Monday, December 19, 2011

Science on Saturday

Science on Saturday is a series of lectures given by scientists, mathematicians, and other professionals involved in cutting-edge research. Held on Saturday mornings throughout winter, the lectures are geared toward high school students. The program draws more than 300 students, teachers, parents, and community members each Saturday. Topics are selected from a variety of disciplines.

The program runs January through March, and is free and open to the public. Lectures begin promptly at 9:30 AM. Click here for the Science on Saturday 2012 schedule.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Plasma lessons, crushed marshmallows and all

By John DeLooper

Today, Friday is the end of the conference. The last session concludes at about 12:30 p.m. There will be some additional satellite meetings but most folks will be leaving today and tomorrow (if we can get out with the expected snow storm…)

This was the second day of the Plasma Expo. It takes a lot of effort to get the students to this event. Teachers need to make the arrangements including organizing bus transportation and collecting permission slips. The plasma educators from the various laboratories arrange and run the Plasma Expo. In addition to the exhibitors, there are a number of individuals greeting the bus and escorting the students into the exhibit hall. They are the unsung heroes of the Plasma Expo! They help make sure that we track the students through the convention center.

More than 1,000 students attended the Expo today. As usual, our volunteers did a superb job. It’s not always easy explaining plasma to a middle school student and how the plasma in a fluorescent tube can be 10,000 degrees. It’s always wonderful when you see the look of amazement on a student's face when he or she sees something unusual (like crushed marshmallows or a Jacob’s ladder) and absorbs the scientific message. That makes our day.

Although the conference ended at 12:30 p.m., our Expo went beyond, til 2 p.m. At the conclusion, we took down our display, packaged our exhibit materials, and placed them on skids. Our graduate students helped the Science Education staff to dismantle the display. Although we try to mimic the great work our shipping folks did in sending the material to us, we hope that the skids get back to the lab safely…. we’ll know in about a week!

My thanks to the Science Education staff, our scientists, post-docs, and graduate students for all of their help in a successful educational outreach effort!
--John DeLooper is the head of outreach and best practices at PPPL.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Plasma Expo: More 1,400 learn about the fourth state of matter

By John DeLooper

Today is the first day of the plasma expo. Over 1,400 students, both middle and high school, attended. Students visited each of the various exhibitors. In some cases they came to learn more about plasmas and fusion. In other cases they had specific questions that they had to answer. We supply these questions to the teachers so that they can make sure their student does go to each exhibitor. Students typically spend an hour and half visiting the exhibits.

The expo starts at 8:30 a.m. and goes to 2 p.m. Although the science education staff arranges the set up, the real key to our success are the scientists, post docs and graduate students who staff the exhibit and explain the plasma exhibits to the students. Without their help, this would never be as effective and impactful for the students. For their service we are very grateful. The pictures reflect the expo as it evolves. Sometimes we are waiting for students and then we are very busy. At one time during the morning there were six individuals behind the table talking to more than 24 students at the same time. It is pretty hectic during those time frames.

During the day, the scientific meeting continues with presentations and poster sessions.

We reopened the exhibit for the public in the evening between 6 and 8 PM. This allows teachers and parents to bring their students who couldn't come during the day as well as anyone else who would like to attend. Attendance varies widely from each meeting and the city it is located in. The exhibitors run a pool to guess the number of visitors we'll have in the evening session which was so congratulations to Tom from Oak Ridge and Aliya from Princeton who shared the $18 pool!

After the evening plasma expo a number of exhibitors moved up the block to see the choir rehearsal of the world famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The choir practice is every Thursday evening between 8:00 and 9:30 p.m. It is open and free to the public. The choir consists of 360 individuals supported by a full orchestra and a pipe organ that has more than 11,600 pipes. This was very impressive.

Tomorrow is another expo day and then we get to pack up and go home.

--John DeLooper is the head of outreach and best practices for PPPL

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Setting up for the Big Day and Recognizing Student Poster Winners

By John DeLooper
(Reporting from the American Physical Society meeting this week in Salt Lake City)

PPPL's Plasma Expo display: The calm before the storm

Today was a relatively easy day. Stephanie Wissel, Aliya Merali, Deedee Ortiz and I set up the PPPL booth for the Plasma Expo which will happen Thursday, Nov. 17. This involves unpacking two pallets of supplies containing more than 600 pounds of materials and setting up our display (as shown in the photo) and building the plasma displays we will use to teach students about plasma, the fourth state of matter. We are expecting more than 1,200 students each day. In addition, we will open the display to the public on Thursday evening.

While staff from PPPL and other research centers – including General Atomics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Nevada Test site, University of Wisconsin, and ITER—worked to set up displays, the meeting continued with presentations and posters sessions.

