March Research Picks Extra

Removing arsenic from paddy fields

The presence of the toxic element arsenic in soluble form in groundwater and soils is a serious issue for many parts of the developing world and even in desert regions of the developed world. Researchers in China have now investigated whether ferrihydrite (iron hydroxide) and gypsum (hydrated calcium sulfate) might be able to reduce the bioavailability of arsenic to growing rice plants in paddy fields and so lower the risk of toxicity for those eating the rice. In laboratory studies of pot-grown rice plants bedded in arsenic-contaminated water and soil, the team found that gypsum had no effect but adding ferrihydrite (just 1.5% by volume to the paddy soil) could reduce the amount of arsenic absorbed by the plants to 36% of untreated plants. This compound thus shows promise as a soil improver in arsenic-contaminated regions of the world where rice is grown widely as a food crop.

Chen, X-P., Zhou, J., Lei, Y., He, C., Liu, X., Chen, Z. and Bao, P. (2014) ‘The fate of arsenic in contaminated paddy soil with gypsum and ferrihydrite amendments’, Int. J. Environment and Pollution, Vol. 56, Nos. 1/2/3/4, pp.48–62.


The lean, flipped classroom

For designers, businesses and engineers, “Lean” and “Six sigma” are important process optimization tools for reducing wasted raw materials, human resources, energy and time. The concepts have been used in education too to improve student outcomes and to make educators more effective. Now, US researchers have applied lean and six sigma to another educational paradigm – the flipped classroom. The flipped classroom abstracts the lecturing and resource provision components of education and puts the onus on the student to seek out those materials outside the classroom. From the educators’ perspective, they should in the flipped classroom provide access to what would be conventional lecture materials and resources through online and remote systems. Classroom activities then become more interactive and preclude the conventional notions of note-taking and other activities in a lecture-type teaching environment. The team has demonstrated significant potential for the lean six sigma flipped classroom in its studies.

Kovach, J.V., Carden, L.L. and Ramos, M.A. (2014) ‘‘Flipping’ the Lean Six Sigma classroom’, Int. J. Six Sigma and Competitive Advantage, Vol. 8, Nos. 3/4, pp.227–246.


Sex sells, but not always

It’s a cliché in marketing, that “sex sells”, but a study of a diverse demographic in the Middle East by researchers at the American University of Kuwait, in Safat, suggests the opposite. They have found that sexually provocative imagery of people and celebrities in visual advertisements can often be so much of a distraction to potential consumers that the product being advertised is often forgotten the face of scantily clad bodies and naked people. The team found, in their marketing research, that consumers of different genders, ethnicities, nationalities and age often focused their attention away from a product. The researchers suggest that the distraction may be one of a negative social and religious stance leading to a failure on the part of such marketing.

Mostafa, A.A. and Bahman, R.D. (2014) ‘The effect of provocative visual advertisement on the consumer’, Int. J. Teaching and Case Studies, Vol. 5, Nos. 3/4, pp.339–348.


Superhydrophobic plastic

Superhydrophobic materials are substances with a surface that by virtue of its nanoscopic structure repels water and sometimes other polar materials to the point where they simply cannot be “wetted”. Such materials have the potential to revolutionize a wide range of engineering applications but might also be used as highly biocompatible, non-stick coatings for replacement joints, artificial heart valves and other prosthetic, implanted body parts. Now, researchers in Egypt have demonstrated a straightforward way to make the common plastic material polypropylene superhydrophobic and self-cleaning for use in biomedical applications. Scanning electron microscopy and spectroscopic studies prove that the products are indeed superhydrophobic. And biological tests show that water is totally repelled from the surfaces. Moreover, bacteria such as the common superbug Staphylococcus aureus cannot adhere to these materials.

Abbas, R., Sadik, W.A., El Demerdash, A.G.M. and Badria, A.F. (2014) ‘A simple method to prepare superhydrophobic polypropylene coatings for biomedical applications’, Int. J. Nanoparticles, Vol. 7, Nos. 3/4, pp.156–169.

Author: David Bradley

Award-winning, freelance science writer based in Cambridge, England.