January 11, 2005
Two teams prepare experiments for weightless environment
By Kingson Man Daily Staff Reporter
es even ....
Air Distribution Pipe
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The next time you
receive a shot
at the doctor's
office, pay close atten-
tion to how the syringe
is handled. Immediate-
ly before an injection,
the needle is pointed
upwards, tapped with a
finger and some of the
fluid is ejected before it
is inserted into the body.
Any air bubbles, or
embolisms, that rise to
the top and are removed
from the needle.
This is a crucial step
in administering shots,
as embolisms inside
the bloodstream can
travel to the heart or the
brain and cause death.
For astronauts in space,
however, there is no
gravity and there is no
"up" - so how can they
receive shots safely?
This past December,
NASA announced that
two groups of under-
graduates from the
of heat and
by up to 50%
Intense uniform radiation up
Ob e ts Hetd yr aeted
RAPH LINDSEY UNGAR
The new furnace developed by the Mechanical Engineering Department may be a huge industrial
advancement since it reuses the byproducts created from the combustion process, decreasing its
pollution output and allowing it to operate with less energy than normal furnaces.
New furnace to alter
method of combustion
COURTESY OF NASA
The KC-135 or 'Vomit Comit' begins a parabolic arc to create the effect of weightlessness.
The teams of students will fly the C-9, a smaller aircraft that performs the same maneuver.
University had been
selected from a pool of applicants to
enroll in "Microgravity University,"
or the Reduced Gravity Student Flight
Opportunities Program. Both teams
will travel to Houston's Johnson Space
Center in July to perform experiments
in a zero-gravity environment. One
of the groups will experiment with
removing embolisms from needles;
the other will study the dynamics of
Engineering seniors Laura Gadzala,
Andy Klesh, Rene Kreis, Jeff Lance and
junior Nick Shoeps make up the group of
students who will investigate how to make
needles safer in space.
The intrepid group of microgravity
researchers will board a C-9 aircraft that
will fly steep parabolic arcs up and down
over the Gulf of Mexico, creating half-
minute intervals of weightlessness.
Their plan is to spin syringes pre-load-
ed with air bubbles in a centrifuge. This
creates artificial gravity in the syringes
because the acceleration, due to the spin-
ning, simulates the effects of gravity.
Due to the zero-gravity environment,
the sharp needles themselves will be
removed prior to flying, leaving the syring-
es, or the barrels containing the fluid, to
be spun. The heavier fluid will sink and
the lighter bubbles will be pushed up.
"Artificial gravity pushes bubbles to
the end so they can be removed," Gadzala
With NASA's latest goal of human
exploration on Mars, the duration of space
missions will be measured on the scale of
years instead of weeks or months. In the
ever-more likely possibility of a medical
situation requiring needles in space, this
research has the potential to deliver safe
injections to astronauts.
In previous years, the KC-135 air-
craft, affectionately known as the "Vomit
Comet," was used to create the weight-
less environment. The KC-135 has flown
80,000 parabolas, some of the most well-
known of which have been used to film
scenes of the movie "Apollo 13."
This year the smaller C-9 will be
flown, reducing the 70 student groups
usually selected to do research down.
In addition to the air embolism
group, the University will be send-
ing a team investigating a different
aspect of fluid dynamics. Aerospace
engineering undergraduates Jamal Al-
Amin, Robin Lin, Jeffrey Medlen and
William Stoddard will be video-tap-
ing the action of spinning droplets in a
The experiment will set a droplet of
liquid spinning at different speeds to mea-
sure the changes in shape of the droplet in
As a spherical object spins, its shape
tends to flatten outwards - spin it fast
enough, and it will split into two. Even
the rotating Earth exhibits this behav-
ior, as it is slightly thicker around the
equator than at the poles, resembling
Under normal conditions, however,
it is difficult to study a spinning drop-
let free of other influences. A weight-
less drop of liquid in space is a sphere,
but on Earth its shape deforms to a
The group plans to experiment with
a variety of liquids at different speeds,
examining the degree of shape-shift-
ing in relation to the viscosity, or
stickiness, of different liquids. This
research may help scientists under-
stand the shapes and spins of asteroids.