This evening the banquet will occur. The featured speaker will be Alan Nathan who will speak on the Physics of Baseball. But the more important item will be the announcement of the winners of the student poster competition.

Here are the winners, out of 76 contenders:

• “Study of Sheath Potential and Plasma Density Profiles in the Presence of Strong Secondary Electron Emission from Walls” by Huy-Sinh Trung, University of Virginia, research conducted at PPPL.

• “Breaking the Four-fold Symmetry in the Paul Trap Simulator Experiment”, Stewart Koppel, University of Texas at Austin, research conducted at PPPL.

• “Simulation of Shear Alfen Waves in LAPD using the BOUT++ code”, Di Wei, University of Denver, research conducted at UCLA.

• “Ramifications of Driven Spontaneous Flow and Turbulent Transport on Cross-correlation Functions in the Large Plasma Device”, Giovanni Rossi, UCLA, research conducted at UCLA.

• “Oscillation Modes of a Relativistic Drifting Cold Plasma”, Michael Meyers, Drake University, research conducted at Los Alamos.

• “Optimization of Neutron Activation of Carbon at the NIF, Danae Polsin and Megan Russ”, SUNY Geneseo.

It is also important to recognize the mentors for the 76 posters. Each student had one or more mentors who devoted 10 weeks of time and effort. This is critical—it’s how we bring new scientists into the research world.
--John DeLooper is the head of outreach and best practices at PPPL

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Teacher’s Day

By John DeLooper

The morning started very early. I got to visit with my fellow hotel guests at about 1:15 a.m. when the fire alarm went off – no fire, just a false alarm. Today is an outreach day. We have more than 60 teachers here. After an introduction, they attended a workshop to cover the basics of plasma – our Plasma 101 course. It is given by three individuals – the groups are broken up into middle school teachers, high school and advanced high school. I presented the middle school session using PowerPoint slides, movies, and hands-on demos. There were 33 teachers in the session with several visitors (folks who help run the Teacher’s Day event, including Deedee Ortiz from the PPPL Science Education group). Workshop topics included– cosmology, fusion demonstrations for the classroom, the electromagnetic spectrum, light and nature of matter, understanding Newton’s laws, and Stars: Plasma physics in the sky. Here, teachers learn about the electromagnetic spectrum in a lecture by Rick Lee from General Atomics.

All of the teachers have lunch with one or two scientists at each table. These are scientists who are attending the conference.

Teachers ask questions and learn. A couple of gifts are given away – three $50 coupons to buy supplies, a couple of plasma balls and some money to buy a lighting fixture. The fixture will be used to hold a half-coated fluorescent lamp given to the teachers by the Coalition for Plasma Science. It is part of a goodie bag of information and supplies given to the teachers at the end of the day. Teachers will also have an opportunity to bring their students to the plasma expo which will be held on Thursday and Friday.

This afternoon the educational poster session occurred. This allows students who have worked at the Laboratory or another research organization to present their results to the scientific community. Thirty-one students supported by PPPL programs presented their research at this poster session. In addition, three of our PPPL science educators presented posters on our work – Andrew Zwicker, Stephanie Wissel and Aliya Merali. The students’ posters are judged by scientists (the students don’t know who is judging) and the best are recognized in a student appreciation session at 6 p.m. (Just another long but worthwhile day at APS!)

In addition to these activities, there was another full day of technical sessions, posters and other meetings conducted through the day.
--November 15, 2011
John DeLooper is the head of outreach and best practices at PPPL

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

APS Plasma Physics meeting kicks off with NSTX science

By John DeLooper

Welcome to the 53rd Annual Meeting of the American Physical Society Division of Plasma Physics being held in Salt Lake City, Utah. This meeting is the biggest meeting in the U.S. for scientists to report their results when it comes to plasma science and fusion energy results. Over 1,650 individuals are here from around the world to give presentations and review information with their colleagues through poster sessions.

The meeting days are long. Today we started at 8 a.m. with a review talk. Then the meeting breaks up into sessions. This morning, there were three presentation sessions, a poster session and a mini-conference on geospace plasmas. One of the morning sessions was on the National Spherical Torus Experiment at PPPL. The room was filled with over 250 individuals while presentations were made by NSTX team members (both PPPL staff as well as a number of our collaborators).

This afternoon there was another session starting at 2 p.m. and going to 5 p.m. Then there was another meeting and presentation by the University Fusion Association that started at 7 p.m. Ed Synakowski, the Head of the US DOE Office of Fusion Energy Sciences made one of the presentations at this meeting.

