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Kolkata Friday, 18 May, 2018 - 06:27

The brain is an extremely delicate organ that, like a glass artefact, needs many layers to protect it from injury. Besides the skull, the brain has three protective tissue layers called meninges. They form a protective covering around the entire central nervous system, including the brain and the spinal cord, and help to regulate different functions of the brain. In a recent study, researchers from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Kolkata, have explored how viral infections like hepatitis affect the meninges. Their findings may hold clues to understand neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and dementia.

The central nervous system has three meninges; the tough outer dura mater, the middle, spider web-like arachnoid mater and the inner delicate pia mater. They act as a semipermeable barrier that separates the blood from the cerebrospinal fluid. Cells, particles and other large molecules pass through this through the help of proteins called connexins. The protein molecules bind together to form a channel, called a gap junction, between two meningeal cells and regulate the passage of particles to the brain when the meninges are inflamed due to infections.

In this study, published in the journal Molecular Neurobiology and conducted on mice models, the researchers infected mice with hepatitis virus that affects the meninges of the brain. “We have established a viral meningitis model by infecting meningeal cell cultures with mouse hepatitis virus to understand the effect of viral infection on gap junction communication in meningeal cells called fibroblasts”, say the authors. They then studied the role played by the connexin proteins in regulation of the gap junctions.

The researchers observed that due to the infection, the levels of connexin proteins were reduced in meningeal cells and hence the protein molecules clumped together to form aggregates instead of assembling to form a gap junction. Thus, in the absence of a gap junction, other particles cannot pass through the meninges, resulting in the inflammation of the meninges.

“The role of the connexin proteins in the blood-brain barrier is to oversee its functions and the passage of molecules through it. An increase in this permeability is a trademark of neurological disorders like multiple sclerosis and bacterial meningitis and neurotropic viruses like HIV, measles and Japanese encephalitis”, say the authors referring to the devastating effects caused by reduced levels of these proteins.

When the meninges are injured, meningeal cells and cells called astrocytes—star-shaped brain cells that transmit electrical impulses within the brain—form a membrane called the glial limitans. This membrane is necessary because it helps to restore the blood-brain barrier function and also to reestablish balance or homeostasis in the central nervous system.

This study, funded by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Scientific and Engineering Board (SERB), helps shed light on how neurological diseases affect the human brain by interfering with the gap junction pathways. By studying disease mechanisms on the meninges of a mouse model that is morphologically similar to a human, it is possible to understand neurological diseases better and come up with innovative treatment methods.

Section: General, Science, Health, News Source:
Assam Thursday, 17 May, 2018 - 13:53

Rice is the most widely consumed staple cereal in Asia and is the agricultural commodity with the third-highest worldwide production. Paddy fields are at the eye of a storm as they are a significant contributor of greenhouse gases (GHG) like methane that are known to contribute towards global warming. The warm, waterlogged soil conditions in rice fields promote the growth of microorganisms that release carbon-dioxide and transform it into methane. One way to manage this is by increasing the ability of the soil to store more organic carbon. A study by researchers at the Tezpur University, Assam, evaluates the effect of different carbon-rich fertilisers on methane emission and rice productivity.

Commonly used organic fertilisers like cow dung, green manure and rice husk contain materials in various stages of decay that adds to the soil carbon content. In fact, the global carbon content in the soil is so high today that it holds three times more carbon than the atmosphere. Thus, even a small change in soil management techniques (such as adding organic materials) has the potential to offset anthropogenic GHG emissions from rice production significantly.

In this study, the researchers have evaluated the additions of organic and inorganic fertilisers (usually a combination of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, commonly referred to as NPK) for their global warming potential, methane emission, soil carbon storage and crop productivity. The field study was conducted in the Tezpur University campus for two years  (2014 and 2015) during the monsoon season lasting between June and November each year. This study was published in the journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research and was funded by the Department of Science and Technology.

The researchers conducted their experiment with rice seedlings sown in five different plots. The first plot was applied a regular dose of conventional NPK-only fertiliser, and it served as a control against which others were measured. The other four plots were applied different organic materials—cow dung, green manure from a herbaceous plant called Sesbania aculeata, compost from an aquatic fern called Azolla caroliniana and rice husk. These organic compounds were added in addition to the inorganic NPK fertiliser.

