NE@Physics Day

NE@Physics Day
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NASA EDGE and a crack team of physicists from NASA Glenn Research Center visit Cedar Point Amusement Park to conduct Physics Experiments and track down Superheroes.

Everyone knows that NASA does some incredible things in the arenas of exploration, science and technology. However, NASA EDGE has discovered that NASA also has their very own superhero, MicroGravity Man. While Chris talks shop with the NASA Physics Day Research Team at Cedar Point Amusement Park, Blair does his own research into thrill rides, physics and our new hero’s secret identity. It looks like Blair is one iridescent bolt of lightning away from becoming a goofy sidekick.

CHRIS: Hey welcome to NASA EDGE.

BLAIR: An inside and outside look at all things NASA.

CHRIS: We’re here at Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio.

BLAIR: For Physics Day.

CHRIS: And NASA has big part of Physics Day.

BLAIR: That’s right. In fact, we’re going to look at one activity in particular where we’ve taken some data on acceleration properties of rides, put them on a graph and we’ve got to match that graph with that particular ride. So, it should be challenging and fun.

CHRIS: We have some cool microgravity demonstrations that we’re going to look at today.

BLAIR: And you said, “microgravity,” which is interesting because we’re going to meet NASA’s very own super hero, Microgravity Man.

CHRIS: Maybe instead of him flying in, he’ll freefall in.

BLAIR: I’m wondering if he needs a sidekick? You know I always wanted to be a superhero.

CHRIS: We’ll talk about that later. You’re watching NASA EDGE.

BLAIR: An inside and outside look at all things NASA. I would be the perfect sidekick!

CHRIS: We’ve got to come up with a good name.

CHRIS: Microgravity Man and his Weightless Friends, so much for Blair being his sidekick.

BLAIR: If I’m going to meet Microgravity Man, I need to perform perfectly and match the data on one side to the roller coaster or ride on the other. I wish I had brought a slide rule. Of course, then I would need to know how to use a slide rule.

BLAIR: Yes, we’re here with Dick DeLombard with NASA Glenn on Physics Day. I understand you have a demonstration for us of some physics principles.

RICHARD: I’ve got a freefall demonstration right here.

CHRIS: Wow, check this out.

RICHARD: It’s a very expensive, extensive NASA demonstration device here.

CHRIS: It looks expensive.

RICHARD: A couple of pieces of wood and a balloon holder.

BLAIR: Built from an old desk.

RICHARD: Yes. And a sharp, pokey thing right there.

BLAIR: Okay.

RICHARD: What I’m going to do is drop this apparatus and see where this sharp, pokey thing comes in contact with the balloon.

BLAIR: Okay. Am I supposed to give a guess?

RICHARD: Where is it going to happen, when I let go of it, in the middle or down by the ground?

BLAIR: My guess is the ground.

RICHARD: 1, 2, 3, drop.

RICHARD: I didn’t pop.

BLAIR: Right, but it didn’t hit the ground either, so I technically would have been right.

RICHARD: Yes, if it had bounced off the ground and hit up. But that’s a ground effect. That’s a gravity effect. We’re talking about when it’s falling. During freefall…

BLAIR: Oh yeah, that would have fallen forever.

RICHARD: Right. Okay, you didn’t notice I took the internal force generator off.

BLAIR: Ah, a modification.

RICHARD: So with out snapping anybody, you notice it has an internal force to it, okay? Now when I drop it, are you going to modify your guess any for where the balloon is going to pop?

BLAIR: My guess is before it hits the ground it will pop. I’m just not sure where. I’m guessing like this level.

RICHARD: Here we go. 3, 2, 1.

BLAIR: Oh, well, that was much quicker.

RICHARD: Yeah. Yes, it happens right away when you let it go. The internal force here takes over and pulls it closed. I have a force on my hand to keep it from falling and when I let go of that, then this internal force snaps it together. Gravity is pulling it down all the time but I’m pulling up on it.

BLAIR: You’re watching NASA EDGE.

ASHLEY: An inside and outside look at all things NASA.

BLAIR: This is great. AW!!

[shrill screaming]

CHRIS: Were here with Nancy Hall, a research scientist at NASA Glenn. Nancy, tell us what you’re going to be doing for us.

NANCY: I’m here at Cedar Point to demonstrate to students what they experience on a rollercoaster is similar to what astronauts experience.

CHRIS: Right.

NANCY: If you think about it, when you’re in a roller coaster and you go over that first hill, you have this queasy feeling in your stomach. As you’re going down that first hill you feel like you’re coming out of your seat. When you falling, you’re basically in a state of freefall. That’s similar to what the shuttle astronauts experience.

CHRIS: Okay.

