Features & Special Reports

Rebecca Devereaux / 90.5 WESA

Steubenville, Ohio made headlines in 2012 when a high school girl was raped by a group of boys after she passed out following a night of partying. The assault was captured on cell phones and shared on social media, forcing the town and the country into a conversation about sexual violence against female students.

That night, what lead up to it and its aftermath are the subject of the play ‘Good Kids’ being performed through Sunday by University of Pittsburgh students at the Stephen Foster Memorial. 

If you’ve ever played the party game ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,’ you’ll get the gist of Carnegie Mellon University’s latest digital humanities project pretty quickly. 

Six Degrees of Francis Bacon is a web tool that maps the complex social network of Britain during the early modern period. It’s based on analysis of biographical records for more than 13,000 contemporaries of the philosopher and statesman Sir Francis Bacon.

Courtesy Brandon Blache-Cohen via the Heinz History Center

Next week marks the anniversary of a major event leading up to the Holocaust: Kristallnacht.

Brandon Blache-Cohen's grandfather, Werner Josef Cohen, lived through it. Blache-Cohen never met his grandfather, who died in 1977, but he became interested in the elder Cohen’s history – and now shares his family’s story with as many people as possible.

Digital Dentistry: Tooth Fixes While You Wait

Nov 3, 2015
Jennifer Szweda Jordan / 90.5 WESA

Dental fixes are getting quicker as schools, private practices and the military add new in-office technology to create replacement teeth and crowns.

On The House: Pairing Music With Your Meal

Oct 28, 2015
Brooke Annibale

At a restaurant or bar, details make up a diner’s experience. Lighting, décor, music -- Brooke Annibale’s embraces each to enhance the experience of eating out.

She’s a Pittsburgh singer and songwriter, and works for the Big Burrito restaurant group as a music programmer. In this episode of On The House, the work of the behind-the-scenes DJ to countless meals at Mad Mex, Casbah, Eleven and Kaya. 

North Side Tech Company Thinks IT Can Fix Your Baseball Swing

Oct 27, 2015
Diamond Kinetics

A batter's swing takes, on average, two-tenths of a second -- less if you’re in the big leagues. So it’s not easy for a human coach’s eye to assess power, speed and control. 

Not far from PNC Park, Diamond Kinetics is working on the fix.

CEO C.J. Handron lifts his slugger and aims. The barely perceptible device strapped to the knobby base of the bat doesn't move, but it's picking up 15 metrics in real time

New Hulton Bridge Opens

Oct 20, 2015
Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA News

  A new Hulton Bridge, which connects Harmar and Oakmont, opened  Tuesday afternoon after a celebratory ribbon cutting.

Construction on the 4-lane bridge began in September 2013.  It cost $65 million and replaces a 2-lane 109 year-old- bridge over the Allegheny River.  

KT King / flickr

A pair of Republican state representatives want to force teachers’ union representatives to also hold positions that put them in contact with students every day. The move is an effort to end what they are calling “ghost teachers.”

State Representative Jim Christiana (R- Beaver) is upset that there are three individuals that are getting all of the benefits of being an active teacher in the Pittsburgh Public School district that report to the union office every day rather than to a school building.

Citizen Internet Comes To Allentown

Oct 20, 2015
Jennifer Szweda Jordan / 90.5 FM WESA

Meta Mesh is making one Pittsburgh neighborhood one of the few places in the country with a free community wireless network--called a mesh network. By putting up what are called nodes--routers along with more substantial antennas--Meta Mesh offers Wi-Fi along Warrington Avenue in the Allentown business district.

Adam Longwill got the idea for Meta Mesh a few years ago when he was using a slow DSL connection. As he considered borrowing his neighbor’s Wi-Fi but instead he came up with a better plan.


“It got me thinking about, ‘How would I connect to my neighbors?’” Longwill said. “I would need a bigger antenna, a parabolic antenna. And I started looking at how radio frequencies work, and how I could get better range, better speed. And then I thought ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we could have a whole neighborhood doing this?'”

U.S. Department of Education

Researchers believe negative racial identities in black students might be contributing to the racial achievement gap, which in Pennsylvania amounts to more than 20 points in 4th grade and gets worse by 8th grade, according to state test data.

A new early childhood collaborative group between the University of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Public Schools will be working this year with parents and teachers to learn how to better foster positive racial identities.

Pittsburgh Psychiatrist Starts Telemedicine Company

Oct 13, 2015

A Pittsburgh-area doctor is going digital as part of a growing trend of psychiatrists offering their services online.

“Just log in on your phone, get a face-to-face video assessment on a HIPAA- compliant secure platform,” said Dr. Matthew Keener, who created Blackbird Health. “You don’t have to drive all the way across town, you don’t have to wait in a waiting room.”

The American Telemedicine Association says more than half of all U.S. hospitals now use some form of telemedicine.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA News

Chris Williams, 34, tilts a delicately etched wooden cube from side to side. His body shifts as it sends out electronic tones. It’s poplar. It’s organic. It’s electronic. It’s… a game.

The box, dubbed Coral, is Williams’ first foray into audio memory entertainment for the visually impaired. With wires and electronics hidden in a laser-engraved, wooden enclosure, the toy produces tonal sequences its players identify and match by rotating in four directions, similar to the children’s game Simon. Players can also use the custom carvings as tactile cues, he said.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

One school of thought in adapting to a new generation of learners is to take students out of traditional classrooms where desks point toward an instructor.

To do that, educators create a maker space where students can explore and question content.

