The Parkland College Blog

Kaler Science Lecture: "Central Illinois Tornado Outbreak"

Meteorologist Andrew Pritchard discusses the Dec. 1 tornado outbreak

Meteorologist Andrew Pritchard will discuss local tornadic activity during the next James B. Kaler science lecture at the William M. Staerkel Planetarium.

Pritchard's talk, "Chasing Tornadoes and the December 1st Central Illinois Tornado Outbreak," will take place Friday, March 1 at 7 p.m. Admission is $2 at the door with Friends of the Staerkel Planetarium admitted free of charge.
A storm chaser himself, Pritchard has dazzled audiences with tornado video footage over the last couple of years. This past December, the state of Illinois saw its largest December tornado outbreak ever, the third largest in state history. Pritchard, who had forecasted the Dec. 1 event well in advance, witnessed six different tornadoes that day, including the photogenic Beardstown tornado.  

His talk will feature firsthand commentary and video of the December tornado outbreak in central Illinois. In addition, he will talk about local tornado climatology and tornado safety. 
Pritchard grew up in Champaign-Urbana and was quickly "swept away" by the severe thunderstorms that strike the Midwest each year. After serving as Ed Kieser's weather office assistant at WILL Radio and TV through high school, he received his Associate of Science with a focus in Earth Sciences from Parkland College in 2009 and his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Northern Illinois University in 2012. Currently, he works full time as a meteorologist for Nutrien Ag Solutions at Research Park in Champaign, where he forecasts domestic and international weather patterns and their risk to agriculture. He also operates "Chambana Weather," a weather resource for Champaign-Urbana and surrounding communities, with his forecasts airing daily on several local media outlets.
Following Pritchard's talk, the Staerkel Planetarium will present "Secrets of the Sun" followed by Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon." Tickets for regular planetarium programming range from $5 to $6 and are sold at the door. For a full schedule, visit or call 217/351-2446.  

PRECS: Research Opportunity for US Community College Students

Parkland, UIUC opportunity offers biology research experience, stipend 

Community college students interested in science are invited to conduct research as part of a paid 10-week biology research program at Parkland College and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Called PRECS, or Phenotypic Plasticity Research Experience for Community College Students, the program is a collaboration between Parkland and the UIUC, funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. It is designed to provide community college students with authentic research experiences in phenotypic plasticity, the phenomenon of a single genotype producing multiple phenotypes depending on environment.

Parkland College is currently seeking 10 community college students to participate in PRECS, which will run May 22 to July 31, 2019. Students selected to participate in the summer program will be paired with research mentors at the University of Illinois, working on such projects as:

  • the interaction between genotype and ozone pollution on maize growth

  • the effect of environmental stress on neuroanatomy

  • the interactions of genes and environment on fish behavior

Students will earn a $5,500 stipend for their participation in PRECS. Housing and food allowances, as well as travel allowances (if needed) are also available.

Parkland College chemistry professor Dr. C. Britt Carlson and Dr. Nathan Schroeder of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign created PRECS. The program is entering its third year, with 20 students from five states having benefited from the opportunity.

"Participating in a program like PRECS is a great way for students to gain experience, create new contacts, explore future careers, and build their resumes," Carlson said.

Students interested in participating in PRECS must be attending a community college, be a US citizen or permanent resident, and have completed General Biology I (General Chemistry I is also preferred). PRECS encourages applications from students from underrepresented groups.

"PRECS gave me a true experience, exposing me to what my life would be like after graduating with my bachelor's degree," according to Aaron West, a former PRECS participant. "I feel more prepared moving forward with my education."

Applications for summer 2019 are due March 15. For more information on PRECS, please visit

"Spiders" Topic of Planetarium Science Talk

UI entomologist takes a look at spiders in the movies, our backyards

"Spiders" will invade the William M. Staerkel Planetarium at Parkland College next month, as a science talk. 

University of Illinois entomologist Dr. May Berenbaum will present "Spiderman vs. Spiders: Marvel vs. the Real World," the next presentation in the James B. Kaler Science Lecture Series, Friday, Feb. 1 at 7 p.m. Admission is $2 at the door with Friends of the Staerkel Planetarium admitted free of charge. 

