November Research Picks

Reaping what you sow

In 1988, the tropical rainforest region of North East Queensland was finally given status as a protected World Heritage Area. Patricia Blazey of the Faculty of Business and Corporate Governance, at Macquarie University, in Sydney, Australia, discusses what she refers to as the “trials and tribulations” the significant technical problems, political obstacles and the interests of third parties that had to be overcome in order to gain this special status for the region despite it being part of the developed world. The lessons learned in analyzing these obstacles and their ultimate resolution might now serve to accelerate similar designation of other geographically important regions especially vulnerable sites in the developing world. This could allow sustainable management and protection of invaluable natural resource to be put in place sooner rather than when it is too late.

Blazey, P. (2014) ‘The trials and tribulations of gaining World Heritage listing for Australia’s only tropical rainforest, the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area’, Int. J. Public Law and Policy, Vol. 4, No. 4, pp.393–402.


Honey sweet nanotechnology

Materials that have periodic structures observable at the submicroscopic, or nanoscale, have great potential in fields as diverse as chemical catalysis for accelerating tardy reactions, in photonic crystals for telecommunications and other applications, in novel computer data storage materials and in biosensors for medical diagnostics and environmental testing. Now, Chao-Te Lee of the Instrument Technology Research Center, National Applied Research Laboratories, in Hsinchu, Taiwan, and colleagues have developed what they call a nanohoneycomb. The structure is based on chemically active zinc oxide on platinum metal supported on a layer of glass or the semiconductor silicon, depending on potential application. A lithographic printing technique that works on a sub-microscopic scale allowed them to generate a honeycomb pattern in the material in which the internal diameter of the honeycomb cells is just 400 nanometers. Scanning electron microscopy images of the nanohoneycomb reveal the details.

Lee, C-T., Chiang, D., Chiu, P.K., Cho, W-H. and Ou, S-L. (2014) ‘Fabrication of highly ordered nanohoneycomb (ZnO/Pt) arrays’, Int. J. Nanotechnol., Vol. 11, No. 12, pp.1047–1055.


Solvent sensor

Volatile organic solvents (VOCs) are an essential part of many manufacturing processes, particularly in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. However, the majority of VOCs are harmful. As such warning systems that can detect their vapors following an accidental leak from storage vessels on the factory premises, for instance, are important to protect workers from potentially lethal exposure. Now, Hui-Ling Sung of the National Taiwan Normal University in Taipei, Taiwan, and colleagues have developed a sensors based on an array of nanoscopic silicon wires. Their novel approach allows them to etch much longer nanowires than was previously possible and this increases overall device sensitivity. Tests on the widely used and representative VOCs diethyl ether, tetrahydrofuran, methanol and pentane, demonstrated proof of principle. The VOCs interact with the silicon nanowires changing their electrical properties on exposure to the solvent which is recorded by the device’s electronics.

Chien, S-Y., Sung, H-L., Cheng, C-P., Shang, Y-M., Lin, S-N. and You, J-H. (2014) ‘Volatile organic solvents sensing using silicon nanowires array fabricated by spontaneous electrochemical reaction’, Int. J. Nanotechnol., Vol. 11, No. 12, pp.1119–1128.


E-parliament improves political transparency

Information technologist Gbolahan Olasina of the University of Ilorin, in Ilorin, Nigeria, is well aware of the benefits of ICT in Europe and the USA and in particular in engaging the electorate with governments through “e-parliament” type systems. He hopes that the benefits of ICT might be reaped in Nigeria too and help in improving political transparency, fighting corruption and strengthening representative democracy. His survey of members of the public reported in the International Journal of Electronic Governance suggests that people simply do not have confidence in their politicians and elected representatives. ICT and in particular the concept of e-parliament might be used to rekindle their trust through greater transparency and voter engagement.

Olasina, G. (2014) ‘E-parliament services as tools for anti-corruption and transparency’, Int. J. Electronic Governance, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp.27–55.

Author: David Bradley

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