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Campus Experiences


Student engagement opportunities are abundant here at NIU. Participate in one of our labs for unique and valuable real world experiences. We are also home to the National Weather Service Cooperative Weather Station.

Our geovisual mapping laboratory (GML) was officially established in 2012 when the advanced geospatial laboratory and cartography lab combined to further ongoing research in the field of GIS and cartography beyond the classroom environment. This facility has grown in size and processing ability since then with the addition of a dedicated GIS server, multiple 2D and 3D workstations, a large format plotter/scanner and a newly created geovisualization room capable of producing three dimensional GIS maps, 3D animations and holographic images. Software used in this lab includes: Intergraph’s GeoMedia Suite, ESRI’s ArcGIS Suite, Trimble Sketchup, AutoCAD, ERDAS Imagine, Adobe Illustrator and MS Office Suite.

The primary focus at GML is GIS, geovisualization and cartographic research and development. This includes new ways to convert existing vector data from a static environment to a GIS. In addition, research relating to the fields of NES, meteorology, biogeography, urban planning and 3D has been developed as well. Campus projects that help the “university community” such as the Campus Webmap and Huskie Tracks GPS were developed in this lab with the help of students and staff. These types of research projects help students keep current with "real world" issues relating to the field of GIS.

To date we have had more than 250 students from the Colleges of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Business, Health and Human Services, Engineering and Technology and Education work on various research projects within this lab. This lab is a non-for-profit research facility that is student based and is under the directorship of Philip Young

The Northern Illinois Biogeography Laboratory was established in 1998. It consists of a sample preparation room and a new laboratory facility for both teaching and research purposes. The primary goal of the lab is to conduct research on various aspects of vegetation dynamics and examine links between vegetation systems and their environment. The lab contains several work stations and a Velmex tree ring measuring system. The lab has been growing and developing and currently houses a growth chamber, environmental sensors and several data loggers, equipment for hemispherical photography, measuring photosynthesis and chlorophyll fluorescence.

Research focuses on forested systems in the eastern deciduous forest/boreal forest ecotone, the oak/hickory woodlands of northern Illinois and conifer stands in New Caledonia (South Pacific). There are currently several graduate students and undergraduate students actively involved in various research activities ranging from dendrochronology (fire history and climate reconstruction) to forest light environments and seedling physiology and studies on the impact of honeysuckle on oakwood land communities. The Biogeography lab is closely linked with the Soil Analysis Laboratory within the department and several students have completed research or are currently focused on the links between vegetation and soils. Our philosophy is to advance our knowledge of the dynamic environment and have some fun along the way.

Our meteorology lab consists of PC's and linux machines configured to access internet-based weather data and multimedia modules. These meteorological training modules, developed by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), are used throughout the private sector and National Weather Service for further training and understanding of atmospheric processes. NIU is a member of UCAR's Unidata program, which provides student access to real time meteorological data (e.g., Doppler radar imagery, satellite imagery, surface and upper-air data, full suite of numerical model data, etc.) and state-of-the-art software packages. The Meteorology Lab contains a large digital map wall that displays current observations across the Midwest and U.S., providing a backdrop for interactive, student-led weather discussions.

Using the Linux machines in the lab, students can access NIU's supercomputer, Gaea. On this hybrid computer cluster, students can run the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model, which is a next-generation numerical weather prediction system used for research and operational forecasting.

Northern Illinois University is home to a National Weather Service Cooperative Weather Station. The DeKalb-NIU station has been operating on NIU grounds since 1966 (now located west of Anne Glidden Road south of the NIU REC Center. Prior to that the station was operated five miles northeast of De Kalb in Sycamore from 1888 to 1965. Combined this represents a climate record which exceeds 100 years-important in terms of understanding regional climate variability.

Daily observations of temperature (maximum and minimum), precipitation, snowfall, snow cover, soil temperatures and evaporation (April 1 to October 31) are made by a student weather director each day at 7 am. These observations are then transmitted to the NWS and a report of the data (and local forecast) recorded on a message machine (815-753-1623). The weather director is responsible for maintaining the weather equipment, keeping the climate records, answering local climate questions and developing a monthly climate summary. The climate records are kept in the NWS laboratory in Davis Hall. The faculty advisor for the weather director is Walker Ashley. The weather director position has been supported by NIU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, NIU's Office of Operations, Finance and Facilities and external supporters.

