Three Experiments Employ Molten Wax To Demonstrate Science
"Bring It Back," a small and inexpensive microgravity
spaceflight kit, has won the do-it-yourself technology and
education space competition sponsored by NASA and MAKE
The competition challenged participants to design experiments
that could be built for under $200 by high school students to
eventually fly on a suborbital flight. In addition to being low
cost, the winning entry also had to illustrate sound science,
technology, engineering and math (STEM) principles. The competition
was designed to inspire curiosity and create interest in STEM among
classroom teachers and students.
The "Bring It Back" concept, created by Houston engineers
Prashant Rao and Subra Sankaran, outlines three experiments using
molten wax to demonstrate important principles of science and
engineering. Each experiment can be performed using the same
equipment, making the kit versatile. The students will use wax to
understand the dominance of surface tension, wetting effects and
the impact of a lack of buoyancy in the absence of gravity. Other
science concepts include simulated boiling, fluid flow behavior and
bubble movements induced by temperature changes, natural
convection, and wake flow.
"It is a challenge to create an affordable and achievable method
for microgravity experiments, but the Houston team came up with
three innovative options, using materials easily found in most
communities," said Bobby Braun, Chief Technologist at NASA
Headquarters in Washington. "As a result, students across the
country will have the opportunity to gain first-hand experience
with some of the principles required in a career in science and
Sponsored by Teachers in Space, a project of the Space Frontier
Foundation in Nyack, NY, the first "Bring It Back" kits will fly
aboard the Excelsior STEM mission scheduled to fly on a Masten
Aerospace unmanned suborbital mission later this year. Teachers and
students will assemble the experiment kits at a Suborbital Flight
Experiment Workshop at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center's AERO
Institute in Palmdale, CA, in early August.
"At this stage of their lives, we think it is particularly
important to provide an experience that will get students excited
about science and engineering in general, and space in particular,
all in an artistic and imaginative way," Sankaran said. He is a
senior thermal specialist at MEI Technologies and Jacobs/ESCG in
Houston. Rao is a principal engineer at Barrios Technology and
Jacobs/ESCG in Houston.
Their kit was selected as the winner by NASA's Ames Research
Center in Moffett Field, CA, MAKE Magazine and Teachers in Space.
Sankaran and Rao will be honored May 21 and 22 at the Bay Area
Maker Faire in San Mateo, CA.
"I believe that makers are inspired by the emerging
opportunities for 'do-it-yourself' space exploration," said Dale
Dougherty, founder and publisher of MAKE Magazine, a do-it-yourself
publication for technology. "We are proud to partner with Teachers
in Space and NASA to encourage makers to develop space science kits
that high school teachers can build and fly on suborbital flights.
The project's ultimate goal is to open the door for the next
generation of makers to gain real-world experience in space