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  • BIO

    Dr. Lily Bui is a subject matter expert in climate-related disaster risk reduction, planning, early warning communication, and islands communities in the Asia/Pacific and Latin American & Caribbean Regions. She received her PhD from MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning, where her research focused on disaster early warning systems on urban islands. She holds an M.S. from MIT's Comparative Media Studies and a dual bachelor's in International Studies and Spanish from her alma mater, University of California Irvine. With experience across applied research, public policy, media, impact investing, and consulting, she approaches problem-solving from a transdisciplinary perspective.


    Currently at Philanthropy California/SoCal Grantmakers she provides strategic direction, thought leadership, and partnership coordination in support of developing engagement strategies to increase climate justice and equitable disaster preparedness, relief and recovery funding across the region and state of California. Previously, she served as Assistant Director for Training, Research, and Project Development at the Congressionally authorized National Disaster Preparedness Training Center in Honolulu, Hawai’i. She has also held roles as a Disaster Management Specialist/Response Lead at the Pacific Disaster Center and research affiliations with organizations such as the National Disaster Preparedness Training Center (Honolulu, HI, USA), MIT's Urban Risk Lab, MIT Lincoln Laboratory Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Systems Group, MIT Civic Data Design Lab, iSeeChange (New Orleans, LA, USA), Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (San Juan, Puerto Rico), SensingCity (Christchurch, New Zealand), Making Sense EU (Barcelona, Spain). She serves as affiliated faculty for the U.S. Naval War College Humanitarian Response Program (Newport, RI, USA), and as an advisory board member for UC Irvine's Emergency Management and Disaster Recovery Certificate Program (Irvine, CA, USA).


    In past lives, she co-developed the Transistor Radio science podcast for Public Radio Exchange (PRX); served as Executive Editor at SciStarter, PLOS CitizenSci, and Discover Magazine's Citizen Science Salon; produced the radio show Re:sound for the Third Coast International Audio Festival out of WBEZ Chicago​;​ worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.; served as a community outreach coordinator in AmeriCorps in Montgomery County, Maryland, at the Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center; and was the Communications Director for a New York Times bestselling ghostwriter; and performed as a touring musician.​


    In her spare time, you will likely see her surfing, snowboarding, skateboarding, strumming the ukulele, or playing with her two dogs - hopefully somewhere warm.


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    Women on Boards


    A leadership and surf coaching experience that translates valuable lessons from board sports to the boardroom.


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    Philanthropy California/SoCal Grantmakers

    Climate and Disaster Resilience Manager


    Philanthropy California brings statewide philanthropic networks together to increase our impact in building and sustaining thriving, equitable communities.

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    Assistant Director for Training, Resaerch, Project Development


    NDPTC is Congressionally authorized to develop and deliver training and educational programs related to homeland security and disaster management, with a specific focus on natural hazards, coastal communities, and the special needs and opportunities of islands and territories.


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    Disaster Mgmt Specialist/Response Lead
    Pacific Disaster Center is an applied science, information and technology center, working to reduce disaster risks and impacts on life, property, and the economies worldwide.


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    PhD, Department of Urban Studies & Planning
    M.S. Comparative Media Studies
    Cambridge, MA




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    iSeeChange is a community climate change conversation project rooted in citizen science and public media.


    Public Radio Exchange
    STEM Story Project Associate
    The Public Radio Exchange (PRX) is a nonprofit web-based platform for digital distribution, review, and licensing of radio programs.


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    Making Sense EU, in partnership with SmartCitizen in Barcelona, Spain, aims to explore how open source software/hardware, digital maker practices and open design can be used by local communities to make sense of their environments.


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    Project Manager & Research Fellow


    The Sensing City Trust is a non-profit organisation working with Christchurch stakeholders to help them understand how data can inform decisions about city management.


    Executive Editor

    SciStarter is a place to find out about, take part in, and contribute to science through recreational activities and research projects. Affiliated with Public Laboratory of Science (PLOS), Instructables, Discovery, and Huffington Post Science blogs.
    Broadcast Editorial


    WGBH enriches people's lives through programs and services that educate, inspire, and entertain, fostering citizenship and culture, the joy of learning, and the power of diverse perspectives.



    Third Coast International Audio Festival

    Re:sound Production Intern


    Based in Chicago, the Third Coast International Audio Festival (TCIAF) curates sound-rich audio stories from around the world and shares them with as many ears as possible.


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    Ukulele lady

    I sing. I play. I eat things.

    Flotsam, jetsam, and miscellany.

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    With Data from Wind and Waves, Guarding Against Disaster

    by Ari Shapiro


    Like the other surfers, Bui monitors the wind, tide, and weather to track the best swell. But one difference is that after she puts her board away, she continues tracking storms and waves at the Pacific Disaster Center (PDC) as a disaster management specialist.


