High school teachers conduct gravity-defying experiments

Anybody Seen my Comb?
Teacher Lori DiLisi of Beaumont High School in University Heights, Ohio flies through the air with the greatest of ease in the weightless environment aboard NASA's reduced gravity C-9 airplane.

Photo credit: Vinaya Sathyasheelappa

Teacher Lori DiLisi of Beaumont High School in University Heights, Ohio flies through the air with the greatest of ease in the weightless environment aboard NASA's reduced gravity C-9 airplane.

On an early morning in May, Lori DiLisi–a teacher at Beaumont High School in University Heights, Ohio–found herself savoring the novel experience of weightlessness aboard NASA’s reduced gravity C-9 airplane, affectionately dubbed the “Weightless Wonder.”

DiLisi was a member on one of six teams of high school teachers who conducted experiments in zero gravity aboard the aircraft this year. All six teams were selected as part of an APS-sponsored World Year of  Physics 2005 project, in which high school physics teachers and their students were invited to come up with experiments that they could do in zero gravity.

In addition to DiLisi and her Beaumont High School cohorts, the other teams hailed from Circle High School,Towonda, Kansas (KS-4th); Columbus High School, Columbus, Georgia (GA-2nd); Glenbrook North High School, Northbrook, Illinois (IL-10th); Greendale High School, Greendale, Wisconsin (WI-1st); Roosevelt High School, Seattle, Washington (WA-7th).

After a few scheduling delays, the teams spent ten days at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, first undergoing several days of flight training and safety briefings before flying with their experiments. The day of the flight, they had a medical briefing, dosed up on anti-nausea medication (just in case), zipped themselves into bright orange flight suits, and boarded the aircraft.

DiLisi’s team made glycerol bridges–drops of glycerol suspended between two posts–of various lengths and widths, and measured their stability under microgravity.

The team from Circle High School in Towonda, Kansas studied the motion of objects in microgravity.

Other experiments included a free-floating robot that used a light sensor grid and student-generated software to control the robot’s orientation; three separate experiments on magnetism in zero-gravity; a study of granular materials in an electric field; an investigation of how paints interact with themselves, each other, and different surfaces while producing unique artwork in zero-g; and an experiment to measure the tumble rate of a two pound pico-satellite.

The flights were successful, and all groups got some good data to take back for their students to analyze. The teachers and participating students then returned to their schools to share what they’ve learned by giving presentations about their experiments and developing activities for use in their schools and communities.

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