Mohammad Khalid says he’s created a device that can stop avalanches. Unfortunately, not many are willing to test it.
One freezing winter, deep in the mountains of Chitral, 27-year-old Mohammad Khalid created a device that he claims can both prevent and cause avalanches.
An electronics graduate from the University of Peshawar, Khalid has always lived under the shadows of the Pamir and the Tirch Mir — the great mountain ranges of Chitral. For those who live in these valleys, the constant fear of deadly avalanches is a part of life, and even travellers are wary of the floods of snow which can kill them in an instant, especially during a heavy downpour. Just this month at least 135 soldiers and civilian contractors were buried alive by the deadly avalanche at Siachen, and scores of people in the Northern areas lose their lives every year due to the white death that comes crashing from the heights. In the 2010 floods, that number jumped into the hundreds. Khalid’s device, if it can properly be tested and marketed, could help save lives not only in Pakistan but also across the world.
So how does this device, dubbed the “Avalanche Control System”, work? Khalid claims he has discovered the audio frequencies which can make snow either melt or harden, and says that he can set the device to either melt ice and snow on the mountains to create avalanches or conversely harden the soft, fresh snow so as to reduce the chances of an avalanche. When the device is switched on, he claims it can detect snow and generates stationary waves, resulting in the hardening or softening of the snow.
“You must have noticed that when there is snowfall in the mountains, there is pin drop silence, which helps the snow become softer,” he says, adding that his device acts against the silence and creates resonance and noise that ultimately leads to the hardening of the snow. Similarly, the device can loosen ice and snow on snow covered mountains, letting it roll down. In addition to two high pressure sound vibrators, the portable device consists of an antenna, a snow detector, a rechargeable battery and a wireless system that allows it to be controlled remotely. While Khalid is quite sure of his invention’s effectiveness, he says that he will only be able to fine tune it after some more tests. Certainly, any prospective buyer won’t simply be content to take his word for it and will not opt for the device without rigorous testing and proof that it actually works.
Ironically, the very nature of the area that provided the inspiration for this device also acts as a barrier to its dissemination. Mountain-locked Chitral is only accessible from two sides, either via Gilgit or Peshawar. From Gilgit it is accessible via the Shandur Pass after a journey of around 20 hours but this route remains closed throughout winters due to heavy snow fall. The other way to get there is via Lowari Top from Peshawar after about 15 hours of bus travel. PIA does operate flights to the area, but these are frequently cancelled due to adverse weather conditions.
This inaccessibility may be the reason that the device has yet to attract attention from either the scientific community or the private sector. According to Khalid, some officials from the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) did in fact approach him for a briefing on the device, but he hasn’t heard from them since.
For his part, Khalid hasn’t yet decided if he wants to sell the device or simply exhibit it to the public. Coming from a lower-middle class family, he says he’s had to spend a great deal of his own money on this device and does not possess the resources to promote it. For now, all he can do is wait and hope for recognition for his breakthrough device.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, April 22nd, 2012.