Houston, we have bubbles: Team experiments for NASA syringe



By Kellie Oates

Some people may think of NASA projects being light years away, but one NASA project is going to hit a little closer to home — particularly, UK’s home.

For the third year in a row, UK’s Weightless Wildcats, a microgravity team made up of 10 undergraduates, has been selected to conduct an experiment for NASA. UK was one of fifteen schools accepted out of 100 that applied.

Once accepted, the team must design, fabricate, fly and evaluate an experiment of their choice within four to six months, according to the microgravity university Web site.

John McQuillen, the team’s NASA sponsor, said this year the team will monitor air bubble movement in 20 syringes. The syringes will be filled with water and possibly water and alcohol. Some details the team will be concerned with are the speed at which the liquid comes out, the sieve material and how these affect the air bubble movement.

When the team returns, it will be involved in technical outreach with younger students. The team hopes to visit a second grade class at a local elementary school to talk with students about the project and to teach them what they can accomplish with math and science, McQuillen said.

Mechanical engineering junior Daniel Moore, mechanical engineering senior Travis Cimino, computer science senior Sam McDonald and chemical engineering senior Kari Liggett, four of the 10 students on the team, are on the flight crew. The four will conduct the experiment in a microgravity environment of a NASA aircraft.

Cimino said this year’s experiment is not new to the team.

“The experiment we are conducting is actually a continuation of the experiment conducted last year, which tried to determine the force necessary to move an air bubble out of a syringe (in zero gravity), but there were no conclusive results,” he said. “NASA has developed a syringe that will help with this problem. A sieve made of a special material, which is one of the factors we are testing, will be used to push the bubble out of the tip of the syringe.”

Cimino said the team will be testing how fast and effective the new system is and will be in Houston during the second week of April.

Moore said one of the tasks the team will be taking on is fine-tuning the project.

“During our flight week we will be putting the finishing touches on our experiment and preparing for our flight day,” Moore said. “Before flight day, any fliers have to go through training inside a hyperbaric chamber.”

Moore said NASA could use the research they do aboard the aircraft, called the “Weightless Wonder,” for future missions.