Research Picks Extra – September 2017

The DNA decision maker

Scientists have long-recognised the information carrying and processing potential of the biological molecule we know as DNA, deoxyribonucleic acid. DNA is the molecule of life and encoded within its sequence is the information necessary to build the proteins from which all life is built. The way in which biology transcribes and duplicates this information and the way in which proteins are assembled using the sequence of bases in DNA is at the heart of a possible future molecular computer built with DNA rather than the silicon chip. Researchers in Singapore have now demonstrated that DNA can be used to encode an algorithm that can make rational decisions when given a choice between various options themselves encoded in molecules to which the system is exposed.

Shu, J-J., Wang, Q-W. and Yong, K-Y. (2017) ‘Programmable DNA-mediated decision maker’, Int. J. Bio-Inspired Computation, Vol. 10, No. 1, pp.51–55.

Better bottles

Antimony trioxide is a well-known substance commonly used to make PET for soft drinks bottles and other packaging. It is deemed safe by the World Health Organization. One of its uses is as a flame retardant for plastics, paints, adhesives, rubber, and textile coatings. The manufacture of nanostructures commonly uses organic compounds, however, which themselves may not have the safety specification of the antimony oxide particles. As such, researchers have now developed a simple, room temperature method for manufacturing antimony oxide nanostructures for use in plastic bottle production that avoids the use of potentially toxic additives. As well as safety improvements, the process is inexpensive.

Shah, M.A. (2017) ‘Antimony oxide nanostructures synthesised in water and their possible use in packaging of mineral water’, Int. J. Biomedical Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, Vol. 3, No. 4, pp.343–349.

Bioremediation with blackberry leaves

The bioremediation of contaminated industrial sites and waste water is high on the environmental agenda and scientists are always looking for novel biological materials that might be used to sequester a particular contaminant. One rather troublesome chemical is the chromium(VI) ion. Researchers in India have now demonstrated that leaves from the blackberry (Rubus species) can absorb Cr(VI) ions from aqueous solution. Given the environmental health concerns with toxic and carcinogenic chromium(VI), also known as hexavalent chromium, the finding could represent and important biosorbent for remediation of water and soil contaminated with this chemical.

Mitra, T. and Das, S.K. (2016) ‘Adsorptive removal of Cr(VI) from aqueous solution using blackberry leaves – column study’, Int. J. Environmental Engineering, Vol. 8, No. 4, pp.225–244.

Accommodating advertising

It is more than two decades since the world wide web was opened up to the world of commerce and the diversity of advertising formats that users face each time they visit a website has grown considerably. From the user point of view, the advertisements are often an annoyance unless and so add-ons for web browsers that block those advertisements are widespread. From the advertisers’ point of view, however, it is the ad blockers that are the annoyance and they are forever looking for ways to work around such add-ons and to get their advertisements seen by users. Online advertising is growing in developing economies and now researchers from Vietnam and Australia have investigated consumer attitudes to the various formats of online advertisements in one such an economy to help advertisers offer consumers a more acceptable and effective form of advertising that keeps both seller and consumer/user happy. Fundamentally, the team found that the “conventional” banner advertisement, which is akin to the old-fashioned printed advertisement, has a much more positive response among users than so-called “pop-up” ads which users find irritating. This is especially true of the banner ad is very informative.

Le, T.D. and Vo, H. (2017) ‘Consumer attitude towards website advertising formats: a comparative study of banner, pop-up and in-line display advertisements’, Int. J. Internet Marketing and Advertising, Vol. 11, No. 3, pp.202–217.

Research Picks Bonus – September 2017

Making walnuts work harder

Energy and exergy are two important tools for evaluating power sources. Energy is essentially the calorific value of simply burning biomass, for instance, whereas exergy is the amount of usable work that might be done by that burning. Researchers in China and the USA are investigating walnut sawdust as one type of useful biomass for making syngas. The energy and exergy of such syngas depends on the reactor temperature used to process walnut sawdust and the mix of gases, carbon monoxide, methane, hydrogen, nitrogen, ethene and carbon dioxide that are produced. However, they have essentially demonstrated that the energy and exergy can be optimized by careful control of the entrained flow reactor temperature.

Zhang, Y., Zhao, Y., Li, B., Gao, X. and Jiang, B. (2017) ‘Energy and exergy characteristics of syngas produced from air gasification of walnut sawdust in an entrained flow reactor‘, Int. J. Exergy, Vol. 23, No. 3, pp.244-262.

Glacial warming

Researchers in China have found that the temperature of the active layer of ice in a glacier has increased more on a cold glacier than a temperate glacier over a period of 30 years. The team analyzed data and historical documents for Baishui Glacier No. 1 (BG1), in the Yulong Snow Mountains of the Southeastern Tibetan Plateau and the Urumqi Glacier No. 1 (UG1), in the eastern Tien Shan Mountains, of Central Asia. There has been a daily mean increase of temperature of the BG1 has been almost a quarter of a degree Celsius July 1982 to July 10, 2009. But the active ice layer of UG1 has warmed considerably more despite it being the colder of the two. That said, the temperate glacier BG1 is still retreating faster than the cold glacier through global warming caused by the greenhouse effect.