This is very different from any other meetings I’ve attended. Everything is timed and listed in the program. So individuals may listen to one presenter in a particular session and then move to another session to specifically listen to another author. So it is not uncommon for fifty or so individuals to move after a particular presentation. The program book listing all of the talks and posters seems to weigh about 4 pounds!

Today is also a day of preparation. Tomorrow, we will be hosting teachers from the local school district for a day of professional development to learn about plasmas. I make a presentation to middle school teachers on plasma 101 and fusion energy. So today we have to find all of the supplies we shipped and get the material ready for teachers day. The wonderful news was our supplies had arrived and after checking them and moving them into my “classroom” everything worked after a few minor repairs.
--- November 14, 2011
John DeLooper is head of outreach and best practices at PPPL

Friday, October 21, 2011

PPPL's MINDS Technology Takes Nuclear Detection to the Marketplace | Department of Energy

A software system designed by the Energy Department's Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) originally to help decommission a nuclear reactor is now on its way to helping federal authorities detect hidden nuclear materials, including "dirty bombs," in airports and shipping terminals around the world. 
Read on...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

It’s a gas….PPPL in the news

Is there really a helium shortage or is it all a lot of hot air? The Trenton Times examined the issue, interviewing one of our experts, Mike Williams, associate director of engineering and infrastructure at PPPL. Cornell University physicist Robert Richardson got the story going, predicting that the world’s helium supply will dwindle to zero within a quarter of a century. Williams pointed out that the “shortage” was created by a 1996 federal action opening up reserves stockpiled since the Cold War. “The law let (the United States) sell off its reserves willy-nilly, and now our reserves are actually dwindling,” Williams told the Trenton Times. Williams is not worried. The Lab uses the liquid form of the element for vacuum pumping and recycles a lot of the material.
For the full story, go here: Link

Coming soon…A Roadmap to Fusion

Hutch Nielson, director of advanced projects for PPPL, reported in the ITER Newsline ( that 65 fusion researchers from 10 countries came to Princeton University’s McDonnell Hall last month to map out the path to commercial fusion energy. The International Workshop, “MFE (Magnetic Fusion Energy) Roadmapping in the ITER Era,” was organized by Nielson and other members of an international committee of fusion leaders and hosted by PPPL. “With the ITER project now launched on its mission to answer outstanding questions regarding the control of burning plasma, the countries engaged in fusion research are planning, with renewed intensity, the research and major facilities needed to develop the science and technology for harnessing the fusion energy from a burning plasma for commercial use,” Nielson writes. A summary of the workshop is being prepared for publication and a list of participants and all of the presentation material is available here: Link

-- Kitta MacPherson

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Adventure Ends on a High Note

By John DeLooper

This was the last day of the great microgravity adventure.

Each team was required to make a presentation on its work activity. It could be in any format, but ingenuity was encouraged. Twelve teams were required to present. Some teams chose PowerPoint presentations, and some home-made movies. The Space Cowboys chose to have a campfire and a sing-a-long with s'mores!

We did have some VIP's in the audience including Kumar Garg, a policy analyst from the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Leland Melvin, an astronaut who is now the Associate Administrator for Education in NASA.

When it was our turn, my wonderful teammates invited Leland to become an honorary Space Cowboy - he accepted and helped us perform our campfire songs. Our team performed the classic, "Fly Zero - G," "We've Been Working on our Project," and "Fly, Fly, Away," each with great audience participation. A picture of the Space Cowboys including Leland is below - he's in the white shirt with a tie and cowboy hat.

So here are the words to "Fly Zero - G" (to the tune of "Home on the Range"):

Oh, give us our meds,
For our dizzying heads,
So we can fly and not worry or puke

Where our team's never late
And our projects just great
And our data is accurately clear

Fly, fly, zero g
Where we'll float and then we will spin
With bubbles galore
Coils, springs and much more

And we're ready to do this again.

After our songs, we thanked the NASA and DOE for this wonderful opportunity. It was truly an amazing experience.

But the work was not done yet. We still had to pack all of our hardware up and get it ready for shipment. As we did that, we took one last picture of all the teams associated with the Department of Energy with our hosts from the Reduced Gravity Office. All of the team members signed the banner which will now be hung in the high bay of the RGO.

