Features & Special Reports

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, China is the fourth largest international trading partner for the Pittsburgh region, behind Canada, Mexico and Japan.

University of Pittsburgh

Researchers and laboratory scientists are increasingly trying to move cells and nano-particles through smaller and smaller channels.

“You want to get fluid pumped through something that’s the width of your hair,” said Anna Balazs, University of Pittsburgh chemical and petroleum engineering professor. “So one of the challenges is first just how to pump fluid through and then how to direct particles … to a specific location.”

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 fm WESA

Nearly every subspecialty seems to have its own academic journal, from one dedicated to "Positivity” – it’s a math thing – to one for engineers working in the packaging industry.

But until now, there has never been an academic journal for research into blockchain – the technology behind Bitcoin.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Seven years ago, the Deepwater Horizon oil well blew out, spilling an estimated 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Investigators found numerous mechanical and human errors, which led to the explosion at the concrete base of the rig. One of the possible failures included the foamed cement used to line the bore hole.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Every day, multiple times a day, Jesse Perkins runs the water in his kitchen sink for about a minute-and-a-half, until it runs cold, indicating that it’s fresh water from the main in the middle of his street. He does it before he fills up a glass of water or a pot for cooking.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Figuring out where to find something in a large warehouse or navigating a sprawling campus, like a hospital, isn’t always easy.

“You know, how do you get from the main door (of a hospital) to a certain department? You’re asking 20 people along the way and then you get frustrated,” said ARIN Technologies CEO Vivek Kulkarni. “But if there were a way to navigate, like you use Google Maps, that would make life so much easier.”

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

If you have ever wondered how the Carnegie Museum of Art keeps it’s collection looking so good, the answer is Michael Belman.

Belman is the Objects Conservator for the museum. He evaluates proposed new purchases and checks items coming and going from the collection on loan.

But the biggest part of what he does is repair, restore and preserves three-dimensional fine art. Just keeping objects in the gallery dusted is an important first step. He talked to 90.5 WESA's Mark Nootbaar about his process. 

Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Matt Nemeth / 90.5 WESA

At the age of 13, Alex Hoffman was already using alcohol and marijuana. By 14, he was on juvenile probation.

“I wouldn’t stop smoking weed, I wouldn’t stop drinking, so I kept failing drug tests and that lead to my first time going involuntarily into juvenile rehab,” Hoffman said.

It was not his last involuntary commitment. He bounced in and out of programs and jail for years before getting clean three years ago, at the age of 21. He remembered being dropped off at a juvenile facility by his parents on his 16th birthday.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

Four years ago, City Councilwoman Darlene Harris considered a run for mayor of Pittsburgh but ultimately decided not to enter the race.

“I take care of my mother and she was ill, and I was just too worried about her,” Harris said.

Four years later, without any fanfare, Harris made a different decision. Although she never held an announcement party or even a news conference to declare her candidacy, Harris is on the May Democratic primary ballot in an effort to unseat Mayor Bill Peduto.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Nearly every piece of exposed metal in a consumer product has been electroplated in some way. It's the process of coating a metal with another metal to prevent corrosion. The most common coatings include chrome and cadmium, both of which are heavy metals that can be harmful to the environment.

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

Todd McCormick leaned against a freshly scrubbed, cinder block wall and jammed the toe of his shoe against speckled gym floor matting.

“Words,” he said, grinning – willing the rubber to yield. “Words cannot even express how excited I am.”

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Alex Merchant and Madeline Lagattuta walked through their recently purchased home in Polish Hill. Chalk marks covered the floors, indicating where new walls will be erected and bathrooms created. 

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Each summer, managers of public beaches like those at Presque Isle State Park in Erie test their water to make sure it’s safe for swimming. 

Last year, the park issued more than two dozen advisories and closed beaches three times due to elevated levels of E. coli bacteria.

E.coli is a marker for dangerous water because it’s an indicator of what else could be there, such as viruses.

Children's Museum of Pittsburgh

A national program launched by the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh to support maker space development in schools is taking on a new set of national and local partners.

In 2015, the museum launched a year-long pilot program, Kickstarting Making, that supported 10 local schools in raising funds for maker space efforts. 

Margaret Sun / 90.5 WESA

  Plans are moving forward on the construction of a bus rapid transit system, or BRT, between the city’s two largest employment centers: Downtown and Oakland.

Developers proposed four route options based on analysis and public input. 

Matt Nemeth / 90.5 WESA

Nearly two-dozen representatives from southwestern Pennsylvania worked together to come up with ideas for how to improve transportation in the area.