Libraries use maker spaces, the Carnegie Science Center has a new digital fabrication lab, and Mayor Bill Peduto held a roundtable discussion on the importance of them. Entrepreneurs use them to collaborate and have access to materials they otherwise couldn’t afford on their own.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Twenty bushels of apples get dumped onto a conveyor belt at Soergel’s Orchards in Wexford. After a quick wash, they’re ground into a pulp and squeezed under 55 tons of pressure to make 110 gallons of cider.

Larry Voll, one of the owners of Soergel’s Orchards, said the cider is going to Arsenal Cider House in Lawrenceville. The juice that he sells to Arsenal to make into hard cider will one day end up back at the Wexford farm, at the Arsenal tap room, which just opened this summer.

Rebecca Devereaux / 90.5 WESA

All 90 Pittsburgh neighborhoods will see an influx of bike riders this week as Bike Pittsburgh celebrates the 11th annual BikeFest.

The 10 days of events began Friday with a breakfast for bike commuters and wraps up Sunday with the group’s biggest fundraiser of the year, Pedal Pittsburgh.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

In two years, Pittsburgh’s Woolslair Elementary has gone from the verge of closure to one of the cornerstones of the district’s new STEAM initiative. Woolslair will become a partial magnet school focusing on science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

Rebecca Devereaux / 90.5 WESA

The struggle between Israelis and Palestinians continues to make daily headlines. But in one of Israel’s oldest cities, Arabs and Jews are coming together to start a project that has its origin in Pittsburgh — Manchester Bidwell Corporation arts and jobs training model.

AP Photo/Mel Evans

Kate is 25 and began drinking, smoking and experimenting with prescription drugs when she was a teenager in Washington County.

“I started doing pills in high school, 15, I think. Something just happened in high school and I just was, you know, curious and then it just turned into doing it too much."

Rebecca Devereaux / 90.5 WESA

This week, game designers, developers and educators gathered at Carnegie Mellon University for the Serious Play Conference, where the focus was on "serious” gaming, or games used for training and teaching.

Pittsburgh-based game designer Jesse Schell, CEO of Schell Games, demonstrated his company’s award-winning game "Water Bears."

Silk Screen Film Fest

With 30 films from 18 countries, the 10th annual Silk Screen Film festival opens in Pittsburgh Thursday with an opening night gala followed by 10 days of screenings and discussions. All of the films have Asian roots.

“Asia is defined like it used to be defined when you were in high school, which is starting with Turkey all the way to Japan,” said Silk Screen Executive Director Harish Saluja. “That includes Israel and India and Afghanistan and Pakistan … In fact our opening film this year is called Theeb which is from Jordan and UAE (United Arab Emirates).”

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Infrastructure decisions affect the public every day — which sewer should be repaired first, which pothole should be filled next—but it’s rare to be asked to weigh in on those decisions. However, an online poll will help decide the future color of the "Three Sisters" bridges, as well as a question of regional identity.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

General Manager DeAnne Hamilton announced her resignation from 90.5 WESA, Pittsburgh's NPR News Station, on Monday.

WESA Board Chair Marco Cardamone will act as interim general manager until a successor is appointed. He steps in July 17.

Hamilton took on the station's early branding challenges when she became WESA’s first general manager in October 2011, about a month after the sale of the station by Duquesne University to Essential Public Media was officially completed.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File

Gov. Tom Wolf argued last week that taxing Pennsylvania’s booming natural gas industry could help compensate for an anticipated $1 billion structural budget deficit in 2016.

His budget includes a state severance tax of 5 percent on extractions based on the value of gas at the well head and a charge of 4.7 cents per thousand cubic feet extracted. The commonwealth produced 3.23 trillion cubic feet in 2013.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

It took just 500 write-in votes for lifelong Democrats Chelsa Wagner and John Weinstein to get their names on the November ballots as Republicans, but it will take 2,328 signatures if a third-party candidate wants to have the same opportunity.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

These aren’t your typical theater-goers. They call out during the play. They try to join into the performance.

And some are sucking on pacifiers.

This is entertainment for the very young — baby theater.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA News

Teens from around the world were in Pittsburgh this week presenting projects at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair hosted Downtown at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Forget electromagnets and mouse trap cars. Many of these high-level high-schoolers are published authors and hold patents. Last year’s winner created a test for pancreatic cancer now headed toward clinical trial. 

ISEF, a program of Society for Science & the Public, is the world’s largest international pre-college science competition. Approximately 1,700 high school students from over 75 countries, regions and territories compete to attend the fair. Showcases of independent research result in nearly $4 million in prizes.

Indiana freshman Noor Abdullah examined how a sweet-smelling shrub affects nearby soil.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

The students in Zack Hull’s 8th grade English class are eager to share their “This I Believe” essays. For several years, he has had his students dig within themselves and write about something they believe in, and he said the end of their 8th grade year is the perfect time to do that.

Chris Squier / 90.5 WESA

Eleven-year-old gymnast Danielle Norris is practicing a roundoff back tuck dismount for her balance beam routine. She has a meet coming up soon, and later this month she's competing in the state championship. Danielle’s mom, Karen Norris, says she practices about 22 hours a week.

“When Danielle was first invited to join the team and they told us the amount of hours that were involved, we were a little taken aback by that,” Norris said. “That was fourth grade.”

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Every Wednesday, at a former Catholic school building in Brookline, more than 100 children gather for “People are Always Learning Something” or PALS, enrichment – a weekly co-op. The families there homeschool their children, and pretty much everyone said they’d been asked by one or more people how their children socialize if they are homeschooled.

Josh Raulerson / 90.5 WESA

For many, the mention of "homeschooling" conjures negative stereotypes about the people who practice it: Homeschool families are religious fundamentalists who shun secular society, or libertarian ideologues who reject the whole idea of public education on principle.