Now we are done. Allison is on her way home. The rest of us travel tomorrow. The adventure is complete. But a few of us are already thinking of ideas and possible funding to get other experiments on this wonderful laboratory! Thanks to the RGO for a wonderful experience and a great memory!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Farewell with banner flying

By Adam Cohen

Today, we had the final presentations from the teachers on their experimental results, and we bid farewell to our NASA hosts. What an incredible experience - top to bottom (to top to bottom to ......). We left the Reduced Gravity Office folks with a PPPL banner that flew on the ZeroG, signed by all the participants, so when future PPPL teams go, they will see the banner flying high in the hangar!! (If you look closely, you can see me playing lacrosse, at least, I think that's me......) Lots of stories, photos and memories to share with the PPPL community.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Johnson Space Center

By Adam Cohen

Yesterday we had two flights to stay ahead of the storm - literally: Tropical Storm Don is expected to deliver a bunch of rain to Houston today. We also had a bit of a behind-the-scenes tour at the Johnson Space Center, and saw the mock-up facility, the neutral buoyancy lab (where they simulate moving in space by being underwater) and the control rooms for both the International Space Station and the historic Apollo mission control. Here I am standing at the communication officers panel.

I wonder if anyone ever pushed the button I'm pushing, which is......

Does anyone know if we had one of these in the TFTR Control Room, back in the day???

July 28 Mission Control

By Patti Wieser

PPPL team teacher-researcher Matt VanKouwenberg is at the controls in the Apollo Mission Control Center at the Johnson Space Center. Photo by Patty Hillyer

Banks of controls and small blank computer screens filled the room, facing large screens. We were touring the Apollo Mission Control Center at the Johnson Space Center this afternoon while the last of our groups conducted their experiments aboard a zero-G flight. Dial phones, along with pneumatic tubes for sending messages — similar to those used at banks in the drive-through — were scattered among all the buttons on the government green consoles. One of the NASA guides said young visitors usually don’t know what the dial is. She said, too, that the message tubes sometimes had transported cigarettes and “other things” when the room operated.

The room has been designated a National Historic Landmark.

It reminded me of the old PBX — Princeton Beta Experiment — Control Room at PPPL, which was dismantled several years ago. It, too, had small screens for black-and-white-only images and data.

So much history — and so many wonderful discoveries — in space exploration and fusion research.

The last zero-G flight for our teams was this afternoon instead of tomorrow morning, bumped up because of storms in the forecast.

Tomorrow the teams make their final presentations.

What a week it has been.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Day After

By John DeLooper

Everyone who has flown has recovered from the medications - everyone was tired last night.

Today we went to the Johnson Space Center for a professional development session for the teachers. The speaker covered all of the resources that are available from the education centers at NASA as well as a hands-on experiment on some toys that have been tested in microgravity in the space station. The teachers had to guess what happens to the toy in space and then they showed the video of what actually happened.

The B teams flew today. But instead of having one flight, a decision was made to move the Friday flight up to this afternoon. This was done because of the impending storm "Don" that is moving into the designated flight pattern. Both flights were accomplished - Aliya flew in the morning and Andrew flew in the afternoon.

During the afternoon we got the official tour of some NASA facilities. We were able to go into an engineering facility that has life-size mockups of the space station and the Russian transport vehicle. This is where they go through flight plans with the astronauts and develop engineering solutions.

We traveled by bus to the neutral buoyancy lab where the astronauts do training in their suits for outside the space station. This pool is over 100 feet wide, 200 feet long and 40 feet deep. Unfortunately, all of the training was done for the day by the time we arrived.

Back into the bus to mission control to see the folks controlling the space station. Our tour guides explained each of the positions and activities that could be accomplished from the room - they can control the hardware on the station.

Above this control room is the historic control room for the Apollo program. We were able to enter this and see the actual room in which history was made - man landing on the moon as well as bringing back the Apollo 13 crew. Over the water cooler is a mirror from the Apollo 13 crew that was pulled from the lunar module to make up the weight since they did not have rocks from the moon. It was put in the control room to remind the controllers that the real heroes were the folks in the mission control room.

This was an impressive tour.

Class Photo

Class Photo
PPPL staff and Science Education teams at NASA, July, 2011 (Photo courtesy of NASA)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Big Day

By John DeLooper

Today was the day. The first briefing was by the flight director explaining what was going to happen, to relax, to breathe and make sure we don't develop tunnel vision - his words of advice - to make a memory because this probably will be the one and only time you will do this. There was a however.... you need to be working on your research ...the reason we are here. As he explained, you are government personnel and you are using a government laboratory - make the most of it.

Then the doctor came in and reviewed a number of items and handed out the medications to try to ward off motion sickness. Everyone, except one, took the meds.

The steward of the plane then briefed us on safety equipment, the hoods for emergency oxygen and the very, very limited bathroom facilities. Then the famous march to the plane with the NASA folks as well as our staff, who recorded it with photos and video.

As we entered the plane we took our seats at the back end of the plane. Below is a picture of what the inside looks like from the seats. Our experiment is the third one - taller glove box. In the picture, Aliya is hanging the banner we had made up. On Friday, we'll all sign it and hang it in their "high bay" room.

