Air sickness and free falling in a plane may not sound like fun to the typical person, but West Virginia University engineering students aren’t typical.
In conjunction with students from Fairmont State University and Shepherd University, 12 undergraduate students in the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources have been accepted to NASA’s Student Flight Research Opportunity.
The group, led by John Kuhlman, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, will test their magnetic solder joints concept in two test flights aboard a zero gravity aircraft, known as the “Vomit Comet.”
“Using a magnetic field localized at the soldering location, we should be able to impose a body force on the solder that will replace Earth gravity to drive vapors from the molten solder before solidification,” said Kuhlman. “If successful, our proposal will lead to stronger, more conductive and more reliable solder joints formed in microgravity.”
The first test flight is scheduled for fall 2016 with the second scheduled for late 2017. For junior mechanical engineering major Matt Eberspeaker, the opportunity came at the perfect time.
“The previous NASA zero gravity program was cancelled, so I hadn’t had the opportunity to join the team, but enjoyed working in the WVU Drop Tower – a small microgravity research facility on campus,” said Eberspeaker, from Salisbury, Maryland. “Going into my senior year, I couldn’t be more excited that NASA reinstated the program and that I’ll be able to work on such a rewarding project.”
WVU’s proposal was one of 47 selected from a pool of 89. Other schools selected include Purdue University, Ohio State University, University of Oklahoma, Harvard University and Brigham Young University.
In preparation for the test flights, students will be trained by WVU electronics technicians, attend NASA workshops and receive additional instruction in technical writing, laboratory safety, use of a scanning electron microscope and data analysis.