The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio, Aug. 13, 2017

The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio, Aug. 13, 2017

In the sequel to last week's edition, we asked frequent-flying UI faculty members: Where's the most interesting place you traveled to since school let out?

Assistant professor, Comparative Biosciences
(as told by her 8-year-old daughter, Vidya Sinha)

"I live in this beautiful quiet township of Chambana and have had the opportunity to visit some of the beautiful cities of Europe and U.S.A. But my favorite place to visit is Delhi during the festive season of Durga Puja.

"During that time, the whole city resonates with the activities of people who are shopping for new clothes, gifts and loads of sweets. It reminds me of the holiday season in the U.S. It's the biggest festival of Bengalis in India — when 'Ma Durga,' the powerful Hindu goddess, comes to earth to fight evil. She is the epitome of a multitasking woman.

"This is the time of the year when Bengali kids wear new clothes every day and hang out with their friends and, more importantly, do not have to study. It is a pleasure to eat the communal meals where everyone comes to eat the same food made in large vessels.

"The whole festive season serves to showcase the innocence of people. I see in their faces a sheer joy as they see popular enactments of mythological stories where the good triumphs over evil."

Engineering professor

"In early June I traveled to the HIPIMS-2017 conference in Braunschweig, Germany. Braunschweig was mostly destroyed during World War II. During the last 70 years, many historical buildings have been rebuilt so that today it looks remarkably similar to how it did hundreds of years ago.

"One building was missing though — the palace of the Dukes who ruled there. The city was hesitant to rebuild it due to the expense, but it kept the location vacant, just in case. One enterprising developer wanted build a modern shopping mall on the spot. So the mayor struck him a deal: You can have your mall, but you have to rebuild the front half of the palace on its original location first.

"It is the strangest thing. From the front, it is a huge, imposing palace, but from the sides, it morphs into a typical shopping mall. You can walk into the front of the magnificent palace and after 100 feet, you are in the corridor with the Gap and Orange Julius."

Astrophysics professor

"I spent July in New York City at a new center for computational astrophysics. The science at the center was excellent, and ran the gamut from exoplanets to black holes to asteroseismology.

"I walked a lot in Manhattan, and every day brought moments where I had to stop and figure out what I had just seen.

"In the course of a month:

"The apartment building across the street from mine burned, closing Broadway and bringing dozens of fire trucks, hundreds of firefighters and news helicopters."I stood in a line to buy cold cookie dough at the trendiest dessert place in Greenwich Village.

"I spent half an hour talking astrophysics with a billionaire.

"I saw soldiers with automatic weapons in Grand Central Station.

"I was locked in my office for a morning by a bomb scare — the bomb turned out to be a time capsule placed in the wall of a night club in the 1970s.

"I was in a taxi that fled from police in the middle of a gay pride parade.

"I rode a cable car over the East River, sat in the UN general assembly chamber and took in the view from the top of the World Trade Center.

"I met an Italian entrepreneur and a Finnish hockey player, and had dinner with a former U of I faculty member who now works in finance.

"I was on a New Jersey transit train that broke down in Penn Station, was conned by a taxi driver and was the victim of a street scam while getting coffee on a Sunday morning.

"I saw a woman harassed on the R train, heard beautiful music on the 1 train and saw the original draft of the 'Battle Hymn of the Republic' at the Morgan Library.

"I worked on the sixth floor and lived on the 24th floor, had lunch on the ninth floor and watched Fourth of July fireworks from beside the pool on the 30th floor.

"And finally drove 900 miles home to the Midwest with my daughters."

Head, Department of Accountancy

"A much-needed break from work took my family and I to Mexico. It was the first time my kids have traveled outside of the country so that was an adventure in and of itself.

"Our goal with each family trip is to expose the kids to a new culture and to learn a new skill. Although not transferable to Illinois, our new skill this trip was spearfishing. It was very primal to hunt, spear and then consume your catch. Great family adventure."

Director, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment

"My work took me to Manchester, England for a conference on assessment in higher education.

"The thing that makes it the most unique involves the conversations on train rides across the countryside, the karaoke involving thick Scottish and Irish accents to familiar songs as a group, and the sharing of the struggles across our varied educational systems.