The study observed that the plot with NPK and green manure had increased methane emissions as compared to the control plot with only NPK. The researchers also found that adding either cow dung or green manure increased methane emissions by 40-60%. However, the crop yield showed a reverse pattern; it increased significantly with the addition of organic fertilisers. The study found that the plot with Azolla compost had the highest increase in yield (27%), followed by the one with cow dung (23%), rice husk dust (17%) and green manure (11%).

The researchers also found that the plants grown with organic fertilisers had a significantly higher rate of photosynthesis than those grown with just NPK fertiliser. The carbon efficiency ratio (a ratio of carbon stored in the grain and the carbon emitted), which indicates the plant’s efficiency for storing carbon, was highest for the plot with Azolla compost and lowest for the one with green manure. The level of soil organic carbon was also higher in plots with organic additions.

The findings show that although methane emission increases with organic additions to soil, it boost crop yield. “A high carbon efficiency ratio and soil carbon storage capacity with the combination of NPK and Azolla compost is a high point of the present study”, say the authors. While organic additions increase the methane emissions, they also offset its impacts by improving carbon storage in crop and soil.

“Addition of farmer-friendly organics to inorganic fertilisers may be an easy and useful method to improve productivity in tropical regions such as north-east India, where inorganic fertiliser costs are high but organic materials are plentiful”, say the authors, talking about the implications of the study. Thus, picking a proper management technique that chooses the right kind of organic additions can prove to be a boon for rice production, rather than a bane due to its global warming emissions.

Section: General, Science, News Source:
Delhi Wednesday, 16 May, 2018 - 16:27

A new study by scientists from Technische Universität Braunschweig, Germany, University of Delhi, Delhi, India, Hiroshima University, Japan, Bangamata Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib, Bangladesh, Sorbonne Universités, France, and North-West University, South Africa has modified the classification of Asian frogs of the genus Fejervarya and related genera from the family Dicroglossidae.

Frogs from the genus Fejervarya commonly known as rice frogs or cricket frogs have been the subject of intensive debates in the past few years. With new species of Fejervarya increasingly being discovered and described, like the most recent one from Goa, stability in their classification is much needed.

The team of scientists complemented previous phylogenetic studies or studies of the evolutionary relationship among the different species, with their own study based on gene analyses. The team analysed  sequences of gene fragments, from 14 nuclear loci and mitochondria. In total, 12,752 nucleotides, which are the building blocks of nucleic acids,  for 46 species representing all major lineages and relevant outgroups were analyzed. Using several molecular and statistical methods the scientists have discovered that there are two clades or groups with a common ancestor, the South Asian clade and the Southeast Asian clade. The study also reveals the Southeast Asian species as closely related to the genus Sphaerotheca.

For their study, the scientists assembled and used the largest dataset of mitochondrial and nuclear gene sequences compiled to date for the purpose of elucidating evolutionary relationships of genus Fejervarya and the related genus Sphaerotheca.

Keeping in consideration that many new species of cricket frogs are being discovered, the single-genus classification (Fejervarya) remains controversial. In this study, the team classified the frogs from the family Dicroglossidae into two genera: Southeast Asian frogs as genus Fejervarya, and South Asian frogs as genus Minervarya. They suggest that this classification resulting in two genera whose monophyly-- descendancy from a common ancestor, is strongly supported, and are unlikely to be challenged by future analyses.

Talking about the debate on the subject,the scientists say “clearly, reaching a consensus on the generic classification of Fejervarya could generate disagreement and debate, requiring a justified resolution of what could become a complex taxonomic issue; we acknowledge that any solution will necessarily remain subjective.”

Given the previous discussions and debates regarding the classification of this genus Fejervarya the scientists prefer this new arrangement, that treats South Asian and Southeast Asian taxa each as a separate genus. “This is because, despite the clear ambiguity and anticipated remaining controversy, we feel that a bio-geographically sensible, regionally circumscribed arrangement has a higher probability of stabilizing the taxonomy of these frogs.” remark the authors of the study.

Section: General, Science, Ecology, News Source:
Manipal Wednesday, 16 May, 2018 - 07:19

The allopathic system of medicine that treats symptoms of diseases using drugs came into existence in the 19th century. Before that, traditional medicines were common in many Asian countries, including India. A common drawback of allopathic medications is their undesired side effects caused by the adverse reactions of specific drug compounds with parts of our body. This has now rekindled interests among scientists in many traditional forms of medicine which are known to have no side effects. In one such study, researchers from the Manipal Institute of Technology, Manipal, Karnataka, and Anna University, Chennai, have evaluated the anti-cancer properties of Pattu Karuppu, a traditional Siddha medicine.

