Spook Tales: The History of Horror Films

Yeah, they were actually called spook tales! Amazing, right?

Superiposition photography circa 1889.

It all began when spiritualists and photographers developed “spirit photography” in the 1860s, using superimpositon and double exposure to capture ghostly photos.

Nosferatu, 1922

Early narratives in photography and film came from European folklore and legends, branching into psychological concepts at the turn of the 20th century. Still, these films were silent, so the terror had to be conveyed purely through rudimentary visuals. This is where film-making trickery and fascinating costume and makeup come into play.

The Golem, 1915

Of course, these movies had to overcome certain technological limitations. As old film is incredibly low resolution, scenes couldn’t be shown in the dark. A modern audience would watch and find it odd that so many creepy encounters seem to take place during a brightly-lit day, but that’s just because we’re accustomed to seeing horror movies filmed in pitch-black.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1919

For your horror film party, or for the first night you’re not at work and don’t need to study, here are a few of the revered silent classics that are best enjoyed by candle light with plenty of popcorn. It’s definitely an adjustment watching a silent film, so pull up your favorite fantasy movie soundtrack for the background. I’ll spare the detailed synopses so you’ll get to be surprised and amazed, just like the 1900’s audiences who didn’t get trailers and previews.

  1. 1897: La Squelette Joyeux (The Happy Skeleton); The first spooky film with a minute run-time.
  2. 1915: The Golem; The first monster movie! Based on a Jewish folktale.
  3. 1919: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari; Enter psychological horror: a look into the mind of a madman!
  4. 1922: Nosferatu; a film so close to the original Dracula, the director got in a legal battle with Bram Stoker’s widow over the rights!


Have a Scien-tastic Halloween!



Meeting the Freedom Family


On Tuesday morning, two Chicago brothers, Nick Demeria and Christian Ferrer, and their friends Vic and Pre met me at the UIC Radio station for an interview. I’d witnessed this group called FreeFAM in action at a Music Garage concert for independent rap artists this summer. Performing as NV and Cheech Beats respectively, Nick (lyrics and vocals) and Christian (beats) absolutely stunned their audience as they provided the closer for the concert.

I’m not in the habit of repping amateur musicians. So if my usual abstinence from this topic doesn’t speak for itself, I encourage you to see for yourself. Thirty seconds on Sound Cloud, Spotify, or YouTube will prove that this article doesn’t break my usual rule. There’s nothing amateurish about the group I spoke with Tuesday.

After we managed to fit enough chairs for the five of us in the studio, I broke out the questions.

FreeFAM has expanded from a young rap artist to a musical theme, visible style, and legal corporation since we met in July. I started by asking the group to describe the set-up of FreeFAM Inc. What exactly did they do, and how?

Nick and Christian explained their intent to help others produce music while supporting their own sound. This means being the studio and providing engineering, mixing, and mastering under the FreeFAM name. When I asked what goals they had for their new Inc, Nick immediately responded that the most important thing is to keep an open mind so they didn’t find themselves limited in the future. The potential for this group to master the artistic and administrative side of the music industry seems unlimited and inevitable, given their collective energy, creativity, and eagerness to hear what others have to contribute.

Photo courtesy of FreeFAM Inc.

I felt too clichéd asking which artists had influenced his style, but when the possibility of FreeFAM becoming a label was mentioned, I asked the group what they’d look for in an artist they’d like to sign, assuming they wouldn’t limit themselves to rappers. The unanimous verdict was drive. “They’ve gotta have the work ethic,” Christian commented. There also had to be meaning, or a point to their music. When Nick added that they didn’t want to hear drill music, Pre, Vic, and Christian wrinkled their noses and shook their heads. But of course, you can’t have a point if you don’t have the talent. “Lots of people have a positive message, but not that sound, and it’s not appealing to the people who need that message,” Nick explained. He used Christian rap as an example of quality music, quality message, but lacking the appeal to get to where it was needed most.

