The Deepwater Horizon oil spill took months to contain, and the disaster might not have ended as soon as it did were it not for a handy cell-phone camera and the hard work of US Geological Survey researcher Paul Hsieh.
The cap that ultimately staunched the petroleum hemorrhage didn't seem to be working at first, and authorities were set to remove it, according to the Associated Press. As scientists and government officials deliberated, someone sent a cell phone picture of the pressure readings to Hsieh. Over the course of one very long, and notably non-caffeinated night, Hsieh used the single photo to pull together a model that explained what was going on at the well, and showed that the cap was working, after all. His model was the linchpin that kept the all-important cap in place.
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.