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Brian Shiro

Brian Shiro (ne White) graduated from Northwestern University in 2000 with majors in the Integrated Science Program, Physics, and Geological Sciences (now Earth & Planetary Sciences). He completed his senior honors thesis working with Professor Seth Stein and fellow EPS alumnus Andrew Newman on geodetically constraining models of subsurface creep in the New Madrid Seismic Zone. He was also a research assistant investigating the carbon content of K-T Boundary rocks in Professor Brad Sageman's lab. Brian credits geophysics courses taught by EPS Professors Emile Okal and Craig Bina with sparking his interest in earth science. "Taking Physics of the Earth for ISP as a sophomore inspired me to major in Geological Sciences and pursue a career in geophysics," he says. While at NU, Brian also kept busy serving as President of the Lindgren (now Slivka) Residential College, working at NorrisOutdoors, and running competitively with the NU Running Club.

After NU, Brian joined the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. There, he studied a broad-based curriculum in earth and planetary sciences while focusing his research primarily on the seismicity, tectonics, and dynamics of the Tonga subduction zone with fellow EPS alumnus Doug Wiens as his advisor. In 2001, he won the Carl Tolman Prize for his work as teaching assistant to fellow EPS alumnus Michael Wysession's interdisciplinary course Epic of Evolution: Life, Earth, and the Cosmos. As a graduate student, Brian was privileged to take part in four IRIS-PASSCAL field deployments of more than 80 broadband seismometers in North America, Fiji/Tonga, Antarctica, and the Northern Mariana Islands. On the Mariana expedition in, Brian was part of a small team to first witness and report the eruption of Anatahan Volcano. After completing his MA degree in late 2002, Shiro shifted his Ph.D. research focus to investigating the seismic and geodynamic consequences antipodal to major impacts on Mars. However, when he received an exciting job offer from NOAA in the wake of the great 2004 Sumatra earthquake and tsunami, Brian left academic life before completing his dissertation in order to apply his subduction zone seismology experience to helping people.

Since 2005 Brian has worked as a Geophysicist at the NOAA Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, along with fellow EPS alumnus Stuart Weinstein who is the center's Assistant Director. The job requires 24x7 rapid response to earthquakes, evaluation of tsunami generation potential, and issuance of tsunami warnings as needed.


Brian leveraged his seismological field experience to manage a dramatic expansion and upgrade of seismic monitoring networks in Hawaii through the establishment of the Hawaii Integrated Seismic Network. He also serves as the tsunami warning center's webmaster and works to improve tsunami message delivery options to the public. Other parts of Brian's duties include operation of the USGS Honolulu Geomagnetic Observatory and regular outreach activities communicating geophysical hazards to diverse audiences. He has been intimately involved with the response to numerous tsunamis such as the recent Japan 2011, Chile 2010, and Samoa 2009 events. In the process, Brian has received widespread media exposure in CNN (2), NPR (2), Good Morning America (2), Popular Mechanics (2), Boing Boing, Nature, AGU GeoSpace, and more.

In recent years, Brian has nurtured his lifelong passion for space exploration by earning a graduate certificate and MS in Space Studies from the International Space University and University of North Dakota, respectively. He applied to NASA's astronaut program in 2008, beating over 3000 applicants to make it within the top 400 "Highly Qualified" group. Brian earned further notoriety in the space community blogging about his astronaut application experience at In 2009, he spent a month as a crewmember on a simulated Mars mission at the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station on Devon Island in the Canadian Arctic. There, he installed the island's first seismic station and carried out an electromagnetic exploration survey looking for groundwater, all while wearing a spacesuit on Mars analog surface excurions. Northwestern Magazine featured an article and video on Brian's Mars adventure in their winter 2009 issue. The following year, Shiro returned to "Mars" as commander of a 2-week mission to the Mars Desert Research Station in the remote Utah desert. There, he managed a small crew of scientists conducting field research under Mars-like conditions, including carrying out his own seismic refraction project to image a buried paleochannel. Building upon these successes, Shiro subsequently co-founded the nonprofit organization Astronauts4Hire as the world's first training cooperative for prospective astronaut candidates. Feature articles interviewing him on Astronauts4Hire have appeared in Nature, Discover, New Scientist, Physics Today, and BBC. Brian will complete his Research Specialist Astronaut certification in 2011, making him eligible to serve as a scientist aboard commercial spaceflights.

As a SCUBA diver, Brian is also keenly interested in the parallels of ocean and space exploration. He has served as a multibeam sonar mapper on the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, the US's only ship of scientific exploration. In 2012, Brian will also earn his aquanaut credential living in an underwater habitat as a crewmember on the Atlantica Expedition.

Brian lives in Hawaii with his wife Holli (also a NU alumnus) and two children Henry (born 2007) and Isla (born 2011). He enjoys running, cycling, triathlons, SCUBA diving, and hiking.

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