Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

How Volcanic Eruptions Send Materials Up and Out


Meet Dr. Ben Andrews, a geologist at the National Museum of Natural History. He studies volcanoes to get a better understanding of how eruptions happen. What causes ash and other materials during violent "pyroclastic" eruptions to spew out the way they do? Explore the physics of explosive eruptions. Reflect on the hazards scientists face in studying active volcanoes. Visit Ben's volcanology lab to see how he uses his simulator — a giant tank, talcum powder, lasers, and cameras — to model how erupted materials travel. Understand why research on volcanoes is important for our safety.

This program originally aired December 14, 2017, as part of the Smithsonian Science How webcast series, which is designed to bring natural history science and research to upper-elementary and middle-school students.

Teaching Resources

Modeling and Measuring Volcanic Eruptions

National Middle School Standards

Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

Earth Science

MS-ESS3 Earth and Human Activity

  • MS-ESS3-1: Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for how the uneven distributions of Earth's mineral, energy, and groundwater resources are the result of past and current geoscience processes.
  • MS-ESS3-2: Analyze and interpret data on natural hazards to forecast future catastrophic events and inform the development of technologies to mitigate their effects.

Physical Science

MS-PS3 Energy

  • MS-PS3-1: Construct and interpret graphical displays of data to describe the relationships of kinetic energy to the mass of an object and to the speed of an object.
  • MS-PS3-5: Construct, use, and present arguments to support the claim that when the kinetic energy of an object changes, energy is transferred to or from the object.
Resource Type
Grade Level
Earth Science