Four University engineering students travel to Houston today to
run an experiment that could benefit future space exploration.
Seniors Arianne Liepa, Travis Palmer and Christy Schroeder and
junior Greg Hukill were selected by NASA to conduct experiments in
its zero gravity airplane KC-135.
The team is among 68 university projects nationwide chosen to
use NASA’s plane at the Johnson Space Center.
This group of students originally came together last semester to
conduct experiments on magnesium combustion. They received
technical advice from mechanical engineering Prof. Margaret
The students believe that they have found a new source of energy
to be used on Mars. Within a carbon dioxide environment similar to
that of Mars, magnesium mixed with iodine may combust to produce
energy. The energy would particularly help people who might be on
the planet for an extended period of time.
The students hypothesize better results in KC-135’s
zero-gravity environment than in the environment conducted at the
The student researchers said they hope the information acquired
on this trip will aid NASA’s future expeditions to Mars.
“Hopefully (NASA) will be able to use our results and do
more experiments with it in the future,” Liepa said.
The team conducted the experiment in December after receiving
University approval. While the idea of magnesium combustion existed
for years, these four students created a project of their own after
NASA landed on Mars.
NASA established certain limits for the use of “Vomet
The experiment must utilize the airplane, so therefore it must
require a weightless environment. Also, it must be an experiment
that has never been made before.
The students said they are both proud of their accomplishment
and thankful for this rare opportunity. “The University of
Michigan is wonderful because it provides so many wonderful
opportunities for students like us. We first came together,
proposed an experiment to the University and then presented that
experiment to places such as NASA,” Liepa said.
Hukill said so far the team has received the most funding for
this trip from private sources, but hopes to receive more from the
University’s Student Project Center, which aids engineering
projects such as the Solar Car Team.
Beyond the achievement at a scientific level, the experiment
also holds a personal significance to some of the students.
“Ever since I was 10, my dream in life was to feel what it
was like to be weightless. This is one of the greatest things I
have done at the University,” Liepa said.
Wooldridge praised the team’s efforts and ability to take
control of the experiment, even with little University funding.
“They are an incredibly individual group of researchers.
They are team-oriented and take care of business on their
own,” she said.