Nothing illustrates better the incredibly important role of science in our world than the amazing rescue that took place in Chile these past few days. It highlights how everything we do in this world has to do with science.
Let’s begin with the reason we mine in Chile in the first place. It has the largest deposits of copper and a few other rare earths in the world. Our mandate for computers, electricity and power all require large amounts of copper and other metals. Unfortunately Chile and its ore deposits are also at the convergence of the Nazca and South American plates which are grinding into each other. This, of course, gives rise to the Andes, the second highest mountain range in the world, and the many earthquakes and volcanoes that can be found there.
Money, however, is a powerful motivator, and in spite of how dangerous plate tectonics makes mining, there are many mining companies trying to fulfill the need, or perhaps greed of our society. Every year 30-40 miners in Chile, out of a total of 10,000 lose their lives trying to bring the Earth’s commodities to the surface. Think of how 30-40 deaths each year in Truro would be viewed over something that we had control over and you get some perspective of the danger.
The miners were trapped because of two cave-ins caused by the instability in the rock a couple of hundred metres above their mining position. A tremor sealed them in what was thought to be their tomb. No one gave them any hope in the early days after the cave-in. But as it turns out, they had the time to get to a safe area though they were cut off and sealed in. Now the amazing part begins.
Giant drills, using a combination percussion hammer and grinding, vacuuming techniques, drill a straight line hole into the metamorphic rock from the surface to the miners’ positions with absolute pinpoint accuracy. Moving at a rate of a few tens of metres a day, the drill cut the almost one kilometre long hole. It is 29 inches wide and fitted with a steel cage which is lowered into the tunnel and plucks each and every miner from their would be tomb.
Every step of the way, from the very beginning of the mine to the ultimate rescue, science and its kin, technology, have played a crucial role.
Now that the miners are safely on the surface, medical science, psychology and statists will take over from mining, earthquakes and drilling. Some slowly, others more quickly will add to the sum knowledge of science. We will learn, and add this science knowledge to our data banks, waiting to be applied to the next would be disaster. Until then, I revel in the safe return of all 33 miners and give thanks to science.
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