UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Christine Tamburri stood in the shadow of Mount St. Helens and surveyed the scars that remain 37 years after the volcano’s devastating eruption.
The Penn State geosciences student hiked between steep hills of ash and rock that spewed forth and settled on the surrounding landscape. But something else stood out among the ruin.
“You could see little wildflowers peaking up from the rocks and starting to bloom,” she said. “I thought, it’s only been 37 years, but things have come back. Things are surviving.”
The trip was one highlight of a three-semester research course sponsored by the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences Center for Advanced Undergraduate Study and Experience (CAUSE).
The little wildflowers inspired Tamburri to study how life returns following catastrophic events like volcanic eruptions. An invasive flower species dominated in areas most damaged by the eruption but was absent nearby in areas less impacted, she found.
The work recently earned her second place at the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences (EMS) Undergraduate Exhibition.
“I probably wouldn’t have done any research this year, and I would have never participated in a poster competition if it wasn’t for CAUSE,” she said. “It helped me get over my fear of doing research. It showed me you can build something from nothing. We watched these ideas come out of nowhere and turn into something. And they worked.”