Student-faculty team tests acoustic flame suppression aboard NASA’s ‘Weightless Wonder’

12.29.2013 | By

Some of the students who collaborated during the NASA reduced gravity project include (from left) University of Houston Clear Lake student Jarrett Lockridge, and San Jacinto College students Jeremy Penney, Miguel Rosales, and Leslie Guerrero. Photo credit: University of Houston Clear Lake student Ryan Page.

 

Rob Vanya -- December 9, 2013

 

HOUSTON – A San Jacinto College group participated in NASA’s recent Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program, regarded as one of the most challenging and prestigious educational projects in the nation.

NASA selected faculty-student groups from applications received from every state in the nation, then assigned the college groups to work on reduced gravity projects under the leadership of NASA principle investigators. The college groups carried out scientific research, performed hands-on investigational design, did test operations, and collaborated on educational activities.

The San Jacinto College team included math and engineering professor Nate Wiggins, and three North Campus students: Jeremy Penny, Miguel Rosales, and Leslie Guerrero. The San Jacinto College group collaborated with students from the University of Houston Clear Lake (UHCL): Ryan Page, Alexander Smith, and Jarrett Lockridge, all of who transferred to UHCL from San Jacinto College. The faculty mentor from UHCL was Dr. Kwok-Bun Yue, a computer science professor. Engineer Eryn Beisner served as the NASA principal investigator and team mentor for the group’s research project.

The UHCL-San Jacinto College team’s assignment was to determine how well acoustic flame suppression equipment performs in a weightless environment, which could determine if the technology has potential for extinguishing fires during space flights. Acoustic flame suppression involves using sub-woofers to manipulate sound waves to extinguish fire. In the process, bass frequencies are tuned through a frequency generator until modified sound waves interact with fire, displacing the base of a fire and putting it out.

Putting out a fire on any aircraft, and especially on space vessels, is particularly challenging and risky. “On an aircraft, a standard fire extinguisher can clog the air filtration system and can be detrimental to a flight, whereas the type of fire suppression we experimented with does not introduce dangerous particles into the air,” explained Wiggins, who served as a faculty mentor on the UHCL-San Jacinto College research team.

To find out the effectiveness of their research, students took off from Ellington Field aboard a modified Boeing 727 jet (NASA’s “Weightless Wonder”) to determine how their equipment performed in a microgravity environment. Flying at altitudes ranging from 24,000 to 34,000 feet over the Gulf of Mexico, the jet performed parabolic maneuvers that created periods of reduced gravity that simulates the weightlessness experienced during space flights.

The UHCL-San Jacinto College team is analyzing data collected during the project and will submit findings to NASA. “The team determined it is possible to extinguish or possibly prevent small fires with acoustic devices,” commented Wiggins. “However, further analysis still needs to be done on different types of fire in the future.” The UHCL-San Jacinto College team is putting together a report that includes data from the sensors, such as analysis of the flame, the accelerations of the instrumentation, and other data that was collected, along with video and written documentation.

Beisner, an engineer who supports the International Space Station, was impressed with results from the project. “San Jacinto College students and faculty were absolutely brilliant,” she remarked. “They took this idea I proposed and really ran with it. We were all surprised and excited by the outcome. I can’t yet say what those results will mean for the future, but agree that more research should be conducted on acoustic flame suppression in reduced gravity.”

For San Jacinto College computer science student Miguel Rosales, participating in the NASA project was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. “NASA engineers told us that fewer people have flown in microgravity than have climbed to the top of Mount Everest, so I was glad to have a part in such a rare event,” he said. “It was a great learning experience to work with professionals from NASA, while representing the College. It was also a great way for me to test my programming abilities and compare my work to that of peers from other colleges.”

Other colleges that participated in the reduced gravity project include Alabama Agriculture and Mechanical University, California State Polytechnic University, Gadsden State Community College, Howard University, Morehouse College, Prairie View A&M University, San Antonio College, Texas Southern University, Tuskegee University, University of Houston, University of Texas Pan American, and University of Texas at El Paso.

The educational project is part of NASA’s Microgravity University Minority Serving Institutions and Community Colleges program, which enables under-represented college students to take part in STEM research (science, technology, engineering, and math). “We increase not only diversity, but also inclusiveness, which is what real STEM research is all about,” commented NASA engineer Dr. Roosevelt Johnson.

 

About San Jacinto College

Surrounded by monuments of history, industries and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has been serving the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, for more than 50 years. The Achieving the Dream Leader College is committed to the goals and aspirations of a diverse population of 30,000 students in more than 200 degree and certificate options, including university transfer and career preparation. Students also benefit from the College’s job training programs, renowned for meeting the needs of growing industries in the region. San Jacinto College graduates contribute nearly $630 million each year to the Texas workforce. San Jacinto College. Your Goals. Your College. For more information about San Jacinto College, please call 281-998-6150, visit www.sanjac.edu, or follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SanJacintoCollege.