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Beauty in motion

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Cansu Culha

PhD Student

June 1, 2018

On a Tuesday morning in August, 1999, a 7.4-magnitude earthquake shook northwest Turkey, killing 17,000 people and injuring thousands more. Buildings collapsed, oil refineries burned and communication lines failed. A few months later, the same fault ruptured again. Barely 150 miles from the epicenter, six-year-old Cansu Culha was climbing stairs to her family’s apartment when that second shock hit. “Undulations came through and started shaking up the entire staircase,” she recalled. “Nature showed its true strength.”

Culha lived with her family in Turkey for only four years, but she said the experience stuck with her, inspiring a deep respect for the planet’s grandeur and curiosity about its unseen forces. Living in the United States as a teenager, she channeled this passion into art, creating dances about wildlife conservation and carbon emissions. Now, as a PhD student, Culha spends her days using multiphase fluid dynamics to decode some of Earth’s instability – specifically, how and why magma begins to rise and lead to volcanic eruptions.

“I’m looking at the flow of fluids, how solids are interacting with liquid,” she said. “We see swirls and spherical bodies of magma trapped in host magma that has been peacefully resting in a chamber. It ends up creating beautiful patterns that I love.” Her work reveals not only beauty, but also insights about the planet’s inner workings and what triggers a dormant volcano to suddenly awaken. “I get to unravel the meaning behind these patterns.”