Two weeks ago, a devastating earthquake struck Nepal near Mount Everest. In the ensuing chaos, more than eight thousand people lost their lives. The magnitude 7.8 quake hit on April 25th, 2015. Today (May 12, 2016), another quake rumbled through the region, claiming even more lives. At the time of reporting, over 60 people have been killed and thousands more injured as a result of today’s events. Scientists monitoring the seismic activity say that today’s quake was slightly less forceful than what was seen just a few weeks ago, but only slightly so, measuring in at 7.3
Ultimately, this is the largest aftershock that the region has felt in recent weeks.
The earthquake took place approximately 50 miles (80 km) to the east-northeast of the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu. Scientists assert that the quake was caused by the India plate, which is converging with Eurasia at a rate of 1.7 inches a year (45 mm/yr). Interestingly, it is this convergence that is driving the increased height of the a Himalayan mountain range; however, the uplift is rather small, at just 0.7 inches a year (18 mm/yr).
The BBC’s Yogita Limaye, who was in Nepal’s mountains when the latest earthquake struck, said: “The earth shook and it shook for a pretty long time. I can completely understand the sense of panic. We have been seeing tremors – it’s been two-and-a-half weeks since the first quake. But this one really felt like it went on for a really long time. People have been terrified.”
However, there is some happy news.
Several years ago, NASA and Department of Homeland Secutiry launched a portable radar unit that was based on the same technology that we use for space exploration. Except that, instead of monitoring space, this device would monitor human lives. The radar unit was designed to find people who had been buried under rubble. It seems like something out of a science fiction novel, an interesting but superfluous device that doesn’t have any real practical applications. After all, there must be other, more viable ways to search for victims(?).
Well, in the first real-world demonstration of its use, the device helped save the lives of 4 men trapped as a result of the earthquake.
At the heart of the device is a system that bounces microwaves around in order to see beneath structures. Ultimately, the device is so sensitive, it can discern faint heartbeats and even the breaths of people buried under several feet of rubble. The device located two buildings that had the signals of life. Each structure had two men inside who been trapped for days, buried under as much as 10 feet (3 meters) of rubble.
“The true test of any technology is how well it works in a real-life operational setting,” said DHS Under Secretary for Science and Technology Dr. Reginald Brothers. “Of course, no one wants disasters to occur, but tools like this are designed to help when our worst nightmares do happen. I am proud that we were able to provide the tools to help rescue these four men.”
But perhaps there is something a little more to take from this event. This past week, the government proposed (along very distinct party lines) to cut NASA’s Earth Science budget by $56 million and its education budget by $28 million (a decrease of nearly 24%).
Technology saves lives. We know this. But here’s the thing: You can only have this technology if you invest in creating a generation of intelligent, capable citizens who have received all the befits that an education in the sciences has to offer. And even then, you can only have the technology if you invest in the programs that are going to put it to use.
It’s no secret that there is an issue with education in the United States. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), of the 34 countries assessed for Mathematics, the United States came in dead last (just below Israel and Hungary). The U.S. was below average in all other categories as well, including Reading and Science. According to the findings, “Students in the United States have particular weaknesses in performing mathematics tasks with higher cognitive demand….Just over one-quarter (26%) of 15-year-olds in the United States do not reach the PISA baseline of mathematics proficiency, at which level students begin to demonstrate the skills that will enable them to participate effectively and productively in life.”
That’s 26%. Over a quarter of American youths that are not able to become informed and productive members of society.
Is this really the time to be cutting such funding?