The Siddha system of medicine has its origin in Tamil Nadu and is similar to Ayurveda where extracts of different plants are used to treat various diseases. Pattu Karuppu is a mercury-based Siddha medicine prepared by the combination of acidic and alkaline substances and is rich in mercuric sulphide (HgS). While mercury is well-known for its curative effects, sulphur neutralises the toxicity of the medicine and makes it more effective.

While Pattu Karuppu is used to treat pain during menstruation (dysmenorrhoea), the absence of menstrual cycle (amenorrhoea) and delirium, its anticancer properties have not yet been explored. In this study, for the first time, the researchers look into the physical and chemical properties of this formulation and evaluate its effects on healthy cells.

The researchers examined a sample of Pattu Karuppu under an electron microscope and found that it contains nanoparticles with an average size of 20-80 nanometers. These come together and form a ‘broccoli-like’ structure. A chemical analysis of the compound showed that it mainly contains carbon and oxygen, with traces of mercury, arsenic and sulphur. “The sample was found to have stable and spherical (porous) particles with size ranges between 20-80 nanometres. The negatively charged, nanosize and relatively high surface area of the particles were used to evaluate its biological action”, say the authors.

The researchers then tested different concentrations of the formulation on cell lines in labs. They observed that the formulation could inhibit the growth of cancerous cells. To determine the ‘safe’ concentrations of Pattu Karuppu,  they tested it on zebrafish. They observed that at high concentrations, the zebrafish developed problems with the rate of heartbeat (arrhythmias) and clotting of the blood cells in the heart. The results confirmed that a concentration of 100μg/ml was the safest, a finding that differentiates Pattu Karuppu from other toxic mercurials.

The study promises new hope for cancer patients whose life is bogged down by the side effects of radiation therapy and chemotherapy. As a next step, the authors plan to conduct similar studies on mouse models that could pave the way for effective anticancer drugs.

Section: General, Science, Health, News Source:
Mumbai Tuesday, 15 May, 2018 - 13:33

A team of researchers from University of Aberdeen, UK, Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, People’s Republic of China, and Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Mumbai have looked at the effects of availability of a smartphone based real time passenger information system on a passenger’s willingness to use public transport. Their studies reveal that although there was an initial excitement for the app, there were insufficient users required to scale up.

Smartphones and data usage are becoming quite ubiquitous in India, with around 300 million smartphones users in the country in 2017. This number is projected to grow by 50% by the year 2022. However, of the 650 million mobile users, less than half own a smartphone, and only around 66% of the population have access to internet services, but these numbers too are on the rise. Today, smartphones have become a multipurpose tool helping us connect, work, shop and travel. Could these multipurpose tools also be used to improve our public transport systems?

To answer this, the researchers developed the GetThereBus app for smartphones –a real time passenger information system (RTPI). RTPI provide real time information about the status of a local bus, like whether they are running on time, the number of passengers. “RTPI systems have been identified as having benefits in terms of passenger willingness to travel by public transport and their satisfaction levels with services provided. The lack of this amenity in rural areas, however, may hamper public transport use, thus reinforcing patterns of over-reliance on personal vehicles” claim the authors of the study.

The GetThereBus app, according to the authors, “aimed to address questions related to the impact of the limited availability of rural digital infrastructure on the provision of RTPI, the potential for crowdsourced information to supplement published timetable information, and the potential impacts of such a system on the traveler experience”

During the course of the study, the authors found that, although it was possible to design such an application with the limited infrastructure available at rural areas, the project could not be scaled up to cover wider areas. Although, initially, the users reported a positive response to the system, difficult to recruiting and motivating sufficient users to provide the data needed to achieve area-wide coverage proved to be difficult, despite campaigning for user engagement.

Although the study failed to achieve its goal of introducing an RTPI app over a wide area, there are important lessons it could teach. It can tell us about various factors that led to its failure, like rural usage of smartphones, measures needed to spread the usage, etc., and could become a useful guide for future studies.

