Thompson Rivers University

TRU science students take experiment to gravity-free heights

August 20, 2021

KAMLOOPS–A team of Thompson Rivers University Physics, Math, Software Engineering and Computing Science students were flying in microgravity last week, with an experiment they designed as part of the 2019-2021 Canadian Reduced Gravity Experiment Design Challenge organized by SEDS-Canada (Students for the Exploration and Development of Space), the National Research Council of Canada, and the Canadian Space Agency.

The Phi-Six Society, led by Johnny Gilchrist, measured inter-particle forces that govern agglomeration with the assistance of a modified Kundt’s tube in microgravity. The students have been working on this experiment since being selected in October 2019.

The team was examining what is known as particle agglomeration, or more specifically, the Van der Waals interaction. Think of it as extremely weak magnets popping in and out of existence around particles. It results in particles either attracting or repelling each other. The net result is particles forming agglomerates.

To be able to film the process, the team used a sound system to speed up the process and confine the particles to a specific area in their apparatus.

They did their experiment in a parabolic flight in a small jet. They flew to about 16,000 feet, then the plane nose-dived to 10,000 feet in 20 to 30 seconds. That simulates microgravity, the pull-up from 10,000 feet to 16,000 feet gave the students the equivalent of two Gs (G-force), about double what we normally feel on Earth. The team was given about six to 10 parabolas.

This experiment is significant in two ways.

First, this research can help understand how the early universe started forming stars.

Second, it can lead to acoustic air filters, which wouldn’t need something like HEPA filters, only a frequency generator and a resonance chamber.

Attached to this email is a news release from SEDS-Canada with more detail about the challenge and a graphic that explains the parabolic loop the students experienced.

Members of the Phi-Six Society are available for interviews.


Michele Young, TRU Strategic Communications | 250-828-5361