Research Picks – June 2017

Digital forensic first

Cybercriminals, hackers and others with malicious intent in the digital world often create temporary accounts on websites, social media, email, and other systems. Once they have completed their nefarious activities, they might delete the account and assume no trace remains for any subsequent criminal investigations. However, the emerging science of digital forensics now has a new tool for analyzing seized computer equipment that can patch together details of such deleted accounts from computer event logs, registry hives, deleted file traces on hard drives and in the case of a computer that has not been powered down, even the random access memory (RAM), hibernation files and virtual memory.

Al-Saleh, M.I. and Al-Shamaileh, M.J. (2017) ‘Forensic artefacts associated with intentionally deleted user accounts’, Int. J. Electronic Security and Digital Forensics, Vol. 9, No. 2, pp.167–179.

What a waste

Waste lubricating oil from vehicles is an important component of automotive waste, toxic and highly polluting regional, national and international laws are in place to ensure its safe processing and disposal. One of the major problems of spent lubricating oil collected from automotive mechanics and other vehicle maintenance businesses is that not only is the organic component noxious, but metal ions accumulate in use. Regulators can easily use chemical analysis to determine what metals are commonly present in waste oils before they are further processed or disposed of, including calcium, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, and zinc, for instance. Standard waste oil processing technology available in the developing world can produce a material that is efficient and within safety limits.

Habibu, U. (2017) ‘Recycling and characterisation of spent lubricating oil’, Int. J. Environment and Waste Management, Vol. 19, No. 2, pp.181–190.

Low mercurial risk

Despite tabloid media stories, some environmental risks are not as great as activists and scaremongers would have us believe. A positive story from Australia reveals that although anthropogenic mercury is present in the environment it is not accumulating on east coast beaches (Newcastle and Sydney) where people often enjoy their leisure time at levels considered harmful or risky to growing children. Even those beaches in close proximity to waste mercury sources were well below daily risk levels, according to a new study.

Macsween, K., Tang, C., Edwards, G.C., Gan, T., Tran, S., Geremia, S., Campbell, J. and Howard, D. (2017) ‘Sampling of total mercury in sand on Sydney beaches and assessment of risk of exposure to children’, Int. J. Environment and Health, Vol. 8, No. 2, pp.120–138.

Fractal Mondrian

Dutch artist Piet Mondrian was a contributor to the De Stijl art movement and developed his own unique non-representational form which he called neoplasticism. Intriguingly, two of his paintings seem to have a fractal dimension to the trees represented in those paintings, according to a new analysis. Given that theory of fractals in nature is a relatively new topic, pre-dating Mondrian’s art by a century or so, it is interesting that he should have homed in on this natural order in his work. The finding supports the hypothesis that the beauty which exists in fractals may influence artists consciously or subconsciously. The two paintings in question are “The Red Tree” (1910) and “Farm near Duivendrecht” (1916). The research also looks at the fractal nature of Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings of the 1940s, although their structure is generated by an entirely different artistic technique.

Bountis, T., Fokas, A.S. and Psarakis, E.Z. (2017) ‘Fractal analysis of tree paintings by Piet Mondrian (1872–1944)’, Int. J. Arts and Technology, Vol. 10, No. 1, pp.27–42.

Author: David Bradley

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