Late Thursday night, the Tsarnaev brothers went on a rampage that ended in a shootout with police in Watertown, MA, just west of Boston. Tamerlan, who was older, was killed, but Dzhokhar escaped and evaded capture until Friday evening when he was discovered hiding in a tarp-covered boat in a backyard nearby.
The final showdown didn’t produce much in the way of science writing, but countless outlets carried a video taken by a helicopter that used thermal imaging to verify that Tsarnaev was in the boat. In addition to his glowing, huddled form, the clip shows the police using a robot to tear the tarp away while throwing non-lethal flash-bang grenades to stun the suspect. In the end, it was hostage negotiator that reportedly convinced Tsarnaev to surrender.
While Bostonians celebrated the brothers’ demise, the healing process is only beginning for those injured in the bombings, however, and in the days after the explosions, many news outlets produced stories about advances in prosthetics and what they could do to help those who lost limbs. Many of them noted that a lot has been learned in the effort to treat soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. As The New York Times reported:
Over the past decade, prosthetic technology has advanced significantly, with computerized knees and ankles that adjust to terrain and activity. Lighter and more malleable materials have allowed amputees to wear synthetic legs longer — and even run marathons. And devices have been customized for a dizzying array of activities, from golfing and skiing to scuba diving, backpacking and even rock climbing.
Perhaps most significantly, doctors know more about treating and salvaging limbs, making recovery faster than a decade ago.
The Associated Press and USA Today had related articles about the critical role that tourniquets played in saving lives following the Marathon bombings, just as they have in the war zones of the Middle East and Asia. And the Times had articles about the effective triage system set up in Boston hospitals following the bombings and about how doctors employed knowledge gleaned from military surgeries to treat the wounded.
If that’s not enough, Scientific American has what is undoubtedly the largest collection of scientifically-oriented stories abut the marathon bombings. There are stories about all the topics above as well as more unique pieces about crowd psychology and efficient telecommunications during times of emergency.
Unrelated to the bombings in Boston, an explosion at a fertilizer plant in the town of West, Texas last Wednesday night, which killed at least 14 people and injured 200, prompted a slew of articles explaining why fertilizer (which was used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing) can be so explosive.
As Slate, The New Yorker, LiveScience.com, and other outlets explained, the key is ammonium nitrate, an inexpensive chemical that is added to fertilizer to improve its nitrogen content, an essential nutrient for plants, which can explode violently when it comes into contact with a flame or other ignition source.
Just explanations are usually of tertiary concern when authorities and law enforcement officials are still trying to assist the injured and to restore a sense of security and calm. By helping people understand the physics and chemistry of what happened, however, they are all part of making sense of the senseless.