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National Academy of Sciences

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Original author: 
WIRED UK


Sunrise over a wheat field.

The Knowles Gallery

Researchers have managed to turn indigestible cellulose into starch, a process that could render billions of tons of agricultural waste into food and fuel.

Plants grow more than 160 billion tons of cellulose—the material that makes up the walls of plant cells—every year, but only a tiny fraction of that is useful to humans in the crops we grow. This is frustrating, as cellulose is made up of glucose chains that are almost, but not quite, the same as those that make up the starch that constitutes 20 to 40 percent of most peoples' daily calorie intake.

With the world's population forecast to reach nine billion by 2050, working out how to alter cellulose glucose into something more practical could be vital for preventing starvation. There's also an extra benefit in that some could be used for biofuels.

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Original author: 
Akshat Rathi

U Penn

In recent years, massive open online courses (MOOCs), through the likes of Coursera, have attracted hundreds of thousands of students from across the world. Many teachers are using a "flipped" classroom model, where students take lectures through videos at their convenience and spend the time in class delving into issues they don't understand.

But are they really improving learning? The evidence is not fully convincing. A 2010 meta-analysis of the literature on online teaching by the US Department of Education revealed that there are only "modest benefits" to online learning compared to classroom learning, but more rigorous studies were needed. After all, ease of access to the learning material comes with a bundle of distractions only a single click away. Not surprisingly, studies have shown that students suffer from attention lapses when learning through videos.

Given those findings, an improvement in students' attentiveness is bound to pay significant dividends. To that end, Karl Szpunar, a cognitive psychologist at Harvard University, might have a rather simple solution to rein in distractions, one that focuses attention in real-world classrooms: intersperse pop quizzes into the online lectures.

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