NANCY: The only difference is instead of experience it for a few seconds like you do, They experience it during the entire time they’re in orbit around the earth. They are also in a state of freefall. Basically, they’re falling around the earth. What NASA has done is designed what we refer to as the mini drop tower. Through experiments they encounter freefall. They are able to demonstrate how things behave differently. What we have here is two magnets. This top one can move up and down. The bottom one is fixed. If you put them together, notice how they repel. What we’re going to do is put this in the drop tower and see how they behave. Usually, I ask the students what they think is going to happen to this top magnet. There are three things it can do. It can move up. It could stay where it is or it could move down. I give them a count down of 3,2, 1 and then let it drop. Let’s see what happens. 3, 2, 1.

CHRIS: It never touched.

NANCY: Yes, that’s right. What you noticed is this top magnet moves up. This top magnet is experiencing two forces. Gravity is pulling it down. The repulsion force of the bottom magnet is pushing it up. When it’s in a state of freefall, the force of gravity is no longer there.

CHRIS: That’s right.

NANCY: There’s only one force left, the repulsion. That’s basically what causes it to go up.

CHRIS: Plus they’re on like charges too. That’s why they’re repelling.

NANCY: That’s right.

CHRIS: Blair, did you get that? Like, unlike charges, we’ll talk about that later.

CHRIS: See, there’s a bunch of cool trinkets in here. We’ve got to check them all out.

NANCY: This is one of my favorites.

CHRIS: That’s a fluid.

NANCY: Yes, it’s a fluid. It’s a fluid, prism test. Basically, it’s in a tube. You can see that the liquid can go all the way around. What do you think is going to happen to the fluid? Look at the top portion. We refer to that as a meniscus. Watch what happens.

CHRIS: The meniscus is that curved part for all the students out there.

NANCY: 3, 2, 1… What you should have noticed while it was in a state of freefall that the edge of the fluid started climbing up the side of the container due to what we call capillary action.

CHRIS: Right.

NANCY: Think about trees or flowers when you water them. The fluid tends to climb up the sides of the capillary. That’s the same thing that’s happening here. I have another one.

CHRIS: It looks like a cooking scale.

NANCY: Yes, a generic cooking scale. When you look at the cooking scale, it reads about 6 oz. Hoist it up. 3, 2, 1… If you watch the scale as it was coming down, you would see the reading on the scale went up to 0, demonstrating that when you’re in freefall, you’re weightless.

CHRIS: Nancy, this is all cool stuff. These demonstrations are wonderful. I’m sure the kids are learning a lot from you.

NANCY: I hope they do.

CHRIS: Thank you so much.

NANCY: Thank you.

BLAIR: I’m batting a thousand on these rides. Looks like I’m ready to meet Microgravity Man.

BLAIR: Yes, we’re very honored to be here with NASA’s very own superhero, Microgravity Man. I have a couple of quick questions for you.

MICROGRAVITY MAN: Sure thing Blair.

BLAIR: How did you become Microgravity Man?

MICROGRAVITY MAN: It happened quite a few years ago. I was doing some research in our 2-second drop tower at NASA Glenn. I was at the top of the drop tower getting ready for one of my combustion experiments. This strange storm came up all of the sudden, I was struck by this iridescent bolt of lightening. Dazed, I went ahead and did the experiment. Going down afterwards, I hit my head on the ceiling.

BLAIR: On the ceiling? Going down?

MICROGRAVITY MAN: Going down. Somehow I amazingly gained these powers over gravity.

BLAIR: But you’re now using your powers not for evil but for good?

MICROGRAVITY MAN: That’s right. I’d like to help share with students about the wonders of science, connect them with the experience they feel on the rides with what our astronauts experience in space or our research pilots on the aircraft.

CHRIS: What are some of the misconceptions that you hear from the students about microgravity?

MICROGRAVITY MAN: It’s funny. A lot of the students get the idea as you leave the atmosphere gravity suddenly disappears. And there’s this connection between air and gravity. They still appreciate that gravity is what holds us into orbit, so there’s this mental disconnect between the two. Part of our activity here is to try to bridge that; change those preconceptions and straighten out their thinking.

CHRIS: You’re watching NASA EDGE.

BLAIR: An inside and outside look…

MICROGRAVITY MAN: … at all things NASA.

ART VANDELAY: Hey, is there anybody over here that can defy the laws of gravity?

BLAIR: That’s weird.

RICHARD: Sorry guys, I’ve got to make a phone call. I’ll be right back.

CHRIS: Where’s he going?

BLAIR: He’s Microgravity Man.

CHRIS: Who, Dick?

BLAIR: Yeah, he’s Microgravity Man.

CHRIS: Nah! Come on.

BLAIR: He absolutely is.


BLAIR: I am not Microgravity Man. I think you’ll find that there are a lot more superheroes at NASA then you’re willing to admit. I’m Agent Scarn. And I’m here to talk to you about the NASA EDGE Avenger Initiative.

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