Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The best dangerous science jobs

1 Astronaut

Since manned spaceflight began in 1961, 24 US astronauts have died in astro-action — 10 during launch, six during training flights, and seven on reentry. In 1971, three Soviet cosmonauts suffocated when a malfunction caused the oxygen to leak out of their ship. Then there's that whole riding-an- explosion-into-space thing. And we haven't even found aliens yet.

2 Biosafety Level 4 lab researcher

BSL-4 labs handle the deadliest diseases on Earth. In 2004, a Russian scientist died after accidentally sticking herself with an Ebola-laced needle. The death occurred only months after a US scientist at the Army's BSL-4 lab at Fort Detrick in Maryland made the same mistake... and survived.

3 Hurricane hunter

The Air Force's 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron crew members are the daredevils of meteorology. They fly WC-130s into a hurricane's eyewall, 10,000 feet up, to locate the storm's pressure center and measure its wind speed. Not surprisingly, some get a little turned around. Even on the ground, they're not safe — Hurricane Katrina destroyed the squad's home base.

4 Doctors Without Borders mobile lab tech

Testing blood for sleeping sickness — an infectious disease transmitted by flies that causes brain swelling, heart failure, insomnia, and an uncontrollable urge to sleep — is dangerous enough. Now just imagine doing it at an outdoor mobile lab in the middle of the ongoing genocide in Sudan's Darfur region.

5 Propulsion engineer

Turns out, the people who ground-test rocket engines don't actually worry about explosions. When you work with cryogenic oxygen and gases pressurized up to 300 psi, you're far too busy worrying about "cold burns" and other trauma to really give proper consideration to what might happen should one of the buggers completely ignite.

6 Grad student

Even the most mundane job in science is hazardous if you don't know what you're doing. Grad students in labs around the world are in constant danger of, well, screwing up. In 2004, a Texas A&M student, for example, was cleaning up a laboratory when a jar of chemicals he was handling suddenly exploded, leaving him with severe lacerations and burns.

7 Volcanologist

Active volcanoes blow enough ash to bury a city the size of, oh, Pompeii. No wonder many volcanologists don't come back from their helicopter visits to hell. In 1991, three were killed by Japan's Mount Unzen. In 2001, one died after falling off a 985-foot-high caldera rim, and in 2005, four Filipino researchers died in a chopper crash while inspecting landslide areas.

8 Biologist

Animal research can lead to more than an allergic reaction. Being bitten, scratched, or exposed to "secretions" can be deadly. For example, at least 70 percent of captive adult macaque monkeys are infected with herpes B. In 1997, a 22-year-old researcher died after contracting the virus from some "biologic" monkey material that got in her eye.

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