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Careers in the Science of Disasters

"We have so much work to do even before a disaster happens." -Ilan Kelman, Visiting Scientist, Center for Capacity Building, Colorado.

Disasters, both natural and man-made, are a part of life. When a disaster occurs, news of the consequences hit the headlines: Humanitarian crises. Devastated cities. Profound damage to the natural environment. Questions arise about how and why the disaster occurred. Then the attention dies away, save the odd report revisiting the disaster-struck area.

In some ways, the immediacy of a disaster seems at odds with the methodical pace of scientific research. But far from the media lenses, a workforce of people--scientists among them--dedicate their professional lives to predicting, preventing, and dealing with the consequences of disasters, whether natural and man-made.

In this weeks feature, a companion to Science magazine's special issue "Dealing with Disasters," we meet several scientists with fascinating careers and career plans: a technologist working on earthquake-monitoring systems, an epidemiologist investigating the post-disaster mitigation, and an engineer working on making the built environment more resilient. We ask these scientists how they got started down this "disastrous" path, what their work is like, and what challenges they face. Here are just a few of the many committed professionals who dedicate their lives to reducing the devastation of disasters.

Little Movement in Earthquake Science Careers

You might think last December's tsunami would have jump-started interest in earthquake research, but, though money has poured into relief and redevelopment, earthquake research has not exploded. Significant movement in these careers has, however, occurred in the form of some new initiatives like the National Science Foundation's EarthScope, which predates the tsunami and is designed to investigate the structure and evolution of the North American continent. This project and others like it are generating large amounts of data that could increase opportunities in modelling and data analysis, says Next Wave contributing writer Jim Kling .

Monitoring the Pulse of the Mount Vesuvius

Having an active volcano right on your doorstep heightens the importance of accurate prediction of volcanic eruptions. That is why volcanic activity prediction is the hefty remit of the Vesuvius Observatory, near Naples, Italy. This observatory has developed a sophisticated network of seismic monitoring units, thanks in part to the efforts of Massimo Orazi who works at the observatory developing electronics for the monitoring systems. He tells Elisabeth Pain, our Contributing European Editor for southern and western Europe, that Vesuvius is the perfect place to apply his scientific knowledge and to sate his appetite for technical advances.

Mitigating Disasters

David Bradt has seen the aftermath of some of the most horrifying disasters in recent years, including the Rwandan genocide, the earthquake in Gujarat, India, and the tsunami-devastated coastal areas of Southeast Asia. In Mitigating Disasters , Bradt talks to MiSciNet Editor Robin Arnette about his dual role as a disaster consultant and academic epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University. His research ensures that the health needs of people in disaster-stricken areas are assessed and met.

Learning from Disasters

Engineer Ilan Kelman tells European Editor Anne Forde why disaster research is a near-perfect fit for his professional interests, combining as it does theoretical knowledge and practical solutions with the ultimate goal of improving peoples' welfare. According to Kelman, the field is ideal for those with "initiative and energy" who "are willing to commit to helping people and society."

On the funding front, GrantsNet Program Associate Shajuan Martin offers a sampling of current research funding opportunities in disciplines related to the science of disasters for undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

For more information on disaster-related science, take a look at the accompanying Science special issue "Dealing with Disasters." Science News reporter Greg Miller offers fascinating insight into the post-tsunami mental health effects in Sri Lanka and what strategies (well and misguided) mental health professionals have put in place.

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