Dr. Natalia Sidorovskaia began her career in Russia, worked in applied research there and in the US petroleum industry, and returned to academia. She describes the growth and future direction of the UL Physics Department for ultoday.com.

You have recently been named Physics Department Chair.

Yes, and I am very honored by the faculty's respect and trust in me.

Tell us about your background.

I was born in a little town in Siberia, Cheremkhovo. My mom was a doctor, and my dad was an architect. Around 12, my mother and I moved to Central Russia to the third largest city in the country, Gorky-- now called Nizhny Novgorod. I got my Master's in Radiophysics from Gorky Gosudarstvenni Universitet (Gorky State University). Upon graduation, I started my career in underwater acoustics at the Institute of Applied Physics there in Gorky.

But in 1994, I came to the US, and started research with the Naval Research Laboratory at Stennis Space Center. At the same time, I started working on my PhD at UNO with George Ioup. In 1997 I was the first graduate from UNO's new PhD program in Engineering and Applied Science.

From there, I spent two years working for Landmark Graphics, which is now part of Halliburton. But I wanted more of an intellectual challenge, so I started looking to go back into academia. Academic jobs in Physics are hard to get, particularly if you want to stay within your area of research. As an example, here at UL we typically we get about 80 applicants for an open position, so it's very competitive. But I was fortunate, and I received a tempting offer from UL, and came here 2000.

How was the transition back into academia?

I enjoyed the experiences I had in business, in the oil industry. And my work there helps me today, with my research, and working in an organization.

What is your area of research?

I specialize in underwater acoustics, with a focus on computational analysis. I've worked with the Littoral Acoustic Demonstration Center, a consortium of scientists from UL, UNO, USM, the Naval Research Lab, and recently, the Applied Research Laboratory at the University of Texas.

Our research is useful for industry, particularly the oil industry. We are heavily subsidized by the Joint Industry Project, a pooling of funding from different major oil companies -- Shell, Chevron, Exxon/Mobil, etc. The group has received over $2 million from the JIP, and twice received Congressional earmarks, each for about $2 million.

There are two aspects to our research. We look at the environmental impact assessment of oil exploration on marine mammals, such as the problems with stranded beaked whales in sonar exercises. We're not working with sonar per se, but the oil industry also uses powerful acoustic signals to explore the bottom lands. Those signals are focused sound waves that dissipate into the surrounding water column.

The oil industry has been very responsible and proactive about this issue. We are hopeful that our research will create quantifiable regulatory standards to protect the environment.