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Leicester Students to Experience weightlessness in gravity-defying experiment

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Leicester Students to Experience weightlessness in gravity-defying experiment

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Published by University of Leicester Press Office for University of Leicester in Education and also in Communities

L-R: Fergus Wilson, David Gray, Laura Evans and Charly Feldman. L-R: Fergus Wilson, David Gray, Laura Evans and Charly Feldman.

Four students from the University of Leicester who were the only ones in Britain, and among a small number from across Europe, to be selected for a gravity-defying experiment in the framework of the ESA Education Office “Fly your Thesis!” programme (http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/Fly_Your_Thesis/index.html) are taking part in the flights this week.

The four, from the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University, won a place in an European Space Agency’s (ESA) parabolic flight campaign in 2011.

They will experience weightless conditions aboard the Novespace Airbus A300 Zero-G plane, whilst performing an experiment of their own design.

The team travelled to Bordeaux and spent a week testing and installing an experiment onboard the aircraft, before taking off for the parabolic flights. At cruising altitude the plane will pull up and the students and accompanying ESA and Novespace staff will experience close to 2g, twice their weight on Earth.

The aircraft will then enter into a parabolic flight path and the occupants will experience 0g for about twenty seconds, before pulling out of the dive and experiencing 2g again. The experience is attributed to the fact that free falling objects, which follow parabolic trajectories, are weightless.

The four students from the University of Leicester, UK will investigate a ‘condensation mechanism for non-ideal kinetic gases of varying temperature’, and its relevance to the formation of planets and ‘rubble pile’ asteroids in the early Solar System.

The Leicester participants are:

  • Laura Brandt (nee Evans), now a graduate, from Shadwell, near Leeds.
  • Charly Feldman, postdoctoral research associate, chf7@le.ac.uk, from Harrow in North West London.
  • David Gray, postgraduate, dswg1@le.ac.uk, from Purley/Croydon in Surrey
  • Fergus Wilson, a Leicester doctoral graduate, fjw2@astro.le.ac.uk, from Wellingborough in Northamptonshire.

The Leicester project – one of four from across Europe- was supervised by Graham Wynn, Senior Lecturer in Theoretical Astrophysics, and Dr Daniel Brandt of the Space Research Centre who was a previous Leicester participant of a parabolic flight.

Dr Wynn said that the Leicester experiment was about planet formation in a box!: “Planets like the Earth form in dust clouds around young stars. We aim to use the weightlessness experienced during the parabolic flight to recreate the conditions in these dust clouds inside a 10cm box. The box will be filled with sand, much like the silicate grains in the dust clouds, and shaken vigorously. We will look at how the sand grains cluster into larger structures which, under the right conditions, may be the seeds of planet formation.”

Dr Charly Feldman has already taken part in the flight and said: “Being weightless is the most amazing and bizarre feeling! You have no control over where you are floating to or at what speed! It feels like you are at the top of a roller coaster and never coming down again!”

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