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    Doctoral dissertation


    Warning systems play a crucial role in disaster events on islands. They enable timely communication of risk, bolstering capacity and counterbalancing the negative force exerted by hazards, exposures, and vulnerabilities that threaten island communities. Disasters frequently result in the breakdown of communication due to both structural (i.e., power outages, failed telecommunications equipment, aging infrastructure) and nonstructural issues (i.e., governance, socioeconomic inequity, language barriers). Through semi-structured interviews, participant observation, document review and spatial data visualization, this dissertation compares the hurricane warning systems of two U.S. island cities: San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Honolulu, O'ahu, Hawaii, during Hurricane Maria (2017) and Hurricane Lane (2018), respectively. The research questions are as follows: -- Under what conditions are warning systems successful or unsuccessful in island cities?
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    Master's thesis


    The proliferation of sensor devices in the emerging landscape of 'smart cities' provides new mechanisms with which to measure the built and natural environment. City governments increasingly rely on sensor data to monitor infrastructure, mobility patterns, environmental hazards, disasters, and more. At the same time, citizens have increasing access to tools with which to examine urban concerns outside of institutional means. By looking at the use of one specific category of sensor data, air quality, this thesis provides a critical analysis of the plurality of ways in which urban sensing data is generated and represented. Specifically, the thesis examines representations of air quality data intended for governmental to grassroots audiences, and how these representations may prove to be problematic in attempts to reconcile their myriad forms and meanings across contexts and constituencies. Urban planning and design, disciplines that rely on the interpretation of environmental data in order to propose strategies for shaping the built environment, serve as a unique point of convergence of the key tensions that persist in the use of sensor data in cities. Case studies of various urban sensing initiatives in the U.S. and abroad illustrate disjunctions between different modes of sensor data collection and the way that data is communicated, affecting the way that governments negotiate with citizen stakeholders and vice versa. The core research questions this thesis examines are twofold: (1) What are the ways in which air quality sensor data is represented and given meaning in city dashboards, data portals, and other graphic user interfaces for different audiences, and (2) How might sensor data be used in the context of urban planning and design to reveal new frameworks for environmental data collection and representation that promote collaboration between government and citizen stakeholders?
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    Not All Who Wander Are Lost

    Podcast Interview with Hai Truong

    In this conversation with a long-time friend and a perfect example of charting a path as she has lived it, a conversation with Dr. Lily Bui the wandering and winding path that took her from music, radio, hip hop dance, and most recently to completing her Ph.D. program at MIT.

    She offers a unique perspective as a first-generation Vietnamese American woman that has experienced the world as much through her career paths as much as a surfer, an artist, and ultimately a human who seeks to help people however she can.
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    Seven Days at Sea: A Father's Day Story

    Radio piece

    My dad recently came to Chicago with me to help me move. When he first emigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam in the 1970s, he ended up in Chicago. He was around the same age as I am now. I asked him whether I could interview him for a story. This is what resulted. Full song here: https://soundcloud.com/lily-bee/thuy-n
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    Sing to me in Vietnamese: A daughter learns the language of her refugee parents through song

    with Patrick Cox

    A podcast episode I did with the lovely Patrick Cox of The World in Words about my mother and her mother tongue, Vietnamese.
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    The Art and Science of Polynesian Wayfinding

    Podcast episode

    Opportunity Collaboration brings together nonprofit leaders, social entrepreneurs, and social investors to move together towards poverty alleviation. With Kip's help, Opportunity Collaboration's Facebook reach grew by up to 700 percent.
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    The Infinite Voyager

    Digital Humanities project website

    A simple UI site based on jQUery, HTML5, and JavaScript where you can listen to all the public domain audio from the Voyager 1 Golden Record. Read the theory behind it here.
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    A Grassroots Effort: MIT Mapathon aid to Puerto Rico post Hurricane Maria

    Featured article

    In the wake of Hurricane Maria in September, 2016, rather than donating money, students at MIT donated what they had: mapping skills. Lily Bui led the crowd-sourced mapping effort leveraging the Open Street Map platform. This article is based on an interview with Ms. Bui and is lightly edited for length and clarity.

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    CycleWaze App

    iOS and Android app

    A mobile app that allows cyclists to collect and contribute GPS route data to Christchurch City Council toward transportation planning of new cycleways infrastructure, post-earthquake.
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    Urban design research

    An accessible lighting system for visually impaired pedestrians in Amsterdam's smart city.
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    Sensors, Uncensored

    MIT Comparative Media Studies Blog

    Both scientific research and journalistic endeavor begin with the same thing: a question. For both science and journalism, crowdsourcing data allows the public to actively contribute to finding answers.
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    WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show

    I Spy with My Little Eye: Environmental Change
    WNYC Radio

    Lily Bui, sensor journalism researcher for iSeeChange, talks about documenting the environmental shifts witnessed by people across the country in their neighborhoods and connects them to the bigger-picture climate changes transforming all of our lives and livelihoods. Plus: listeners share observations from their own backyards.

