Marie Lynn Miranda has been helping people in the Gulf Coast the best way she knows how: She has been helping build online maps densely layered with information, useful to both emergency workers on the ground now, and to people who will study the long-term health risks from Hurricane Katrina.
With the click of a mouse, people can see where the floodwaters may have inundated toxic waste sites or oil wells, and how many of the poorest neighborhoods have been hit.
"We've all made contributions to the Red Cross and stuff like that," the Duke University environmental scientist said, "but this felt like hard, concrete work we could do to help."
At schools across the country, experts in everything from engineering to law to ophthalmology have joined hurricane relief efforts with specialized knowledge rather than basic supplies, trying to design solutions to what has become one of the world's most complicated problems.
Some schools, such as Stanford University and Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, are creating generous leave policies to allow employees to volunteer in the Gulf Coast.
At the University of Michigan, faculty specializing in information technology created a searchable Web site, www.KatrinaHousing.net. They took lists of hundreds of thousands of beds available all over the country, vetted them to ensure they were legitimate, and organized them so that people displaced by the storm can click on a city or state and find places to stay.
Many schools have sent teams of medical experts. Duke University Medical Center has two field hospitals in Mississippi. Doctors and nurses from the University of Maryland School of Medicine helped set up six health clinics in Jefferson Parish, and a team from George Washington University went to Baton Rouge last Monday, set up tents and began treating people at shelters.
The University of Virginia sent a telemedicine team to Fort Pickett in south-central Virginia, preparing for possible evacuees to arrive.
Counselors and therapists from Johns Hopkins University have been helping New Orleans area children adjust to new schools, life in the shelters, all the loss and upheaval -- and training others to set up similar efforts. They have worked with a colleague from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to begin play therapy for children too young for conventional counseling and will help train people at Louisiana school systems overwhelmed with evacuees.
The Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine sent a team to work with Louisiana State University in a coliseum packed with animals in crates. Amid hundreds of barking dogs and yowling cats, surgeons and technicians are treating dehydration, chemical burns and illnesses.
Scientists such as Vassilios Papadopoulos of Georgetown University Medical Center have been trying to salvage what they can of research in New Orleans labs. They know they cannot undo the damage to experiments contaminated by water and heat -- sometimes a career's worth of work washed away -- but they can find new space and equipment for scientists to resume work.
Shep Zedaker got another professor to cover his forest ecology class at Virginia Tech and headed south to cut down trees and to train crews in Pascagoula, Miss.
As Miranda read about Katrina, she immediately thought of the research she had done after hurricanes flooded eastern North Carolina. She knew people would have questions about the Gulf Coast, as they struggled to limit damage and to rebuild.
She is working with researchers from schools including the University of California at San Diego, San Diego State University, the University of Kentucky and Columbia University and the Research Triangle Institute to create maps for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Web site. Soon the maps will be interactive, so people can get answers to such questions as "Where might there be radioactive materials and chemicals from flooded hospitals?" and "Could children in this neighborhood have been exposed to pesticides in the water?"