How Math Helped Rescue Miners in Chile
Caldwell College professor says the next time your children ask, "When am I ever going to use math in the real world?", you can remind them about the miners.
As I was watching the events unfold with the rescue of the miners in Chile, I was amazed and transformed by the wonder and miracle of high and low technology.
As a mathematics college professor at Caldwell College, I took great pride in seeing how the world of mathematics joined the best and the brightest talent to offer a united effort of hope and trust in mankind.
When you were sitting in a math class as a student, did you wonder when you would ever use it? I'm sure those rescue workers as young children in math classes never thought they would use math to help save the lives of 33 trapped miners.
Mathematics is a universal language and on Oct. 13, 2010, it did a fantastic job!
The common denominator of that rescue that the world watched was mathematics and science. NASA was instrumental in the design of the capsule using simple machines of pulleys, axles, incline planes, plus retractable wheels placed on the capsule to smooth the ride up the shaft.
The high technology of cameras, heart monitors and proper diet for the assent were all integral parts of the rescue. All of this allowed outsiders to see the miners and families and rescue workers to communicate with them, providing hope and comfort through very difficult times.
Many countries around the world offered assistance and they were not blocked by a language barrier because they used the universal language of mathematics. No matter where you are in the world you will always understand the mathematics that is being used.
Imagine the world communication that was involved in this rescue.
As I watched the rescue and heard about the ordeals the trapped men had experienced over 69 days, I couldn't help but think that it would have been amazing to have one of the astronauts who are currently in space–including West Orange native Scott Kelly–and knows about isolation and being very far from home, advise and speak directly to the miners. It would have been a first time event of the longest distance phone call and shown even more of what we can do with communications and mathematics.
Through this journey, people united by using the universal knowledge of mathematics and technology to save the lives of their fellow mankind, by working together in a peaceful, sharing, loving and respectful way .
So next time a student or a young person asks you how they can ever use math "in the real world," make sure you tell them a story about how rescue workers from different parts of the world came together using math and science and gave 33 men and their families a new lease on life.
Joan Burke, Ed.D., a resident of West Orange, is the Chair of the Department of Mathematics at Caldwell College.