Skip to main content

Physics & Astronomy

2008 Microgravity Team

Five Carthage students participated in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Systems Engineering Opportunity program in spring 2008. The Carthage team was one of 10 teams of students chosen from nearly 100 applicant teams to go to Houston.

“It was certainly a very interesting experience,” said Brad Frye, ’10. “It was really cool to see where NASA works, and we were treated like VIPs, so we got to see places most people don’t go.”

Brad said he was able to take special behind the scenes tours at the Johnson Space Center, including visits to mission control centers for the Apollo and space station missions.

“I found it to be an awe-inspiring, amazing experience,” said Isa Fritz, ’10. “It was amazing to work with NASA. You hear about how intelligent they are, and never think you’ll be able to join them.”

Project: Lunar Dust Filtration 

The five physics majors’ assignment was to assess the efficiency of a device used to filter out lunar dust.

“I never had to design and build something before,” said Emily Sorensen, ’09. “There are bumps along the way, to me it was fun fixing those problems and finding something that would work. I’m going into engineering and this whole program made me realize this is what I want to do.”

Lunar dust “causes health problems and messes up machinery,” said Kevin Crosby, associate professor of physics and astronomy. “This lunar dust is very fine, it’s everywhere, and Apollo astronauts had a real problem with it. The particles are so small, they can get right into lung tissues.”

But, Prof. Crosby explained, traditional filters won’t work on the lunar surface, and it would be impossible to build structures there without solving the problem.

Prof. Crosby designed a filtration device, and the five students built it. Emily said the five students would “brainstorm as a team, come up with ideas and pick the best one.”

Brad said he and his colleagues “had a lot to do, and worked hours each day building the rig. I’d say it was worth it, I learned a lot.”

Two Flights on the Weightless Wonder

Students spent 10 days at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

“We had to tell them all about our project, any safety issues, and what we’d do to prevent anything bad from happening” Erin Martin, ’09, recalled. “It was pretty intense. Every day, we had to be prepared for the worst, and hope for the best.”

The highlight of the trip was two flights to an altitude of 39,000 feet, aboard a plane that provides a reduced-gravity environment, similar to that found in space. Describing parabolic maneuvers on the flights, Prof. Crosby said that “the plane just sort of drops out of the sky for three miles. It’s indescribable, the first time you experience weightlessness.”

Isa said she “asked one of the flight crew if they could spin me around at zero gravity. I’d seen astronauts spinning and twirling, and I always wondered what it would feel like.”

Erin recalled that “we only had about 30 seconds of lunar gravity to test our experiment. It was the strangest feeling. I almost hit the ceiling, and you felt so much strength in your body.” But she cautioned that “if you turn your head too much, you’ll get sick.”

At zero gravity, “you have no control,” she added. “You feel like you’re swimming, but there’s no friction. You get disoriented, because you’re not used to being able to walk on the ceiling.”

While in Houston, Erin also met an astronaut, and undertook a test of her ability to function in a low-oxygen environment.

“I was breathing really heavily,” she said, and found herself unable to answer simple questions.

‘Vibrant Physics Department” 

At Houston, most of the other teams were engineering students from much larger schools. Prof. Crosby feels Carthage’s presence was a tribute to the College’s physics program.

“We have probably one of the most vibrant physics departments in the country for schools of our size,” he said.

Emily is participating in a special five-year program for engineering students. Starting this fall she will attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison for two years. After two years, she will receive a bachelor of arts degree from Carthage, and a bachelor of science in engineering from UW-Madison. She said she will miss Carthage.

“When I came I knew the school had a good physics program,” she said. “I see professors on a daily basis, whether I have a class with them or not.”

Caitlin Pennington, ’09, said she plans to pursue a graduate degree in engineering. She said she is glad she chose Carthage because attending a smaller school gave her more options for studies.

“I’ve always wanted to work for NASA,” Caitlin added. “If I can’t be an astronaut, I’d like to support them in their mission. I was really impressed by how enthusiastic everyone was about their jobs.”

  • Quick Facts

    • Carthage is named a Best Midwestern College by The Princeton Review (2021), a designation given to only 25 percent of four-year schools.

    • The Tower, Carthage’s newest residence hall, provides some of the best views on campus — if not in the Midwest! In addition to #carthageviews of the lake from seven stories up, residents enjoy suite-style living and two floors of shared campus spaces for gaming, cooking, group meetings, or quiet studying. Learn more about all housing options.

    • You’re going to need brain fuel. Grab a morning coffee and a snack and Starbucks or Einstein Bros. Bagels. Later, meet friends at “The Caf,” where the specials change daily but the staples are constant, or swing through “The Stu” for wings, a burrito, or a sub. A new option, Carthage Cash, even covers some off-campus meals.

