NARRAGANSETT, R.I. (AP) — How has the Earth evolved, and what's in store for the future? It's a sticky question that has a Rhode Island graduate student covered in corn syrup by the end of a day in the lab.

Loes (loos) van Dam thought using a computer model would be limiting. So she designed and built a large tank with six counter-rotating belts to study how tectonic plates drift and shift.

It holds 2,000 pounds of corn syrup. The syrup represents the Earth's mantle, which melts to form magma.

The belts are the drifting and shifting tectonic plates. Their intersection is the ocean ridge.

Van Dam studies geological oceanography at the University of Rhode Island's Graduate School of Oceanography in Narragansett. She says how plates drift isn't thoroughly understood and computer simulations have difficulty capturing it.