The Man Who Chased Earthquakes

Vladimir Keilis-Borok (1921-2013)

Vladimir Keilis-Borok (1921-2013)

Last year, my neighbor Luis had knee surgery at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica. Because he is in his eighties and lives by himself, he spent several days recuperating at a nursing care facility across the street from the hospital. His roommate turned out to be a famous Russian scientist by the name of Vladimir Keilis-Borok, whose life work was trying to find a way of predicting earthquakes using mathematical data culled from data about faults and previous tremors.

Martine and I had seen Vladimir only twice during our visits to Luis and found him to be brilliant and engaging. He spent much of his time at the nursing facility working on mathematical models on his laptop computer. During one of my visits, he asked if I could recommend someone to help him with his computerwork. I immediately thought of my friend Mikhail, who spoke Russian and knew many computer people in L.A.’s Russian community. Somehow, it never went anywhere. Perhaps the funding just wasn’t there.

I was saddened to see that the Russian scientist passed away last week. A glowing obituary appeared in the Los Angeles Times commemorating his accomplishments and his pursuit of that Holy Grail of earthquake prediction. If somehow someone could put it all together, his work could be responsible for saving the lives of untold millions of people who, like myself, live near major fault zones.