This Week in Research

Dragonflies are advanced predators (Sam Reynolds)

New studies on dragonflies and their hunting strategies have led researchers to believe that they may be among the most developed predators on the planet. One study, conducted by professor Robert M. Olberg from Union College, suggests that dragonflies catch nearly 95 per cent of their targets.

This incredible hunting success rate, which far surpasses that of some of the most vicious animals in the world, is due to several features of a dragonfly’s body. For example, they have the most powerful eyes of any insect, and have functions in their brain which enable them to track prey.

Olberg’s study found that dragonflies possess a unique system of neurons connecting their brain to their wing motors in the middle of their bodies. This allows them to plot points along a prey’s path, then translate the necessary speed and angle of attack to their wing system.

Moreover, their wing system is very complex. Unlike most insects, each of their four wings are controlled by different muscles, enabling them to move each wing individually. Because of this, they can fly upside down, turn 360 degrees, and fly at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour.

All this means is that in the blink of an eye, a dragonfly can turn 360 degrees, and calculate the perfect point to strike a moving target.

 

Automated Exam Grading (Caity Hui)

EdX, the nonprofit enterprise founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) hopes to change universities’ grading methods. Instead of waiting several weeks to receive a grade back, this software program sends one back instantly. Students would then be allowed to rewrite the test to improve their grades or wallow in despair.

According to their website, edX focuses on learning designed specifically for interactive study through the Internet. Using artificial intelligence, the software is able to grade student essays and short written answers, along with multiple-choice questions, which are already graded through computers. This would provide professors with more time for other tasks.

The edX assessment tool works by first having different teachers grade 100 essays or essay questions, after which it trains itself to grade the papers on its own. The software will assign a grade, depending on a scoring system designed by the teacher, and will also provide general feedback.

While the system has its benefits, many criticize the increasing focus on automation in education. An automated system is hardly a live teacher, and many are sceptical that a computer could provide the same nuanced feedback as that of a real professor.

 

OrganOx Metra (Marlee Vinegar)

Oxford University has developed technology to allow for a human liver to be ‘kept alive’ outside the body in order to increase the success of transplantation. At King’s College Hospital in London this past February, the first two liver transplants took place using a machine called the “OrganOx Metra.”

After an organ is harvested, it is put on ice to slow the metabolism so that it may be transplanted. Unfortunately, there is often insufficient time to get a liver to a patient. Over 2,000 livers are discarded each year because they are damaged by oxygen deprivation, or are not preserved properly by cooling.

The OrganOx could preserve a functioning liver outside the body for up to 24 hours by maintaining the liver at body temperature, and circulating oxygenated red blood cells. The liver functions as it would inside the body, producing bile and giving extra time to surgeons to determine the best course of action for their patient. While the organ is connected to the machine, doctors may assess how fitting the organ will be before transplantation, thereby reducing the risks of the procedure.

Professor Nigel Heaton, consultant liver transplant surgeon and director of transplant surgery at Kings College hospital, considers the technology to be a “bona fide game changer for transplantation as we know it.”

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