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Sci-Tech

Home-brewed lava helps scientists conduct hot experiments

University researchers in Buffalo, New York, cook up their own molten rock to better understand what happens when lava gets wet.

One of the most dramatic and rare sights from a visit to Hawaii's Volcanoes National Park is watching lava flow from Kilauea volcano into the Pacific Ocean. It's an activity that usually requires a boat and is quite dangerous for obvious reasons and the fact that the collision of molten rock and sea water releases toxic gases and airborne particles that can damage lungs and eyeballs, among other things.

Geologists from the University at Buffalo in New York have devised a way to study the fascinating interactions between hot lava and ice or water without the expense and risk of a trip to an active lava flow -- they've opted to brew their own homemade lava. (Bizarrely, they're not the only people cooking up lava in upstate New York.)

In the above video, you can see the results of melting 10 gallons (38 liters) of basaltic rock in a high-powered induction furnace for about three to four hours, stirring occasionally with a steel rod until it reaches a nice bubbly 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,371 degrees Celsius) and is ready to pour. The made-from-scratch lava will then be mixed with water in a controlled, safe environment and researchers will gather all sorts of data to understand more about the dangers that lava poses when it goes for a swim.