Win an ESA fellowship with GeoFlow Challenge

GeoFlow II
1 November 2010

Deep inside our planet, liquid metal and rock are churning around with convection, rather like water heating in a kettle. This is about the physics of Earth’s interior, simulated in space. And it’s about a competition that may change your life – if you take the challenge.

To understand what is happening far below our feet, it’s better to go up: the movements inside Earth can be simulated in the weightless conditions of space, on the International Space Station.

Gravity makes it impossible for scientists to simulate this movement on the ground. In space, however, a similar convective pattern can be generated in a fluid confined in a sphere. It is like creating a spherical kettle, with the heated water moving outwards from the centre.

GeoFlow II
GeoFlow II cell

ESA’s GeoFlow experiment is like that special kettle: gravity or heating is replaced by an electric field and lava or water with a special ‘dielectric’ liquid. Different kinds of convective effect can be created by applying different electric fields.

The first GeoFlow experiment flew in Europe’s Columbus laboratory on the Station between July 2008 and January 2009. The second set of measurements will be made in the first half of 2011 – and ESA’s ‘GeoFlow Challenge’ will be part of them.

The art of simulation

First Geoflow interferometric images
Image from previous GeoFlow experiment

The results will help us to understand thermal convection in planets and the outer shells of celestial bodies, and to verify all numerical simulations of fluid dynamics with real experimental data.

Almost all experiments and operations are nowadays extensively simulated beforehand. Computers calculate the interactions of liquids and gases, liquids flowing through pipes, the lift produced by a new aircraft wing or the turbulence in the glowing gas swirling around newborn stars, and so on.

Sometimes the calculations are so difficult or numerous that they take weeks for a supercomputer to process.

To verify these simulations, real measurements are needed. That is where GeoFlow II comes in. The aim of this simulation challenge is to predict the measured liquid movements as accurately as possible.

This will benefit not only scientists studying lava flows, but also many more in other fields.

How to participate

GeoFlow II
GeoFlow II model

To enter the challenge, download the ‘GeoFlow Challenge’ description and guidelines pdf from the link on the right and follow the instructions to submit two simulations, with discussion of the results.

The deadline is 30 April. The winner will present the results at the 4th International Symposium on Physical Sciences in Space (ISPS-4), Bonn, Germany, 11–15 July 2011.

The challenge is open to PhD and post-doctoral students. The prize, sponsored by ESA’s Directorate of Human Spaceflight, is a two-year post-doctoral position in the form of an ESA external fellowship at one of the institutions participating in the project. This may lead to new exciting career opportunities!

For more information and to subscribe to the mailing list, contact the GeoFlow Challenge team at

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