When an art professor and an earth sciences professor team to perform some mind-bending research, awesome things are bound to happen. Together Robert Wysocki from the Department of Visual and Performing Arts and Jeff Karson from the Department of Earth Sciences at Syracuse University in the US lead the Syracuse University Lava Project, a research group interested in unlocking the secrets of this very special molten material.
As part of their research, the pair house a supply of basaltic lava, which is a type of lava that's characterised by its extremely high levels of iron and magnesium. In nature, basaltic lava erupts into the ocean from the sea floor at depths of 2,500 metres and below, and above ground, from volcanoes in Hawaii and Iceland.
Right now, the Syracuse University Lava Project is using their lava to carry out several research projects investigating its morphology and behaviour, including how it flows through various types of channels; how it interacts with ice; and how its viscosity and morphology are affected by different types of materials such as stainless steel. They've also offered up their facilities for the testing of new equipment designed for use on active natural lava flows.
Wysocki and Karson have performed over 100 lava flows so far as part of their scientific and artistic endeavours, but their most recent cascade did something it’s never done before - it cooked a couple of juicy ribeye steaks.
Working with Bompas and Parr, the researchers delivered a flow of lava from an extremely hot furnace into a contained strip of dry ice. A pair of 280-gram steaks and a couple of corns on the cob sat on a grill just above the flow, where they were exposed to temperatures of over 1,148°C (2,100°F).
Now, 1,148°C might sound pretty hot, but how does cooking a steak a temperatures five times hotter than the surface of the Sun sound?
Earlier this year, Bompas and Parr worked with researchers at the University of Southampton’s Tony Davies High Voltage Laboratory in the UK to cook with lightning. During the experiment, their lightning hit temperatures of around 27,760°C (50,000°F). Bompas and Parr describe the process on their website:
"Working with the lab’s scientists, we generated an alternating current through a transformer which was channeled through a gap of eight inches [20 cm] surging at 200,000 volts. This is well within the average strength of a lightning strike. Steaks were inserted into the surging bolt of electricity. They tasted good, though a little metallic."