Research Picks – December 2017

Mind the gap

Assigning departure gates at airports is a critical logistics problem where safety and timeliness are paramount. Now, researchers in Hong Kong and their colleagues in Denmark and the USA have addressed the so-called gate assignment problem (GAP) with meta-heuristics. Their approach uses a tabu search with which other researchers have previously attempted to solve the problem. The novelty in their research is to incorporate path relinking to improve efficiency of the problem-solving algorithm. Their simulation applied to historical flight data from Incheon International Airport of Korea reveals that their approach works beta than an unmodified meta-heuristic and could be applied in the real-world of air control to reduce flight delays and make the use of airport resources more efficient.

Cheng, C-H., Gunasekaran, A., Ho, S.C., Kwan, C-L. and Ng, T.D. (2017) ‘Hybrid tabu searches for effective airport gate management’, Int. J. Operational Research, Vol. 30, No. 4, pp.484-522.


Hellish water

Arsenic contamination of well water in various regions of the Indian sub-continent has been a major public health issue for decades, one that has not been addressed adequately by the authorities no well-meaning interventions from not-for-profit organisations. Numerous efforts have been devised to label contaminated wells but this has led to confusion and sometimes wells have been flagged as safe when in fact they were contaminated and vice versa. Decontamination systems and filters can be costly and represent a technological barrier in many remote villages. Nevertheless, there is potential for a simple cleanup process to be utilised in this context. Researchers in India have now used zero-valent iron nanoparticles dispersed on alumina by a sodium borohydride reduction to remove a large proportion of the arsenic ions in contaminated water samples. Such a system could be used to reduce contamination to below the safety threshold and perhaps with a second system in place could make previously contaminated water entirely safe.

Jain, A. and Agarwal, M. (2017) ‘Synthesising zero valent iron supported on alumina for removal of arsenic from drinking water‘, Interdisciplinary Environmental Review, Vol. 18, No. 2, pp.108-123.

Self identification

Adolescence is the time in one’s life when a sense of self and identity begin to emerge most strongly as a person makes the transition from childhood to sexual maturity and adulthood. Researchers in Canada have investigated two social networking sites to see how use of these online tools affects the evolution of adolescent identity. Status updates, video/photo uploads, discussion threads and the “like” and comments functions all allow users to facilitate social interaction and identity performance. This occurs during class and after school, the team reports. “As important as it is for students to use technologies for thinking, organising ideas, creating multimodal products to represent their understandings, it is also important for them to use technologies to develop more fixed identities during an otherwise characteristically fluid period of time,” the researchers conclude.

Hughes, J., Morrison, L. and Burke, A. (2017) ‘The adolescent bricoleur: constructing identities through social networking sites‘, Int. J. Social Media and Interactive Learning Environments, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp.87-107.

Print your own dinosaur

Three-dimensional, 3D, printing has been around for at least thirty years, but it is only recently that its reach has come to mainstream attention. The wide range of 3D printers available for industrial and even domestic use allows the fabrication of quite sophisticated and complex objects, under computer control, from a range of materials. However, one factor in building a 3D object that is yet to be fully addressed is that an articulated object, a model dinosaur, for instance, requires separate components to be linked together. Researchers in the USA are developing the concepts of additive manufacturing and demonstrating proof of principle in their InnoDino project aimed at building a model of the Struthiomimus dinosaur for use in education and elsewhere. The model that emerged from the project is full-scale and is now on display at Tennessee Tech University. It represents a first in this area and points the way to how such additive manufacturing might work in practice.

Russell, N.A., Floyd, J., Caston, J., Villalpando, M.R. and Fidan, I. (2017) ‘Project InnoDino: additively innovative dinosaur design and manufacturing‘, Int. J. Rapid Manufacturing, Vol. 6, No. 4, pp.262-278.

Author: David Bradley

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