The Week In Science: Crazy Ant Secret Weapon, Conflict Prediction Algorithm, Largest Solar Plant Starts Up

 @rpalmerscience on February 14 2014 12:02 PM
crazyant
N. pubens, aka the raspberry crazy ant or the tawny crazy ant Wikimedia Commons/Gotzek et al/PLOS ONE

This week in science, we learned that crocodiles can climb trees, pondered the likelihood of a Fukushima-like disaster happening in the U.S., and looked back on 50 years of Beatlemania in academia. But there’s still a lot more scientific news that broke this week! Here’s a roundup:

The “crazy ant” is a nightmare for people on the Gulf Coast: The insects invade homes in waves of millions, taking up lodging inside electronic devices and short-circuiting them, leaving piles of ant corpses wherever they go. Now, scientists think they’ve figured out one of the crazy ant’s key defense mechanisms against its main rival, the fire ant: a detoxifying substance that counteracts the fire ant’s venom. When a crazy ant is stung, it secrets the antidote to the venom and rubs it all over itself. [LiveScience]

Troubling news: Yearly mammograms for women between age 40 and age 59 do not appear to reduce the number of breast cancer deaths, even though they make diagnoses more likely. [Los Angeles Times]

Could New York City be self-sustaining one day? Maybe. One interesting analysis offers a picture of how the Big Apple could provide food for all of its residents every day, through widespread vertical farms. One small problem: energy. To light, heat and build all that infrastructure would require the energy output of about 25 nuclear power plants – which might not be music to the ears of green advocates. [Aeon]

This week was Charles Darwin’s 205th birthday! As luck would have it, this was also the week that a Tennessee entomologist officially rediscovered a beetle that Darwin collected more than 100 years ago. The specimen, once thought lost, has been dubbed Darwinilus sedarisi (the “sedarisi” part is to honor all the hours that the entomologist spent listening to David Sedaris audiobooks while he worked). [Christian Science Monitor]

The revolution might not be televised, but perhaps it can be predicted: A Duke University lab has developed an algorithm that guesses when uprisings will flare up in countries across the world. The lab’s conflict forecast is far from perfect, but it did predict the intensification of a Marxist insurgency in Paraguay. The ultimate goal of the conflict forecast isn’t to provide a crystal ball, though, but to test theories of geopolitics. [The Verge]

The world’s largest solar power plant – containing 300,000 7’ x 10’ mirrors that focus sunlight toward the tops of 459-foot towers – started running on Thursday. The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System sits near the border of California and Nevada, and is jointly owned by Google, NRG Energy and BrightSource Energy. At full capacity, the facility is expected to provide enough electricity for 140,000 California households and offset 400,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year – equivalent to taking 72,000 cars off the road. [Gizmodo]

An interesting meditation: How would humanity change if we discovered an alien civilization? [io9]

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