A Walk in the Shadows
Kayla Iacovino is an American volcanologist, noted for her widespread fieldwork and experimental petrology. She was the first woman to do her field work in North Korea and has international experience and recognition. Originally from Arizona in the United States, she has worked in countries including Chile, North Korea, China, Costa Rica, Antarctica, Italy, Japan and Ethiopia.
Iacovino was born and raised in Arizona. She entered Arizona State University in 2005, with the initial interest of becoming an astronaut but quickly became fascinated by geology. In her sophomore year, she began working for and researching with petrologist Gordon Moore. She then pursued her doctoral degree at the University of Cambridge.
Iacovino’s work has involved carefully negotiated diplomatic relations with countries such as North Korea. During one of these trips, she worked alongside a team of their scientists as the only woman involved. She was the first female scientist to ever conduct traveling research in North Korea and was also the only American on this expedition. Iacovino is part of a small group of women in volcanology, but is highly respected for her work ethic and strength.
Iacovino’s work in North Korea is part of an international effort (which includes American, British, North Korean, and Chinese colleagues) to understand Mount Paektu, an active volcano located on the border between North Korea and China. The work is led by British scientists Clive Oppenheimer (Iacovino’s PhD supervisor) and James Hammond and was recently featured in the Werner Herzog documentary “Into the Inferno”. The group’s work has been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Notably, the publications include both western and North Korean co-authors.
In 2012, Iacovino also studied Erta Ale in Ethiopia. During this, her team was the target of a high-profile attempt to capture and imprison Westerners. Due to a delay in traveling, this was not successful – although several other tourists were harmed.
Currently, Iacovino is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at Arizona State University. Iacovino previously held a National Science Foundation Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the United States Department of the Interior US Geological Survey. She recreates magma chambers with experimental petrology, characterizes rock samples, measures volcanic degassing, and performs thermodynamic modeling.
She has also published numerous articles in scientific journals, lectured at universities such as Arizona State University, and presented around the world. Additionally, she received many prestigious research grants, including the AAAS Research Grant most recently.
Iacovino is the Editor-in-Chief of TrekMovie.com, as a longstanding Star Trek fan. She believes that science fiction is a useful tool in helping the public gain interest in science. She was also inspired by Kate Mulgrew’s character – the first female captain of Star Trek. Mulgrew has since met with Iacovino and noted that unlike Iacovino, she “only played one [scientist] on TV.”
Iacovino is involved in encouraging young women to pursue STEM careers, such as with projects like the Curiosity Science Program created through a Gold Award Project by one of BBC’s 100 Women of 2016, Erin McKenney. In this program, Iacovino described her own career as “one that requires curiosity, interest in the world, and a willingness to get your hands dirty.”