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Stories by Alex Ruppenthal

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. 

Chicago Scientists Represent US in Competition to Improve Water Quality

(Roman Boed / Flickr)

Chicago data scientists competed against teams from Canada and the Netherlands in an annual event that highlights the innovative use of technology to improve the water quality of the Great Lakes. 

‘I Lost My Wedding Ring’ and Other Stories of Chicago’s Accidental Trash

From lost jewelry to criminal evidence, a Pontiac landfill that receives trash from Chicago has plenty of bizarre waste stories. 

Chicago’s Trash Doesn’t Go to Waste at Pontiac Landfill

About 5,000 tons of trash from the Chicago area is dumped every day at a landfill in Livingston County, but hardly any of it goes to waste. How yesterday’s trash becomes tomorrow’s energy.

Recruiting America’s Future Hackers – On Chicago’s West Side

Students participate in the U.S. CyberPatriots competition, sponsored by the U.S. Air Force and Air Force Association. (U.S. Air Force)

Can a collectible card game teach cybersecurity skills to middle school students? A UIC professor wants to get young people excited about computer science and interested in high-demand, high-paying careers.

Piglets Born to American Guinea Hog at Lincoln Park Zoo

(Courtesy of Lincoln Park Zoo)

For the first time in two years, Lincoln Park Zoo welcomed the birth of piglets. Visitors can see the seven baby pigs, along with their mother, at the Farm-in-the-Zoo exhibit.

Chicago Restaurants Ditch Disposable Straws for a Day to Cut Plastic Waste

Americans use an estimated 500 million straws each day, but a Shedd Aquarium initiative is trying to put a dent in that figure. Last week, nearly two dozen restaurants joined the effort.

Giraffes Wear ‘FitBits’ to Measure Activity Rates at Brookfield Zoo

(Courtesy of Brookfield Zoo)

Customized activity monitoring devices are helping Brookfield Zoo staff study sleeping patterns and other behaviors in giraffes. 

CPS Chemistry Students to Study Toxic Metals, Environmental Racism

(Creative Commons /  © 2013, Jeremy Atherton)

A new $450,000 federal grant program partners CPS students with university professors to study the impact of toxic metals on Chicago neighborhoods. 

Adler’s Zooniverse Project Wants Your Help Finding New Baby Galaxies

(Courtesy of University of Oxford)

Citizen scientists can help researchers discover new distant galaxies as part of the Adler-led Zooniverse project. 

Chicago Park District Eyes Record for World’s Largest Swimming Lesson

Chicago swimmers are invited to participate in an international event this month that highlights the role of swim lessons in preventing drowning.