There is so much tragedy and sadness in the wake of the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile that to bemoan the fate of research projects there seems kind of trivial. But if you are scientist your heart really goes out to your Chilean colleagues. Jocelyn Kaiser and Antonio Regalado have some details at ScienceInsider, Science Magazine’s science blog:
Scientists at research universities in several Chilean cities are reeling from last week’s earthquake, which overturned microscopes, set fire to laboratories, washed years of research out to sea, and took the life of a young marine biologist. Aftershocks are still rattling the country.
The worst damage reported was to the University of Concepción, near the epicenter of the 8.8 magnitude quake. There a fire ravaged the building housing one of Chile’s leading chemistry centers, including a lab studying advanced polymers. “It’s still standing, but it burned completely,” said Jaime Baeza, the university’s vice-rector for research, reached by cell phone in Concepción. No injuries were reported because the quake took place early Saturday and most of the 100 or so students and faculty were on vacation. But valuable equipment was lost, Baeza says, and “the quake may have set us back 3 or 4 years, even 10 years.” (ScienceInsider)
The earthquake will change many lives. Parents and children killed, businesses wiped out. Homes destroyed. And in science, there will be many scientists who will no longer pursue science, years of work or work in progress gone in an instant. It’s not just equipment and buildings that were destroyed. Theses, datasets, breeding experiments, cell cultures, reagents like enzymes and antibodies and probes. Meanwhile labs outside of Chile are offering to take students. But realistically, careers will inevitably be lost and Chilean science, which had been growing, has suffered a grievous blow.
Here’s how the young research assistant was killed:
A tsunami that followed the quake also wreaked havoc, killed a researcher involved in an ecology expedition to Robinson Crusoe Island off Chile’s coast. Ecologist Álvaro Palma of Pontifical Catholic University of Chile in Santiago, who had dispatched the team of five to the island, says the group scrambled uphill from their house near shore to avoid the wall of water. But Paula Ayerdi, a 28-year-old research assistant in marine biology who had tagged along on the trip with her fiance, became separated. Her body was found along the shore the next day, says Palma.
The Haitian earthquake was a huge human catastrophe, on an almost unimaginable scale. The effect of the Chilean earthquake on scientists is all too imaginable for me. Not horrifying, but deeply saddening if you are a scientist.