May 2015 Research Picks

Comprehending gaze

Researchers in South Korea and India have used an eye-tracking technique that can follower a reader’s gaze to determine whether or not the person is understanding what they are reading. The eye tracking  method monitors where and how long the person’s gaze fixates on specific answers in a multiple choice questionnaire and so can determine with accuracy whether or not the reader looked at the correct answer the longest after reading the question and the timing of the gaps between eye fixes, saccades. The team suggests that the concept might be used in classroom testing, or perhaps in the assessment of job applicants.

Singh, C., Yadav, D. and Lee, J. (2014) ‘Reader comprehension ranking by monitoring eye gaze using eye tracker’, Int. J. Intelligent Systems Technologies and Applications, Vol. 13, No. 4, pp.294–307.


Natural concrete reinforcement

Natural materials, such as bamboo (Bambusa balcooa) and rattan (Daemonorops jenkinsiana) can be used instead of steel to successfully reinforce small concrete slabs, according to a team from Bangladesh. In the developing world where economics often preclude extensive building projects because of the requirement for steel reinforcement, biomaterials could one day be used instead. Engineers at the Shahjalal University of Science and Technology have demonstrated the efficacy of bamboo and rattan, which does not provide as great an improvement as steel, but could be useful for panels that are not load bearing and in other construction applications where reinforcement is necessary and costs need to be kept low.

Mahzuz, H.M.A. and Ahmed, M. (2014) ‘Use of bio-materials as reinforcement in concrete slab’, Int. J. Sustainable Materials and Structural Systems, Vol. 1, No. 4, pp.321–331.


Hot air for dried tomatoes

Scientists in Nigeria have developed a hot-air dryer for tomatoes that could accelerate the processing of the product for small-scale farmers at low cost. Dried tomato products and tomato powders have the greatest shelf life, especially compared to highly perishable fresh tomatoes and are popular across African society, the team reports. While sun-drying may have the “artisanal” quality popular with delicatessens and the like, it is a temperamental and inconsistent process where re-wetting of the product is common and leads to mould growth and loss of yield. The hot-air dryer is inexpensive, portable and offers consistent results at low power demand, the team adds.

Olaniyan, A.M. and Omoleyomi, B.D. (2014) ‘Conceptual design of tomato dryer: fabrication and testing of prototype’, Int. J. Postharvest Technology and Innovation, Vol. 4, Nos. 2/3/4, pp.114–125.


Solar power split

Australian researchers have designed and demonstrated a prototype, standalone solar-hydrogen power generation system that uses a photovoltaic array to generate electricity and split water (electrolysis) to make hydrogen that can be stored if excess energy is generated. The team suggests this split power approach is an attractive solution for remote and portable applications. The solar electricity can be used on demand, while the stored hydrogen can be used later, at night or during inclement weather to power a fuel cell to generate electricity. Energy losses in the prototype are too high to make it commercially viable at this stage of development, but the team suggests that switching losses are the main issue and that this problem will soon be remedied.

Dou, X.X., Simic, M., Andrews, J. and Mo, J.P.T. (2015) ‘Power splitting strategy for solar hydrogen generation’, Int. J. Agile Systems and Management, Vol. 8, No. 1, pp.70–83.

Author: David Bradley

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