chance to explore the ever-evolving way humans view the universe.   

Orangutan Undergoes Emergency Appendectomy at Brookfield Zoo

Chicago Zoological Society’s veterinary staff perform an emergency appendectomy on Ben, a 40-year-old orangutan at Brookfield Zoo. (Jim Schulz/Chicago Zoological Society)

Ben, a 40-year-old orangutan at Brookfield Zoo, underwent an emergency appendectomy last month after veterinary staff discovered a ruptured appendix. 

Forgotten, But Not Gone: Sea Slug Brains Show Traces of Lost Memories

(Courtesy Dominican University)

Two Chicago-area researchers have uncovered what they think is the first piece of physical evidence showing that forgotten memories could still live on inside our brains.

Chicago’s Biggest Buildings Cut Emissions by 20 Percent, City Says

(Aurimas / Flickr)

A new city report on energy use by buildings shows progress toward reducing carbon emissions that contribute to global warming.

Illinois Solar Jobs Dropped in 2017, But Outlook Remains Bright

(Andrew Kuhn / Flickr)

The number of solar jobs in Illinois – and the U.S. as a whole – decreased last year, but experts are still optimistic about the industry’s future.

Willis Tower Receives EPA Certification for Energy Efficiency

(Daniel Schwen / Wikimedia Commons)

Chicago’s tallest building is being recognized for its standing atop another category: energy efficiency.

How Artificial Insemination is Saving Mexican Wolf Populations

Brookfield Zoo veterinary staff monitor Zana, a 5-year-old Mexican wolf, during an artifical insemination procedure Feb. 4. (Courtesy Chicago Zoological Society)

Nearly 30 years ago, scientists began collecting semen samples from Mexican wolves. On Sunday, Brookfield Zoo artificially inseminated one wolf as part of an effort to boost the genetic health of the endangered species. 

Bill Would Allow Illinois Residents to Challenge Environmental Permits

A sand mine in LaSalle County operated by U.S. Silica (Ted Auch / FracTracker Alliance)

A bill to be filed this month would ensure Illinois residents are able to challenge certain permits issued by state regulators, giving them legal standing to sue over environmental concerns such as air pollution and contaminated groundwater.

Advocates Look to Suspend Hearings in Dynegy Coal Plant ‘Bailout’


A coalition of environmental advocacy groups in Illinois hopes to put the brakes on a Rauner administration proposal that would relax pollution rules for eight downstate coal plants owned by Dynegy Inc.

Woodpeckers Show Signs of Possible Brain Damage, New Study Finds

A downy woodpecker (RaechelJ / Pixabay)

Football players are often thought of as modern-day gladiators, but even the most hard-headed linebacker has nothing on the woodpecker, at least when it comes to sustaining blows to the noggin. 

Trader Joe’s Responds to Concerns About ‘Inhumane’ Pork Suppliers

 Hog confinement facilities, like this one in the Canadian province of Manitoba, often use gestation crates that prevent pigs from being able to turn around. (Mercy For Animals Canada / Flickr)

The grocery store chain says it is evaluating its supply chain “to see where additional change is needed” in response to public concerns over pork suppliers who confine pigs to tight metal crates.

Group Calls on McDonald’s to Honor Vow for Antibiotic-Free Beef, Pork

(R4vi / Flickr)

The Chicago-based fast food chain agreed last year to work toward phasing out antibiotics from its beef and pork products. An Illinois nonprofit now wants McDonald’s to commit to a timeline to meet that goal.

Sue the T. Rex Begins Move Upstairs Next Week at Field Museum

(Courtesy The Field Museum)

The Field Museum’s famous dinosaur will be moved to the second floor as part of a planned makeover, and to make room for the eventual installation of a touchable cast of the largest dinosaur ever discovered. 

