This video is a part of Breakthrough, a short film anthology from Science Friday and Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) that follows women working at the forefront of their fields. Learn more and watch the films on BreakthroughFilms.org.
When volcanoes erupt, gases blast from the earth in fast-moving pyroclastic flows destroying everything in their path. Torrents of molten magma create new landscapes. Massive calderas launch explosive boulders miles away.
But how do these destructive forces work? Scientists don’t have a full picture yet. It is currently impossible to fully understand the geochemical forces that lead to these destructive scenarios. But what if we could unravel this mystery by examining millennia-old cooled rocks and soils from these same eruptions?
Kayla Iacovino—part science fiction sleuth, part mountaineer—is doing just that. By hiking mountainous terrain or meandering through a city built on a dormant volcanic crater, the volcanologist collects rock samples from across the world in order to better understand the forces that created them.
At her experimental petrology lab at Jacobs-NASA Johnson Space Center, she subjects these samples to extreme pressure and temperature in “mini magma chambers” to recreate the conditions under which they formed. Ultimately, understanding how the molten materials deep within the Earth became rocks provides Iacovino insights about the overall geological makeup and origins of Earth.
Watch The Full Season Now!
This brand new season takes you to volcanoes in Costa Rica to distant galaxies and beyond. Rent the complete second season of Breakthrough now with Alamo On Demand!
- Listen to Kayla Iacovino in a Science Friday interview.
- Learn more about Iacovino’s research on her website.
- Learn more about the series on BreakthroughFilms.org.
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Produced in collaboration with HHMI Tangled Bank Studios
Directed and Produced by Emily Driscoll
Cinematography by Luke Groskin and Michelle Lotker
Edited by Erika Sutter and Emily Driscoll
Animations by Lottie Kingslake
Music by Audio Network
Series Producer Luke Groskin
On-Location Production Assistance Gino González Ilama, Volcanes Sin Fronteras, Área Conservación Central, National System of Conservation Areas
Additional Photos and Video Provided by Shutterstock, Pond5, Kayla Iacovino, NASA Goddard Flight Center Jacobs Technology/NASA Johnson Space Center Footage from Star Trek: The Next Generation Courtesy of CBS Television Studios
Project Advisors for HHMI Tangled Bank Studios Richard Stone Aileen O’Hearn
Project Support for Science Friday Initiative Danielle Dana, Jennifer Fenwick, Ariel Zych Nadja Oertelt, Kyle Marian Viterbo, Diana Montano Daniel Peterschmidt, Xochitl Garcia, Nahima Ahmed
In Memory of John P. Driscoll
Special Thanks Gino González Ilama, Andrew Britton, Jenny Shalant
Meet the Producers and Host
About Luke Groskin@lgroskin
Luke Groskin is Science Friday’s video producer. He’s on a mission to make you love spiders and other odd creatures.
About Emily Driscoll@emilyvdriscoll
Emily Driscoll is a science documentary producer in New York, New York. Her production company is BonSci Films.