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Fordham Undergraduates Headed for NASA









 

Fordham Undergraduates Headed for NASA

NASA has selected an industrious team of young Fordham College at Rose Hill scientists to conduct research aboard the famed Boeing KC-135 plane used by NASA to simulate a reduced-gravity environment.

The Fordham team—seniors Eve Stenson, Peter D’Amico, Meghan McDonald, Kelly Sheridan and Michael Thorne—competed against 117 teams from around the country to win a coveted space in the 2004 Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program.

The program, sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, allows students to propose and design reduced-gravity research experiments that can be tested on the KC-135, an aircraft originally used by astronauts to prepare for space flights. The students are judged on the technical and safety merits of their proposal as well as their plan to share the results of their research with the University and science communities, according to Deanna Wilmore, the KC-135 program coordinator. Some of the other 69 winning teams hail from schools such as Brown, Duke, Harvard and Carnegie Mellon.

The specially modified KC-1 35A turbojet transport, above, flies parabolic arcs to produce weightless periods of 20 to 25 seconds.


“This is a prestigious prospect for Fordham and a great opportunity to have our students on the national stage,” said Martin Sanzari, Ph.D., a physics professor and the group’s mentor.

Stenson, a physics and chemistry double major, is the Fordham team leader who developed the winning experiment, which studies the liquid dynamics on the surface of soap bubbles.

Typically, when a bubble is blown, the liquid on a bubble’s surface tends to move to its bottom, creating turbulent eddies.

Using liquid soap, food coloring, straws and a bubble wand, the students are studying the behavior of the soap film in the absence of gravity.

“It’s a simple diffusion experiment,” Stenson said. “We are looking at how quickly the liquid’s surface reaches equilibrium, spreading evenly from the spot where a drop of food coloring is applied.”

The team is also looking at how the vibration created by adding food coloring affects the bubble’s surface.


Stenson and her team will be in Houston from March 4 through 13 to conduct their experiment on the KC-135, a plane used by NASA that simulates a weightless environment similar to the one experienced by astronauts in outer space.

The team started conducting bubble experiments last fall and submitted their proposal to NASA in October. DuPont Chemical Company is donating a Plexiglas box that they will use to contain their experiment on the plane. They will use a digital camera mounted on the box to record changes in the bubble surface as they are happening.

Stenson and her team will be in Houston from March 4 through 13 to conduct their experiment on the KC-135, a plane used by NASA that simulates a weightless environment similar to the one experienced by astronauts in outer space. The plane will perform parabolic maneuvers—like the motions of a roller coaster—over the Gulf of Mexico for about 30 minutes. Students will conduct their experiments during 25-second zero-gravity intervals, the point when a rollercoaster pauses at the top of an incline before plunging downward.

“This is a great deal more exciting than a summer internship because it’s more novel,” said Stenson, who learned about the program during an internship at NASA in Cleveland a couple of summers ago. “It’s not everyday that you get to experience weightlessness.”

Prior to going up in the KC-135, the students will have to undergo physical examinations and physiological tests to ensure that they are ready for flight.

“The students learn a lot about teamwork in this program where they are developing a project from the ground up,” Wilmore said. “This program exposes students to something that is very unique that most people do not have the opportunity to experience.”

— Michele Snipe

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