90.5 WESA Features and Special Reports

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

A group of middle-schoolers sat quietly at their tables in South Fayette Intermediate School this past June, while getting some last minute programing and building instructions from teacher Michael Lincoln. He was all that stood between them and a pile of still-boxed, black drones.

Lincoln, who usually teaches at Avonworth Middle School, encouraged the kids: “Use everything you’ve learned,” he said. “Don’t just start doing things. Think before you do.”

Emma Lee / WHYY

 

With its new student-weighted school funding formula, Pennsylvania took a big step forward this year to begin to correct decades of inequities.

National Human Genome Research Institute / genome.gov

At the most basic level cancer can be defined as the DNA of a normal cell going haywire. 

Tom Hurley / 90.5 WESA

The 2016-17 school year is set to begin for Pittsburgh Public Schools next week after a tumultuous summer capped by the controversial hiring of new Superintendent Anthony Hamlet, who fielded questions for weeks over whether he plagiarized and misrepresented portions of the resume he used to earn the district's top job. The board voted to retain him in June.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

For years, Pittsburgh-based medical relief charity Global Links has taken donations of wheelchairs, crutches and other mobility products.

Chris Meyer started volunteering with the group in 2010 after a devastating earthquake hit Haiti, to help prepare those donated devices before they’re shipped to people in need.

Michael Ward / University of Pittsburgh

Researchers are a step closer to figuring out how our brains turn those squiggly lines on papers and screens into words.

A team of cognitive neuroscientists at the University of Pittsburgh have completed a landmark study looking into how the human brain recognizes and processes written words – or, more simply, reads.

“We really don’t really think about it when we’re reading a word, but all you’re really seeing are black and white lines and you turn that into a story, a sentence, a word, something with real meaning,” said Avniel Ghuman, one of the lead researchers.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

For someone in hospice, a song might not cure them, but it could help brighten their final days.

“It’s not about healing, it’s not about making people feel better,” said Cindy Harris. “I often say that what we do is traveling music. We are all walking the same path in life… the only difference is that the person we’re singing to, they’re much closer to the end of the path.”

Harris is the director of the Pittsburgh Threshold Choir, which sends small groups of singers to Pittsburgh-area hospice facilities. The roughly 20 members offer bedside songs to those who are ill.

Virginia Alvino / 90.5 WESA

Voice-activated technologies, like the Amazon Echo speaker, are gaining popularity with people of all abilities.

But Pittsburgh-based Conversant Labs has developed an app that’s aimed at benefiting people with visual impairments. It’s called Yes, Chef! and uses voice commands to lead users through recipes.

“So, your hands are dirty they have like raw chicken, raw meat, you don’t want to have to wash your hands every time to either touch your phone and get food on your phone or on your lap top,” said founder Chris Maury.

Justin Wier / 90.5 WESA

McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania is just 15 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh. It has a rich history. The first American Eagle Outfitters opened there in 1912. A native American burial mound in the borough is the earliest place of human habitation in the region. But while Pittsburgh is experiencing a renaissance, the blue-collar borough is still struggling to get back on track. 

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Along South Aiken Avenue in Friendship, a sign reading, “Caution … Tomatoes” sits proudly on a utility pole.

It’s referencing the nearby community garden.

“I really wanted to create something where people understand how important it is to connect with nature and also understand how easy it is to grow your own food,” said Octopus Garden founder Kristin Hughes.

Glenn Koehler / NMIH

 

Visitors to the new National Museum of Industrial History, open today in Bethlehem, will be engaging with history before they even set foot inside the museum. It's built on the nation's largest privately-owned brownfield site, in what was Bethlehem Steel's electric repair shop.

HealthCare.gov

Open enrollment for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act begins in a few months. And for many, navigating the provider exchange can be a daunting task.

Melinda Roeder / 90.5 WESA

It’s no secret that razors are expensive.

But a Pittsburgh engineer thinks he’s perfected the formula for the perfect shave – that’s also cheap. His company, Leaf Shave, creates razors that don’t use cartridges and use half of a standard double-edge blade. Though the razors are expected to sell for $79, the refill blades sell for as little as $.10 apiece. 

CEO and Founder Adam Hahn said he was inspired by his own troubles shaving.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Preservation Pittsburgh is asking City Council to designate three natural springs as historic landmarks. Members are advocating for Howe Springs in Shadyside, Snyder (Catahecassa) Spring in Schenley Park and the Spring in Spring Hill (Voegtly Spring).

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Throughout life, a person experiences many firsts – a first kiss, first pet and even a first bike ride.

“When I started riding a bicycle it was one of those things that was life changing for me,” said 16-year-old Rhys Rocher. “Doing things like being able to go for a bike ride with your family is something that we take for granted and I would love to share that experience with someone else.”  

