The life & times of an HVAC Engineer

For the first time in their lives, there are people all across the globe right now who can tell you about mine engineering, thanks to the wonderous work of Andre Sougarret, who was the engineering brains behind the recent rescue of 33 trapped miners in Chile. There are now people with no engineering or geology background who can tell you about the need for a pilot hole to be bored before a shaft can be widened, about the need to use metal linings to the shaft to prevent collapse, about the need for ventilation shaft and about how different drills operate. They can probably also tell you in great detail about the Phoenix rescue capsule that was designed by NASA, and about the winch & pulley systems that pulled it quickly and reliably up the rescue shaft so many times.

I think that this is a rather fantastic side effect of what could have been a terrible disaster. Engineering came to the rescue, was the top storey in the media for a few weeks and has saved the lives of all 33 miners. But why does it take something that could have been a real tragedy to get people to realise than engineering is both essential and exciting?

Image from MBARI via New Scientist

After the last miner had safely escaped captivity, and the media storm had already started to die down I settled down to a bit of TV last night. I watched one my favourite programmes on currently – Inside Natures Giants, last Thursday was the Giant Squid. One of the bits of the program I enjoyed the most were those filmed in the deep ocean, many from more than 500m below the surface where the pressure is 50 times that on land. No human could survive at that kind of depth, even most submarines cannot without an expensive and short lived titanium hull. These images were instead filmed by Remote Operated Underwater Vehicles (ROVs) which engineers and scientists have designed and built to film underwater an immense pressures, to relay images back so they know what they’re filming, and to receive remote instructions for movement. Personally I think this is an incredible achievement and I find it very exciting being able to see into a world that would otherwise be totally inaccessible to me.

So at the moment I am relieved and pleased by the achievements of mining and space engineers who saved the lives of the miners in Chile, and I’m also feeling very appreciative of the efforts of the engineers who designed the ROVs. Next time I’m reading a news article or I’m slumped in front of the TV I shall certainly be keeping an eye out for the engineering behind the scenes: I don’t want there to have to be another disaster before I know about the engineers who are working hard on things I didn’t even realise existed!


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