Research Picks March 2017

Take a brake

Researchers in China have investigated one of the oldest annoyances associated with driving a car – brake squeal. Where research have investigated this phenomenon since the 1930s with no real sign of a cure for the howling that sometimes occurs as brake pads clamp around a brake disk, the team has looked at how the shape of the brake pads can affect the oscillation frequency. The team has demonstrated that “slotting” of brake pads often offered as a solution does little to reduce the noise whereas changing the overall shape systematically could eventually lead to a new design that precludes the worrying howl. Of course, the next step will be rigours safety checks of any new designs and regulatory approval before car manufacturers are able to offer silent braking as an option.

Guan, D.H., Du, Y.C. and Wang, X.F. (2016) ‘Effect of pad shapes on high-frequency disc brake squeal’, Int. J. Vehicle Design, Vol. 72, No. 4, pp.354-371.

What is clean energy?

The term “clean energy” is bandied about by corporate marketers and politicians alike as well as environmental activists. Researchers in France have now asked what exactly we mean by this buzz phrase, which can have different connotations for different people. The team has analysed speeches made by President Obama over the last several years in which he comments on “clean energy” and compares those mentions with the phrase in the context of French language newspaper articles across Europe. Fundamentally, in English the adjective “clean” as it is used in “clean energy” tends to refer to the restriction of emissions and an attempt to limit air pollution and so might include solar and wind power as well as what many see as an oxymoron “clean coal”. In contrast, the French equivalent “√©nergie propre” is a more ambiguous phrase where “propre” entirely precludes the notion of “clean coal” or other high-carbon and thence polluting technologies regardless of whether or not the fuel is treated to reduce pollution or scrubbers are used to reduce carbon or noxious emissions in exhaust fumes.

La Corte, G. (2016) ‘What does ‘clean energy’ refer to?‘, Progress in Industrial Ecology – An International Journal, Vol. 10, Nos. 2/3, pp.117-138.

The rise of Android malware

Android is a common and well-known operating system on mobile computing devices, tablet PCs, smart phones, smart televisions and other internet-enabled equipment. As such, it is a significant target for those who write malicious software to exploit security loopholes in such operating systems, whether or not they have malicious or criminal intent in so doing. Researchers in India suggest that there are at least 6 million malware programs that can infect and afflict Android devices. The team has surveyed the various types of Android malware and have made a series of suggestions as to how the dozens of device manufacturers and hundreds of millions of users alike might protect themselves from malware.

Dayal, M. and Nagpal, B. (2016) ‘A compendious investigation of Android malware family‘, Int. J. Information Privacy, Security and Integrity, Vol. 2, No. 4, pp.330-352.

Throwing in the towel

Research from Bangladesh has investigated towel re-use in hotels, the perception of guests on this issue and the notion of sustainability. Hotel guests generally have positive perceptions regarding towel re-use assuming that fewer towels used during their stay, means less washing and so lower environmental impact. There are also benefits in terms of lower costs and perhaps even less back pain for hotel servicing staff. However, the perceptions were not universal, some hotel guests perhaps recognising that their flight or other transport to the hotel for their vacation or business trip significantly outweighed any environmental benefit of using the same towels for the duration of their stay.

Islam, M.M. (2016) ‘Perceptions of the hotel guests on the sustainability of towel re-use‘, Int. J. Hospitality and Event Management, Vol. 1, No. 4, pp.305-324.

Author: David Bradley

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