COLUMBIA, Mo.-Well before Sept. 11, 2001, professors at the University of Missouri-Columbia recognized the importance of offering classes that focused on terrorism-related issues. Following the tragic events of 9/11, so did many others.
“9/11 opened everybody’s eyes,” said Tushar Ghosh, professor and director of graduate studies in the Nuclear Science and Engineering Institute (NSEI).
Today, the hijacking of airplanes and attacks on the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon are frequent topics of conversation for MU students who are enrolled in a series of classes that focus on terrorism and technologies aimed at detecting and preventing the use of weapons of mass destruction. The classes, which are offered through the institute, were first introduced in 2000.
The emerging area of study has received attention from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE). Recently, NSEI received $504,000 from the DOE to fund four graduate research fellowships over a three-year period in the field of homeland security and counterterrorism. A fifth fellowship totaling $90,000 was added through an MU matching grant.
“The Department of Education recognizes that homeland security is an important area of national need,” said Ghosh, who is the project director. “There is great demand, and there just aren’t enough trained people in this area.”
Currently, about 25 students, including the five doctorial fellows, are enrolled in two classes this semester: Science and Technology of Counterterrorism and Nonproliferation Issues for Weapons of Mass Destruction. They study the events of Sept. 11 and the USS Cole bombing in 2000. They also examine threats involving nuclear, chemical and biological agents such as anthrax, “dirty bombs” and methods of decontamination for those exposed to various life-threatening agents. Ghosh said the overall goal is to help students to understand the broader implications of terrorism and “the big picture, which is that something like this can happen.”
As the area of study continues growing, Ghosh said the graduate students will work in various topics of interest to homeland security, such as developing sensors to detect biological and chemical agents. He said upon the completion of 15 hours, they will receive graduate certificates and internship opportunities with the Department of Homeland Security.
Five courses already have been developed, and another is being planned as department officials hope to soon offer a minor in homeland security.
“The courses have really evolved,” said Mark Prelas, professor of nuclear science and engineering, who along with Ghosh, Dabir Viswanath and Sudarshan Loyalka developed all of the classes and also authored a book about terrorism. “When we started before Sept. 11, the content was geared toward the political, social, psychological and technical aspects of terrorism. After Sept. 11, students are far more interested in how to prevent another Sept. 11.”