Physics Team Headed Back Up in Weightless Wonder


Publication Date: 12/18/2007

The Physics Department has received confirmation that its microgravity proposal to NASA has been accepted, and a Rhodes team will be awarded flight time on the C-9B NASA aircraft called the “Weightless Wonder” in July 2008.

Flights take place at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, over the Gulf of Mexico. This will be Rhodes’ second time aboard the aircraft that ascends from 24,000 to 33,000 feet, then drops back to 24,000 feet all in 90 seconds. During this maneuver, 25 crucial seconds of weightlessness are created in which the teams—up to five per flight—conduct their experiments.

Rhodes is one of 40 teams selected for this year’s program and one of only a few groups performing “basic” physics experiments, rather than space engineering oriented ones.

The student team leader, Gavin Franks ’09, says, “I am incredibly excited to have been allowed to do something that so few people get to experience, and I am proud to be part of such a strong team.  I know that none of this would be possible without everyone’s diligent hard work and the amazing support of our professors.”

Other team members are Jennifer Thompson ’08, Brad Atkins ’10, Chase Sliger ’10, Josh Fuchs ’11, and Lulu Li ’11. Physics professors Dr. Brent Hoffmeister and Dr. Deseree Meyer will supervise the experiment titled “Binary Orbital Motion of Electrically Charged Spheres.”

According to Franks, the experiment will attempt a stable orbit between two electrically charged spheres that are about the size of ping-pong balls, which should be possible in the absence of gravity. Once charged, the spheres will be launched parallel to one another, where one sphere has an initial velocity (approximately 5 cm/s) in the positive x direction and the other sphere has an equal initial velocity in the negative x direction.  The orbit will be possible because of an electric force made between the two spheres. The microgravity environment will effectively eliminate the effects of frictional and gravitational forces and will allow the spheres to move about one another in all three dimensions. 

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