Chicago ‘Not Well-Placed’ for Super Blue Blood Moon

A rare celestial event Jan. 31 will result in a super blue blood moon, when the moon will past through the Earth's shadow and take on a reddish tint. (NASA)

Wednesday’s “super blue blood moon” marks the convergence of three lunar events, but it will hardly be visible to viewers in Chicago. 

Judge Says Illinois Should Approve ComEd’s Bronzeville Microgrid

(Courtesy Illinois Institute of Technology)

ComEd should be allowed to proceed with plans to build a first-of-its-kind microgrid in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, a state legal authority said this week. But environmental and consumer advocates aren't satisfied with the project. 

Illinois Positioned to Withstand Trump’s Solar Tariff, Experts Say

(Solar Energy Industries Association)

President Donald Trump’s new tariff on imported solar panels will slow – but not stop – the growth of Illinois’ solar industry, experts say, thanks in large part to the state’s recently passed clean energy law.

Documentary Showcases Renowned Chicago Canoe-Builder Ralph Frese

Ralph Frese in 2012 (Octane Rich Media)

The new film “Mr. Canoe” chronicles the life of Ralph Frese, a world-famous canoe-builder and conservationist who ran Chicago’s last working blacksmith shop. 

Chicago Sues U.S. Steel Over Lake Michigan Pollution

The city’s lawsuit comes a week after attorneys at the University of Chicago filed their own lawsuit against the steel corporation. “This Great Lake is our most precious natural resource and we must preserve and protect it,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement.

Petition Targeting Trader Joe’s ‘Inhumane’ Pork Suppliers Gains Traction

(Humane Society of the United States / Creative Commons)

The group Crate Free Illinois is calling on Trader Joe’s to stop purchasing pork from suppliers that use gestation crates, tight metal stalls that keep pigs in one position for the majority of their lives.

Brookfield Zoo’s Oldest Animal Turns 50

Ramar, a 50-year-old western lowland gorilla, is the oldest animal at Brookfield Zoo. (Courtesy of Chicago Zoological Society)

Ramar, one of the oldest gorillas in the country, celebrated a milestone birthday this month with a frozen “cake” filled with fruit and raisins. 

EPA’s Pruitt Wants Lead-Free Drinking Water, But Offers No Plan

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks April 19 after meeting with residents of East Chicago’s lead-contaminated neighborhoods. (Alex Ruppenthal / Chicago Tonight)

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told representatives of a children’s health group last week that he wants to eliminate lead from drinking water within 10 years, but he has yet to offer a strategy to meet the goal.

‘Rainbow’ Dinosaur Revealed in Field Museum Study

An illustration of Caihong juji, a newly discovered species of dinosaur from 161 million years ago that featured rainbow-colored feathers. (Illustration by Velizar Simeonovski / The Field Museum)

The colorful display of feathers common among hummingbirds has roots in a bird-like Chinese dinosaur from 161 million years ago, a new study finds.

Gray Seal Pup Born at Brookfield Zoo

A male gray seal was born at Brookfield Zoo on Dec. 26. (Jim Schulz / Chicago Zoological Society)

Brookfield Zoo welcomed a newborn gray seal on Dec. 26. The male pup weighed 36 pounds at birth and is expected to weigh more than 120 pounds by the time he is weaned at three weeks. 

Field Museum Scientists Help Protect 2 Million Acres of Rainforest

(Alvaro del Campo / The Field Museum)

A team led by Field Museum conservation ecologist Corine Vriesendorp has worked for 15 years to protect one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. This week, it was designated as a national park.

Dolphins, ‘Fitbits’ and the Deep Data Dive to Transform Animal Research

Four specially-designed suction cups are used to attach a bio-logging device to the backs of bottlenose dolphins at Brookfield Zoo. (Alex Ruppenthal / Chicago Tonight)

Brookfield Zoo is leading a first-of-its-kind study to collect data from dolphins and other aquatic mammals using a Fitbit-like device that figures to revolutionize human understanding of the animals’ behavior.