Ideas for an experiment to perform in microgravity

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agelessdrifter
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Ideas for an experiment to perform in microgravity

Postby agelessdrifter » Tue Dec 07, 2010 8:25 pm UTC

A student in my physics 1 class mentioned last night that, because he has completed NASA's NCAS program, our class is eligible to enter into a program where students design an experiment to be performed in a microgravity flight, and be selected to execute that experiment. I think the flight lasts about 20 minutes. I'm a bit foggy on the details. Anyway, I was trying to think of some interesting things that one could test in microgravity and expect different (but not obvious) results than what one would see performing the same experiment on the ground, and I couldn't really come up with anything.

I mean, there are plenty of things we could do that would have obvious outcomes (any kind of gravity-centric mechanics exercise), but I don't think it'd be worth the time (though it would be fun) to design an experiment where all the students go in knowing what sort of results to expect.

Any suggestions? Doesn't even have to be an idea for a specific experiment, but even just a general idea of what sorts of things to think about -- I mean it seems like gravity doesn't play much of a roll in things outside of generic mechanics (chemical reactions, electrodynamics, and all that), and I'm just drawing a blank.

Thanks

Moose Hole
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Re: Ideas for an experiment to perform in microgravity

Postby Moose Hole » Tue Dec 07, 2010 9:39 pm UTC

Try to make smoke rings using cigar smoke.

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Re: Ideas for an experiment to perform in microgravity

Postby broken_escalator » Tue Dec 07, 2010 9:45 pm UTC

Could try playing around with fluid mechanics? Could do something along the lines of crown of thorns stuff. There's a lot of fun things to do with liquids.

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Solt
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Re: Ideas for an experiment to perform in microgravity

Postby Solt » Wed Dec 08, 2010 6:00 am UTC

Probably answered since it's such an obvious question, but what happens to the carbon dioxide bubbles in soda?

Can you create a device with a temperature gradient (not airflow) such that the flame on the candle moves in a specific direction like it does on earth?

Can you build a mechanical timepiece that works in zero g? Extra cool twist: for some designs, you can eliminate a lot of the friction!

Can you improve on (industrial mixing process x that results in homogeneous mixture)? How awesome would it be if we didn't have to shake orange juice before pouring it?? Does bread baked in zero g taste different?

Can you detect the Coriolis forces that the air in a space station is undergoing? (probably won't work on the vomit comet).

Is this a university or high school class?
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Re: Ideas for an experiment to perform in microgravity

Postby greengiant » Wed Dec 08, 2010 10:33 am UTC

A nice challenge (rather than experiment) would be to try and build a machine capable of orienting itself in the micro-gravity. You could try and have it sense some combination of the micro-gravity itself/the earth's magnetic field/changes in gps position/the difference in radio emissions from earth and space/etc. Might not be what you're looking for, but it'd be neat to have built something that can work out which way it's pointing in (almost) no gravity.

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agelessdrifter
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Re: Ideas for an experiment to perform in microgravity

Postby agelessdrifter » Wed Dec 08, 2010 1:36 pm UTC

Solt wrote:Is this a university or high school class?
This is a community college course. The extent of our collective knowledge in physics essentially ends with Archimede's principle for the time being.

Thanks for the interesting ideas, but I think most of them are a bit out of our league.

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Re: Ideas for an experiment to perform in microgravity

Postby idobox » Wed Dec 08, 2010 2:40 pm UTC

There are a lot of funny things to do with fire :D
The shape of the flame is caused by convection, hotter gases going up. But in microgravity, there isn't a "up", so what happens to match, an alcool lamp or a candle in microgravity?
And it can get even funnier if you soak a sheet or rope in alcohol, or light a cloud a alcohol droplets.

You could devise an experience to demonstrate a very small force, that is usually hidden by gravity.
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Re: Ideas for an experiment to perform in microgravity

Postby Spen » Tue Dec 14, 2010 6:44 pm UTC

You could try the experiment where you have a wire in between a pair of bar magnets and see what happens when you have the electric current flowing one way and then the other. (One direction should cause it to be pushed down, one should cause it to be pushed up according to a simple combination of Fleming's Left Hand Rule and Newton's Third Law of Motion).

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Re: Ideas for an experiment to perform in microgravity

Postby Antimony-120 » Thu Dec 16, 2010 12:40 am UTC

agelessdrifter wrote:
Solt wrote:Is this a university or high school class?
This is a community college course. The extent of our collective knowledge in physics essentially ends with Archimede's principle for the time being.

Thanks for the interesting ideas, but I think most of them are a bit out of our league.


There are a few odd ones, relying mostly on the distinction between a lack of gravity and a lack of air. For example, what will happen to a frisbee thrown in microgravity? What would occur in you were to very gently squeeze a tube of toothpaste? A tube of water? Would they react the same or not? (If that seems to simple a question, consider water versus syrup). Suppose I have a bucket of water, and I shoot a stream of water at it. When I'm done squirting the water, will there be more or less water in the bucket than when we started? Does it matter if the bucket is mostly full or mostly empty?

We all know oil floats on water. If I pour oil and water into a flask, take it into microgravity and shake it, will they still seperate? If so, will it take longer or shorter than in gravity? What about if I spin the flask constantly?

Most of those aren't ready to go experiments, but they might give you some ideas.
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