Listening to FreeFAM’s music, you get a feeling of nostalgia, unity, and a humble confidence that’s unique in hip-hop. I mentioned this to Nick and he laughed and told me that the cocky artist is an overplayed stereotype. “Not everybody can be Kanye,” he mentioned. He preferred to show that he took nothing for granted and valued what he’s been given, what he earned, and his connections.

Photo courtesy of FreeFAM Inc.

This theme of fraternity is omnipresent in each FreeFam track. I was curious how he ensured the message gets across in his writing—surely consistency across years of work isn’t easily earned. Nick shrugged his shoulders and recommended artists should “Practice what they preach.” “It definitely also helps that we’re brothers,” Christian laughed. FreeFAM Inc. certainly stands out in the world of hip hop because its founding members are actually family members, including one business-merchandising mom and one legal-advising uncle. With familial support driving their music’s success, it’d be pretty hard to keep that appreciation from accenting each song.

Practicing what Nick preaches also includes staying in touch with independent creative sources at their roots. He mentioned open mic nights and events at Young Chicago Authors. “The first time I went to YCA really shaved down my ego,” he told us. The appreciation these artists have for these experiences are what keep FreeFAM’s writing aware and self-reflective.

Photo courtesy of FreeFAM Inc.

One thing you’ll notice listening to FreeFAM’s music is the energy that comes across in the writing and the performance. You can witness this live or in their recently released music video for “Guarantee,” but Nick rarely stops moving. When I pointed this out, all four artists chuckled. “You can’t write a club banger sitting down,” Nick offered, and explained his writing process. Each track has a specific emotion he wants to convey, so each has to be approached differently. “Not every song is meant for bringing your problems out in the open. Some are meant as an escape.”

Photo courtesy of FreeFAM Inc.


My last open question was a curiosity about the genre in general. I asked if the group thought it was possible to make rap less excluding without selling out. After some silent head-shaking, Nick decided that if you begin with a positive message, and maintain the same vibes throughout your career, it doesn’t matter if you get a bigger audience. He rolled his eyes. “Everyone wants to get money, and who cares?” The trick is to be consistent. And it probably wouldn’t help if you only get a starting niche audience with a negative message that doesn’t leave any room for growth. “And you should be your own boss,” Christian interjected. Everyone nodded.

So what’s next for these guys? Well…

Photo courtesy of FreeFAM Inc.
  1. A new song “Make a Toast” is dropping next week; in fact, Nick plans to drop a new song each week for one month to promote their music. Keep an eye on their Sound Cloud here, the FreeFAM Facebook, and search them up on Spotify.
  2. November 4th: Music Garage concert on the West Side (these are awesome and cost about $10—highly recommended!)
  3. November 16th-17th: FreeFAM will be visiting Denver and hitting up some local venues.
  4. “Running through my Mind” will soon have a video!

This is the near-future. Long term, the group sees more trademarking and legitimization of their music to add to their professionalism and credibility. With more videos and more shows, of course. But when I initially asked the group what’s next, Christian immediately said, “Ramen! It’s almost lunch time.” I eventually left the studio wishing I could join the freedom family.

Photo by Jamie Leigh.

Have a Scien-tastic day!

Project: Vision-A Quick Shout-Out

Image result for project: vision

I have spent the last few weeks racing back and forth between UIC campus and Chinatown, working as a tutor at this incredible organization called Project: Vision. All this racing has kept me quite busy, so this week’s blog will be a short and un-researched one.

Project: Vision is an after-school, non-profit tutoring center. All the families that register their kids don’t pay any fee, and students are welcome Monday through Saturday until seven PM. Weekend seminars in topics like financial literacy and tax help are even offered for parents and community members.

The only catch is that each student must participate in one of the service projects offered three times a semester. Usually, all our students are excited to sign up and travel with their friends to Chicago’s parks and beaches and help out. The staff look forward to Service Saturdays, too!

P:V’s tutors can help students from 6th to 12th grade with all subjects, including the dreaded AP’s, test prep, and study and reading strategies. We often work with English language learners in conversation hours. Not every student has a quiet place to do homework or peers to ask for help. Many don’t actually have a safe place to spend time after school when mom and dad are still at work. This is where P:V steps in; you don’t have to be struggling with homework to spend an afternoon at the center. Even when CPS closes for the teacher’s strike (as will happen next week on October 11th), P:V will be open for business for students to come and study, read, or play learning games.

