It’s 10:30 p.m. on a clear night with a full moon. Mark Strauss, Ph.D. stands in the middle of a road blocked off by police so he can measure the amount of moonlight and other ambient light from nearby buildings, illuminating the back door of a motionless truck. Next he mounts a high definition video camera to a car windshield and drives towards the back of the truck in order to document what the driver of a vehicle would have been able to see before he crashed into the rear of the stopped truck at night. It’s Mark’s job to find out how this collision occurred, and possibly prevent it from happening again.
Mark describes his decision to become a full-time biomechanist and accident reconstructionist—ultimately starting his own company, Impact Injury Analysis—as a series of coincidences. He started as an engineering professor at the University of Illinois with degrees in mechanical and biomedical engineering. Nearly twenty years ago, a reconstructionist was stumped by the mechanics of a particular accident and asked for Mark’s assistance. “After I did that one and finished it, a couple months later he came to me again, and asked if I might be interested in looking at another incident that he had,” he recalls. “The rest is history. I went from teaching full-time and consulting on occasion to flipping it completely around where I do consulting full-time and I teach on occasion.” Mark worked with his colleague for 18 years, before starting Impact Injury Analysis.
Today, Mark analyzes accidents, injuries, and deaths in varied environments to determine how they occurred and what could have been done to prevent them. “I put together puzzles,” he explains. “I find pieces of the puzzle looking at police reports, medical reports, X-rays, photographs, or taking measurements and interviewing people—and put the information together in order to see what the picture looks like.” He performs analyses in order to find out why a train and truck collided, why a crane fell over, why a construction worker fell through a hole in the roof, or how a worker was injured on a barge. “There’s quite a variety of ways people get hurt.” Mark is hired by insurance companies, municipalities, attorneys, the military and sometimes even grieving family members requesting that he determine how and why an accident or injury occurred.
Mark’s work day can include anything from spending hours analyzing data at his desk to visiting accident sites anywhere in the country. (Not long ago, he was performing tests with an assistant at Midway Airport at 2 a.m.) While the nature of his work appeals to his analytical side, he finds the most fulfilling aspect of his job the process of finding solutions to otherwise unfortunate events. “I always had a problem-solving personality. I enjoy working on challenging projects, being able to solve the problem, and then demonstrate or communicate the answer to that problem in order to provide closure.”