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September 17, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, September 17, 2004

Experimenting in hypergravity Experimenting in hypergravity (September 17, 2004)

NASA launches science contest for teens

By Julie O'Shea

Calling all teen science buffs -- NASA Ames Research Center wants to see how you deal with hypergravity.

High school students across the nation will get a chance to participate in Ames' first-ever Hyper-G science contest.

Competitors will propose hypergravity experiments to officials at the federal space agency for a chance to work alongside leading scientists and engineers. The winning team will be invited to conduct its experiment in the spring using the International Space Station Test Bed Centrifuge, a ground-based, hypergravity facility located at Moffett Field.

Hypergravity is the scientific term for a level of gravity greater than that found on Earth's surface. Hyper-G experiments, like the ones conducted at Moffett Field, help scientists understand how gravity causes changes in humans and other living organisms, said Jeff Smith, the assistant chief of NASA's Gravitational Biology Research Branch. And being able to see how hypergravity impacts different species, makes it easier to predict how they will be react in outer space.

This may all seem incredibly complex, but "it's really more simple than it sounds," said Nicole Rayl, who works at Ames.

For example, students participating in the contest may wish to examine how plants or fruit flies respond to hypergravity.

Plants grow at a different angle when exposed to hypergravity, Rayl noted. And fruit flies stop flying and stand still until they get used to the gravity change.

"We are always trying to come up with ways to inspire and encourage the younger generation," said Ames spokesperson Victoria Steiner. "We hope students will not get intimidated by working with NASA scientists.

"I think anyone who wants to do it will be able to do it because all it takes is desire."

The contest officially opened at the beginning of this month. By the start of October, students, either individually or in teams, must submit a letter of intent, which will outline what they plan to do. And by December they must turn in their experiment proposals. Judging will take place in mid-January, and the winners will be flown to Moffett Field for a week in the spring. Steiner said NASA is funding the contest through grant money.

NASA scientists will be on hand throughout the process to give advice and feedback. They will also be commenting on all experiments submitted during the contest.

"It's really cool," Rayl said. "This contest will open up an avenue for kids to get real-world experience."

For more information about the contest, students may call 604-1387 or visit lifesci.arc.nasa.gov.

E-mail Julie O'Shea at [email protected]


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