Hollywood's depiction of spiders has little to do with the real world. Known locally for her annual "Insect Fear Film Festival," Berenbaum will look at spiders in the movies but then come back home to backyards in central Illinois to examine real spiders and their awesome diversity. There are over 45,000 species of spiders; what misconceptions might we have about these air-breathing, eight-legged arthropods? 

Berenbaum has been on the faculty of the Department of Entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign since 1980, serving as head since 1992 and as Swanlund Chair of Entomology since 1996. She is known for elucidating chemical mechanisms underlying interactions between insects and their host plants, including detoxification of natural and synthetic chemicals, and for applying ecological principles in developing sustainable management practices for natural and agricultural communities. Her research has produced over 230 refereed scientific publications and 35 book chapters.

Devoted to teaching and fostering scientific literacy through formal and informal education, she has authored numerous magazine articles and six books about insects for the general public. Berenbaum received her Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology from Cornell University in 1980. In 2014, she received the National Medal of Science from President Barack Obama.

Following Berenbaum’s talk, the Staerkel Planetarium will present the show "Cosmic Colors: An Adventure Along the Spectrum." Tickets for regular planetarium programming are $5 and $6. Call 217/351-2446 for a current schedule or visit the planetarium website

High school and home school students and their families can learn more about an early college program that could reduce the time it takes to earn an associate's degree or bachelor's degree after high school. 

An informational session on the Early Transfer Academy (ETA) has been set for Monday, Jan. 28 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in Room U140 of Parkland College's Student Union. Early Transfer AcademyCollege faculty and administrators will be on hand to discuss the academy, its benefits to students, and the eligibility requirements for participation. 

As participants in the ETA, high school juniors and seniors will enroll in early-morning classes at Parkland College that meet the State of Illinois' General Education Core Curriculum. The GECC "package" of courses will then transfer as lower-division, general education requirements at public colleges and universities across the state. This could mean a significant savings in college costs as well as a greater chance at college success because of experiences gained on Parkland's campus. 
"I was really excited about getting my college credit done as soon as possible," said one current ETA student. "I just really want to get on with my career."

All families are welcome to attend the information session; however, parents of current sophomore- and junior-level students will have particular interest in attending, as these students will be the participants in the ETA.

Register to attend the information session at

For more information on Parkland College's Early Transfer Academy, please visit For questions, contact the Parkland College Early College Services office at 217/353-2663.

See 2019'S Only Full Lunar Eclipse through Telescopes

Planetarium, CUAS to provide free, closer views of Jan. 20 event

Residents can enjoy free telescopic viewing of next month's total lunar eclipse, the only such eclipse visible for the area in 2019.  

The William M. Staerkel Planetarium at Parkland College will join the CU Astronomical Society in making telescopes available to the public for the Sunday, Jan. 20 eclipse starting at 9 p.m., weather-permitting.  

A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Full Moon passes through Earth's shadow. Given the Moon's orbit is five degrees off Earth's orbital plan, most Full Moons miss Earth's shadow. The darkest part of Earth's shadow will encroach upon the Moon at 9:34 p.m. CST. The Moon will be completely in shadow by 10:41 p.m. and will remain there for about an hour. The Moon will begin to emerge from the shadow at 11:44 p.m., leaving a Full Moon in the sky again by 12:51 a.m. Monday.   

At mid-eclipse (11:12 p.m.), the Moon may take on a reddish hue, often referred to as a "blood Moon". The sight has nothing to do with blood, however. It occurs because sunlight, bending through Earth's atmosphere, often hits the Moon; the atmosphere then scatters some of the blue part of the spectrum (what brings our blue skies), leaving this reddish light.  

Of course, dark skies are not needed to see a lunar eclipse, and unlike their solar counterparts, they are very safe to watch. 

Please note that this lunar viewing is not a planetarium show; it will be held outside. CUAS members will be outside the planetarium beginning at 9 p.m. observing the eclipse. The planetarium offers ample parking and a lobby where residents can warm up. Participants should park in the M1 parking lot and dress warmly!

Call the planetarium at 217/351-2567 for updates to the viewing if the weather seems uncertain.