Monday, April 06, 2015

It’s da bomb detector

There was an interesting article in The Boston Globe last week about a company in Somerville – of all places – that’s making nuclear bomb detectors – of all things.

When I think Somerville, I think three-deckers, blue collars, and hipsters priced out of Cambridge. That and the good restaurants and bars in Davis Square.

When I think bomb, I think Oak Ridge, Manhattan Project, White Sands, the Enola Gay. That and terrorists, with their warped and nihilistic response to modernity, filling pressure cookers with nails and fireworks in their mother’s kitchen.

And I also think bomb-sniffing dogs.

But with nuclear terrorism hovering over us – a clear and present danger – it’s certainly not surprising that companies, and not just governments, would spring up to try to do something about it.

In the case of Silverside Detectors, the response is build detectors:

From her incubator space in Somerville, [Sarah] Haig and her business partner, Andrew Inglis, are working hard to bring to market atomic bomb detectors for use in the United States and abroad.

“We’re in Act II of a Shakespearean five-act play,’’ she said. (Source: Boston Globe)

Two asides:

Am I the only one who read “atomic bomb” and thought, ‘how quaint.’ It sounds so, well, 1950’s. (As in the ditty we used to sing as kids, to the tune of the “You’ll wonder where the yellow went” jingle for Pepsodent toothpaste: “You’ll wonder where your teeth have gone, when you brush your teeth with an atom bomb.”) Atom bomb is just so ‘duck and cover.’

Second, you’ve got to love a bomb-detecting entrepreneur who cites dramatic structure. So, if we’re in “Rising Action” mode now, when does “Climax” come? Not to mention where and how. (The suspense is killing me.)

Anyway, Haig has a background in microfinance and third-world development, but when she got out of the Kennedy School of Government, she decided to do something about the threat of nuclear terrorism:

“I can bite off one tiny corner of this immense issue and do something,’’ she said. “I think what clicked is that we were looking at nuclear terror — the problem of what happens if bad people get bad material, try to smuggle it into the US, and set it off.’’

The detectors that Silverside is developing – in incubator space where they work side by side with robotics and 3D printing firms – are capable of ferreting out “the only two elements that can be used to make a nuclear explosion: plutonium and highly enriched uranium.”

They’re going to be marketed to city governments, energy companies, and any other entity that has something that a terrorist might want to get at. And they’re very on modern message:

Cost-effective nuclear detection

The company is “a team of physicists, engineers, and entrepreneurs committed to reducing the threat of nuclear terrorism.” They’ve received government grants, as well as private funding, and they’ve collaborated with physicists from CERN and MIT to make sure they get it all right.

You can learn more about Silverside here.

Am I sleeping better at night knowing that Silverside is fast at work, just around the corner?

Well, no.

But I am just delighted to read about a group of young entrepreneurs who are interested in doing something other than coming up with the next useless social-whatever in hopes that FB or Twitter will scoop them up for a couple of billion bucks.

Here’s the question, however.

What happens when something nuclear is detected?

Are improvised nuclear devices easily dismantled? I saw the Hurt Locker and all that, but will cities now have to train up a special squad who can handle this sort of task. (Talk about ‘thank you for your service.’)

And how are cities going to evacuate when a nuclear bomb is detected?

Hard to imagine the panic and chaos if the call goes out to head out of this or any other dense and crowded city. And what if a bomb does go off? I for one wouldn’t want the last moments of my life to be spent stuck in traffic, drivers leaning on their horns and hanging out their windows cursing at the top of their lungs.

I’m glad there’ll be an affordable way for cities to detect nuclear bombs.

The Marathon Bombers have let us know that even the most innocuous of activities – like standing with your kids on Boylston Street, eating ice cream and watching the finishers – aren’t always going to be safe.

But if a nuclear bomb goes off in my city, I don’t know whether surviving to see the aftermath will be worth it to me.

Easy for me to say: I’ve had a good run. But if an when the day comes, I hope I have the good sense to stay put.

One less person in a Zipcar, inching along Beacon Street – heading where? my sister’s in Brookline? Worcester? - leaning on the horn.

Meanwhile, good luck to Silverside and their interesting business.

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