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STEM Café to probe the science and drama of volcanoes

November 10, 2016

Mike Mullin

The current threats posed by volcanoes will be explored by an NIU expert and an award-winning author of young adult fiction at the next STEM Café, held on Nov. 16, from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. in the Novak Room at Fatty’s Pub and Grille.

Jim Walker, a professor in NIU’s Geology and Environmental Geoscience department, has been studying the science of volcanic eruptions, mainly in Central America, for over 30 years. His talk will explore how volcanoes form, where they occur, and how their eruptions can affect the environment both negatively and positively.

He will also discuss the ever-improving science of volcano prediction. Thanks to real-time signals from sophisticated instruments, it is now more possible than ever to predict volcanic eruptions. Walker will discuss several possible future eruptions, including one that might someday occur in Yellowstone National Park.

For author Mike Mullin, the terrifying possibility of a Yellowstone “supervolcano” eruption has been a fictional goldmine. In a series of popular and critically acclaimed young adult novels––including Ashfall, Ashen Winter and Sunrise––Mullin has vividly imagined the impact of such an explosion in the U.S. and the world.

These novels, which chart the struggles of survivors attempting to build new communities in a devastated U.S. landscape, have received top honors from libraries and media outlets across the country.

In his portion of this STEM Café, Mullin will discuss the extensive background research on volcanoes, at Yellowstone and elsewhere, that he conducted to build a believable and scientifically plausible fictional world.

“This pairing of speakers will make for a fascinating STEM Café,” says Judith Dymond, who coordinates the series. “It’s a perfect combination of science and imagination. Science shows us how volcanoes erupt, and fiction helps us grasp the innumerable dilemmas and dramas they create for humans. Good stories like Ashfall bring to life just how much science matters to each of us.”

Food and drink will be available for purchase from Fatty’s.

Monthly STEM Cafés are one of many programs offered through NIU STEAM Works, part of the university’s Center for P-20 Engagement. Each Café provides an opportunity to learn about the science, technology, engineering and mathematics that are a part of our everyday lives.

All STEM Cafés are free and open to the public. For more information, visit, or contact Judy Dymond at [email protected] or 779-777-7713.