Volcano ExplorersNepris_impact

The Volcano Explorers Program is a series of free online presentations about volcanoes for general audiences (geared toward K-12 classrooms). It is organized by the Mount St. Helens Institute and USGS, facilitated by Nepris Industry Chats. Here are the Spring 2017 sessions:

A new demo for volcanic plumesC2gwZpDUoAE6lhh.jpg-large

The basic idea here was to come up with an interactive demo that doesn’t need a big outdoor space or quite as many safety precautions as Trashcano. Behold, the Volcano Fog Machine. Volunteers get to blow the “ash” with handheld fans to see how airplanes would need to respond to avoid the plume. Key topics covered: How do we detect volcanic ash in the atmosphere? What are the hazards?  Many directions to go with this demo scientifically. Plus it’s damn cool.


  1. Vertical fog machine with LED illumination* (we used the one created by American DJ)
  2. Papier-mâché replica of Mount St Helens – properly scaled of course – with a hole in the crater so the fog can blast through. (Throwback to fifth grade, or volcano haute couture? You be the judge).
  3. Toy airplanes glued to sticks
  4. Handheld fans to demonstrate the effects of wind on ash transport

*Strobe lights and house music optional.

Trashcano at the CVO Open House


News article in The Columbian “Illustrating the Science of an Active Volcano”: http://www.columbian.com/news/2015/may/02/cascades-volcano-observatory-science-open-house/

“Trashcano” at Arizona State: Pop rocks, pyroclasts, and drones


As part of the Volcanology outreach event for Earth and Space Exploration Day at Arizona State University, we asked our visitors what drives explosive eruptions?  To demonstrate, we created transient eruption columns from liquid nitrogen explosions in a water-filled trashcan. These explosions are driven by the rapid expansion of liquid converting to gas – a great excuse to discuss the physics of actual volcanic eruptions. Details of the classic setup can be found here by Karen Harpp et al. We brought in a few twists:

  1. Added two classes of pyroclasts to the trashcano: water-filled balloons (representing denser lithics) and air-filled balloons (low-density pumice). Which should be more widely dispersed? We invited volunteers to investigate the explosion aftermath and report back to the audience.
  2. Handed out ‘pop rocks’ candy to the audience while the trashcano was being set up, to discuss the tiny explosions caused by release of pressurized CO2 gas bubbles.
  3. Teamed up with ASU’s Robotics group to film the explosions with a quadcopter drone fitted with a camera, and projected the footage onto a big screen in real-time .
  4. Filmed the action with the FLIR ONE thermal camera, a handheld iPhone attachment that detects infrared. We also compared this footage with the real deal FLIR camera from ASU’s Mars Space Flight Facility.

Here are some images and videos from ASU’s Earth and Space Exploration Day.

FLIR thermal camera footage by Michael Veto from ASU’s Mars Space Flight Facility, slowed to 0.25x actual speed

Drone footage by Ben Stinnett of ASU Engineering. Notice how the water-filled balloons (red) are not as widely dispersed as the air-filled balloons (gold) .

Handheld FLIR ONE iPhone attachment thermal camera footage taken by Sarah Cichy, slowed to 0.25x actual speed