Florida Tech Student Leads NASA Microgravity University Research Team

MELBOURNE, FLA.—Nick Avery, a Florida Institute of Technology senior in mechanical engineering, is leading a research team hoping to fly an experiment in microgravity through NASA’s Microgravity University competition. Proposals must be submitted by Oct. 28th.

A 2006 graduate of Leland and Gray High School in Townshend, Vt., Avery is currently participating in the Cooperative Education program with United Space Alliance in Houston, Texas. His group, the Ferrofluid Research Team (FERRET), is a collaboration of five undergraduate co-ops from different universities. These include Rensselaer Polytechnic, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, Syracuse University and Louisiana State University.

Mark Archambault, assistant professor in Florida Tech’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, is the team’s adviser.

Teams selected through the competition will fly parabolic trajectories aboard a modified aircraft. The flights will provide about 20 seconds of microgravity per parabola.

The team will use the magnetic attraction properties of ferrofluids to control lubrication behavior in bearings. The goal is to observe and combat lubricant migration in bearings under varied gravitational loads. They hope to use a specially designed ferrofluid thrust/radial bearing that uses permanent magnets to contain a ferrofluid lubricant. This will be tested alongside a traditional ball bearing.

The team’s choice of experiment was inspired by the failure of the Solar Alpha Rotary Joint on the International Space Station. Lubrication problems have been deemed a major root cause of the failure. If selected in December, the team will construct their experiment in the spring semester before their microgravity flight aboard the modified aircraft in the summer of 2010.

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