Section: General, Science, Technology, Society, News Source:
Bengaluru Tuesday, 15 May, 2018 - 07:48

Mountains are harsh, hostile terrains where life does not come easy. But, there are a few plants and animals, including humans (think of the Sherpas of Nepal) that call these lofty peaks home, braving the biting cold! At such heights, oxygen—our essential requirement to live—is scarce too, resulting in hypoxia—a condition where body tissues are starved of oxygen. Hence, these plants and animals have evolved specific adaptations that help them thrive. For example, the Tibetans and Sherpas are bestowed with 'super athlete' gene, which regulates the production of haemoglobin to help them breathe in air that has reduced oxygen.

Birds in the mountains have a greater misery. They are prone to infections by various blood parasites that attack their blood cells, reduce the concentration of haemoglobin and the oxygen-carrying capacity of their blood. So how do they deal with such infections? A Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance funded new study by Dr. Farah Ishtiaq and her team from the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Sciences, Bengaluru, have explored answers to this vital question. The study was conducted on 18 species of passerine birds (birds belonging to the order Passeriformes) across seven elevations in the western Himalayas during the breeding season (April-May) and the non-breeding seasons (January- March).

The birds in the western Himalayas follow two migration strategies. A few of them stay in the higher elevations all year. The others, called ‘elevational migrants’, move to breeding grounds in higher elevations only during the summer and return to the plains during the harsh winter.  It is during this time that they are at a higher risk of contracting infections since the birds in the lowlands are loaded with blood parasites, which could compromise the capacity to regulate haemoglobin and cope with hypoxia.

“An earlier study on Himalayan birds showed that they modulate haemoglobin in the blood to increase its oxygen-carrying capacity. In this study, we wanted to understand how these birds deal with the increased demand for oxygen with decreased haemoglobin levels due to infections by parasites”, says Dr. Ishtiaq, talking about the motivation behind this study.

The researchers analysed the parasite DNA in bird blood samples of the 18 species to screen if parasites like Plasmodium, Haemoproteus and Leucocytozoon causing avian malaria were present in them. They also measured the haemoglobin and the percentage of red blood cells in the blood. “Each parasite has a specific vector group. For example, Plasmodium is transmitted by mosquitoes, Haemoproteus by biting midges (Culicoides), and black flies transmit Leucocytozoon. The sexual phase of the parasite takes place in the vector species, and the asexual phase happens in the birds”, explains Dr. Ishtiaq.

The study reveals that high intensity of these blood parasites destroy the red blood cells and reduce the amount of haemoglobin in the migrant birds. When a bird is infected with more than one type of the parasite, it could turn lethal. The researchers found that Leucocytozoon was present in most of the samples, with 40% prevalence, followed by Haemoproteus and Plasmodium. They also found that the probability of infection by Plasmodium was high in the plains and the risk of infection by Leucocytozoon increased with the height.

An interesting finding of the study was that the researchers observed an increased parasite load, a measure of the number and virulence of the parasites in a host, in the non-breeding (winter) season. “This is in stark contrast with previous studies conducted in temperate regions where the intensity of infection was reported to be higher during the breeding season. This contrast for Himalayan birds could be either due to cold weather or poor food availability,” explains Dr. Ishtiaq. They also observed that the intensity of infection decreased with elevation in the breeding season.

Measuring the parasite load is vital to evaluate the role of infections on host fitness and physiology, say the researchers. “Our finding brings a new perspective to disease ecology in high elevation environment where birds are infected with fewer or inactive blood parasite infections”, says Dr. Ishtiaq. “Previous studies have shown that high parasite load is correlated with high mortality rates in human malaria. It is quite possible that a heavy-load of blood parasite infections cause excessive damage to the red blood cells of the seasonal migrants, leading to anaemia, and our experimental result supports the same” she adds.

So, what does the future hold for these birds, considering climate change is affecting the Himalayan ecosystem? The future seems to bleak according to Dr. Ishtiaq. “Temperature plays an important role in regulating the transmission of parasites. With increasing global temperature, the range of mosquitoes and blood parasites might expand to higher elevations. Such a situation might exacerbate hypoxic stress experienced by high elevation birds,” she warns.

Section: General, Science, Ecology, Deep-dive Source:
Mumbai Monday, 14 May, 2018 - 16:19

Researchers from Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IITB), Mumbai and Indian Institute of Technology Indore (IITI), Indore have developed a novel technique to measure the ice thickness of inaccessible and data scarce glaciers.

