UC Science Radio: Episode 4

Dr Ben Kennedy: Rocking out with volcanoes

Ben Kennedy, UC Science Radio, podcast, web image

Volcanologist Professor Ben Kennedy wants to start a revolution – against traditional, passive teaching lectures. Dr Kennedy is leading by example through his own teaching, which includes integrating real-world volcanology research into his lectures and lab sessions.

In this episode, the award-winning teacher discusses his teaching methods and the interactive games he co-developed to engage students in science and technology through educated play. Prof Kennedy also talks about his research into volcanic eruptions and why it’s so hard to predict them.

Rocking out with volcanoes

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In this episode

00:50 I am a volcanologist, so I research volcanoes and why they erupt. I also do a bit of research into how students learn, and specifically how students learn geology and volcanology in the field.

03:45 We don't really know what magma chambers look like. It's kind of like the "final frontier" for geologists.

04:08 There's a big international project in Iceland at a volcano, where a geothermal company accidentally drilled into a magma chamber. They drilled into it to extract heat and to generate geothermal energy. They were not expecting to have magma rising up their drill hole.

06:24 I'm pretty lucky volcanoes tend to be in pretty exotic places.

13:05 I'm probably unusual compared to a lot of scientists, but I really am motivated by fun.

13:50 We've got a game called "Magma Drillers Save Planet Earth." And that was a game that we originally developed for school children, but it actually turns out that university students also enjoy it and can learn a lot from it as well.

14:54 We use actual data and the decisions that the students are making are the exact same decisions that we the scientists are making now, and this is a real project. It lends itself so much to a game because it sounds like a bad science fiction movie, so that's ideal for a game to get kids excited about science.

Read a transcript of the episode.

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Meet our speakers

Ben Kennedy

Ben Kennedy

UC volcanologist Professor Ben Kennedy is an internationally recognised scientist and award-winning teacher who travels the world’s volcanic hotspots to understand the science behind eruptions. An expert in physical volcanology at UC's , Prof Kennedy says his research and teaching are “driven by a love of volcanoes and fuelled by experiments and projects that are fun, exciting and important to society”. In 2019 he won the UC Teaching Medal – UC’s highest award for tertiary teaching excellence. His efforts also earned him the Sustained Excellence award at the 2017 New Zealand Tertiary Teaching Excellence awards.

An interactive game he co-developed – called "Magma Drillers Save Planet Earth" – for school students was shortlisted for QS Reimagine , “the Oscars of education”: a global competition that rewards educators finding imaginative new ways to enhance student learning and employability.

More about Ben: Research profile | Watch Ben's UC Connect public lecture—"Why on earth would you drill into a magma chamber?"

Learning resources: Magma Drillers Save Planet Earth (game) | Iceland Virtual Field Trip

Molly Magid

Molly Magid

Molly Magid is an MSc student at UC. A recent graduate of Brown University, Molly is working on research in conservation genomics with Associate Professor Tammy Steeves from the School of Biological Sciences. Molly is passionate about finding ways to communicate science to the public in a clear, novel, and engaging ways. Most recently, Molly worked as the lead student producer on the podcast Possibly, which answers listener's questions about sustainability using relevant science research.

On teaching, and in the field

UC Teaching Medal 2019

Associate Professor Ben Kennedy talks about his love for volcanoes and making teaching, and learning, fun.

Drone v/s Volcano

Using drones, UC geologists get up close and personal with an erupting volcano, Mt Yasur, on Tanna Island, Vanuatu.

Drilling for Magma

UC scientists travel to the Krafla volcano in Iceland, to study ancient magma chambers exposed by erosion.