PORT ARTHUR —
A team of physics students from Lamar University boarded a NASA spaceflight last month in order to prove theories that could prevent pump failure and inform us about the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse.
Since NASA suspended manned space flights last, the C-9 G-Force One airplane, a gutted 727 with scientific equipment bolted to the fuselage, is the closest anyone will come to the zero gravity of space.
Based out of Johnson Space Center’s Ellington Field south of Houston, the plane flies young scientists, like Aleiya Samad, Nederland High School class of 2008, over the Gulf of Mexico and flies in a series of parabolic drops that simulate zero gravity, or reduced gravity for 25 to 30 seconds at a time.
Samad, a candidate for a bachelor’s degree in the Science of Chemical Engineering at Lamar University, and her collegue Aaron Weatherford, used the opportunity to test a theory of dispersion, the mehcanical wave phenomena that caused the Tacoma Narrows Bridge to wooble wildly and collapse in 1941.
“They didn’t think through the dispersion, that’s why the bridge fell,” Samad said.
Using a tortional wave machine the students studied how wave frequencies travel in reduced gravity.
Samad said the reduced gravity ride is much like floating in a pool, except easier.
“When you are up there you don’t have to use anything to stay in place,” said Samad. “It is kind of like you are flying and you don’t have to use any muscles at all. It’s pretty epic.”
Over seven day program the Lamar students were able to share ideas with students from other college’s and universities across the US, including the Massechusetts Institute of Technology, Yale and the University of Texas.
“You get to meet people from all over the country,” said Samad. “Everyone got along really well.”
Only 14 out of 96 schools who applied were selected for the program.
Samad said that studying dispersion may be helpful in eliminating problems with pump equipment useful in the local industry.
“If a pump is not working properly or malfunctioning it is likely that it will lead to other problems,” Samad said.
The theory proposed was that if the gravity was reduced, the wobble caused by the wave phenomena would not be as great, according to Rafael de la Madrid, the team’s advisor and assistant professor of Physics at Lamar University.
“The expirement proved that resonate frequencies depend on gravity,” said De la Madrid. “We still have to analyse the data more thouroughly but it looks like it was proved.”
De la Madrid credited the students entirely for the experiment’s inception.
“If they hadn’t have been so thorough I don’t think we would have had the experiement,” said De La Madrid, “because we didn’t know about this problem with the wave tortion machine until they discovered it.”
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