So we departed, flew to altitude and then had about 10 minutes to start our motion sensors and video cameras (2 sensors and 4 cameras). And then the evolutions began. It was amazing. We completed 30 full microgravity cycles and one Martian and one lunar cycle. Our experiment worked. We still had difficulties - one of our bubble machines fell down, one of our cameras shut down but overall this was a successful experiment. The teachers also got to do some outreach activities using some toys to show the effect of microgravity. Andrew and I tossed a tennis ball back and forth - very cool. We should be getting the NASA video in a couple of weeks to share with others. The approved flight plan which took us over the Gulf of Mexico  is shown in the picture below. 
Before you knew it, the experimental phase of the flight was done. We cleaned up, shut things down and went back to our seats heading back to the Ellington airfield. We landed and marched out of the plane with the camera folks taking pictures. Then back into the briefing rooms for the post-flight brief. There were a lot of happy people - the teachers who worked with me were very happy, grateful and full of ideas on how to use this in their classrooms. Unfortunately, some folks on the flight did get sick and had a rough time. They were well cared for by the flight surgeon.

After turning in my flight suit, I thanked the steward for his efforts on the flight. I did tease him about a few improvements they might make - didn't get any frequent flyer miles, there was no movie available and there was no inflight magazine to read.....

And by the way, I certainly made a memory.

Later on July 27

The Bearable Lightness of Being

By Patti Wieser

There’s nothing that quite describes the experience of weightlessness. Nothing.
                                                     Patti Wieser pre-flight   Photo by Susan Franko
I flew today on NASA’s zero-gravity flight with teachers who had taken their reduced-gravity experiments aboard through a NASA-PPPL partnership.

When you reach zero-G, your body floats.


I felt giddy. A little high. Exhilarated.

Between weightlessness, we dropped to a padded floor. I chose to be flat. My feet felt like I was wearing cement boots when I tried to lift them.

And then we began to lift. Weightlessness. Wow.

The Zero-G aircraft does parabolic arcs to produce short periods of weightlessness, according to NASA. These periods are several seconds each. There were 32 parabolas. We were in a zero-G environment 30 times, once in a Martian gravity (one-third) environment and once in lunar (one-sixth).

What an experience. And how lucky am I to be able to go along for the ride?

One group of PPPL teacher-researchers logged data using a sharpie marker and laminated paper tied to the clear box that enclosed their experiment. Then they dropped to the floor when the gravitational environment changed. They were clumsy when they used glove boxes to adjust experimental parts. They laughed as their hair swirled around them. Some did somersaults. One proposed to his girlfriend in a video shot in zero-G. Who could resist that?

And who could ever say science is boring?

Weightless (video)

Video taken by Adam Cohen Tuesday, July 26, aboard NASA's Weightless Wonder

Up there

Text and photos by John DeLooper

Six teams and some VIP's got to fly today. Patti H., Susan and Nick flew from the Space Cowboys. They were brought into the briefing room, given medications and then lined up to march into the plane. A few were a little giddy based upon the medications...

Once the plane was loaded, those of us not going on the flight stood by watching the protocol - because most of us are going tomorrow.
We were able to track the plane on the computer and could see the flight path as well as when they were going to land. After they landed, most of my team members bounded down the steps in complete glee. It appears that the DOE teams had a "no kill" flight - no one got sick. That wasn't true for some others but most appeared to be recovered based upon the group photo at the end of the flight.

In the afternoon, Heather Paul, an engineer who designs space suits, provided us with some of the interesting details on what it takes to build a suit that will be functional yet protect the astronaut. The Trenton team poses with the demonstration suit.

In the end, not everything worked as we expected for our experiments. Hardware broke. Cameras moved. But we learned and made some modifications and will try again tomorrow. Allison, Darrell and I will run the experiments. The big day has arrived!

July 27 -- Heading Up

By Patti Wieser

Today I fly.

Details about the experience to follow.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

July 26 -- Burst My Bubble

By Patti Wieser

So gravity really does cause bubbles to burst.

That’s what one teacher-researcher concluded today after our first group of teachers, team leaders, and staff — about 10 under the PPPL banner — conducted various experiments aboard NASA’s Weightless Wonder.

Teacher Pat Hillyer, a member of the PPPL Space Cowboys team, said a few minutes before boarding, “We are going to try to prove that bubbles pop because of gravity.”

Hillyer, along with Susan Franko and Nick Guilbert, donned cowboy hats and green NASA jumpsuits to conduct their experiments, “Surface Tension of Bubbles in Zero-G, 1-G, and 2-G” and “Oscillations in Microgravity” during a 90-minute flight with 32 parabolas. Data analysis and additional experiments need to be conducted before the bubble breaking results are confirmed. 

