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University of Missouri

Boiling Down Lava

Doctoral student Arianna Soldati wins Mizzou’s first Three Minute Thesis contest.

Soldati portrait

Ariana Soldati, a doctoral student in volcanology, researches lava flow. Photo by Rob Hill.

Arianna Soldati teaches students and often presents at scientific conferences. “I normally don’t get nervous at all,” she says. “But this was a little more — shaking.” She holds up trembling hands. Soldati, a doctoral student in volcanology, won Mizzou’s inaugural Three Minute Thesis event, an international competition founded in Australia in which doctoral students explain their thesis work in three minutes to a non-specialist audience. Daunted at first, Soldati quickly decided to avoid “the its and bits” of her work and instead tell a story illustrating its social utility. She still mentioned that she studies how to predict the viscosity — thickness — of lava from any given volcanic eruption, but she started by explaining why. The less viscous lava is, the farther it will flow in an eruption. During a recent study trip to Guatemala, Soldati got to examine fresh lava that had overrun a coffee field. At first she was thrilled by the opportunity. But when she saw the already-struggling coffee farmers trying to figure out how to recover from the destruction, her thrill morphed into determination — to push forward and help those farmers and others prepare and protect themselves in the fertile foothills of their fire-spewing neighbors.