The Week In Science: Irish Snails, Diaper Scare Tactics And Desktop Particle Accelerators

 @rpalmerscience
on June 22 2013 9:28 AM

This week in science coverage, we explored a solar-powered boat, delved into a new powerful three-dimensional model of the human brain, and learned about the secret to a naked mole rat’s cancer resistance. But a lot of other discoveries and research happened this week as well! While you’re recuperating from your summer solstice celebration, take a gander at this roundup of what we missed:

Mexico’s national anthropology institute announced the discovery of Chactun, a previously unknown ancient Mayan city that covers 54 acres. Chactun, which means “red stone,” seems to have been an important seat of government sometime between 600 and 900 AD. Archaeologists uncovered pyramidal structures, playing courts, plazas, monuments and the remains of a palace. [Discover]

What do snails have to do with the history of ancient Ireland? A lot, it turns out. When scientists peered into the genome of Irish snails, they found that Ireland’s gastropods share genes with snails on the Iberian peninsula that are not found in British snails. That suggests the snails hitched a ride with some of Ireland's earliest human colonists, who are thought to have come from Southern Europe 8,000 years ago. [Christian Science Monitor]

See how green your local valley is with a new map of Earth, created by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, that focuses on the planet’s vegetation. The map was made with satellite measurements of reflected visible and infra red light. Where the planet's plant cover is lush, photosynthesis consumes most of the visible light, so reflections into space are mostly in the infrared. In more barren deserts, both visible and infrared light bounces back to the satellite. [CNet]

Selling products to parents by implying that alternatives are unsafe is probably as old as procreation. Now one eco-friendly diaper company may have overreached in touting the dangers of traditional diapers. One writer examines the most common health scare claims associated with brands like Pampers and Huggies and finds the evidence lacking. [Slate]

Can the growth of a city be described with math? In a new paper published in the journal Science, a group of researchers tries to resolve the different ways that cities grow, by the numbers. It’s a complex concept, since a city is a network of social networks tied to physical infrastructure. According to this model, a city functions more like a star, fusing people together, than like an organism or a machine. [Wired]

Usually, accelerating subatomic particles requires a machine the size of a football field. But now University of Texas at Austin physicists have created a particle accelerator that can fit on a tabletop. Scientists envision a day when laboratories across the country could have their own compact particle accelerators as standard equipment, making it easier to probe the quantum realms. [UTexas press release]

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