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    Wilson Center Commons Lab

    Wilson Center Blog

    Broadcasting, believe it or not, comes from farming. In modern vernacular, “to broadcast” means to transmit information by TV or radio, but the verb’s original definition meant “to scatter (seeds) by hand or machine rather than placing in drills or rows.” It may or may not come as a surprise to you that broadcasting has just as much to do with farming and media as it has to do with citizen science.
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    Cycopath: A Sonic En-cycle-pedia of Christchurch, New Zealand

    A sonic cartography project

    In an effort to capture the sensory experience of cycling, I'm recording my cycling routes in Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand. By moving through space, we compose narratives. This sonic story of cycling belongs to me.
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    Nautilus Magazine


    Public Laboratory of Science

    Blog post

    The story of a nuclear disaster and what can do you as a citizen scientist to help assess the residual aftermath.


    Huffington Post Science

    Blog post

    These days it can seem like you need a ten-person lab, multimillion dollar equipment, and three PhD's to make even the tiniest contribution to science. All you really need are your five senses and, of course, a sense of adventure!

    Public Radio Exchange

    Jacques Cousteau called it the “silent world.” Let’s just say he got that one wrong. Something unusual happens 700 fathoms under the sea. Ocean physics create a special zone where sound travels for hundreds, even thousands of miles.




    DISCOVER Magazine

    Blog post

    Citizen Science Salon, brought to you by SciStarter, is where science enthusiasts can join forces with top researchers. We'll feature weekly collaborative, crowdsourced, and DIY research projects that relate to what you're reading about in Discover, so you can take science into your own hands.

    Culture of Curiosity

    Einstein-Rosen Bridges in Literature
    Personal blog

    Imagine two doors connected by a corridor, with each door leading to a different room. Now, imagine the corridor is a conduit through space-time, and the rooms are completely distinct where’s and when’s. This is called a wormhole.
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    Podcast, blog, and video series

    Maps and the math behind them. For those afflicted with curiosity and wanderlust. Eventually will be hosted on chasethewanderlust.wordpress.com

    Bui, L., Sylman, S., Rosario, G. Commodore-Mensah, M., Derakhshan, S., McDermot, C., Nibbs, F., Higgs, I., Adegoke, M. & R. Lane. (in review). “Transdisciplinary Rapid Reconnaissance After Hurricanes Irma and Maria in the U.S.Virgin Islands: A Pathway Toward Convergence.” International Journal of Mass Emergencies & Disasters.


    Kim, K. & Bui, L. (2019). “Learning from Hurricane Maria: Island Ports and Supply Chain Resilience.” International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, 101244.


    Kim, K. & Bui, L. (2018). “ An Assessment of Disaster Risk and Resilience in Rapidly Urbanizing ASEAN Cities.” Routledge Handbook on Southeast Asia. Routledge: London, UK.


    Bui, L. (2018). “Rewiring Puerto Rico: Power and Empowerment After Hurricane Maria.” Alternautas (special edition on the Caribbean). 3(1). Available at http://alternautas.net/blog/2018/9/7/introduction-to-the-special-issue-the-making-of-caribbean-not-so-natural-disasters. Accessed 5 November 2018.


    Bui, L. (2018). “Island Cities & Disaster Risk: A Study of San Juan’s Hurricane Early Warning System.” Urban Island Studies. 3(1).


    Brightman, H. & Bui, L. (2018). “Civil-Military Partnerships and Working Groups in Humanitarian Response.” Liaison. 10(1), 40-42.


    Bui, L. (2018). “Integrating Local Communities Into Disaster Preparedness Trainings in Small Island States.” Cities, Wake Up! Special Edition of Youth Science Policy Interface Publication for World Urban Forum 9.


    Bui, L. (2017). “Digital Disaster Relief: Crowdsourced Responses to Hurricanes, Earthquakes, and Floods Around the World.” PLOS Blogs: CitizenSci. Retrieved from https://blogs.plos.org/citizensci/2017/09/13/digital-disaster-relief-crowdsourced-responses-to-hurricanes-earthquakes-and-floods-around-the-world/. Accessed 10 April 2019.


    Bui, L. (2017). “Chapter 10: Designing Digital Platforms for Citizen Data and Public Discourse on Climate Change.” Doing Research in and on the Digital: Research Methods Across Fields of Inquiry. Condie, J. (ed.) University of Western Sydney: Sydney, AUS.


    Marek, L., Campbell, M., & Bui, L. (2017). “Shaking for innovation: The (re)building of a (smart) city in a post disaster environment.” Cities. Vol. 63., 41–50. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cities.2016.12.013


    Woods, M., Hemment, D., & Bui, L. (2016). “Community Level Indicators.” Making Sense EU Deliverable D5.4. Scotland, UK: University of Dundee.


    Bui, L. (2016). Sense and the City: Representations of Air Quality Data in the 'Smart City.’ Masters thesis. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


    Bui, L. (2016). “Scientia Populi: Citizen Science, Media, and Culture.” The Rightful Place of Science: Citizen Science. Arizona State University: Phoenix, AZ.



    Chasing waves whenever possible, even the occasional hurricane swell.

    Surf documentary directed by Graham Pearsall.


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