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National Science Foundation

A Special Report


NSF And 9/11

NSF And 9/11

Editor's Note: On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, NSF interviewed several of the scientists and engineers who were on site soon after the attack to learn about their experiences and the impacts of their research efforts. See the interviews at http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=121605.

A natural or accidental disaster is certainly traumatic.  But when a disaster is caused by human malevolence, the impact can seem even more intense.  In addition to its focus on natural disasters, the National Science Foundation (NSF) is also engaged on several fronts in the fight against terrorism. 

NSF’s core mission is basic research—that is, long-term or fundamental research aimed at gathering knowledge, not necessarily a specific result.  Sometimes, the value of cutting-edge research is not obvious until public attention focuses on it. 

In the case of Sept. 11, scientists and engineers quickly joined the response.  Those who were experienced with earthquakes, floods and other natural devastation converged on the World Trade Center site to help.  Some searched for victims or studied how buildings collapsed. Others digitally mapped the disaster site. Still others monitored the coordination of responders from across the nation. 

Scientists also measured emotions and public opinion, both immediately after Sept. 11 and over following years.  The complex array of responses ranged from trauma and grief to a need to help.  Such studies suggest that in some situations, strengthened emotional responses can be as critical to survival as strengthened physical structures. Researchers hope that by learning more about those feelings, we can react with greater resilience if or when disaster strikes again. 

Still from simulation of aircraft crashing into World Trade Center

View Video

Abolhassan Astaneh-Asl of the University of California, Berkeley and a colleague collected data on the mechanical and structural properties of the World Trade Center towers, focusing on how steel is affected by heat, fire and impact. Working with collaborators at MSC Software Corporation, the researchers have developed a simulation of the aircraft impact and are applying the findings to study how other building designs would react to a similar attack.

Credit: A. Astaneh-Asl, Z. Zhao, J. Son, University of California, Berkeley; C. Heydan, V. Tunga, MSC Software Corporation

Here are some examples of NSF's responses to Sept. 11. 

Next: NSF And 9/11 >> Searching for Victims

A Special Report Disasters