The urgent need to optimize resources on a planet where the population and consumption are growing exponentially is driving quite a few scientists to investigate areas such as the quest for new foods. Well aware of these needs, the 2016 Ignacio H. de Larramendi research grants set aside a portion of their resources to projects of this type, without overlooking other projects equally necessary in our daily lives, such as those related to road safety.
Text: JUAN RAMÓN GÓMEZ Image: THINKSTOCK
Hidden food sources in the sea
Developing new wholesome, healthy, sustainable foodstuffs may prove critical for the future of humanity. The Food Research & Innovation group at the Food Technology Department of the Polytechnic University of Valencia has been working for some time with different ingredients they call “superfoods”, such as quinoa, chia and insect-based flour. To overcome the phobias of consumers regarding new products, they integrate them into readily identifiable formats.
In this context, and in view of the increasing use of microalgae in diets, they decided to apply them to products such as doughnuts and other mealy products. Thus began new research supported by Fundación MAPFRE designed to take advantage of “the remarkable potential and wide variety of applications these microorganisms may have in such diverse sectors as bioenergy, food, pharmaceutical and biomedicine,” explains professor Javier Martínez Monzó. “The potential of microalgae in the human diet was possibly one of the key factors in warranting this grant, since dealing with the production of food in sufficient – and, above all, sustainable – quantities is one of the greatest challenges facing our society,” he adds.
The group is already testing several products and it is most likely that some may already be put on the market next year, “although, in the food sector, launching a new product is not an easy task,” Martínez complains. “People really don’t appreciate what it costs to produce food. We readily spend hundreds of euros on technology, yet count every cent when we buy food.”
Safer crossings for pedestrians
“Crossing a street represent the greatest obstacle for pedestrians in the city and is when they are most at risk of being run over,” explains Dr. Ruth Pérez López who, together with Jorge Montejano, coordinates the Jorge L. Tamayo Geography and Geomatics Research Center. For this reason, they proposed installing “a Pedestrian Crosswalk Safety Index (ISCP) score above the intersections of the main thoroughfares in Mexico, so as to reduce the accident rate and improve the conditions for crossing there.” This index lays down the minimum criteria to be taken into account when designing a crosswalk, with a view to ensuring quality pedestrian environments that allow for safe, efficient, comfortable walking.
Supported by Fundación MAPFRE, the project was created to deal with the high traffic accident rate in Mexico, which, according to Dr. Pérez, is “the leading cause of death among children aged 5-14, and the second in the 15-29 age group.” An anthropologist with expertise in non motorized mobility issues, she began her research into pedestrian behavior at crossings in 2014. One year later, she was joined by the urban planner Jorge Montejano and the architect Yazmín Viramontes, and today she has an extensive, multidisciplinary team.
At present, employing various methods that include computer programming tasks, they have extracted a sample of 500 crossing points from the databases on people run over in Mexico City. Classifying them into three categories will facilitate the collection of field data. Several teams took charge of evaluating the crosswalks over seven weeks, starting at the end of July. Fruit of their work will be the ISCP, which “aims to become a useful instrument for public authorities, enabling them to both assess the quality of the pedestrian crosswalks and identify aspects of them which should be targeted as a priority.”
For 2018, the group expects to have achieved the goal of reducing traffic-related deaths by 35 percent.