The three cowboys, along with PPPL’ers Adam Cohen, Kathleen Lukazik, and Aliya Merali, were among a couple of dozen teacher-researchers and NASA staff on the flight that departed at 10:30 a.m.

Before takeoff, they listened to Ball in the House, an a cappella group, while relaxing in the hangar. “I’m not nervous,” said Hillyer, who has been involved in several summer teacher programs at PPPL and was thrilled with the microgravity week opportunity. “PPPL has given me a hand up, not a handout,” she said.

Guilbert and Franko said they were excited, but calm, too. “I’m looking forward to experiencing weightlessness and doing experiments that I would otherwise not be able to do,” Guilbert said. Guilbert, who has run PPPL’s Plasma Camp for high school teachers every summer, teaches at the Peddie School in Hightstown. Franko teaches at the Gregory Elementary School in Trenton. And Hillyer teaches at Matawan-Aberdeen Middle School in Matawan.

The group boarded the aircraft with large blue lettering that read, “Zero-G” and a tagline underneath in gray, “The weightless experience.” The day was hot, sunny, and breezy.

We watched them take off, and then waited inside for their return. A NASA staffer had told them, “This is going to be the time of your life.”

And it was, by the look on the faces of Hillyer and others as they deboarded. Hillyer was the first teacher-researcher to step out. She waved, smiled, and gave hugs to several PPPL’ers.

A short time later, teams members returned to the plane to troubleshoot, remove portions of their experiments, make lists of what they needed to do repairs and replenish, and ready the experiments for tomorrow’s flight.

Flying and floating

Can't even begin to describe the feeling of your whole body floating. This experience was incredible. The hardest part is actually conducting the experiment as things float around -- including you!

Got a chance to play lacrosse at 0G with one of the members of the Jersey City team, so they did let us have some fun. We had lacrosse sticks, a ball, and monkeys floating -- we purchased monkey dolls at the NASA store dressed in silver space suits and tossed them.

Now we are working on getting the experiments reset and modified to fly tomorrow.
                               -- Adam Cohen

Almost there!

Almost there.  Heading to plane now.  All systems a go!
Photo by Adam Cohen 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Day 5 -- The Test

Making the grade so the experiment can fly 

Text and photos by John DeLooper
Our goal today was to pass the NASA safety review so that our experiment could fly. We completed our assembly, solved some problems (missing power supply for  a camera and broken support) and set the top of the glove box into position. As we were working, several of the folks who would later be part of the review stopped by and asked questions - the Electrical Safety engineer reviewed each of our power supplies and how much current was required. Some time just before the review, we were required to go to the flight line to take a class photo in front of the Zero-G plane.
Our team mate Darrell was responsible for presenting the experiment and our safety documentation to the 20 NASA folks performing the safety review. After the review, the entire glovebox had to be weighed - we did have a weight limit of 40lbs for all of our experimental gear - and we had to put the gloves on the box since we have more than 6 fluid ounces of soap and water solution (we are going to make bubbles and experiment with oscillators).  We met the weight requirement and loaded our box onto the forklift that would bring it to the plane. Darrell and Nick then went on the plane to help load the glovebox.
During the afternoon we received additional briefings - primarily trying to make sure we are prepared for the event and do everything we can to make sure this is a "nominal" event - in other words - we don't hurl anything.  Nominal is the "NASA" word.... Instructions were also provided on how to properly place any extraneous materials into one of two plastic bags each of us will carry. We also signed more releases - I've given away my firstborn away several times already -  and were issued our flight suits.  We have to give the flight suit back but we get to keep our official name tag. Adam is shown modeling the  flight suit in front of a NASA experimental aircraft in the hangar where we are assembling our experiments.  He's gone from the depths (subs) to the peaks.... 
Tomorrow is the big day - half my team will fly - I will fly on Wednesday. This should be good!

First look inside

T-17 and counting

Experiments loaded up and the teams were given a chance to check the access to their gloveboxes.  Inside has regular seats in back and padding in front. We also were fitted for flight suits.  T-17 hours!
Photo and text by Adam Cohen

July 24 -- Sea Legs

Sailing into Flight Week

By Patti Wieser

Sunday was a free day. Some of us spent it relaxing with an activity that tested our motion sickness. We went sailing.
The Sunday sailors from the PPPL-NASA microgravity week are, from left, Bob Corell, Sophia Gershman, Tim Anderson, Joy Barnes-Johnson, Patti Wieser, and Andrew Zwicker. Darrell Williams also sailed. — Photo by Darrell Williams

Seven of us from the PPPL teams rented a boat at Clear Lake. We loaded it up with refreshments and sunscreen, and set sail. Green waves glistened in the sun and lapped the sides of the sailboat, and the gentle Gulf breezes gave us relief from the humid 95-degree weather. We left gray skies and distant storms behind. “Captain” Tim Anderson (a Princeton High School teacher on one of the PPPL teams) and his “crew” steered us out of the channel at Clear Lake and raised the sail when we reached Galveston Bay. The water was smooth, but the waves and the movement of the boat as it occasionally heeled over — leaning to one side because of wind — reminded me of what could be in store on the zero-G flight. The movement was different than that caused during parabolas (steep climbs, followed by descents), but motion sickness is motion sickness.   

