sealPurdue Science Briefs

November 1996

Student experiments to fly on board space shuttle

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Four experiments designed by Purdue University students will hitch a ride aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia, scheduled to launch Friday, Nov. 8.

Here are descriptions of the experiments:

  • Brine shrimp will be used to determine if gravity plays a role in the shrimp's consumption of a growth-stimulating chemical. Hundreds of shrimp eggs aboard the shuttle will be immersed in salt water, where they will hatch and grow. After two days they will be exposed to a growth-stimulating chemical, and measurements will be taken to see how much the shrimp absorb. The amount absorbed will then be compared to the amount absorbed by shrimp in similar ground-based tests.

    A student group, Purdue's Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, 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

    "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 relative to the current student experiment program.

    "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 though 12 students," he says.

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

    CONTACT: Kumar, (765) 743-1326; e-mail,

    Students can find out about engineering careers on-line

    WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- What can you do with a degree in materials engineering?

    A new on-line resource developed by a Purdue University professor is providing some answers to that question.

    "Materials scientists and engineers are involved in many aspects of the manufacture of a wide variety of products, from coffee cups and kitchen utensils to cars and computers," says Gerald L. Liedl (LEE-dul), head of Purdue's School of Materials Engineering.

    Last year, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation awarded a $441,550 grant to The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society (TMS) to develop an on-line career resource center for the field of materials science and engineering. As education director of TMS, Liedl is coordinating the effort, which will provide high-school students and others nationwide with information about careers in the field.

    "When it's completed in late 1997, the Career Resource Center for Materials will be a computer-based source of information about the wide range of careers available in materials science and engineering," Liedl says. "The audience is primarily high-school students and underclassmen at universities -- both groups of students are at the point where they're making career choices."

    The Career Resource Center for Materials is still in a developmental stage, Liedl says, and will be updated periodically. The first version is available on the World Wide Web through the TMS homepage at

    When completed, the page will be interactive, asking users for information about themselves and what they want to know. Users now can choose from a set of options, including an "Ask the Expert" page, through which they can send e-mail inquiries to professionals with materials science degrees. Users also will be able to access video interviews with practicing materials engineers and explore academic programs that offer one of the materials curricula.

    CONTACT: Liedl, (765) 494-4100; e-mail,

    Lab helps companies find cost-effective environmental solutions

    WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue University is helping manufacturers find cost-effective ways to meet new environmental regulations, without compromising product quality.

    "Manufacturers that use paint and other coatings on their products will soon be affected by new federal environmental standards, so it will no longer be 'business as usual,'" says Tom Sparrow, director of Purdue's Institute for Interdisciplinary Engineering Studies.

    "For example, companies in the secondary wood-products industries that make furniture or cabinets have only about a year to comply."

    A new center at Purdue, the Coating Applications Research Laboratory, was established in October to help companies find the least-expensive way to meet environmental regulations while maintaining product quality.

    The facility is supported by fees paid by companies that use it. While the emphasis is on small- to medium-sized companies in Indiana, the center also works with out-of-state businesses, which pay a higher hourly fee.

    The initial focus of the center is on temperature-sensitive substrates, such as wood and plastic, because regulations for the wood-products industries go into effect soon, Sparrow says. But the center also can deal with other areas, such as protective and decorative coating processes for metal products.

    The Environmental Protection Agency has issued standards limiting the amount of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, that can be emitted by industry into the atmosphere. Coatings such as paint, stain and varnish -- used extensively by the furniture industry -- contain VOCs, which evaporate into the air as the coatings dry. Companies in the wood-products industries that use such coatings must comply with the regulations by December 1997 or face serious sanctions.

    The amount of VOCs released can be reduced by controlling how the coatings are applied and then dried, but not all companies have the knowledge or the equipment to do so, Sparrow says.

    "This facility allows manufacturers to try different combinations of procedures and test out the various compliance options off-line," Sparrow says. "Companies will save time and money, because they will not have to use their own production lines to determine which compliance option maintains their product's quality and does it at least cost.

    "Manufacturers can bring their coatings and their product to the facility, and we'll run them through various coating and drying techniques and tests to determine the best processes. If a company has a problem with its coatings, we can set up our lab to try to find a solution."

    CONTACT: Sparrow, (765) 494-7043; e-mail,

    To receive the full text of a news release about the new lab, send an e-mail message to that says "send punews 9610f12"

    Compiled by Amanda Siegfried, (765) 494-4709; e-mail,
    Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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