Glaciers are slowly moving blocks of dense ice, and form the largest reservoir of fresh water on earth. Recently, news of glaciers melting all around the planet due to rising temperatures has given rise to fears of rising sea levels and floods. Countries are also trying to utilize the fresh water reservoir for their fresh water needs. The drought ridden South African town of Cape Town had suggestions to tow a glacier to town to satisfy the water needs. With glaciers playing such an important role with the geology of the planet and our basic resources, they have been an important topic of study for a long time. However, many glaciers, like the Chhota Shigri Glacier in the Himalayas, are quite inaccessible by conventional routes, leaving a gaping hole in the amount if data available about these places. To overcome this, scientist use computer models to estimate parameters like ice-thickness of such glaciers.

“Estimation of glacier ice-thickness distribution is important for many glacio-hydrological applications such as runoff projections, glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF) predictions, and future evolution of glaciers” explain the authors.

For their study, the researchers studied the ice-thickness distribution and total ice volume of the Chhota Shigri glacier. They used Glacier Bed Topography model version 2 (GlabTop 2), to generate the computer model of the glacier.

The challenge arises while selecting the input parameters, like shape factor, for the model. Shape factor is a non-measurable quantity, compensating for unaccounted effects such as valley shape, and needs to be calibrated using field measurements of ice-thickness. As field measurements of the Chhota Shigri Glacier weren’t viable, the researcher developed a novel approach to estimate the optimal shape factor for the glacier. Their technique utilizes relationship between shape factor, glacier cross-sectional width, and ice-thickness at the centre of a cross-section, to arrive at an optimal shape factor. Comparing their technique to a previous study, the new method showed a reduction of the error bounds of the ice-thickness measurements, indicating an improvement in the accuracy of the model.

The study has also revealed just improving the shape factor estimates or the resolution of Digital Elevation Model (DEM); a computer generated topography model, individually does not improve ice-thickness measurements.

Talking about the importance of their study, the researchers conclude saying “based on the obtained results, it can be said that the GlabTop2 model combined with the proposed parameterization approach has enormous potential to be applied over the wide range of data scarce Himalayan glaciers to quantify reliable ice-thickness estimates”.

Section: General, Science, News Source:
Kerala Monday, 14 May, 2018 - 08:33

The bamboos, world’s tallest grass, are evergreen flowering plants belonging to the family Poaceae. The shoots of the plant are widely used for the construction of houses and to produce paper and pulp. In some communities, the younger and tender shoots are consumed as food. A well-known phenomenon of this versatile plant is its flowering — a spectacular sight that is seen once in many years — after which the plant dies.

Although the flowering provides an abundant supply of bamboo fruits, it brings in uninvited guests — the rush of rats. What’s in the fruit that makes it a favourite among these rodents? A study primarily by researchers at the Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute (JNTBGRI), Kerala, tries to answer.

The researchers of the study, published in Nature Group’s Scientific Reports, have investigated the nutritional properties of the fruits belonging to the bamboo Melocanna baccifera, locally known as ‘Muli’. The research work was funded by the Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB), Department of Science and Technology, Government of India and the Plan Funded Research Programme of the Government of Kerala, India.

Muli bamboo is distributed across North East India, Nepal and Bangladesh and it flowers once in every 40-50 years. Its fruits are savoured by rodents, which feed on the grains from nearby agricultural fields post the bamboo fruiting season. In addition to the massive crop loss (which even led to famines in the past) that the rats cause, they rapidly multiply, leading to the outbreak of diseases.

“The bamboo clumps of Melocanna baccifera were introduced to JNTBGRI during 1988-1996, which flowered during 2009 to 2015 and produced attractive flowers and fruits. Since then, we have studied the nutritional aspects and the chemical compounds produced by this plant”, says Dr. Sabulal Baby, a senior scientist at JNTBGRI, in an interview with Research Matters. The current study tries to answer if the fruits of Melocanna baccifera are to be blamed for the devastation caused by the rats by conducting feeding experiments with the rats in the laboratory.

The researchers extracted, screened and identified the different compounds (phytochemicals) present in the fruits of the bamboo plant. The study revealed that they contain amino acids like lysine and glutamic acid among others, carbohydrates like glucose, fructose and sucrose, phenolic acids and about 15 types of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. The study also found potassium to be a significant mineral content in the fruits.

