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Tomorrow Today

The Future of Research - Research for the Future

They are young seismologists, geophysicists, earthquake researchers. The EU-exchange programme SPICE allows them to swap their knowledge. Fourteen European universities are taking part.

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European research co-operation: Frenchman Eric Beuchler with British colleague

"I'm not here because Oxford has such a good name. I'm here because Professor Woodhouse teaches here. I see him as one of the best seismologists in the world." The words of Eric Beuchler. The young frenchman is the first to take part in the SPICE programme. (SPICE stands for Seismic Wave Propagation and Imaging in Complex media: a European network).

He has left Paris and will spend the next two years at Oxford. In his doctorate, the earth scientist outlined some laws governing the movement of material under the earth's surface.

Systems exist here which are comparable to the systems which exist in the atmosphere and govern weather. Huge pressures can build up, which can effect the tectonic plates which form the crust of planet earth. As a result the plates shift, push against each other, overlap each other and cause devastating earthquakes.

French scientists noted that material under the earth's surface has doubled in speed before the earthquake which hit Turkey in 1999. However, says Eric, it isn't possible to predict with accuracy when and where the next serious earthquake will hit. There is no weather forecast for earthquakes. But it is possible to work out a scenario for the occurance of earthquakes in zones where they are an ever present threat.

In order to do this, Eric is in Oxford to work with colleagues from other disciplines and from other universities to swap data and develop a new computer programme which will enable a better understanding of what happens when the earth moves.

The exchange programme isn't just introducing Eric to new terrain on the scientific level. It confronts him with a foreign country, a foreign language and unfamiliar customs. Living in Oxford wil help Eric develop on a personal level. But it is also essential for the exchange of scientific knowledge over borders.