Strike or session, rain or shine. I’m incredibly proud to work for this service, and if you have fallen in love with its description, we just so happen to be hiring. Click literally any of these words to learn more.

Have a Scien-tastic day!

Thirteen Laughing At Each Other

Ever walk through a museum and feel like the figures in the exhibits are the ones watching you?

Photo courtesy of The Juan Munoz Estate, The Marian Goodman Gallery, and the Art Institue of Chicago

Spanish sculptor Juan Muñoz has based his 2001 piece on this very sensation. When you walk through his exhibit in the Bluhm Family Terrace at the Art Institute, you won’t be looking at sculptures; they’ll be looking at you. Muñoz is a “storyteller,” who “writes the viewer into the drama.”

Thirteen bronze figures decorate four bleacher stands surrounding the terrace. The figures seem delighted with your presence and appearance, as their mouths open into wide grins, their hands and feet lift and stomp, and their eyes squint shut as their heads tilt back.

Photo courtesy of The Juan Munoz Estate, The Marian Goodman Gallery, and the Art Institute of Chicago

You become the “unwitting subject” in this artwork, feeling the pressure of being the center of (perhaps unfriendly) attention. You become engaged with this art in a way very unique to Muñoz. And, as he puts it, you begin to feel that something is wrong. Something is odd about the way you’re being regarded, but there’s no hope of asking your bronze viewers just what exactly they find so funny.

Photo courtesy of The Juan Munoz Estate, The Marian Goodman Gallery, and the Art Institute of Chicago

By adding the height, depth, and an effective frame with the bleachers, Muñoz’ design is able to incorporate a sense of architecture, unlike sculptors who focus solely on the figures. These are the elements that change the elevation of the display and convey the sense that you’re physically diminished in their eyes. Because, well, you are. If only we were allowed to climb up those bronze bleachers and see ourselves from their perspective…

This beautiful exhibit will be on display at the Institute until October 5th! Hurry out and see it this weekend, before it gets packed up or before it starts snowing!
Even more detail can be found here, at the website for the Art Institute.

Have a Scien-tastic day!

How Does A Radio Station Work?



A few of us Radio geeks managed to arrange a tour of the Cumulus station HQ, recently established in the NBC tower on North Michigan Ave. Cumulus manages a few of Chicago’s most popular radio stations, including 94.7 WLSFM, 8.90 WLSAM, 97.9 The Loop, and our favorite (and the subject of today’s blog) 101 WKQX.

Walking through the two stories occupied by Cumulus, it amazed me just how many different professions it takes to keep a radio station successful. We met the administration side and sales team, engineers who keep the equipment running, videographers, copy writers responsible for the website and contests, graphic designers who create the logos and online platforms, program directors who arrange gigs and design programs to connect with listeners, interns who keep everyone caffeinated, and radio DJs, of course!

What a thing of beauty.


We had the absolute pleasure of sitting in ❤ Lauren’s set for a few minutes (she’s on weekdays from 10-3). She visited our station in August for a Q&A with the UIC Radio staff, but that didn’t stop us from pestering her with questions. She reminded us to make our own opportunities and that a handshake goes further than an e-mail, especially if the goal is to get on-air. ❤ Lauren has been DJing for years in multiple cities, and from her perspective, the standard for radio has changed considerably.

She described a modern era of radio where listeners didn’t want to hear talk. Young listeners only want to hear music and music promotion, while the older listeners enjoy hearing discussions with their favorite hosts. Personally, I’m in the young listener category, and I appreciate my radio time to be filled with as much music as possible.


Walking past the studio for Mancow’s talk show on 97.9 The Loop proved ❤ Lauren correct. This is Chicago’s classic rock station (that may be copyright…), which is mainly targeted towards older listeners, and the studio was immense! It was full of chairs for guests and visitors. I had to appreciate the style of radio our parents listened to when they were young. We get to use Twitter and FaceBookLive to reach our favorite hosts, but in Ye Olde Times, those on-air discussions helped DJs make connections with their listeners.