"It provided a moment of time where we share our thoughts, approaches and challenges and remember that we aren't in it alone, that we have much to learn from each other, and that while we get caught up in the day to day efforts within our countries, we share common goals, students and efforts.

"It was by far the most rejuvenating conference and my favorite. Also, the karaoke is just a shining star part of the event.

"And you haven't done karaoke until you have done it with an international delegation with disparate music taste but a willingness to sing along to any song that comes up. Definitely giving it the 'good old college try.'"

Theatre Studies professor

"We road-tripped it to Canada across South Dakota and up through Glacier National Park for some tent camping in Banff and Jasper national parks in Alberta.

"My artistic work of late and my general interest overlaps in the area of water, its essentiality and our carelessness. I was most excited to see glaciers pouring down between mountains. Such incredible beauty. So fragile. So resilient.

"And of course there was wildlife — long-horned sheep, mountain goats, elk, black bears, a grizzly and so many others. And they're just living their lives amongst the campgrounds and cabins and highways. We were surprised to return to a juvenile black bear sniffing around our camp site in Banff. He — I think it was a he — was curious enough to gnaw on Rex's shoe and leave a bite mark but decided better of it and sauntered off to more interesting things."Heading home, we were about an hour outside of the park and no longer on the lookout for wildlife when a grizzly bear crossed the highway. I pulled over and Rex got the best pictures he could but we were stunned. It was the last thing we were expecting to see and it was lean and formidable and it looked our way long enough to either ensure it was safe to cross the road or inspire enough concern for us to stop, perhaps a little of both. And then it went on with its life and we drove on.

""It was by far the best trip of my life to date."

Associate professor, Computer Science

"My stop to the Badlands was made while driving West to San Francisco for work because of an image seen in a magazine years ago, and because lodging was available. Not having Wi-Fi or cell reception for two days, one could really appreciate the beauty of the dry canyon-like landscape, the colors, the fossils and the bison.

"Never before had I seen such a dense fabric of stars at night cut periodically by the orbiting International Space Station. And I still miss the bunny that greeted us at every mealtime."

Associate professor, Kinesiology and Community Health

"Unrelated to work, I spent 10 days on the Big Island of Hawai'i with my husband and three kids. We spent a day hiking around and on the inactive Kilauea Ike Crater. The weather was perfect that day and throughout the week — sunny, blue skies, and a nice island breeze.

"On the way there, we watched cliff jumpers at a point near the Punalu'u Black Sand Beach. During and after the hike, we had a nice view of the main summit caldera of Kilauea, the most active of the five volcanoes on the island of Hawai'i. The terrain was dark and steamy. At the end of the hike, we explored a lava tube before driving back to our hotel half way across the island.

"Snorkeling with sea turtles and eating Kona ice were also good memories, but my favorite was watching my teen daughter get completely wiped out by a wave in the ocean and face plant on the sand. We were laughing so hard, there wasn't time worry about her hair and makeup. She never found her sunglasses.

"Overall, many joyful moments and good quality time with my family. Work hard, play hard."

Assistant professor, Social Work

"My job took me to the bi-annual conference of International Academy of Law and Mental Health in Prague. The conference was held at Charles University, one of the oldest universities in Europe, boasting over 400 years of existence. Considering its location, it is truly amazing that it is still standing strong, having survived two world wars along with the rise and fall of communism

"At the conference, I had the pleasure to present my work, network with outstanding colleagues from the U.S., catch up with cutting-edge research presentations in the field of criminal justice and mental health, and compare intervention approaches being implemented throughout the world.

"During my time off, I enriched my cultural knowledge by visiting the Museum of Terror to learn about communist Prague and the Jewish Quarter to appreciate the richness of this culture and history. It is no wonder I love my job.

"Note of caution: If you go there, make sure you know the currency exchange rate in advance. I failed to do my homework and unwittingly cashed $900 at an ATM machine."

Associate professor, Geology

"I've been on sabbatical from the Department of Geology during the past year and working at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. I study landforms created by past glaciations of Illinois and one great thing about living in Alaska was that I had the opportunity to experience active glaciers up close and bring my family to hike on the Root Glacier in Wrangell St. Elias National Park.

