Stories by Alex Ruppenthal

Shedd Researchers: Shark Eats Fishing Spear, Pushes it Out Through Skin

(© Joanne Fraser)

Just in time for “Shark Week,” researchers published a study this month that highlights the unique recovery capabilities of sharks.

Adler Astronomer Discovers Previously Invisible Star Formations


A team led by Adler Planetarium astronomer Grace Wolf-Chase used a telescope instrument to discover infrared light undetectable to the human eye, revealing new stars in the Milky Way. 

Shedd Unveils 1,600-Pound Seahorse Sculpture Made From Ocean Garbage

(©Shedd Aquarium / Brenna Hernandez)

Stella the Seahorse is the first of 19 marine animal sculptures made from plastic debris on display at Shedd Aquarium. 

Behind the Scenes at Lincoln Park Zoo’s New Penguin Encounter

Aje, a 2-year-old male penguin at Lincoln Park Zoo. (Todd Rosenberg / Lincoln Park Zoo)

For the first time, Lincoln Park Zoo is offering visitors a chance to get up close and personal with their African penguins. We meet three waddling, webbed-feet bachelors.

2 California Sea Lion Pups Debut at Brookfield Zoo

(Jim Schulz / Chicago Zoological Society)

After spending their first weeks learning to swim and bonding with their mothers, Lucy and Taylor make their public debut.

Durbin Pushes for Release of Plan to Keep Asian Carp Out of Great Lakes

A hefty Bighead carp, one of several types of Asian carp, caught in a net near Morris, Illinois. (Evan Garcia / Chicago Tonight)

A plan to fortify a barrier against Asian carp was set to be released in February but has been stalled by the Trump administration. 

Report: Ameren Looking to Circumvent New Illinois Energy Law

(Daniel X. O'Neil / Flickr)

Efficiency plans filed by Ameren Illinois fail to comply with the state’s new energy law and could prevent the creation of additional jobs, according to a new report. 

New Series ‘All My Penguins’ Captures Drama of Zoo’s Penguin Colony

(Lincoln Park Zoo)

Lincoln Park Zoo recently launched a web series to chronicle the latest crushes, power struggles and other dramatic twists and turns surrounding the lives of its 15 African penguins.

Project Examines Pregnancy in Illinois, Cook County Prisons

Women are the fastest-growing segment of the incarcerated population in the U.S., but data on pregnancies and births in prisons is either outdated or nonexistent. Illinois is now among 22 states participating in the first large-scale, comprehensive study of pregnancy in American prisons.

Snowy Owl Chicks Hatch at Lincoln Park Zoo

(Lincoln Park Zoo)

Visitors can expect snow flurries on their next trip to the zoo, even in the middle of summer. Four snowy owl chicks hatched last month are already flapping their wings and will soon attempt to fly. 

Adler Planetarium Offering Free Admission for Aug. 21 Solar Eclipse

(USDA Forest Service)

Are you ready to party like it’s 1925? That’s the last year Chicago experienced a solar eclipse like it will next month. To celebrate, the Adler Planetarium is hosting a daylong block party, and you’re invited.

Chicago Astronomer to Create Plan for Human Exploration of Mars


Adler Planetarium astronomer Lucianne Walkowicz will spend the next year figuring out how humans can get along while exploring one of the more curious planets in our solar system: Mars. 

Rare Duck Species Arrives at Lincoln Park Zoo

(Courtesy of Lincoln Park Zoo)

Four webbed-feet members of a rare and endangered duck species have a new home in Chicago.

Shedd Takes Aim at Plastic Bottles in New US Effort to Cut Pollution

First went the plastic bags, then the plastic straws. Now they’re coming for more. The Shedd Aquarium announces a new initiative to significantly reduce or eliminate the use of disposable plastic bottles by 2020.

IDOT Official Fired After Allowing Unlicensed Pilot to Fly State Helicopters

A senior state transportation official allowed an unlicensed pilot to fly state helicopters multiple times over the course of nearly 10 years, according to a newly published report from the state’s top watchdog.

Frogs Get Stress Test in Lake County Habitat Study

(Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources / Dan Nedrelo)

Life as an amphibian is no easy hop through the woods. Why Chicago scientists are measuring levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in Lake County frogs.

Zoo’s Condom Giveaway Brings Awareness to Endangered Species

(Center for Biological Diversity / Lori Lieber and Shawn DiCriscio © 2015)

Lincoln Park Zoo will give away hundreds of condoms this week as part of a nationwide outreach program to draw attention to the link between human population and endangered species.

Brookfield Zoo’s Oldest Animal Gets Knee Scope to Treat Arthritis

Ramar, a 49-year-old western lowland gorilla, is the oldest animal at Brookfield Zoo. (Courtesy of Chicago Zoological Society)

Like many humans approaching their elder years, a 49-year-old western lowland gorilla named Ramar has been dealing with knee pain.

DHS Approves Illinois Grant to ‘Off-Ramp’ Potential Extremists

(U.S. Department of Homeland Security)

A new Illinois program aims to educate the public on how to identify individuals at risk of radicalization, a strategy critics say unfairly targets Muslims. 

Chicago Joins Coalition Threatening Suit Against EPA Over Methane Rules

(Creative Commons /  © 2013, Jeremy Atherton)

A coalition of attorneys general and the city of Chicago is prepared to challenge the Trump administration’s environmental policies in court.

Recycling 101: How Clean Do My Containers Need To Be?

Empty yogurt cartons, peanut butter jars and pizza boxes: How clean do they need to be in order to toss them in your recycling bin? Chicago’s recycling staff has answers.

Asian Carp Caught 9 Miles from Lake Michigan

A silver carp was captured Thursday in the Illinois Waterway below the T.J. O’Brien Lock and Dam, about 9 miles from Lake Michigan. (Courtesy of Illinois Department of Natural Resources)

An 8-pound Asian carp was discovered last week beyond an electric barrier designed to prevent the invasive fish from reaching Lake Michigan. 

Chicago Recycling, By the Numbers

As Chicago looks to boost recycling rates, Chicago Tonight explores the city's recycling program up close—and with numbers. 

Where Does Chicago’s Recycling Go?

A worker at Lakeshore Recycling Systems in Forest View. (Alex Ruppenthal / Chicago Tonight)

What happens to Chicago’s recycling after it’s hauled away from neighborhood alleys and sidewalks? We tour a massive processing facility and watch sorting in action.

Release of Air Monitoring Data Renews Call for Chicago Manganese Ban

Newly released data from air monitors on Chicago’s Southeast Side shows higher levels of manganese than previously recorded, prompting renewed calls for a ban of the toxic metal, which can cause nervous system damage at high exposures.