It’s Sonia Universe, Midnight Pearl, and Phill with two L’s!

I’m certainly not going to be that annoying friend who says technology makes us asocial. Definitely not! All that’s important is we continue making connections.


This is why I feel so lucky we got to listen to Laura Jane Grace from Against Me play a live, acoustic set in 101 WKQX’s Sound Lounge. The experience was very powerful and intimate (I also hate that word in this context, but it’s the most accurate); Laura has a voice that resonates, and though it booms through the studio, it’s open and friendly and gives you the impression she’s telling a story just to you. It’s quite a talent, and I cannot push the quality of her and her band’s music enough.


What an afternoon! I can’t thank the 101 WKQX staff enough for having us wander through their offices and interrupt their day to take pictures and ask questions. Everyone smiled and waved and asked us to come back and visit!


They better be careful what they wish for, or we just might.

Have a Scien-tastic day!

UIC Is Brutal And Beautiful.

Photo courtesy of me! If you saw me taking these photos on 9/14/16, comment below!

UIC’s got some… let’s call it “unique” architecture that we’ve all enjoyed bashing during our time here. Science and Engineering South looks like an air force base, and all the lecture halls strongly represent a style that looks particularly “Soviet.” Cement, steel, and dark windows comprise our East Campus. And I’m incredibly proud of that.

Our school doesn’t look like anything else on the planet (thankfully). It’s unique, and characteristic of an architectural style called “brutalism” (no lie), championed by the visionary architect Walter A. Netsch, pictured below.

Photo courtesy of me! No, that’s not Buddy Holly. I know, I wish it was too…


Brutalism means stark, utilitarian designs made from practical materials. This style became popular after WWII, when the generation who came of age during the Great Depression didn’t feel right ushering in a second gilded age; they were far too pragmatic and wanted something functional. Enter the era of low-maintenance, massive-forms of buildings made of poured concrete, and thin, tinted windows that wouldn’t require expensive blinds and curtains.

Of course, we do use blinds and curtains in our classrooms. And the elevated walk way that made our second “circle” campus so famous no longer exists (if you’re feeling sentimental, the rubble was transported to Kenwood,where it forms a lake-land barrier near the Museum of Science and Industry).

That walkway actually included a built-in heating system that worked exactly zero times. The walkway was torn down and discarded in 1993 in favor for a campus that benefited from more sunlight and green space.

It wasn’t long ago that our campus looked like something from a Sci-Fi film, but most of us have no memory what that looked like. I’m hoping these pictures will bring a little of our school’s dynamic history to life.

Photo courtesy of me! Almost lined up…

Have a Scien-tastic day!

The “Season Creep” Trend


This photo is epic AND relevant. I promise. Keep reading. (Photo courtesy of me! Summit of the South Sister Mountain, Three Sisters Wilderness, Oregon, 2015).

Season creep is the reason I can’t celebrate my March birthday outside anymore, as well as why I no longer need to ruin my Halloween costume with a winter coat.

It’s the trend of seasons shifting over time. For the temperate Midwest (us), this earthly process means colder springs and warmer autumns. This phenomenon interests me because these changes are usually large-scale; the crazy part about season creep is we can feel it in our own lifetimes! Do you remember when March actually felt like spring? I do! And I’m obviously bitter that it’s becoming as unpleasant as February, which now seems almost as bad as our usual Januaries.

Season creep doesn’t just bother us; all the classic biotic factors are affected. Certain species of migratory birds no longer migrate, because toughing out a mild winter is a lot less work than traveling south for winter break. Bodies of water that freeze regularly now freeze less frequently, melt sooner, and fill up spring lakes way earlier. ..

…Which brings us to our vanishing ice patches. Were you waiting for me to yell Natural Disaster? You’ve read my posts before, haven’t you?

The snow spots on the South Sister serve to water the surrounding area in the summer. Here, they’re all but gone by the first week of August (Photo courtesy of me! Three Sisters Wilderness, Oregon, 2015).