My sea legs gave out about a half hour before returning to the dock. Maybe the Mexican brunch, with all those jalapeno peppers in the eggs, hadn’t been such a good idea.

Taking a spin

Two days earlier, NASA’s Javier Roque called me to the front of the room to test disorientation and motion sickness principles during the Aerospace Physiology Briefing for the zero-G flight teams. He had given us prevention tips. I wanted to keep my equilibrium during the parabolas.

I took a seat in a rotating chair and he began to spin me around. When the chair stopped, I was to bend down, touch my toes, bring myself up, and point to the candy machine at the back. I watched the faces — about 80 — swirl by. The ride was slow. I lost count of the spins and the chair stopped. I touched my toes (or at least my ankle area), sat up and pointed to the candy machine. I did OK. Javier said my hand wavered a little. For a few seconds after the chair stopped moving, I felt a mild sense of vertigo. Some other zero-G participants told me later I had nailed the exercise. I entered the weekend — and the sailing expedition — confident.

What’s a little seasickness? When I felt wobbly on the sailboat, I went below deck, rolled an icy water bottle over my forehead, and steadied myself on the bench.

I am now following all the dietary and rest recommendations meant to keep motion sickness at bay during the zero-G flight. The pre-flight meds should help, too.

My small plastic bags will be empty when we land Wednesday.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Galveston...briefly before The Big Day

By John DeLooper

Several of us decided to go to Galveston today to see an oil rig museum and visit the town. Galveston is about 35 minutes south of our hotel. The oil rig was previously used in the Gulf of Mexico and has since been turned into a museum to show the public about the oil industry. Unfortunately, Kathleen and Adam had to be rescued.....(just joking....)
After some lunch, we went to the beach to put our toes into the water. While some practiced retail shopping therapy, others rested in the rocking chairs.
Tomorrow is the big day. We plan on getting in as early as possible, since we need to have our experiment ready for the safety review by 10:30 AM. We've been told that 20 NASA folks will be checking out our experiments to make sure they are flight worthy. We will see....

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Day 3 - Saturday - Teacher Education Curriculum Workshop

By John DeLooper

Today is devoted to having the teachers develop their ideas on just how to bring this wonderful experience to the students in their classroom. How can they take this event and the research they will conduct next week and communicate that in their classroom?
In the morning, the teachers developed curriculum and created posters and then described their experiments to the other teams. The teachers reviewed each other's work and voted for the "best" poster - the Falling Tigers team (Princeton) won.

In the afternoon, the teachers developed curriculum using experiments designed by other teams and created a poster sharing their new ideas. The teachers congregated around the six experimental ideas that they liked - each forming a new team based on their interest.  Each "new" team was allowed two minutes to "sell" its poster (some infomercials were more effective than others.... kinzo knifes included... and if you act now, we'll double your offer....). The teachers reviewed the posters and voted again for the "best" poster. The "slick spheres" won.
Each member of the winning teams gets a $20 coupon for the NASA gift shop.
Tomorrow is an off day. My team is going to Galveston to see the city and visit an oil rig. Now, off to dinner....

Teachers at program: Inspired and inspiring

By Patti Wieser
We are at the Johnson Space Center today, where six teams of K-12 educators are developing curricula using their microgravity experiments. Next week, the teams will launch these experiments aboard NASA’s zero-gravity flights through a collaboration between PPPL and NASA under the Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program, thanks to the efforts of PPPL Science Education Head Andrew Zwicker.

The collaboration provides a unique experience for teachers to propose, design, fabricate, fly, and evaluate a reduced gravity investigation of their choice.

NASA’s Cynthia McArthur, addressing 80-plus program participants during an orientation session yesterday, emphasized that one of the goals in NASA education is to inspire students. “I want you to leave here empowered,” she said.

And how better to inspire students than to inspire their educators. The NASA-PPPL partnership exemplifies this mission — training the next generation of scientists, as well as those responsible for training the next generation — and mirrors the mission of PPPL’s Science Education Program and its head, who is the NASA team mentor to the six teams supported by PPPL. Each team is made up of about six teachers and one team leader.

