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The Fall of Science!
Student adjusts element of molecular rotation experiment

A student team member from St. Ursula Academy in Toledo, Ohio, makes a critical adjustment of the team's molecular rotation experiment after the experiment was mounted into the drop tower's drag shield. Image Credit: Richard DeLombard

Thanks to opportunities at NASA's Glenn Research Center, students in middle and high school have a unique opportunity to drop their science projects.

In the time it takes to change the channel on the TV, students are able to gather critical scientific data about how liquids, combustion, magnets and other things behave in microgravity.

Glenn Research Center, in Cleveland, Ohio, hosts two student programs in which students design and build science experiments to be conducted at the NASA center's 79-foot-tall drop tower. While falling from the top of the chamber, the experiments experience 2.2 seconds of near-weightlessness. The fall allows students to research how their experiments behave in microgravity like that found in orbit.

Project manager Nancy Hall said 2.2 seconds may sound fast, but a lot of valuable science can be gained in that time. "Even though these drops are only 2.2 seconds, you can actually get a lot of information on fluids and combustion," Hall said. "We do a lot of experiments involving fluid physics and combustion science."

Two DIME teams prepare their experiments in the drop tower shop

Teams from Glenbrook North High School in Northbrook, Ill., and St. Ursula Academy in Toledo, Ohio, prepare their student-built experiments in the drop tower Education Rigs that will carry the experiments through the 2.2-second drop. Image Credit: Richard DeLombard

The two student opportunities are "Dropping In a Microgravity Environment," or DIME, for high school students, and "What If No Gravity?" or WING, for students in grades six through nine. Both are open to student teams in the United States and several U.S. territories. Teams must have an adult advisor.

Teams interested in participating in this year's event must submit proposals by Nov. 1, 2010. The DIME and WING website provides information on submitting proposals.

DIME was started about 12 years ago and was inspired by middle-school science club visits to the drop tower. DIME coordinator Richard DeLombard saw the drop tower as a place where younger students could design, build and conduct experiments about microgravity.

WING was added just last year with the help of DIME co-founder Dennis Stocker. "Although we went with high school for DIME, I got the idea that kids are already headed in career directions (by the age of 10)," Stocker said. "I really think we need to give these experiences and examples at a younger age."

Science teacher Jackie Kane involved students in DIME because she was looking for a competition that was about science and not solely about engineering. "This one (DIME), you come up with an idea and test it, and that's about as pure science as you can get." Kane teaches physics and science at St. Ursula Academy in Toledo, Ohio, and is advisor to the academy's science club, which participated in last year's DIME event.

Richard DeLombard holding and explaining a student experiment

DIME coordinator Richard DeLombard helped start DIME and WING to engage younger students in microgravity research. Image Credit: Heather R. Smith/NASA Educational Technology Services

From the proposals, a panel of NASA scientists and engineers will select winners. Four high school teams will receive all-expense-paid trips to Glenn in March 2011 to conduct their experiments. They also will have the opportunity to discuss their results with NASA scientists and to tour the facilities at Glenn Research Center. (Students must be U.S. citizens to participate in the trip.)

In addition, four other high school teams and up to 30 WING teams will receive the opportunity to build their experiments and send them to Glenn, where NASA scientists will operate them in the drop tower. The experiments and their results will be returned to the students.

DIME and WING are sponsored by NASA's Teaching From Space, or TFS, office, which facilitates education opportunities that use the unique environment of human spaceflight and microgravity. The TFS office is located in the Astronaut Office of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston and works with crew members to facilitate live in-flight education downlinks, education payload operations, and education demonstration activities.

Related Resources
> DIME and WING   →
> NASA's 2.2 Second Drop Tower   →
> Video: Behind the scenes at the NASA 2.2 Second Drop Tower   →
> NASA DIME and WING YouTube Channel   →
> WING Experiment Image Gallery   →
> NASA Taking Up Space blog post: A Drop in Science   →
> NASA Education
> NASA's Glenn Research Center
> NASA Teaching From Space

Heather R. Smith and David Hitt/ NASA Educational Technology Services