"Seeing how water and sediment move near the snout of the glacier gives me a better picture of the processes that formed the Champaign Moraine that runs through C-U. I'm also pleased that my children got to experience a glacier. They were so interested that they took some samples of meltwater home with them.

"Alaskan glaciers are losing mass quickly — about 75 billion tons per year. I'm glad we were there to see Root Glacier before it's gone."

Assistant professor, Recreation, Sport & Tourism

"I visited a destination I have wanted to see for years — Glacier National Park in Montana. I love national parks and have visited many, but due to its remote location, I had never been to GNP before.

"Scientists project that all the glaciers in the park will have melted by the year 2030, so about a year ago I decided to make the plans and go while I could still see the glaciers.

"To get there, my husband and I rode the train, which was a fun experience in and of itself. While there, we saw unique wildlife, including moose, mountain goats, bald eagles and a bear.

"The scenery was completely breath-taking and every hike — or even just riding the shuttle and watching the view — brought tears to my eyes."

Professor of Perennial Turf, Landscape, and Bioenergy Grasses

"Professor Gary Kling and I team teach 'Introduction to Horticulture.' To illustrate and reinforce our in-class horticulture lectures, we took photographs at six of the 30 public gardens in the Philadelphia area over three days in June.

"The gardens we visited included the highly manicured and designed Longwood Gardens, the Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College and Chanticleer Garden, as well as the more naturalistic Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, Winterthur Garden and Mt. Cuba Center.

"We each returned with more than 1,000 plant and horticultural application photos, of which we'll use many to enliven our undergraduate teaching this fall and spring."

Anthropology professor

"My summers are typically spent doing archaeological research in Kenya. I try to avoid disturbing human burials. However, sometimes they are disturbed by construction or by treasure hunters, and require prompt action to salvage important remains.

"In June and July, our team spent three weeks conducting rescue excavations at a unique Stone Age cremation burial cave site, located in a mysterious grove of cycad trees on the cliffs above a stream named after the endangered sandalwood tree, in the woodland hills on the north edge of the Serengeti Plains, about a mile from the Tanzanian border.

"Ernest Hemingway wrote about this area in his book titled 'The Green Hills of Africa.'

"The site had been almost completely destroyed by local Maasai residents. They had dug out five human skeletons, associated with more than 80 stone bowls and a few dozen sharp-edged stone tools made of the black volcanic glass called obsidian. The bodies were buried in a layer of soil mixed with red ochre that was about 28 inches thick. The site is unusual because other stone age cremation sites rarely have more than one stone bowl per person. In this case, there were at least 16 per person. We sieved the large spoil heap to recover thousands of bone fragments, teeth and stone artifacts, and sampled small sections of the remaining undisturbed deposits to obtain material for radiocarbon dating.

"At the end of fieldwork, we refilled the cremation chamber, placing walls of sandbags to protect the remaining undisturbed deposits, and covered the entrance with large stones. We then conducted a site closing ceremony.

"This ritual involved brewing about seven gallons of honey beer with traditional methods, and blessing by two Maasai elders, who doused the site liberally with honey beer. This was followed by a feast involving the sacrifice of a ram.

"The local community members cooperated in salvaging the site and agreed to protect rather than disturb any archaeological sites they encounter in the future. The finds have been deposited in the National Museum in Nairobi, where we identified, cataloged, described, measured and photographed the finds during July and early August."

Associate dean for research, College of Law

"Just after classes ended in May, my colleague Lesley Wexler and I traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark for a conference on Cognitive Sociology, Culture and International Law. At the conference, we had the opportunity to talk with scholars from a variety of disciplines from all over the world.

"While we were in Denmark, we were able to go on a food tour that introduced us to the 'New Nordic Cuisine Manifesto' and the ways in which people from the Nordic countries have developed a cuisine adapted to their local growing conditions. Learning about the culture, climate, regions and local traditions of the area through food was an enjoyable and tasty diversion.

"We learned, too, about the ways in which Copenhagen has married this interest in local food with other social programs, including a bee-keeping program that produces local honey, develops educational opportunities and provides jobs tending the hives that are located throughout the city."

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