Clarksville, Ark. --- Tyler Wilson said roller coasters and amusement parks will never be the same for him again. Kathy Erickson called it an experience of a lifetime. Jessica Reed described it as the most amazing thing she has ever done.
The three University of the Ozarks students were discussing their experience in NASA’s Reduced Gravity Student Flight Program at the
In order to apply for the program, the Ozarks team had to come up with a viable experiment, develop it and make a proposal to NASA. Ozarks’ experiment was to determine if microgravity has an effect on water absorption by polyelectrolytes. The highly absorbent polyelectrolytes are valued for their ability to retain water, a quality that makes it useful in diapers and potting soil. The precise influence of gravity on the polyelectrolyte effect had never been tested before.
McFarland and Reed came up with the experiment idea last summer while Reed was working in a summer internship program in a chemistry lab at the
“We really put a lot of work into it and we had no idea what to expect,” said Reed, a junior biology and chemistry major from
The Ozarks team’s reduced gravity experiments went off without a hitch. Though only four students per team are typically allowed to fly, Ozarks’ team alternate, Gibson, was allowed to fly with another team that was short a member.
Though the U of O team was still analyzing the results of the experiment several weeks after the test flights, early indications were that microgravity did affect the polyelectrolytes’ absorption speed and ability. The team will issue a final report to NASA three months after the flight analyzing the experiment’s effectiveness, scientific findings and the conclusions that were drawn from the results.
“This kind of testing can have a lot of implications for future space travel,” McFarland said. “NASA doesn’t accept these proposals unless they can be beneficial. I think it was a very rewarding process for our students to come up with an experiment and follow it all the way through the process.”
Erickson, a senior psychology major from
“There was a lot of stress involved in meeting deadlines and getting things finished, but it was so very much worth it,” she said.
McFarland said he first learned of the program while in graduate school at the
Part of the proposal the U of O team submitted to NASA included an education outreach component that will have the Ozarks students talking about the NASA program to other college students and even students in high school and junior high.
“Hearing from someone who had been through the program was what really got me interested in going for it,” said Reed. “Now that I’ve been through it, I can’t wait to talk about the program and the opportunities that are out there for other students.”
Ozarks was one of 40 teams of college students from throughout the country that participated in the annual program that was started by NASA in the mid 1990s. Only about 40 percent of all colleges that apply are chosen for the program. Ozarks is only the third university from
“The students are already talking about applying next year with a follow-up experiment,” said McFarland. “Even before we got back home they were talking about their next experiment proposal.”