The Soil Analysis Laboratory was established in the department in 1998 to enhance the teaching and research capabilities of the department. The primary goal of the lab is to provide expertise, equipment and training for the analysis and characterization of soils and geologic sediments. The lab is utilized for both teaching and research by graduate and undergraduate students and faculty in the department. The lab houses a Malvern Mastersizer 2000 laser particle size instrument and accompanying computer equipment as well as standard pipette and sieving equipment for particle size analysis. In addition to the typical equipment located in soil characterization laboratories the lab also contains wet and dry aggregate stability equipment and a multi-spectral-radiometer for field quantification of soil reflectance parameters. The lab maintains a trailer mounted Giddings hydraulic drill rig and holds a foreign/quarantine soil permit from the USDA.

Numerous projects are done in collaboration with other units within the department. We currently have several ongoing projects field mapping soils, geologic materials and landforms in the area and have been working closely with the Advanced Geovisual Mapping Lab to create detailed maps of our work. The Soil Analysis Lab is also closely linked with the Biogeography Laboratory. Examples of some recent investigations that have utilized the facility include: soil carbon sequestration studies in prairie, savanna and agricultural systems of Illinois; human induced soil erosion in the Midwestern U.S.; Holocene landscape evolution in Sicily; forest dynamics in Ontario and Illinois; soils and precision agriculture systems in the great plains and the corn belt; periglacial landscape evolution in the U.S. mid-continent and soil color-organic carbon relationships in the region.

We have developed a network of webcams delivering live, high-definition, wide-angle perspectives of Midwestern skyscapes. This system generates time-lapse sequences and daily time-lapse movies that can be used to visualize a range of atmospheric phenomena in classroom settings. Time-lapse imagery facilitates exploration of complex phenomena found in the atmosphere and enhances student understanding of features that are often presented motionless in customary educational delivery methods, whether textbooks, lab manuals, or standard lectures. This system enhances our meteorology curriculum by engaging students through reflective observation using unconventional methods.

Student Organizations

We have several groups and clubs for you to join in order to get together with other students who share the same interests as you. Each group has a faculty adviser, which allows for interaction between students and faculty in engaged learning situations. The more you participate in the clubs, activities and events in the department, the more you will get out of your college experience!

The NIU Student Chapter of the American Meteorological Society encourages professionally and socially oriented activities among students, staff and faculty with interests in the atmospheric sciences. Founded in 1971, the chapter meets at least once a month during the academic year; activities include external speakers, field trips and engagement in a variety of service-learning events that celebrate science and technology. Those interested in joining the chapter should contact the AMS officers via email and request to join our Facebook group.

Our goal is to promote knowledge and awareness of geographic, environmental and social issues while promoting a strong relationship with the Geography Department, NIU and the community. We aim to develop useful student to student as well as faculty to student relationships through networking, research and community service. Most importantly our aim is to have fun and help one another in and out of the classroom. Membership is open to any NIU student who expresses an interest in geography which includes all its definitions. Those interested should contact offers listed on Huskie Link and join our Facebook group.

The Soil Judging Team participates every year in the American Society of Agronomy's Soil Judging Contest. The American Society of Agronomy (ASA) is a progressive international scientific society that fosters the transfer of knowledge and practices to sustain global agronomy. Based in Madison, WI, ASA is the professional home for 8,000+ members and 14,000+ certified professionals (Certified Crop Advisers and Certified Professional Agronomists) dedicated to advancing the field of agronomy.

If you have an strong interest in geography and meet the academic requirements, consider joining this international honor society. It is a great way to stay connected after graduation as well as to find resources for graduate funding and research.

We are an NIU chapter of a national organization specifically concerned with water resources. Join us on Huskie Link.

Contact Us

Geographic and Atmospheric Sciences
Davis Hall, Room 118
815-753-6872 (Fax)

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