Fresno State students complete free fall experiments with NASA

A team of eight California State University, Fresno students is one of 14 undergraduate teams at the NASA Johnson Space Center‘s Ellington Field in Houston that  conducted  experiments aboard the agency’s “Weightless Wonder” aircraft.

On Friday, July 15, the team flew its second mission of the week over the Gulf of Mexico in the Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program, which gives undergraduates the opportunity to propose, build and fly a reduced-gravity experiment.

The microgravity aircraft produces weightlessness 18 to 25 seconds at a time by executing a series of about 30 parabolas – a steep climb followed by a free fall, said Dr. Joy Goto, the Fresno State chemistry professor who accompanied the students in Houston.

“During the free falls, the students were able to gather data in the unique environment and experience near-weightlessness,” Goto said. “Fresno State’s opportunity to participate is the result of the hard work and commitment by these students.”

The Fresno State team arrived Monday, July 11, at Ellington Field, where astronauts do their T-38 training. They underwent physiological training before embarking on their first experiment flight the next day.

Following their in-flight experiments, “Formation of Calcium Oxalate in a Microgravity Environment,” the team will evaluate findings, draw conclusions and provide the results to NASA. Calcium oxalate is a salt crystal found in many plants and also is the major component of kidney stones.

The Fresno State contingent is an interdisciplinary team of students and faculty from the Lyles College of Engineering, College of Science and Mathematics and Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology.

The Fresno State team’s proposal was selected from more than 20 nationwide on scientific merit and educational outreach potential. Goto said the students put many hours into researching and building their experiment and also reached out to other students and the community to share their experiences and discoveries.

Doug Goforth, NASA’s Reduced Gravity Program manager, said the students gain useful skills by participating in the program through collaborative planning and teamwork. “The program provides once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for aspiring scientists and engineers to study and understand their craft,” Goforth said.

The Fresno State team’s research objective was to observe any differences in the amount of precipitate formed or changes in the crystalline structure of calcium oxalate. The data will provide knowledge about the formation of kidney stones and crystal formation in plants in a microgravity condition and help understand why calcium oxalate crystals clog water-waste filters aboard spacecraft.

The research also addresses whether there are structural changes induced in calcium oxalate by a microgravity environment and how yields of crystalline calcium oxalate are affected by microgravity.

The students and their majors are Mujahid Umar, team leader, mechanical engineering from Mecca, Saudi Arabia; Jose M. Correa Jr., civil engineering from Oxford, Mich.; Datoliban Roland Coulibaly, civil engineering/mathematics from Abidjan, Côte D’Ivoire;  Riann Egusquiza, chemistry from Sanger; Gonzalo Leyva, electrical engineering from Newark, CA.; Jordan Ringel, chemistry from Temple City; Robert Benjamin Runyon, mechanical engineering from Madera Ranchos; and Craig W. Seber, plant science from Fresno.

In addition to Goto, the faculty advisers are Dr. Ming Xiao, Department of Civil and Geomatics Engineering, and Dr. John Bushoven, Department of Plant Science.

For more information about the Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program, visit the Web site at:

http://microgravityuniversity.jsc.nasa.gov or contact Rachel Kraft at NASA Johnson Space Center’s Public Affairs Office, at 281-792-7690, or rachel.h.kraft@nasa.gov.

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