Andrew Hamik / AP

Republicans have been keeping a close eye on the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this week, and one Pennsylvania congressmen said the speakers seem to be disconnected from the concerns of voters, especially those in Pennsylvania.

U.S. Rep Keith Rothfus, who represents the commonwealth's 12th District, said Democrats have failed to address "a world that is on fire with disruption across the planet and a lack of American leadership.”

Rothfus said there is also not enough attention being paid to Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy record.

No Nodding Off With This Headset For Truck Drivers

Jul 26, 2016
Melinda Roeder / 90.5 WESA

Spending hours on the highway can often leave truck drivers drowsy.

“I hate to say it, but unless you’re on the phone or something, a lot of drivers do what I do – you just kind of zone out,” said Tara Krate, a truck driver with more than a decade of experience.

Krate drives about 500 miles round-trip on her daily route and said it’s easy to sometimes lose focus.

But new technology could use those sleepy head bobs to make the industry a little safer.

Why Pipeline Safety Is One Of Pennsylvania’s Next Big Energy Challenges

Jul 22, 2016
Keith Srakocic / AP

On  the morning of April 29, a natural gas transmission line exploded in a field in Salem Township in western Pennsylvania. 

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

When a child leaves their home for foster care, they often have to leave their belongings behind. And if a social workers is able to grab a few things, they’re usually jumbled in a trash bag.

Foster Love Project aims to ease that process by offering a new bag filled with comforting items like new pajamas, a stuffed animal and blanket, we well as essentials such as toothbrush, toothpaste and soap.

Mary Altaffer / AP

The Republican National Convention wraps up in Cleveland tonight with speeches from prominent republicans, religious leaders, business moguls and presumptive nominee Donald Trump.

Pennsylvania Democratic U.S. Senate Candidate Katie McGinty said she has been struck by the negative tone of the gathering.

Melinda Roeder / 90.5 WESA

So, you had a baby a couple of years ago, and you go to a store’s app to search for a toy for your now-toddler. And whaddayaknow, there's a sale on the perfect treat.

That could become more common as artificial intelligence continues to creep into our mobile shopping experiences.

One Pittsburgh company, CognistX, is at the forefront of that movement. Its mobile app enhancements let retailers use advanced information about a person’s lifestyle and spending habits to target specific content toward shoppers.

PA Cities Vary In Response To Firearm Ordinance Rulings, Legislative Activity

Jul 18, 2016
Matt Rourke / AP

 

Allentown City Council is looking at reinstating as many as three ordinances previously repealed to avoid lawsuits facilitated by Act 192. 

Melinda Roeder / 90.5 WESA

When Conner Hagins was 9 years old, his father had a double bypass surgery.

While recovering, his father was given a teddy bear to hold against his chest while coughing or sneezing in order to help protect his chest wounds. But it was only cardiac surgery patients who were given teddy bears, Hagins found.

“From that moment it was almost a light bulb idea,” Hagins said.

Virginia Alvino / 90.5 WESA

About 100 teens, many of them covered in splattered paint, gathered at the corner of North Homewood Avenue and Idlewild Street in Homewood on Tuesday.

Margaret J. Krauss / Keystone Crossroads

 

"Are you registered to vote?" Dave Tessitor asked a man as he walked past the library in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood.

"Yes," the man said, not stopping.

Tessitor fell in step. "We're collecting signatures to put a referendum on the November ballot," he said, walking up the street with the man. He only turned back several blocks later, the cargo pocket of his shorts one pamphlet lighter. He shrugged and smiled. And then a young couple came out of the library. "Excuse me, are you registered to vote?"

Toby Talbot / AP

A new report praises Pennsylvania doctors for their use of opioid-based pain treatments for chronic illnesses, especially cancer.

The report from the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network comes at time, though, when many legislators and organizations are working to fight opioid addiction.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

It may be summer, but on a recent sunny June day, a small group of teachers and students stayed indoors. They sat in classrooms at the South Fayette School District campus for a different take on traditional summer school.  

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Tracy Organ Cease spends every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at the Northside Common Ministries kitchen preparing lunch. Coffee in hand, he also meets with his lunchtime diners and makes sure they’re connected to any other services they may need.

“It’s very humbling to be at the point where you may need to go and get this kind of assistance to be able to eat today,” Cease said.

And Cease would know. It wasn’t long ago that he was the one getting a free lunch, rather than making it. That’s why he tries to provide an inviting atmosphere to those he serves.

Wellbridge

In a small office at the base of the Birmingham Bridge on Pittsburgh’s South Side, social workers and app developers are coming together to help vulnerable medical patients.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh are making tiny strides -- no, really -- that could revolutionize the solar industry.

Paul Leu runs a lab at the university where students work with tiny particles called nanotubes.

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