Plenty of rocks adorn volcanologist Brittany Brand’s office — spongy-looking ones; shiny, black, glass-like shards; and bulkier varieties in an array of muted colors. But for Brand, none compare to the simple gray stone with the sparkling middle. It was the first rock in her collection, one that her grandmother gave her when she was 7. She still remembers how it mystified her.
“I was convinced that a small quartz vein running through the rock was a diamond. From there I started researching rocks and then collecting them. It quickly became my passion.”

There are no volcanoes near Cincinnati, Ohio, where she grew up. But when she visited an aunt out West and first spotted Mount Rainier, her future began to take shape. “I became enamored by volcanoes and it just kind of stuck,” she said. She is still so enamored with them that she got married in Marsing, Idaho, so a volcano could be in the background of her wedding pictures. Her wedding cake was a volcano. And she spent her honeymoon hiking around volcanoes in Chile. A spiral notebook from her childhood titled “Brittany’s Stuff of Rocks” has a permanent place in her office next to her first rock and reminds her that she truly has landed her dream job in Boise State’s burgeoning Department of Geosciences, where she gets to share her passion with the next generation of “rock stars.”


“In teaching, enthusiasm goes a long way,” Brand said. “My favorite aspect of research is taking students to the field where we study the layers around volcanoes. We’re surrounded by breathtaking landscapes and we just can’t help being enthusiastic about science and volcanology.”

Brand’s research explores the eruption dynamics of volcanoes, most recently at Mount St. Helens where in 1980 avalanches of hot gas, ash and rock buried or destroyed everything in their path. She is trying to determine what eruption factors control the extent and hazard potential of such flows, and apply what she learns to other volcanoes worldwide. Brand works with volcanologists internationally combining field data, experiments and computational modeling to better predict the risk associated with future eruptions.

She recently took 17 Boise State undergraduate and graduate students to Mount St. Helens. The group camped four nights and spent three 10-hour days in the field, hiking about 25 miles in three days, which included a hike into the crater of the volcano.

Brand also was awarded a National Geographic Society grant for new research at Llaima volcano in Chile. “When Good Volcanoes Go Bad” looks at what conditions promote catastrophic eruptions. Brand and her Ph.D. student, Aaron Marshall, spent five weeks collecting data in Chile last December and are currently working to analyze their findings at Boise State.


Dr. Brittany Brand returning from a long day in the field at Villarrica Volcano, Chile. MATTHEW WORDELL

In addition to Marshall, Brand also advises M.S. student Gabriel Garcia, who studies volcanoes on Mars, and Ph.D. student Nick Pollock, who is currently in France running experiments in the lab of her collaborator. Brand also is working with former student Trevor Hawkins to design a lab at Boise State where she and her students can run volcano analog experiments. While rocks and volcanoes are Brand’s passion, her goals go far beyond that when it comes to improving society.

“It is our responsibility as scientists to communicate our passion, our enthusiasm and our adventures with the public, and sometimes I don’t think we do a great job of that. I work with undergraduate and graduate students to develop skills that are transferrable in their careers, such as how to effectively communicate to a range of audiences, and the importance of listening.”

As an alumna of Boise State (M.S. geosciences, 2004), Brand said she could not be more proud of her own experience, both as learner and teacher.

Dr. Brittany Brand & Aaron Marshall studying topographical maps at Llaima Volcano, Chile. MATTHEW WORDELL
“Boise State has grown so much, and the Department of Geosciences is becoming well known for our diverse and high-impact research groups, as well as our education program,” she said. “This is one of the most supportive, collegial, warm environments I’ve experienced in academia. If you get a proposal funded or a paper published, or your student does, your colleagues go out of their way to congratulate you. We also have a lot of freedom to do what we’re inspired to do. I want to foster the same environment for my students. This really is my dream job.”
Music Credit:
Enthusiast – Tours
Creative Commons — Attribution 3.0 Unported— CC BY 3.0 
PAINT IT! by Nicolai Heidlas Music
Creative Commons — Attribution 3.0 Unported— CC BY 3.0 
Music provided by Audio Library
(Song rearranged to adapt to video length)