Which of these chemicals attracted the rats? The feeding experiments showed that rats like to eat the liquid present in the fruit (the sap) and the seed.  However, the rats could not live on the fruits alone since the experiments showed that those rats that were fed only with the fruit eventually died of insufficient energy and hypoglycemia. This result also disproves the common belief that the proteins in the fruits drove the rapid multiplication of rats.

“We found only a minimal amount of protein in M. baccifera fruits. But, previous studies had reported that the fruits are protein-rich and cited this as a reason for the multiplication of rats. We believe that the phytochemicals in the fruits are the reason for the rats’ liking for the fruit. We have definite clues and are further working on this hypothesis”, says Dr Sabulal about the findings of the study.

Another study by the reseachers found that the fruits have a high nutritional and medicinal value with rich antioxidant properties. The fruit alone is not a complete food, but when supplemented with proteins, they are valuable food additives. When consumed as a part of the regular diet, the fruit is known to prevent colon cancer, protect the body against stroke, ensure proper functioning of the cells, maintain electrolyte balance, and lower cholesterol levels.

The researchers believe that the results could potentially help in preventing and managing rodent outbreaks in areas where the bamboo is grown. Also, it can address other ecological and social problems associated with the flowering of M. baccifera like famines and disease outbreaks.

“Recent flowering of M. baccifera from 2004-‘08 occurred in 1.76 million hectares* of geographical area in the North East Indian states of Mizoram, Tripura, Manipur, Meghalaya and Assam. It resulted in the flowering and death of about 26 metric tons* of Muli bamboo. Data on the nutritional value of fruits could enhance their use by humans, and in turn, reduce its availability to rodents”, says Dr Sabulal.

*Jeeva, S.; Kiruba, S.; Lalhruaitluanga, H.; Prasad, M. N. V.; Rao, R. R. Flowering of Melocanna baccifera (Bambusaceae) in northeastern India. Current Science 96, 1165-1166 (2009).

Section: General, Science, Ecology, Deep-dive Source:
Bengaluru Saturday, 12 May, 2018 - 10:00

World Migratory Bird Day is an annual awareness-raising campaign highlighting the need for the conservation of migratory birds and their habitats. It is observed on 2nd Saturday in May and October! It is a global awareness-raising campaign to conserve Migratory Birds.

Section: General, Science, Ecology, News, Infographics, Events Source:
Mumbai Friday, 11 May, 2018 - 16:19

In a recent study, a team of researchers from Purdue University, USA, Northrop Grumman, USA, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Mumbai, India, and University of Florida, USA have studied the effect of using computer-aided design (CAD) simulations on teaching engineering design thinking to students.

Engineering design thinking is the strategies used to design solutions to an engineering problem. It often involves creative approaches to a problem to design an effective and economically viable solution. Unlike analytical thinking that is based in numbers and statistics, design thinking involves creative and practical resolutions to problems. The phrase “thinking outside the box” was coined to describe the process of design thinking. However, training students to think creatively about a problem can be a challenging task. According to the authors of the study “engineering design thinking is hard to teach and still harder to learn by novices, primarily due to the undetermined nature of engineering problems that often results in multiple solutions”.

The arrival of the digital age has brought in tools like CAD that have immensely aided engineers during the process of design thinking. With smartphones becoming commonplace, and the processing power of the computers continuing to rise, tools like CAD could soon become accessible to college students too. The researchers wanted to study the effects of using a tool like CAD simulations on learning design thinking.

For their study, the researchers used CAD simulation software to teach freshman students. The students interacted with the CAD simulation software in the context of a collaborative assignment, while the researchers characterized the different levels of design thinking displayed by the students.

The researchers have identified a framework with four different levels engineering design thinking -- beginning designer, adept beginning designer, informed designer, adept informed designer. The study further characteristics associated with each of the four levels. “The four levels pertain to four engineering strategies that the students pursued-- understanding the design challenge, building knowledge, weighing options and making tradeoffs, and reflecting on the process” claim the researchers. The study also revealed significant improvements in two categories-- understanding the design challenge, building knowledge, among students who interacted with the CAD software.

The study highlights the importance of using CAD software in the classrooms. It could also help us design better classrooms to teach the process of design thinking, equipped with the right tools and the right learning environment.

Section: General, Science, Engineering, News Source: