A prime number discovery was made in the unlikeliest of places: on a church computer in a Memphis suburb. The background software running on the computer unearthed a rare kind of prime number called a Mersenne prime. It was the 50th and largest one to be found, containing more than 23 million digits. But for this behemoth to come to light, someone had to have installed free software used to search for Mersenne prime numbers, and that someone is Jon Pace, a deacon, FedEx finance manager and math aficionado who had spent 14 years hunting for such a number. Pace’s discovery is 23,249,425 digits, nearly 1 million digits larger than the previous record-holder. A prime number is not divisible by any positive integer except 1 and itself.

Putting elephants’ fear of bees to use

Elephants are afraid of bees. The largest animal on land is so terrified of a tiny insect that it will flap its ears, stir up dust and make noises when it hears the buzz of a beehive. A bee’s stinger can’t penetrate the thick hide of an elephant. But when bees swarm — and African bees swarm aggressively — hundreds of bees might sting an elephant in its most sensitive areas, the trunk, mouth and eyes. And the threat of bees is so intensely felt by elephants that conservationists are using it to help prevent the kinds of conflict that put the behemoths at risk. The endangered animals have sometimes been shot by farmers trying to save their crops from elephants foraging at night for late-night snacks, or by poachers allowed access to help guard the fields. Now there’s a new weapon in the arsenal. In recent years, advocates have persuaded farmers to use the elephant’s fear of bees as a potential fence line to protect crops. By stringing beehives every 20 meters a team of researchers in Africa has shown that they can keep 80 percent of elephants away from farmland.

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