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Seeking the core

(Photo Credit: Hong Yang)

Hong Yang

PhD Student
Geological Sciences

Hong Yang began making observations of the natural world as a child growing up in China. His grandmother’s home in the Fujian province was surrounded by forests and mountains. “There is this gorgeous red/orange stone everywhere, almost the color of clouds during a sunset. That’s where the name of this landform ‘Danxia’ comes from.”

While growing up, Yang was interested in the natural systems that characterize the planet’s surface but now as a PhD student, Yang’s interests have expanded to the Earth’s interior. He researches the structure of iron and other light elements under high pressure. Iron makes up the majority of Earth’s core, with the inner core being a giant ball of nearly solid metal and is central to our magnetic fields. “Without the core, Earth would be subject to incredibly harmful cosmic rays. The core is fundamental in producing Earth’s magnetosphere which is this magnetic bubble that cushions us from the Sun’s ultraviolet rays.” Learning more about deep Earth tells us about all of our planet. “Deep Earth influences almost everything happening on the surface. When we study the inside, we begin to learn more about the sometimes-catastrophic influence the core has on the surface.”

In order to decipher the deep Earth, Yang uses diamond anvil cells and other tools to create pressures that resemble what iron alloys would experience in the Earth’s interior. “Our research helps to make inferences about the physical and chemical properties of these materials. The conditions are very different compared to what we experience above ground, so these experiments really are the closest we can get to understanding what the Earth’s interior is like and how the high pressure affects materials.”

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