Yesterday, we found out some fantastic news first thing in the morning — we were invited to the welcome home party for the crew from the final space shuttle. The ceremony took place at Ellington Field’s Hangar 990, in the open space right next to where the PPPL-affiliated teams had set up their zero-G experiments for pre-flight reviews.

The four STS-135 (space shuttle) astronauts had landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida the day before, completing the Space Shuttle Program’s last mission. We joined about 2,000 others who had gathered on the hot (95 degrees) and humid day for the ceremony.

Our teams had wrapped up their experimental set-up in record time, left the hangar through its rotating gate, and turned around to wait in line to enter the party inside the hangar. Enthusiasm mingled with the heat as we shared in this momentous day, which was — in the words of one NASA employee — “bittersweet.”

The STS-135 crew consisted of Captain Chris Ferguson, pilot Doug Hurley, and mission specialists Sandra Magnus and Rex Walheim. Walheim told the crowd that he had seen a sign when they landed at Kennedy that summed up the last 30 years: “Don’t cry because it’s over, but smile because it happened.”

The shuttle program began in Houston three decades ago, and concluded at the place where it all started.

We had waited in the blistering sun, dripped in perspiration, and — once allowed to enter after a security sweep of the area — found shade under the roof of the hangar. It was worth every drop of sweat and cramping leg muscle to steal a glance of this valiant crew, whose sweat — along with courage, brilliance, and determination — fueled the shuttle mission. Standing near PPPL collaborator Nick Guilbert (a teacher on one of our zero-G teams) and me were two young NASA coop interns. The aerospace engineers had taken a break to witness the final welcome home — a farewell — to the last shuttle crew. The young female engineer said she could not remember a time when there wasn’t a space shuttle. Yet she and her male colleague glowed with optimism for the future of the space program, and for a future filled with scientific challenge and discovery. It is these very kinds of young people who our programs — the education programs of NASA and PPPL — hope to continue to inspire and who become inspirations themselves.

Lunch 'N Learn

John gives a lesson in the finer recreational skills that all budding astronauts must know.  Oh, and John's team LOST (to Aliya, Andrew, and Adam, AKA the A-Team)! Photo and text by Adam Cohen

Friday, July 22, 2011

Physiology, Real Astronauts, and the Space Cowboys

By John DeLooper
Today we gathered at 7:20 a.m. to go over to the NASA facility. Amost everyone was on time. When we got to the field there was a change in plans and we had to move to another facility -- they were planning a special event that I'll describe later. We got our badges and then we were welcomed to the facility by Cynthia McArthur.  Because half the plane is DOE experiments, Andrew also got to welcome the group.
We then had a two hour briefing on physiology. Everything you wanted to know about hypoxia, hyperventilation, protective breathing equipment (see the picture of Nick Guilbert below, one of my Space Cowboys teammates), trapped gases (you don't want to know how many cavities the human body has....) and finally, disorientation and motion sickness (the instructor has a few volunteers demonstrate how easy it is to fool the mind.)

Our next briefing was on safety. Their culture here is very similar to PPPL - lots of rules and procedures - and fully enforced. If you violate the rules, you basically have a two strike window - get the second  strike and you do not fly your experiment. After filling out some more forms, we got to go to lunch. After lunch we were in the hangar where we will put our experiments together (the hangar is shown in the picture below). More instructions and oh, by the way, instead of having about 3 hours to put your experiment together they cut it down to two hours.

Seems like NASA is going to welcome back the astronauts from the last shuttle flight - right where we are building our experiments....! So we finished at 2:30 p.m. and we had to leave the property and get in line to come back into the hangar. Only problem - we had to stand in the sun for an hour. 

Once we were back in - more waiting and then the event. This was a ceremony to welcome back the last four astronauts that flew a shuttle. Senator Hutchinson, the mayor of Houston, and many other dignitaries attended (picture below has the Senator speaking). The astronauts expressed their thanks to the NASA folks in the audience. This, after all, is where they trained over the previous nine months to get ready for their adventure. This was a big crowd and had lots of press coverage. There were at least six satellite T.V. trucks. 

Shuttle astronauts return -- and we are there

At the Atlantis shuttle return celebration.  The end of an incredible era.  Very exciting to be part of it.  Boyhood dream to hang out with astronauts!
Photo and post by Adam Cohen

The Set Up

PPPL staffers and participating teachers readying experimental equipment that will fly on NASA's Weightless Wonder. The teams will be studying the effects of microgravity on motion, surface tension in bubbles, hydrophilia, burn patterns, and complex fluids.
Photo by Adam Cohen