Research Picks – November 2017

Teaching plagiarism

Students are well aware of the concept of plagiarism, when it involves simply copying chunks of text from a textbook, website, or other source. However, the boundaries are blurred when it comes to plagiarising the work of fellow students or self-plagiarism in which they use their own work again all in an effort to reduce the amount work they need to apply to their course. Research from Australia suggests that current efforts to reduce plagiarism among students are not working. If the quality of education and learning is to be maintained or raised, then students and their educators must be made more aware of the problems to which plagiarism can lead.

Palmer, A., Oakley, G. and Pegrum, M. (2017) ‘A culture of sharing: transnational higher education students’ views on plagiarism in the digital era’, Int. J. Management in Education, Vol. 11, No. 4, pp.381-404.

Rumour, hyperbole, and fake news

In the age of social media and social networking, rumour and hype are rife. Indeed, many observers have blamed the rise in populism on the online rumour mills and the advent of fake news (once known simply as propaganda). It is as if any fact can now be queried and tabloid journalists and politicians alike are exploiting the intellectually vulnerable to their own ends by blurring the lines between fact and fiction and stretching their being economical with the truth as far as possible. Researchers in China have devised a research tool in the form of a rumour-spreading model that they can unleash on an experimental social network in order to see how fake news propagates and to offer remedies that might block the spread of such hyperbole and propaganda.

Wang, A., Wu, W. and Chen, J. (2017) ‘A novel rumour propagation model on social networks’, Int. J. Sensor Networks, Vol. 25, No. 2, pp.126–133.

Hydrogen economy could take flight

There is widespread suggestion that hydrogen obtained from the sustainable release of the gas from water might provide the fuel of the future for transportation in a so-called hydrogen economy, as opposed to the current carbon economy with its pollution costs and global warming implications. However, will that hydrogen economy extend above the clouds or as that simply blue-skies thinking? Scientists in Australia suggest that there are many opportunities but also many challenges facing efforts to convert the aviation industry to hydrogen-based flight. The team suggests that cryogenic (liquid) hydrogen could be a sustainable, economical and “lighter” fuel for aircraft than the energy derived from fossil fuels used today. They suggest that a redesign of aircraft would be required to accommodate the necessary technology. However, reduction in aerodynamic efficiency might be offset by the 11% economic saving on fuel for light aircraft and 25% saving for wide-body aircraft. Nevertheless, there remain many technological challenges before this sea change in aviation will take flight.

Rondinelli, S., Gardi, A., Kapoor, R. and Sabatini, R. (2017) ‘Benefits and challenges of liquid hydrogen fuels in commercial aviation‘, Int. J. Sustainable Aviation, Vol. 3, No. 3, pp.200-216.

Microbial energy

Fossil fuels are a limited resource and their use presents us with significant problems in the face of rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels due to their unfettered use in transport, industry and in the home. The fuel cell, powered with a sustainable and renewable supply of fuel might solve many of those problems. Now, a team from India has reviewed the state of the art in one particularly promising class of fuel cell, the microbial fuel cell. These devices use living microorganisms as the organic substrate for generating electricity. The team explains how current limitations of such fuel cells are gradually being overcome to bring them to the fore as an alternative, localised way to generate electricity for a wide range of applications. Moreover, the same device can be adapted to clean waste water by processing microbes in the water. They can even be used to generate clean hydrogen, which might be used elsewhere or to power a secondary, more efficient fuel cell.

Singh, V., Saxena, A., Gupta, A., Singh, S., Kaul, V. and Kumar, N. (2017) ‘Microbial fuel cell – a source of renewable energy: a review‘, Int. J. Renewable Energy Technology, Vol. 8, No. 2, pp.104-118.

Author: David Bradley

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