Scientists are basically just messing about killing time


If there’s one thing that humans can be proud of, it is the great and inspired multitude of ways in which we have developed methods of wasting time.

Curtis Cooper, for example, at the University of Central Missouri, has enlisted a huge computer network to find what is thought to be the largest prime number yet identified. The 17-million digit number can only be divided by itself and by one. Good old Curtis, who wasted countless networked computers’ processing power on this project, was cheerful about this awesome feat.

“I don’t know of any practical application of the fact that this number is prime,” he told Today. Awesome.

Nonetheless, we’re hardly surprised, given that the New York times this week ran a story about Stony Brook University anatomist Maureen O’Leary, who’s spent the last six years studying the mammal family tree. Said story highlights that many mammalian species, including humans, ultimately descended from Protungulatum donnae – a kind of rat-like creature that existed tens of millions of years ago. Explains why we’re obsessed with cheese, I spose. And some of Weekender’s friends’ actions, but we digress.

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Professor Yadvinder Malhi of the University of Oxford weighs in with a doozy: droughts in rainforests are, like, bad. The heroic researcher somehow managed to get this research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We could see areas of forests turning into dry, fire-prone scrub,” said the professor. We want his job. He’s now going on to attempt to prove that water is wet and politicians are all untrustworthy chancers. Amazing stuff.

Oh, and Kenneth Cantina at Vanderbilt University has recently completed a paper that brings us the very useful news that moles can smell in stereo. Cosmic stuff, Ken. Is there a full moon just for scientists at the moment? Where does this stuff come from?

But just when we thought all hope is lost, along comes Nathan Magarvey and his team from McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada. They’ve found out that Delftia acidovorans, a micro-organism, can turn toxic gold – water-soluble – into actual nuggets of real gold. It’s a kind of defence mechanism that transforms the poisonous micro gold ions into solid particles. We take it all back. Humans are awesome.

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