ESA Education Office celebrates ongoing collaboration with ELGRA

ELGRA logo
7 November 2013

Every year, ESA sponsors student teams to run experiments using world-class facilities. The teams are mentored by experts from the European Low Gravity Research Association (ELGRA) during the experiment’s development, performance and data analysis. It is a rewarding experience for both students and mentors.

Anne-Laure Biance is an associate professor of physics at Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1, France. She was the mentor to the Spin-Leidenfrost team during the Spin Your Thesis! 2013 programme.

Spin Your Thesis! is an annual programme from ESA’s Education Office that allows specially chosen student teams to perform hypergravity experiments in ESA’s Large Diameter Centrifuge.

Anne-Laure was approached to evaluate the Spin-Leidenfrost proposal by ELGRA. The organisation aims to represent and strengthen the scientific community of low and hyper-gravity research. In particular, it supports emerging young scientists with an educational programme.

The Leidenfrost effect refers to water drops released onto a heated surface. If the surface is hot enough, the drop levitates over a film of its own vapour. Two PhD students from Université de Liège, Belgium, designed an experiment to investigate this phenomenon under the different gravities that can be simulated with the centrifuge.

Leidenfrost team

Anne-Laure had previously investigated the Leidenfrost phenomenon but says, “I had never thought to investigate the effect under different gravities.”

So, when the proposal was selected, she agreed to be the team’s mentor. She met them at their laboratory in Belgium, where she found them entirely focused on understanding the technicalities of their experiment.

“It was a good experience for me. In France, PhD students work alone. It was interesting to see PhD students working in a team,” she says.

Although, she did not get involved with the routine technicalities of the experimentation, she kept in touch via email, and then met up again during the experimental campaign at ESTEC. At that point, she found that they had changed their focus.

Instead of being consumed with the technicality of the experiment, their sights were now entirely set on obtaining the best science results from their time on the centrifuge. Their diligence paid off.

“I think the scientific results are going to be very interesting,” says Anne-Laure, who has one of the students visiting this week to work on the analysis. She says that because she was not involved in the day-to-day supervising of the students, it was much more like a collaboration between colleagues.

ESA’s collaboration with ELGRA is integral to the success of these programmes. To date, ELGRA members have evaluated student experiment proposals for eleven different selection processes, and provided mentors for eighteen experiments. These have been not only for the Spin Your Thesis! Programme but for Fly Your Thesis! and Drop Your Thesis! too.

“The mentorship programme offered by ELGRA is a valuable opportunity for the students but also for the scientists. The relationship of a student team with its ELGRA mentor is a win-win proposition. On one hand, the team benefits from the gravity-related expertise of the expert, and on the other hand the mentor benefits from the fresh new ideas of the students,” says Natacha Callens, ESA Educational Programmes Coordinator.

Leidenfrost team's experiment integrated in a LDC gondola

In the case of Spin-Leidenfrost, Anne-Laure was rewarded with genuine research help. “I would recommend becoming a mentor to my colleagues as well, if there was a scientific reason for their interest,” she says.

To underline the quality of the students’ research. Since 2011, ELGRA and ESA’s Education Office have organised a plenary student session during the ELGRA biennial symposium. Six presentations from university students, three in physical and three in life science, are given and a Distinction Award is received by the best presentation in each discipline. This student session has become an essential and emblematic feature of ELGRA Symposia.

“For 5 years, the ESA Education Office has had an excellent collaboration with ELGRA. The feedback provided during the selection processes have helped ESA to choose the best experiment proposals from ESA Member and Cooperating states and the mentorship programme to provide the selected student teams with an excellent scientific and technical support,” says Natacha Callens.
Spin Your Thesis! and Drop Your Thesis! programmes continue in 2014. The deadline for Spin Your Thesis! proposals is 9 December 2013, and for Drop Your Thesis! it is 19 January 2014.

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