Monday, October 02, 2006

Does a yo-yo work in zero g?

Weightless teachers carry thrills home to students
The moment he became weightless, Mike Hickey of South High School in Cleveland, Ohio, completely forgot about the science experiment he was to conduct.

"After the first bounce, I said nuts to the experiments," an exhilarated Hickey said after returning from his 90-minute flight aboard G-Force One, an aircraft specially designed to simulate the zero gravity of space by making controlled free-fall descents.

Hickey and 38 other teachers took part over the weekend in the last of five "Weightless Flights of Discovery" sponsored by Northrop Grumman Corp. and Zero Gravity Corporation of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
Now, this is inarguably cool, and I'm not saying I wouldn't do the same thing. But I'm wondering how Professor Hickey (who doubtless gets enough snickering in class as it is) will respond when his kids blow off their experiments because they were interested in something else.

I'm being too much of a grinch, surely. But what about this:
Hickey was mystified by one experience.

"I had a water bottle with this much water in it, that I was going to drink," he said, indicating a small amount.

"At zero gravity there was nothing in there that you could see. But when gravity came back, it was in there. It had just vaporized or something."
Now, the article doesn't say what Hickey teaches. Possibly it's not science, but if so, why was he even on this flight? Does he really think that water vaporizes in zero gravity? (I mean, more so than normal.)

I'm just a middle-aged liberal arts major, so let's see if I can get it right. We're told that there isn't very much water in the bottle. I'm going to assume that magic doesn't happen and that, since the water "reappeared" in the bottle, that it never actually left. Theory: Under simulated zero g surface tension causes the water to spread out and coat the inside of the bottle fairly uniformly, making it difficult to distinguish from the sides of the bottle. A simple experiment -- swinging the bottle around to generate a little centrifugal force -- would cause the water to pool at one end, if that is the case.

Do either of my readers know enough science to tell me if I'm right?

If the point of this trip was to inspire a little scientific curiosity, looks like it failed, both with Mr Hickey and with Reuters, who thought they were cleverly reporting the lack of same in one teacher, but who failed to provide any answer to the question themselves.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

that is incredibly swankified! now im really curious and will have to do a little more research.... thanks!!!!