Nasa sponsors the Celere program, short for Capillary Effects on Liquids Exploratory Research Experiments, to expand the number of schools conducting microgravity research. Hosted by Portland State University, the program challenges students to develop experiments that investigate the effect of microgravity on capillary action.
Capillary action is what causes water to rise in a straw. Plants rely on capillary action to draw water from the roots to the leaves. Many manufacturing processes depend on capillary action as well. Gravity acts to limit capillary effects here on Earth. In space, however, gravity’s effects are much weaker and liquids behave much differently.
Using the free 2D computer-aided drafting program, DraftSight, students design a plate with two channels to test. Staff at Portland State University use the CAD files to cut the channels out of a plate and sandwich it between two pieces of glass. As the plate falls through the university’s Dryden Drop Tower, capillary action draws the low-viscosity oil through the plate. The student teams analyze video of the dropping plate using Nasa-provided software.
Up to one hundred teams can participate in the 2014 drop sessions in February, March, and April.
Teams are open to students in grades 5-12, but at least one student on a team must be in grades 9-12. A team can be organized by schools or other youth groups such as the Scouts. Students in the fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands may take part without restrictions on citizenship.