Last week, Kei and his father visited the lab to begin work on a fascinating project that involves NASA, long-duration space missions, and 3D printing. Future long-duration space missions will require crew members to grow their own food, so, understanding how to water plants in microgravity is an important step toward that goal and for understanding how plants behave in such an environment. A key factor is that the plant’s roots need both water and air for the plant to grow well. This presents a challenge in the apparent absence of gravity because water and air do not mix well in “weightlessness.”
Kei’s current research design challenge is to design and build a device that allows air to penetrate towards the bottom on at least one side while liquid climbs along a different side. Since there is effectively no “weight” in microgravity, forces that we would deem minuscule or ineffective on earth is magnified in space. Hydrophobicity, hydrophilicity, and capillary action are a few of these phenomenons. The designed objects will be taking advantage of these properties to accomplish the objectives of this research.
Three objects are being created through 3D printing at the Wayne College 3D Lab. SLA resin printers are being utilized to create transparent objects for ideal experimental observation. The completed objects will then be coated with hydrophobic sprays at specific locations on the object. Finally, the objects will be tested at the NASA GRC drop tower where it will experience 2.2 seconds of microgravity while partially submerged in water. If the results qualify for the final stage of the NASA Drop Tower Challenge, they will be presented at the ASGSR conference at Denver, Colorado later this year. We are excited for Kei and glad that the 3D Lab can realize his ideas.