Wang, S. and Ding, B. (2017) ‘The active-layer ice temperature increases more obviously on a cold glacier than a temperate glacier during the past 30 years‘, Int. J. Global Warming, Vol. 13, No. 1, pp.103-111.

Drone power

Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), often colloquially known as “drones” require a power supply like any other aircraft. Now, researchers in Turkey have invented a fuel cell/battery hybrid system for powering a UAV. A proton-exchange membrane fuel cell with a supplementary rechargeable lithium-ion battery onboard powers a permanent magnet synchronous motor. Simulations of the system show effective torque development and the team suggests that such hybrid UAVs could soon take off.

Kaya, U., Bayrak, Z.U. and Oksuztepe, E. (2017) ‘Fuel cell/battery hybrid powered unmanned aerial vehicle with permanent magnet synchronous motor‘, Int. J. Sustain. Aviat. 3:2, 130-150.

Coal fired

Coal-based electricity generation is likely to remain an important contributor to power supply in many nations and in the global energy mix despite efforts to displace it with non-carbon-based, sustainable and cleaner energy sources. Of course, such plants generate huge quantities of carbon dioxide and contribute significantly to the greenhouse effect. With ongoing use of coal forecast for decades to come there is thus an urgent need to develop carbon dioxide sequestration technologies to reduce the global impact of this source of power on climate change. Researchers in the USA have developed a mathematical model that can analyze all the costs of such systems in the face of essential environmental regulations. Their model should allow policymakers and the corporate world to look at a rolling horizon for the next 20 to 40 years of coal-fired power stations.

Longer term strategic decision making for coal-based power systems incorporating CO2 sequestration‘, Zhang, Y. and Karwan, M.H. (2017), Int. J. Math. Operat. Res. Vol. 11, No. 2, 219 – 270.

Research Picks – September 2017

Are smart phones educational?

Smart phones, tablets and other mobile information and communications devices are now almost ubiquitous in business, leisure, and even education in many parts of the world. Researchers in Greece suggest that we need a new perspective to help inform parents and educators as to how such devices can help children learn but also what might be the pitfalls. It is, for instance, difficult to assess the multitude of self-styled educational apps (software) without a major review of their pros and cons. With thousands of such apps in the online markets it is difficult for parents and educators to know which might be of genuine educational use for their children and students. With primary school aged children and even toddlers regularly using such gadgets, there is an urgent need for a holistic assessment.

Papadakis, S. and Kalogiannakis, M. (2017) ‘Mobile educational applications for children: what educators and parents need to know‘, Int. J. Mobile Learning and Organisation, Vol. 11, No. 3, pp.256-277.

Degrees by value

Now that universities in England can charge students tuition fees, there is a pressing need to measure value of any given degree. UK researchers have now assessed a standard tool and applied it to a case study of degrees on offer at their own university. In grade point average (GPA) terms their principle finding is that less quantitative degrees – which might include marketing and international business – register a higher value added than the more quantitative degrees, such as economics and finance, on offer.

Dabir-Alai, P. and Oliveira, A. (2017) ‘Adding value by degree: a case study‘, Int. J. Education Economics and Development, Vol. 8, No. 1, pp.78-84.

Digging for economic stability

The shockwaves of the 2008 global financial crisis are still resonating with ongoing poverty and austerity initiatives still commonplace, a resurgence in extremist political opinion, a growing financial gap between rich and poor, significant unemployment, and tense international relations, perhaps being the side effects of this ongoing problem. European researchers have carried out a global econometric study and suggest that agriculture is the buffer that protects nations when the world is in the midst of economic downturn. Indeed, the weight of agriculture within a national economy correlates well (across 151 countries studied) with national resilience and a lower variation in economic growth and unemployment during times of financial crisis, the team found.

Mare, C. and Dragos, C.M. (2017) ‘Agriculture – a possible lifesaver in times of crisis? A worldwide level econometric study‘, Int. J. Economics and Business Research, Vol. 14, No. 1, pp.61-72.

Disruptive technology

Ever since early humans used twine to attach a hand axe a piece of wood and give it a handle, we have seen disruptive technologies. The printing press, the steam engine, even the ballpoint pen, all usurped earlier technology and caused varying degrees of shockwaves throughout society. Researchers from Brazil have focused on that latter invention the ballpoint pen to show how it disrupted the much older “fountain” pen technology and use this case study as a model of how innovation underpins technological disruption. The lessons learned from this case study could help inform our understanding of current innovation and disruptive technologies.

Ferasso, M., Pinheiro, I.A. and Schröeder, C.d.S. (2017) ‘Strategies of innovation in an ancient business: cases of the fountain pen industry‘, Int. J. Economics and Business Research, Vol. 14, No. 1, pp.73-84.