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RockSat Team Conducts Ferrofluids Experiment

August 18, 2015

Carthage College’s “Ferocious Fliers” Launch Experiment in Virginia


On June 25th, four students from Carthage College watched the culmination of their past month’s research and preparation fly into the sky from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. 

This Virginia launch was the climatic event of the RockSat Program, a selective NASA education program that gives students from across the country the opportunity to design and build a sounding rocket payload. Before the launch at Wallops Flight Facility, students must first participate in various design, testing, and launch readiness reviews throughout the year. 

The Carthage team, made of Justin Barhite ’16, Jordan Rice ’17, Tessa Rundle ’16, and team leader Amelia Gear ’15, call themselves the “Ferocious Fliers”, a play off the ferrofluids they chose to study. Ferrofluids are a class of liquid that deform into peaks and valleys on the presence of a magnetic field. Last year, the Carthage RockSat team observed the effects of gravity on these deformations; this year, they continued their research and designed an experiment to measure the dependence of peak-formation onset on the applied magnetic field in microgravity. The RockSat Program’s Virginia rocket launch provided the zero gravity environment needed for their experiment.  

“Ferrofluids have a variety of applications on Earth, but they haven’t been studied extensively in space, so we’re excited that our results will help everyone understand the behavior of ferrofluids in low gravity conditions,” said Rundle. 

Besides offering the exceptional experience of designing and launching their own experiment, the RockSat program has also provided the Carthage team with the opportunity to meet Wisconsin’s Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch. 

Rundle expressed her excitement, “I thought it was really awesome that the Lieutenant governor came to visit us at Carthage! We got to show her our payload and explain our experiment.”

All together, the research, design, testing, and Virginia launch made for a valuable, unforgettable experience. 

“The RockSat program has helped me to realize my interest in designing experiments for space, and it was especially valuable to have this experience as an undergraduate…I gained a lot of new skills by working on the project that will be beneficial in a future career in the space sciences,” Rundle said. 

Overall, the “Ferocious Fliers” and their experiment were a great success, and, according to Rundle, the experiment may be adapted for other tests in the near future. 

The RockSat program is sponsored by the Colorado and Virginia Space Grant Consortia. The Carthage team was supported in their participation through a grant from the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium. 

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