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MSU grad teaches science lessons on national TV

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History Channel program focused on Yellowstone supervolcano

By Melynda Harrison MSU News Service

BOZEMAN — A Montana State University graduate who teaches earth science and chemistry at Billings Senior High School recently taught science lessons related to Yellowstone’s supervolcano – one of Montana’s most talked about natural features – on a national platform.

Craig Beals, who received degrees from MSU in 2005 in biology and secondary education, was host of a special television program that aired on the History Channel in December.

Beals was approached to do the program by Bozeman-based Grizzly Creek Films, a production company founded by graduates of MSU’s master’s program in science and natural history filmmaking.

“They were looking for a science teacher who gets excited about science,” Beals said.

The one-hour special was filmed last summer around Joliet, Billings Senior High and Yellowstone National Park.

For the program, Beals took experiments he already did in his classroom, such as dissecting explosions, and scaled them up. In one segment of the show, Beals blows up a pop bottle with liquid nitrogen and sends a garbage can “off into space.” The demonstration showed how the magma chamber under Yellowstone National Park is expected to react to a build up of pressure beneath the surface of the Earth.

Shooting a bowling ball out of a homemade cannon demonstrated the intense power and pressure of Yellowstone’s geysers. When Beals shot a gun in a swimming pool – while dressed as James Bond – the shockwaves of the underwater shot mimicked the shockwaves expected when the supervolcano erupts.

The episode capped off with a huge explosion in the middle of a field. Beals drew an outline of Yellowstone, dug a two-foot hole, and stuffed it with explosives, with the help of a licensed explosive expert. The explosion and enormous dust cloud floated over the outline of the U.S., demonstrating how potentially catastrophic a real explosion would be.

Through all the experiments, and while touring Yellowstone National Park, Beals bursts with enthusiasm and excitement.
“I hope the viewers are entertained by this idea of going out and chasing their curiosity, because that’s what science is all about,” said Beals, adding that he found his calling at MSU.

“I’d watch how much fun [MSU physics professor] Greg Francis had teaching, and I thought, ‘If that guy is having as much fun as it looks like he is, I want to do that,’ so I added the education piece to my biology major,” Beals said.

Beals said his students were impressed with their teacher’s television appearance.

“They loved it,” he said. “They all clapped at the end and cheered.”

Because some of the demonstrations in the show were bigger versions of classroom experiences, Beals’ students scaled up their understanding of large, natural occurrences.

Beals is a native of Billings and a 1997 graduate of Skyview High School. After earning his degree from MSU he completed a master’s degree in zoology at Miami University in Ohio.

He has been at Billings Senior High for 11 years, teaching earth sciences, biology, chemistry and honors chemistry.

Beals was named the 2015 Montana Teacher of the Year by the Montana Professional Teaching Foundation based in Helena. In that capacity he served as an ambassador for public education, represented Montana in the National Teacher of the Year program, and attended national events.

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