Believe it or not, two years ago, a class of UCLA undergrads pretty accurately predicted the location where Osama Bin Laden was hiding out.
The students, working under UCLA geography professors Thomas Gillespie and John Agnew, created a probabilistic model that, as Science Insider reports, said there was "an 88.9% chance that bin Laden was hiding out in a city less than 300 km from his last known location in Tora Bora: a region that included Abbottabad, Pakistan."
Here's the kicker, though. Gillespie's focus isn't national security or intelligence. He works on ecosystems, and sometimes needs to find where endangered species live using satellite images and remote sensing. He introduced the Bin Laden search as an exercise so his students could practice these techniques. The students used a geographical theory called "island biogeography" to home in on what turned out to be Bin Laden's real hideout.
Now that his work is being celebrated by the intelligence community, will Gillespie be working with the FBI to track down more of our most wanted? Nope. "Right now, I’m working on the dry forests of Hawaii where 45% of the trees are on the endangered species list. I’m far more interested in getting trees off the endangered species list."
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