Saturday, September 4, 2010

I'm Too Pretty to do Math (or too stupid)

(Over the last few days I've been closely following the mine disaster in Chile.  If you haven't heard much about it, here's a quick recap. Following a massive mine cave-in, thirty-three miners were trapped in a small "room" underground.  They were discovered to be alive after workers at the surface drilled through to them on day eighteen.  Now they have to get them out.  They are drilling a hole 60cm wide and 700 meters deep through incredibly hard rock as an escape passage for the miners. It's going to take months.)

Last night I had the most brilliant post idea.  Calculate the volume of rock Chilean workers will have to remove from the 700 meter long hole they're digging to rescue the miners.  Put it into a perspective that people can comprehend, and then maybe it will be easier to understand why this process is going to take so long.  Another blogger I follow compared the depth of the hole to the height of some famous buildings.  But I bet nobody's thought of my idea!

Excellent.  I get out my calculator.

1.  Calculate volume.  Easy.  I was working on volume with one of my students at work today.  I feel pretty confident.  I'm going to calculate it in cm (cubed).
  • Pi * radius(squared) * height
  • 3.14 * 60cm (squared) * 700meters
  • 3.14*900cm*70000cm
  • = 197820000cm(cubed)
Wow.  That's a lot of centimeters.  But it will be easier to convert it into something more substantial.  Like meters(cubed).  We all know there are 100 centimeters in a meter, so....
  • 197820000/100 = 1978200m(cubed)
That's 1,978,200 meters (cubed).  No wonder it's going to take them so long to dig out that amount of rock.  It's insane - I can't even comprehend that amount.  I'm pretty excited now, because this is going to make a kick-ass post.  Maybe even CNN or the BBC will link to me. 

So, I go on to the internet to see if I can relate this amount to something.  I google "cubic meter facts" and come up with some startling information.
  1. The volume of water that runs over Niagara Falls every minute is 168000 cubic meters.  It would take 11.7 minutes to equal the amount in cubic meters that these guys have to remove from the mine shaft. 
  2. The interior volume of a Boeing 747 is 876 cubed meters.  A few quick calculations and here we go.  This is the equivalent in volume of 2258 Boeing 747's.  This story is getting better by the minute.
  3. The Hoover Dam contains 3.4 million cubic meters of concrete.  The Hoover Dam!  These guys have to remove just over half that amount.
I'm really onto something here.  I wonder about these Chileans.  They must be some hard-working people.  Imagine the scope of a project like this - it boggles the mind.  Imagine shifting the equivalent of 2258 Boeing 747's in a month!  Hats off to them.

But then I have this slight inkling that something isn't quite right.  Almost 2 million cubic meters of rock is an awful lot to come out of a shaft that's 700 meters deep.  I'm quite confident in my math skills, but decide to double check before submitting my findings to CNN.

Did I say 100 centimeters in a meter?  Perhaps something wonky happens when you're dealing with cubic meters.  I'll check.  I google for a volume conversion chart. 


I have to divide by 1000000 not 100.  Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.  Oh well, maybe the number is still impressive and all is not lost.
  • 197820000/1000000 = (drum roll)  197.8 cubic meters.
What?!!!  198 cubic meters? I'm pretty sure I moved that amount of topsoil in my backyard last weekend.

Suddenly my dreams of being discovered by a major news network come crashing down.  The volume amounts to about 50 of these.

Super boring.  What's taking those guys so long?

Until next time...take care,


  1. You are hilarious! I'm laughing so hard right now. But I must say that your skills are still better than mine, I wouldn't have even tried to go there!

  2. Thanks Kristin! (Although it's kind of scary that I actually teach this stuff for a living :)