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November 1996

College-Student Space Experiments Pave Way for K-12 Tests

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Thanks to some Purdue University students, K-12 students may have a low-cost way to send experiments into space.

A student group, Purdue's Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, designed four experiments scheduled to ride aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia in November. The group was chosen, along with other institutions, by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to design several experiments as part of a NASA pilot program. The experiments will test the feasibility of NASA'a Space Experiment Module (SEM) project, which will give K-12 students an affordable way to place an experiment on board a space shuttle mission.

An overview of NASA's SEM project can be found on the World Wide Web at http://sspp.gsfc.nasa.gov/sem.html

''The current method for student experiments requires that they supply power and a data acquisition system, as well as an experiment, which is beyond the capability of the average grade-school student,'' says Chetan Kumar, a senior in mechanical engineering who is in charge of Purdue's experiments. ''So NASA designed the SEM project, which is less expensive and has power and a data acquisition system supplied to it.'' The goal of the project is to reduce the cost of student experiments by 90 percent.

''Having colleges in the pilot program will help work the bugs out and make it a more user-friendly program when it is implemented for K through 12 students,'' Kumar says.

If the pilot program is successful, the Purdue group will work with grade-school and high-school students to develop SEM experiments for future shuttle missions.

The Purdue project involves four experiments: a thermal convection experiment to examine the effects of microgravity on a heated fluid; a particle detector that compares the differences in ''pits'' in materials caused by cosmic rays and earth-based radiation; a test on the effects of microgravity on seed germination; and a study using brine shrimp to determine if gravity plays a role in the shrimp's consumption of a growth-stimulating chemical.

CONTACT: Chetan Kumar, (765) 743-1326; e-mail, kumar@tools.ecn.purdue.edu
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail, purduenews@purdue.edu


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