And on Earth, it may improve process-
es that require forming spheres, like
the manufacture of ball bearings.
For all the possible practical impli-
cations of both groups' subjects of
study, the members are finding it a
daunting task to raise funds to support
their trip to Houston. A majority of
both groups' budgets of several thou-
sand dollars will be spent simply get-
ting themselves and their equipment
there. The Engineering College's Wil-
son Student Project Center provided
some financial support to the groups.
NASA will provide the flight opportu-
nity, which is itself no small contribution
- private aviation companies are now
starting to offer similar microgravity trips
for $80,000 per flight.
It was this opportunity that first
piqued the interest of the selected
undergraduates, even before they had a
project idea in mind. "I've had friends
do the NASA project before and I can
remember being jealous ... the only
real hard part was finding a project
idea," said Al-Amin.
Gadzala, of the air embolism group,
agreed. "Roller coasters will be so lame
furnace aims to help
By Philip Svabik
For the Daily
While energy costs continue to soar domestically
and abroad, mechanical engineering Prof. Arvind
Atreya and his team of colleagues and students are
pioneering a revolutionary new method of combus-
tion that has the potential to save American indus-
tries billions of dollars in energy costs each year.
Though many researchers are working on alter-
native energy sources for the future such as hydro-
gen power, Atreya's new concept could save money
and reduce pollution by simply using existing fuels
"We use a lot of energy in manufacturing.
That may be going down, but we still use a lot,"
"This creates two problems: One is that it
costs a lot, and the second, and more important
problem in my mind, is that it causes a lot of
greenhouse gases," he added.
Traditional industrial furnaces burn fossil fuels
in order to create heat, often used for melting dif-
ferent metals such as steel. The main problem with
traditional furnaces is that over 40 percent of the
heat escapes, wasted as exhaust. Atreya thinks he
may have the solution.
Called radiative homogeneous combustion,
this innovative technique improves upon tradi-
tional industrial furnaces by creating even com-
bustion throughout the furnace and recirculating
byproducts, which increases efficiency by pro-
ducing a tremendous amount of heat and radia-
tion. This method can reduce energy loss by 50
percent, Atreya said.
Along with his team, Atreya recently built a
ceramic radiative homogeneous combustion fur-
nace for experimental purposes. The furnace is
housed in the Francois-Xavier Bagnaoud Build-
ing on North Campus.
In a traditional industrial furnace, combustion
only occurs where the fuel and air meet inside
the furnace and the leftover byproducts quickly
escape as exhaust. These, byproducts typically
include pollutants like soot, nitrogen oxides and
However, in a radiative homogeneous combus-
tion furnace, the entire volume of fuel and air
within the furnace burns at once and recirculates
instead of leaving immediately as exhaust. Burning
the entire volume at once helps to burn up many
pollutants. This hot gas volume that is formed also
helps the heat radiate more effectively. The exhaust
eventually exits by passing over unheated fuel and
air lines. Heating the fuel and air prior to entering
the furnace helps to further recover heat.
Atreya said another secret to the efficiency
of homogeneous combustion is the spacing of
the nozzles that release the air and fuel into the
furnace. As the two substances enter, their tem-
peratures rise as they mix with the recirculating
byproducts. The fuel initially begins to form
soot. The fuel and air then homogeneously mix
together, burning all of the soot in an immense-
ly radiative flame.
Atreya filed last year for a U.S. patent for the
furnace on behalf of the University. He is currently
conducting experiments in an effort to make the
homogeneous combustion concept a reality. Atreya
said he is determined to make it work.
"The important thing, in my mind, is if we can
get this actually demonstrated, measured, and pub-
lished, then I have some industry people who are
interested in this, and they can come here and see
the results," he said.
