Research Picks October 2016

In this week’s Research Picks, we highlight how contemporary literature might be used to educate, how the Maltese Islands might be affected in the event of an earthquake, how we might use wind-powered, sailing, ships to convert carbon dioxide in seawater and hydrogen from water into aviation fuel. Finally, a novel way to extract relevant breaking news from websites.

Hungry for education

As far back as the 1830s, media were used in the classroom when Martineau created stories with a message of economics education. Today, US researchers are investigating how one of the most popular franchises of the young adult market, The Hunger Games, might be used to explain economic organisation, comparative advantage, the role of institutions, and income inequality among other socio-economic and political phenomena, all of which are exploited in the storyline. “Students have responded favourably to the use of familiar characters in explaining these ideas, and we believe that utilising literature has been and will continue to be a helpful tool for economics instructors,” the team concludes.

Cleveland, J., Holder, K. and O’Roark, B. (2016) ‘The economics of The Hunger Games‘, Int. J. Pluralism and Economics Education, Vol. 7, No. 2, pp.152-169.


Earthquake resistance

A new approach to assessing how vulnerable are buildings to seismic activity, earthquakes, has been developed by a team at the University of Malta, with a particular focus on load-bearing masonry building typology present in the Maltese Islands. The team points out that the last major earthquake to affect the islands was 1693, so unlike nearby Italy and other vulnerable regions that have had frequent recent and devastating earthquakes, architects, structural and civil engineers have little by way of experience in the islands. It is important to understand how the Maltese Islands and its contemporary building stock might be affected by seismic activity in the coming years whether one considers an earthquake long overdue or not.

Torpiano, A., Bonello, M., Borg, R.P., Sapiano, P. and Ellul, A.M. (2016) ‘The development of a seismic vulnerability assessment methodology for contemporary load-bearing masonry buildings in the Maltese Islands‘, Int. J. Sustainable Materials and Structural Systems, Vol. 2, Nos. 3/4, pp.283-307.


Fuel from water

Scientists at the University of California Davis are on the verge of an aviation breakthrough with a demonstration of how to extract hydrogen and carbon dioxide from seawater and convert it into synthetic jet fuel. Their sustainable approach would involve a fleet of remote control sailing ships with onboard hydrokinetic turbines that generate the electricity for the electrolysis of sea water and the combination reactions for making hydrocarbons. The team’s analysis suggests that their concept is entirely feasible and could spearhead a transition to carbon-neutral aviation within two or three decades with little if any infrastructure change.

Platzer, M.F. and Sarigul-Klijn, N. (2016) ‘Carbon-neutral jet fuel production from seawater‘, Int. J. Sustainable Aviation, Vol. 2, No. 2, pp.101-110.

Breaking news

News distribution has become a much more social activity in recent years with the advent of blogs, Twitter, Facebook and other online networks, but finding the news on a given topic is as important as ever. Research by computer scientists in Bangladesh and Canada has demonstrated a novel way to carry out text and property analysis of news website documents and quickly and efficiently extract breaking news. The approach exploits Brill’s tagger and HTML tag attributes. Performance metrics and validation show great promise, the team suggests.

Jishan, S.T., Monsur, M.N. and Rahman, H.A. (2016) ‘Breaking news detection from the web documents through text mining and seasonality‘, Int. J. Knowledge and Web Intelligence, Vol. 5, No. 3, pp.190-207.

Author: David Bradley

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