If average spring temperatures rise only two degrees Celsius (yes, we use Celsius because we’re a science blog) in the Western US, runoff water from high-altitude snow melt is predicted to occur two months ahead of schedule. Imagine a winter-spring transition where lakes are already as replenished as they’ll be for the rest of the year.  Cue longer summers, streams drying up early, intensifying droughts, and increasing forest fires; all sorts of havoc that has already exhausted the American West.

On the opposite side of the Three Sisters mountain range, a solid stretch had been burned, leaving no water sources for a 15-mile stretch (Photo courtesy of me! Three Sisters Wilderness, Oregon, 2015).

Ok, we all agreed that sucks in 2008. Why are you talking about this? 

For one, weather is neat. For another, taking classes where scientific topics are discussed with non-scientific students reminded me how often the massively broad term “climate change” is used without being understood.  Not that it’s incredibly complicated, only that climate change often is responsible for processes and problems we would never expect, and that those problems lead to new problems, which spawn issues we’ve never seen before and are so far down the rabbit hole of inter-related geologic processes, we can’t narrow down their direct cause.

You can see why education is important here. No sense trying to solve a problem if we don’t know why it keeps happening.

The fear-inducing term was coined in the 2006 American Environmental Organization publication, “Season Creep: How Global Warming Is Already Affecting The World Around Us,” which certainly goes into more detail about the delicate nature of nature than I did here. If you’re interested in all the effects of this phenomenon, this is your best source to understand it.

Have a Scien-tastic day!

How Does A Polaroid Camera Work?


Photo courtesy of ME!

A special request from Midnight Pearl, and a quick post, because finals.

Though the themes change, every UIC Radio gathering, party, and event is visited by our office Polaroid. These are the huge plastic cameras that immediately print a photo which develops in front of your eyes. It’s old technology that is just as fascinating today as it was in its origin: Edwin H. Land dropped out of Harvard and invented the first polarizing chemical in 1926 when he was a freshman. He went on to develop specially tinted glasses for the army and navy, 3-D glasses for movies, and finally the classic toy-your-dad-reminisces-about, the Polaroid Camera in 1943.

Above is a picture of Pearl and me, taken on our Polaroid. After it’s loaded into the camera, the entire photo card is actually transferred between two rollers. On the back of the card is a tiny bubble of plastic, containing a reagent that will react with the photo paper and heat produced in the camera.

The back of our photo. The reagent is held in a sealed plastic bubble. 

The rollers press the reagent onto the light-sensitive layer of the paper and cover the negative image that the camera had captured.

Courtesy of HowStuffWorks.com

The photo paper on top is made of different layers which react with heat differently, causing different colors to appear on the photo paper.

Courtesy of Spectrum.org

The photo card will then peek out of the top of the camera where you can retrieve it and watch as natural light develops the image! Non-vintage versions of Polaroid cameras usually run between $100-$120. A packet of film costs between $15-$25. These classic machines make wonderful memories and are a blast to use. The strong plastic coating and materials used to create the complex photo card add to its durability, inspiring the true phrase that Polaroids last forever.


Courtesy of Target.com

That’s all for this semester! Any curiosities about my blog or potential ideas? Post them below in comments! I’ll see you in the fall. H.A.G.S! Heh heh…



Dancing Skyscrapers Save Lives

Courtesy of Architect.com.

We recently watched in shock as Japan and Ecuador experienced horrific earthquakes this past week. There is considerable speculation about a potential connection between these tremors, despite their distance. However, there’s a significant disparity between each country’s reaction to their respective natural disasters.

Ecuador’s earthquake measured 4.5, while Japan’s was 7.5. However, (as of this post) Ecuador is estimating 415 deaths; Japan is estimating 9.

The main difference here is preparedness; Japan is no stranger to devastating quakes and has  developed its cities to survive. Earthquake architecture is a huge selling point and enables high rises and skyscrapers to live on shaky ground. Japan has been at the forefront of the world’s quake-proof architecture and is responsible for the survival of many buildings along our own West Coast.