"Then there is the possibility of us continuing on
a much bigger scale," Atreya added.
To bring the concept into practical use, Atreya
still must research and be able to prove it works.
"What we need to do is understand at what rate
we should send the fuel, at what rate we should send
the air, what should be the difference between the
two such that the homogeneous combustion occurs
with the proper site. These are the variables that we
are trying to understand," Atreya said.
The underlying principles of homogeneous
combustion can be applied to industries other
than manufacturing. Atreya said he speculates
that homogeneous combustion could also be
used in boilers for the production of electricity.
Currently, the automotive industry is research-
ing this concept in what the industry calls
"homogeneous compression charge ignition."
The aim is to highly compress well-mixed fuel
in the cylinder of the car so that it auto-ignites
without the need of a spark - consequently
burning homogeneously, increasing efficiency
and decreasing pollutants.
For Atreya, the development of fuel-efficient
manufacturing comes at a critical time because he
believes the planet is on the verge of facing an envi-
"This is what is left (of our fossil fuels): about
48 years of oil, about 50 years of natural gas, and
about a couple hundred years of coal," Atreya said.
"People say don't worry, we will do nuclear, but
there is only about 70 years of uranium left. It's a
shame because nobody worries about it. Everybody
is trying to burn coal now because it is cheaper."
Atreya said evidence gathered from ice core
samples in Antarctica shows cyclic carbon diox-
ide levels over the last 400,000 years cycling
between concentrations of 180 and 280 parts per
million. But today, carbon dioxide concentration
levels are at 360 ppm and expected to reach 720
ppm by 2100, according to the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change. As a result of increased
carbon dioxide levels, Atreya said by that time
the earth's average temperature is expected to
increase four or five degrees Celsius.
These predictions for the future fuel Atreya's
passion for researching more environmentally
friendly methods of combustion.
"I am much more interested in making this a
great success because of more of my personal rea-
sons than any other reason," he said. "I want it to be
adopted not so much for the patent, but for totally
different reasons. I want it to be my little contribu-
tion to saving energy."
Aerospace engineering seniors Andy Klesh, Rene Kreis and Laura Gadzaia
prepare their project on how to make needles safer in space for NASA's C-9
microgravity experiment platform.
Marshall Scholar winner tackles dark matter mystery
By Brandon McNaughton
For the Daily
Have you ever sat up all night contem-
plating the mysteries of the universe or the
perplexities of nature? LSA senior Jacob
Bourjaily frequently does.
In fact, Bourjaily stays up all night, every other
night - and these all-nighters paid off when late
last year he was announced as a recipient of the
2005 Marshall Scholarship, a prestigious annual
award given to forty American college graduates
for their high academic achievements.
For Bourjaily, it was in part due to his
extensive work in physics and math at the
University, which earned him the award.
But while receiving the Marshall Scholarship
was a great honor, Bourjaily is hoping he can sur-
pass that achievement by attempting to solve the
great mystery of dark matter.
Unlike ordinary matter, dark matter can-
not be seen, but its existence is suggested by
its gravitational effects.
Bourjaily, who has become the only
undergraduate associate member of the
University's Michigan Center for Theoreti-
cal Physics, researches this phenomena with
Physics Prof. Gordon Kane.
In regards to dark matter, Bourjaily said
"It's not bricks; it's not planets; it's not cold
stars; it's really something else."
"About 85 percent of all the matter in the universe
is unlike any of the matter we have ever observed."
- Jacob Bourjaily
LSA senior and 2005 Marshall Scholar
near future.... If they are, we want to know how
much of the dark matter they account for," Bour-
jaily said, since other particles may be responsible
for the properties of dark matter.
Bourjaily has already begun to establish
himself as a theoretical physicist. He pre-
higher. The recipients must choose to attend
a University in the United Kingdom.
Bourjaily, now 20, grew up in Grand Rapids,
Michigan and is the fifth generation of his fam-
ily to attend the University. He decided to major
in physics while taking courses at Calvin College
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