The Regional Transportation Alliance of Southwestern Pennsylvania released its findings Wednesday in the report Imagine Transportation 2.0.

The alliance surveyed more than 500 community and governmental groups to build a list of seven broad overarching principles and “50 ideas to explore.”

Blogtrepreneur / Flickr

With the recent indictment of former National Security Agency employee Harold Martin for allegedly stealing 50 terabytes of top-secret NSA reports, the world of cyber security is once again turning its attention to inside threats. 

However, experts at Carnegie Mellon University have been trying to fight insider threats for more than a decade.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

In a lab at Carnegie Mellon University, Adam Feinberg is using 3-D printing to create human tissue.

The associate professor of materials science & engineering and biomedical engineering said he often downloads 3-D images to print dollhouse furniture and Pokémon characters out of plastic for his children. He said that led him to ask: why not do that with the images made by an MRI or CT scan?

He said making a computer model from a scan is actually pretty easy.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 fm WESA

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and community activists have recently called attention to what many say is an “affordable housing crisis” in Pittsburgh. As new development comes to neighborhoods like Lawrenceville and East Liberty, many low- and moderate-income homeowners and renters are being priced out of the neighborhoods.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

Seven sweaty people stood panting in the Saturday morning light beneath a fading red and gold mural on the east side of a tattoo parlor on the corner of 11th and Carson streets. 

Trista Yerks described the work, created by street artist Shepard Fairey in 2009. It was one of several he installed throughout the city, made of layered wheat posters that degrade over time.

“You can see that it's very weathered. It's kind of starting to come down because of all the weather that Pittsburgh has,” she said. “So it makes me sad, but it wasn’t meant to last.”

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

Fifth grader Jaylen Hocker popped up from his front row seat at the O’Reilly Theater. He walked onto the stage, held up a hand to block the bright theater lights from his eyes and waited for the OK from a panel of judges before he began. 

“He hath disgraced me and hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies. And what’s his reason? I am a Jew," he said, reciting William Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice."

Kevin Gavin / 90.5 WESA

Four years ago, Rev. John Welch, dean of students at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, was a strong supporter of Bill Peduto in his successful bid for mayor.

Four years later, Welch wants to unseat Peduto.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

When a company grows and adds satellite offices, it can often be difficult for the main office to stay connected to its remote locations.

Pittsburgh-based company NetBeez connects each site.

“I was imagining, you know, a lot of devices that are buzzing in the network and having all these devices they work like a swarm,” NetBeez co-founder Panickos Neophytou said. “It was a network of bees, so NetBeez came to mind and that is when we adopted the name.”

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

The city of Zumala sits on the Nile Delta. Edible mushrooms feed on plastic waste and plants filter the water for residents and businesses. Suspended tubular trains carry the city’s 300,000 people from place to place, high above the buildings.

The fictional city cost less than $100 to build and was designed by 10 middle-schoolers.

Hans Pennink / AP

According to some school administrators, we’re entering truancy season -- the time when schools start taking action on students who have racked up too many missed days.

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

Jerry Kraynick bends at the waist, hands on hips, and peers over his glasses. He gestures towards a bike. “Throw it up on the stand, and I’ll look at it.”

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

Two part-time workers stood on either side of a T-shaped conveyer belt as 61-year-old Joe Spaniol moved down its twin trunks, trading full boxes with empty ones when its contents started to overflow.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

A small group of students at Propel Montour are eating their way around the world this year. It’s not a new cafeteria option, it’s a lesson in inclusion.

The idea for the Taste the World program, run by school integration specialist Robyn Doyle, started simply enough.

“It stemmed from students just sharing interests in what I was bringing for lunch,” Doyle said.

The group meets once a week during lunch hour. Each student had to submit a short essay as to why he or she should be chosen to be part of the group.

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

It’s been less than two weeks since the Wolf administration announced that the 136-year old Pittsburgh state prison would shut down by June 30. But Allegheny County Executive said developers have already shown interest in the 24-acre site along the Ohio River.

“We’ve already gotten some calls from people that are interested in it,” Fitzgerald said. 

SCI Pittsburgh was one of five state prisons under consideration to be closed to reduce costs.

Margaret Sun / 90.5 WESA

Pure Sky Farms CEO Austin Webb wore a black apron over his dress shirt as he served samples to costumers at the grand opening of the new Whole Foods Market in Upper St. Clair in January.

“This is micro and petite arugula that we have right here, covered in olive oil and lava salt,” he told a customer. “Then we have cilantro with a tortilla chip.”

The customer opted for the arugula, which Webb explained was harvested that very morning.

Pages