Volcano Research Rocks on for Alumna With a Plum Postdoc

May 16, 2023

A 2023 Earth and Environmental Sciences graduate lands a postdoc at the American Museum of Natural History.

Samantha Tramontano headshot
Samantha Tramontano (Ph.D. ’23, Earth and Environmental Sciences) will continue her volcanology research at the American Museum of Natural History. (Photo credit: Alex Irklievski)

In 2021, Samantha Tramontano (Ph.D. ’23, Earth and Environmental Sciences) had what fellow volcanologists would consider a dream experience. She, her adviser, Professor Marc-Antoine Longpré (GC/Queens, Earth and Environmental Sciences), and fellow student Franco Cortese (Earth and Environmental Sciences) were in the Canary Islands as the Cumbre Vieja volcano erupted, sending rivers of molten rock flowing over the island of La Palma. They gathered samples of ash and lava as the volcano spewed them out.

Now, back in New York, Tramontano is on the verge of another sought-after experience. With her Ph.D. wrapped up, she is about to start as a postdoctoral research and teaching fellow at the American Museum of Natural History. She will guide graduate students in the Master of Arts in Teaching program at the museum’s Richard Gilder Graduate School. She will also continue her study of the crystals, glasses, and gasses emitted by erupting volcanoes through fieldwork and experiments.

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She considers the experimental aspects of the research especially exciting, she said. She will use instruments at the museum that simulate the pressure and temperature of Earth’s crust to make magma and mimic its ascent toward Earth’s surface.

“I’m also very excited to work with future educators who will be teaching local geology to NYC high school students — a way for me to contribute to a system of which I am a product,” said Tramontano, who attended the well-known Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts in Manhattan, where she studied music performance.

“CUNY prepared me for this role by allowing me the opportunity to teach upper-level research-based courses and work with undergraduate researchers at Queens College and the College of Staten Island,” she said. Also, her dissertation research gave her the analytical and technical skills she needs for the role, she said.

As a doctoral student, Tramontano sought to understand what makes sleeping volcanoes erupt. That question brought her to the Cumbre Vieja volcano and to Nicaragua to explore past eruptions of the Momotombo volcano.

“It has been an amazing opportunity to study volcanoes as a Graduate Center student because I was granted the opportunity to work in areas — mostly Nicaragua and the Canary Islands — alongside local agencies and researchers in an effort to link igneous processes across tectonic settings,” Tramontano said. Through the far-flung fieldwork, she connected with international researchers to address big questions in volcanology, such how to determine when eruptions begin and end.

Tramontano grew up in Staten Island, far from volcanoes. She grew interested in them while an undergraduate at the University of Rochester. A fully funded introductory earth science spring break field trip showed her the wonders of active margins — places where colliding tectonic plates spur earthquake and volcanic activity.

A subsequent study abroad experience in New Zealand, a hotbed of seismic activity, piqued her curiosity about the chemistry and textures of crystals and igneous rocks and what they reveal about the structure and nature of magma underlying volcanoes. “Besides their stunning appearance in hand samples and under magnification, crystals and rocks are extremely rich in the information they hold,” Tramontano said, “and I find it to be really special to have the access to be a translator for them.”

Tramontano accompanies her science pursuits with heavy doses of the arts. She still plays her saxophone, flute, and clarinet; listens to live music; and even dabbles in visual art. “It’s still very important for me to always have some creative outlet,” she said.

She shared advice for students searching for postdocs. “Follow what inspires and excites you in settings that support what you need,” she said. “Pursuing multiple passions in and outside of academia can only add to your unique perspective and approach.”

She added, “I encourage seeking opportunities and research collaborators where your unique insights and skillsets are welcomed and nourished.”

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