Research Picks for June

Balancing work

An international team from Australia, Brazil and Spain have addressed the problem of balancing the needs and skills of disabled people working in a sheltered worker center in assembly line occupations. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that 10% of the world’s population has a disability amounting to 500 million people of working age. In times of recession it is difficult to accommodate disabled people but enterprising schemes such as sheltered work centers for disabled have appeared in many regions. The disparate characteristics of the workers present need to be accommodated on parallel assembly lines not only for the benefit and wellbeing of the workers but also to improve labor integration and productivity.

Ara´ujo, F.F.B., Costa, A.M. and Miralles, C. (2015) ‘Balancing parallel assembly lines with disabled workers’, European J. Industrial Engineering, Vol. 9, No. 3, pp.344–365.


Cities and climate change

Cities use huge amounts of energy and as such generate pollution that is contributing to global climate change. Researchers from Greece and the UK have now developed a comprehensive system of environmental indicators as an effective tool for investigating moves towards sustainable energy sources for cities. The indicators then provide a logic decision-making scheme for city authorities to become more self aware of their demands and outputs in terms of energy, pollution and carbon emissions as well as how mitigation and adaptation strategies should be developed and implemented. Ultimately, says the team, the aim is to work towards cleaner, safer and better social-humanized cities.

Papaioannou, D., Gakis, A., Athanassoulis, N.T., Rigos, A. and Mamali, A.A. (2015) ‘A review of urban sustainability criteria under global warming stress’, Interdisciplinary Environmental Review, Vol. 16, No. 1, pp.17–45.


Text mining disease

Italian researchers have turned to a new approach to text mining to allow them to pluck from the scientific literature multiple biological associations across a range of diseases. In the past text mining has usually found associations between research papers based on the co-occurrence of key terms in a given research field or topic area, but this suffers from bias arising because the search works on a single section of the “literature”. The team has now developed an unsupervised text mining approach that can find associations between genes, proteins and different diseases pulling in information on drugs, patents and different organs of the body and uses Bayesian statistical analysis to seek out the often complex connections that might exist.

Faro, A., Giordano, D. and Maiorana, F. (2015) ‘Mining literatures to discover novel multiple biological associations in a disease context’, Int. J. Data Mining and Bioinformatics, Vol. 12, No. 2, pp.224–256.


Faster than light

It is well known that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light in a vacuum. It’s a fundamental speed limit set by Albert Einstein in his theory of Special Relativity. However, the theory-busting warp drives of science fiction spacecraft aside, researchers at the US Naval Air Systems Command in Maryland, are investigating a possible mathematical loophole that might allow a body, perhaps a spacecraft, to be accelerated to half the speed of light and through the notion of relativistic stretch to shed mass-energy and so make the leap to superluminal speed. The mathematics proposed does not violate Special Relativity. But, admits the author, the very physical problem of how to actually shed mass-energy remains and perhaps lies in the realm of exotic matter…

Pais, S.C. (2015) ‘Conditional possibility of spacecraft propulsion at superluminal speeds’, Int. J. Space Science and Engineering, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp.89–92.

Author: David Bradley

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