So how is it done? A few cool methods have been developed…

  1. Rubber or fluid-filled shock absorbers reside under buildings and can dispatch energy from quakes to move in a side-to-side motion, rather than up-and-down. This allows for movement and survival of the building, if it’s flexible  (see #2!). So what on earth do these industrial water balloons look like, you (and I) are no doubt wondering?
    …This. Courtesy of pbs.org. 

    2. All sky-scrapers and most mid-high rises in quake-heavy areas are designed to be flexible. You’ve probably felt the wobbly, anxiety-inducing sensation produced by wind against the Sears’ Sky Deck. As uncomfortable as it is, it’s essential these buildings can wiggle a bit, so they can absorb some shakes without breaking. This is mostly done with a tube-shaped frame made out of steel.

    Courtesy of Wikipedia.org.



    3. Buildings can also use something called a shake-table. This structure sits underneath the tower and surrounds it like a base. Hydraulic arms and feet are employed to absorb and dampen lots of the energy and vibrations that threaten the building. This is represented in a ground model here, and a recently developed rooftop model shown in the post’s first image from Architect.com.

    The outdoor shake table is used to test the response of structures to see how they will heard up in earthquakes
    Courtesy of Business Insider

Japan is leading the world in the area of resilient architecture. Since the 8.0 earthquake in 1890 that destroyed over a hundred thousand homes, the country has maintained strict building codes, and the advancements made have saved thousands of lives from natural disaster.

Ever Wonder How Geothermal Energy Works?


Of course not! Because if you didn’t know how it worked, you wouldn’t know how freaking cool it is. I mean, hot.

Ok, ok, no more, I swear.

If you have any classes in Stevenson, Douglas, or Lincoln Hall, your professors may have bragged that they teach in the most environmentally friendly building at UIC. This is true—there are solar panels on all three roofs (check it out from the 4th floor of the Daley Library sometime) and a surprisingly simple energy strategy powering the glass-walled structures. Unfortunately, only a few people know about the geothermal system used by these buildings. To be honest, it’s pretty underground.

Get it? Ok, fine, I’m done, alright?

What actually is geothermal energy?

This is energy created by using steam from hot ground water pockets (called hot-spots, usually found under volcanic areas like the Western half of the US, or the entirety of Iceland) to power electric generators. Some geothermal plants source their heat from tectonic boundaries in the ocean. Actually capturing the steam from these sources isn’t too complicated, and can be done in multiple ways, three of which are shown below. The most common way is to utilize natural “hydrothermal convection” systems. This is were cold water seeps into the earth’s crust, becomes heated, rises, and is forced to the surface. To effectively capture the steam, most energy plants drill holes into the earth; the ones below Grant Hall are 500 feet deep. It’s totally sustainable, because we don’t expect the water cycle to stop, or Earth’s core to cool anytime soon.

Courtesy of the Union of Concerned Scientists

If you want a scientist to explain it (undoubtedly better than I), check out the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Ok, but why?

Because Douglas Hall is the same size as the concrete-striped, Soviet-era buildings that dot our East Campus (Stevenson or Burnham Hall, for example), yet it uses less than half of the energy and heat used by each of them. That impressively small total may also be brought down because increased natural light from increased windows, meaning there’s less of a need for power to create artificial light.

Geothermal is incredibly clean energy; there is no waste and no emissions. It can be provided continuously, which is the main shortcoming of wind and solar power. It’s even estimated to become cheaper than natural gas energy, at five cents/kilowatt hour, versus gas, at six. Developers have found ways to combine the process of energy production in this manner with existing oil well infrastructure, even using hot waste water produced from fracking jobs to power geothermal production equipment.

The possibilities demonstrated by these geothermal-ly powered buildings is important to UIC’s Office of Sustainability, which has the goal of becoming a Carbon-Neutral campus. This means we don’t emit more than our allotted amount of CO2, which is determined by our total surface area. Currently, we’re planning to reduce our emissions by 40% by 2030, and by 80% by 2050. Remodeling our outdated buildings to function like Grant, Douglas, and Lincoln will get us closer to our goal of a sustainable campus. As an added bonus, they’ll be quite a bit easier on the eyes and the electric bills.