    • More than 90% of Carthage alumni report that they have secured a job or are continuing their studies six months after graduation. Visit The Aspire Center.

    • 91% of employers say critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills matter more than your major when it comes to career success. Learn more about how the liberal arts prepare you for a successful career.

    • Lots of schools wear the four-year label. Carthage stands behind it. More than 90% of Carthage graduates earn their degrees in four years. Learn more

    • Computer science students watch Prof. Mark Mahoney’s recorded lecturers in their free time, so he can nearby “when they do their real learning,” he says. He has company: Physics professor Brant Carlson’s quantum mechanics video playlist has been viewed more than 170,000 times. 

    • Oscars. Emmys. Tonys. Golden Globes. The playwrights we’ve brought in have them. Each year, the Carthage Theatre Department commissions an original script by a renowned playwright for its New Play Initiative. Carthage students then work with the writer to stage it. 

    • Carthage has ranked as a top Fulbright producer for four of the past five years. Read about Carthage Fulbright winners.

    • Things look new at Carthage because they are. Our science center, student union, athletic and recreation center, and numerous residence halls have all been constructed or newly renovated in the last 15 years.

    • Carthage offers majors, minors, and concentrations in more than 50 areas of study, from marketing to neuroscience, nursing to music theatre.

    • Our Summer Undergraduate Research Experience offers select students a research budget, one-on-one mentoring with a professor, and 10 weeks of analyzing, deciphering — and getting paid.

    • So the lake is kind of a focal point, but there’s a lot more to love about our campus — like the fact that our more than 80-acre campus is also an arboretum and wildlife sanctuary. Focused on keeping campus lush forever, we plant between 50 and 75 new trees every year from a variety of species.

    • Carthage was founded in 1847. That’s more than 170 years of leaders, makers, and go-getters going out and going forth. Read more about Carthage’s rich history.

    • More than 90 percent of students receive financial aid. Carthage awards more than $20 million in scholarship and grant assistance. That includes $5.5 million in competitive scholarships in business, mathematics, science, languages, the fine arts, leadership, and overall academic strength. Learn what’s available.

    • Abraham Lincoln was an early Trustee of the College, and U.S. Secretary of State John Hay was a Carthage alum. The two still have a proud place on our campus. Spend some time with them in our Sesquicentennial Plaza. On warm days you’ll find professors leading their classes here.

    • Come to Carthage; hear yourself think — think … think …
      Legend has it that Sesquicentennial Plaza holds a perfect echo. Just stand with both your feet on the “1847,” face Straz, and start talking. “You’re the only one who can hear you, but you’ll be crystal clear,” promises English and theatre alumna Mikaley Osley.

    • Our Great Lake provides Carthage students with some amazing views. Think classes on the beach, lake views from the lab, and sunrises from your dorm room. “I love waking up in the morning with the sun shining off the lake. Nothing compares to the view in the morning,” recalls biology and neuroscience major Ann O’Leary.

    • Carthage awards up to 35 Presidential Scholarships each year, which range from $25,000 up to full tuition. Learn more.

    • For a full decade, NASA has selected Carthage students to conduct research aboard its zero-gravity aircraft. Lately, the stakes have risen. A team of underclassmen is grinding to prepare a tiny but powerful Earth-imaging satellite for launch to the International Space Station. Learn more about the space sciences at Carthage

    • Carthage is the only college or university in the Midwest where every freshman takes a full-year sequence of foundational texts of the Western intellectual tradition. Learn about Intellectual Foundations.

    • With a student-faculty ratio of 13:1, your professors will know who you are. They will also know who you want to be — and how to get you there. Meet our faculty.

    • There are more than 130 student organizations on campus, from Amnesty International to Fencing to Frisbee, Chem Club to Stand Up Comedy. See how easy it is to get involved.

    • True story: There are more than 27 art galleries, a dozen museums, and nine theatres within 25 miles of Carthage. Some highlights: The nationally recognized Racine Art Museum, the world-renowned Art Institute of Chicago, and the Milwaukee Art Museum. Learn more about our location.

    • What’s better than one professor? Two professors. What’s better than two professors? Two professors from totally different fields teaching a single class. There’s debate. Discussion. Differing perspectives. This is where the magic happens. That’s why every student takes a Carthage Symposium.

    • You can’t hide here — not with only 17 other students in the classroom with you. That’s going to be rough some mornings. But later, when you’re able to argue your point of view thoughtfully, express your opinions succinctly, and meet challenges head-on, without fear … Yep, you’ll thank us.

    • Carthage is ranked in the Top 5 in the country for student participation in short-term study abroad. Every J-Term, hundreds of students travel all over the world on faculty-led study tours. Imagine a month in Sweden, Rome, Cuba, Senegal, India, Japan …