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Physics & Astronomy

2013 Microgravity Team

For the sixth year in a row, NASA has selected a team of Carthage students to conduct research aboard its zero-gravity aircraft — but this time, the team’s work will be part of a larger experiment to be flown on the International Space Station.

Meet the team

  • Danielle Weiland ’14, a 
    physics major from Kenosha
  • Daisy Bower ’16, a physics and mathematics major from Taylor Ridge, Ill.
  • Eli Favela ’14, a mathematics and physics major from Palatine, Ill.
  • Amelia Gear ’15, a physics and studio art major from South Milwaukee
  • Kevin Lubick ’13, a computer science major from DeForest, Wis.
  • Steven Mathe ’13, a chemistry major from Wauconda, Ill.
  • John Robinson ’13, a mathematics and physics major from Kenosha
  • Seth Schofield ’14, a physics major from Kenosha
  • Faculty advisor: Physics Professor Kevin Crosby

The Carthage Microgravity Team has been selected for NASA’s 2013 Systems Engineering Educational Discovery program, or SEED. The program pairs teams of undergraduate students with NASA scientists to design and build high-priority experiments in support of space exploration. Teams from colleges and universities across the country compete for a chance to participate in SEED, which culminates with a research flight aboard NASA’s Weightless Wonder. This modified Boeing 727 flies a series of parabolas to create periods of weightlessness, and is used to train astronauts, conduct experiments, and test equipment being sent into space.

This year’s Carthage Microgravity Team will work with aerospace engineer Nancy Hall from Glenn Research Center on a component of NASA’s larger Flow Boiling and Condensation Experiment, scheduled for flight on the International Space Station in 2017.

“In the five years that we’ve participated in SEED, our team has been involved at the ground level in some really interesting research that is still being pursued at NASA centers across the country,” said physics professor Kevin Crosby, chair of the Division of Natural Sciences at Carthage and Microgravity Team advisor. “This year’s project is particularly exciting for the students because their work will have a direct impact on a long-term flight experiment aboard the ISS.”

Six years in a row

The Carthage team is one of 15 teams nationwide selected for the 2013 SEED program, and one of just two teams in the country selected six years in a row.

“Carthage is known for having strong students in physics and engineering who get things done,” said Carthage Provost Julio Rivera. “That reputation exists within NASA and within the American Institute of Physics,” which recognized the Department of Physics and Astronomy for its high graduation rates and successful placement of graduates in STEM fields.

Being selected for SEED six years running is a thrill for Microgravity Team members. “It’s amazing because we’re a small private school, and most of the SEED schools are universities with top engineering programs,” said Danielle Weiland ’14, of Kenosha, this year’s team leader.

The team will spend the next six months designing and building their experiment. In July, they will travel to the Johnson Space Center in Houston to conduct their experiment aboard the Weightless Wonder.

Teams from five other institutions will fly with Carthage in July: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Yale University, California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. 
See a list of all 2013 SEED teams.

The 2013 Carthage Microgravity Team will work on a project titled “The Degassing of FC-72.” The students must develop a method of removing dissolved gases from a liquid coolant in zero gravity, gathering data that will help NASA develop efficient heat transfer systems for future spacecraft.

“The space station, and any spacecraft, is basically an insulated frying pan: Heat is generated by equipment and people, but there’s no way for the heat to get out,” Prof. Crosby explained. “Elaborate systems of heat exchange rely on the flow of coolant through pipes, much the way your refrigerator works.” Pipes carrying coolant are brought into contact with a hot environment; the coolant absorbs the heat from the environment; the coolant boils, transferring the heat into vapor, which rises to the top and away.

The problem? “Boiling does not work the same way in microgravity as it does on Earth,” Prof. Crosby said. “On Earth, bubbles just go to the top and then pop, but in space, there is no ‘top.’ Buoyancy is a gravity-dependent phenomenon. Without gravity, bubbles have no reason to move. They can co-exist with the liquid phase and cause problems.”

This is a brand new subject for the Carthage team, which in the past has tackled zero-gravity fuel gauges, propellant slosh, lunar dust filtration, and more.

“One of the most important things about this particular project — and other projects like it at Carthage — is that students are working on a problem that right now doesn’t have a solution,” said Provost Rivera. “They’re going to have to deal with the messiness of research and come up with a solution that’s workable. That’s hard work, and that work is going to make them better students, and better scientists, when they leave here.”

“We choose our top projects based on what has the most potential for future research,” added team leader Danielle. Carthage Microgravity Team members have continued team research during the summer months, both at Carthage and other institutions. 
See how past Carthage Microgravity Team projects are continuing on at NASA.

  • Quick Facts

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    • 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

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