ESA's Large Diameter Centrifuge (LDC) located in ESA's Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in the Netherlands

Students invited to design microgravity and centrifuge experiments

European Space Agency (ESA) has launched this year’s Drop Your Thesis campaign, inviting European PhD and Master students to design free fall experiments.

Teams of 2 to 4 students from ESA member states can submit their proposals by 19 January 2014. The winner will be selected by March 2014 and will run the experimental campaign in the autumn of 2014, with ESA picking up the bill covering the cost of the experiments, travel and accommodation.

Using the 146-metre tall drop tower of the Centre of Applied Space Technology and Microgravity (ZARM) of the University of Bremen, Germany, the experimental setting provides unique conditions, simulating the conditions in the Earth orbit.

Dropping the experiment from the top of the tower, the researchers can achieve 4.74 seconds of weightlessness. If the experiments are shot up from the bottom towards the top of the tower before commencing the free fall, the duration of the microgravity-like period can be extended up to 9.3 seconds.

Such setting enables studying various physical, biological and chemical phenomena as well as conduct technological tests in space-like conditions without the need of launching the experiments into space, which is rather costly.

Throughout their experiments, the students will have experts from ESA at hand, as well as ZARM engineers and members of the European Low Gravity Research Association, to help them out.

ESA has been running the competition for five consecutive years. The winners of the most recent campaign will ‘drop their theses’ in Bremen at the beginning of November. The experiment designed by four bachelor students from the Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany, will investigate how particles of granular material of different shapes, sizes and substance tend to segregate rather than mix when they are agitated – a phenomenon said to have enormous effect on industrial applications.

The 146m-tall drop tower in Bremen, Germany, enables simulating weigtlessness Last month, ESA launched a sister campaign of Drop Your Thesis, looking for proposals for experiments in hypergravity – the condition opposite to microgravity when the studied object is subjected to much higher loads than under normal conditions on Earth.

The Spin Your Thesis! campaign takes advantage of ESA’s Large Diameter Centrifuge (LDC) located in ESA’s Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in the Netherlands.

Mounted inside the centrifuge gondolas, experiments can be exposed to accelerations of up to 20 times Earth’s gravity. The centrifuge is flexible in terms of experiment scenarios, duration and hardware.

The LDC supports six gondolas, plus one in the centre for control experiments. Each gondola supports a maximum payload of 80 kg, and student experiments can last from a few minutes to several days.

“Thanks to my participation in Spin Your Thesis, I have gained experience and knowledge in many areas, from researching the topic that we wanted to study to analysing the really interesting data we recorded,” said Anna Garcia-Sabaté, who participated in 2012 campaign.

“It was a great opportunity for me to improve my mechanical and electrical skills, as well as my organisational skills. The results obtained will be a part of my PhD thesis which focuses on the effects of different gravity levels on the interaction of ultrasounds with fluids,” she said.

Students have until 9 December 2013 to submit their ideas. The successful applicants will be announced in February 2014 with the actual experiments being conducted in ESTEC in the autumn of 2014

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