The third 'Drop Your Thesis' campaign, sponsored by ESA's Education Office, has been concluded successfully at the ZARM drop tower in Bremen, Germany.
This year, the unique opportunity to utilise one of the world’s leading microgravity facilities was offered to the Falling Roots team of Diego Comparini and Emanuela Monetti, two PhD students from the University of Florence, Italy.
The team set out to investigate the production and release of nitric oxide from plant roots under microgravity conditions, a continuation of their investigation into how biological processes are affected by microgravity and hypergravity.
During the first week of the campaign the students integrated their automated experiment inside the drop capsule, with the help of ZARM engineers. Five runs of their experiment were completed during the second week, with one drop each morning. As a result, they were able to collect a large number of samples for analysis back at their university.
The campaign was a really intensive period for the students, their assistant professor and assistant scientist. Early each morning they had to spend around two and a half hours preparing a batch of 35 samples, composed of maize seedlings and distilled water.
After the capsule was integrated into the tower and the vacuum was created prior to the drop, the students had to prepare the next group of seeds for germination, so that they would be ready for use later in the week.
The most exciting moment of each day was when the entire team met in the operation room and one of the students was invited to push the button to release the capsule into the tower. Their view of the capsule’s 4.74 seconds of free fall was shown in impressive detail on a big screen.
Around 45 minutes after the drop, the students recovered their experiment and stored the samples in a box filled with dry ice, ready for shipment to their university.
"This was a great experience for me, from both a personal and professional point-of-view," said Emanuela Monetti. "It allowed me to know and relate with a facility of international importance."
"This experience gave me the great opportunity to experience the fascinating structure of the drop tower and to develop creative and innovative approaches to the study of plants, thanks to a very helpful staff," said Diego Comparini.
'Drop Your Thesis!' 2012
ESA is currently inviting student teams to send in proposals for the 2012 'Drop Your Thesis!' campaign, which will take place in Bremen during the autumn of 2012. Interested teams from ESA Member States should register on the ESA Education Office's project portal and upload their completed application by 13 February 2012.
The team selected to participate in the 2012 'Drop Your Thesis!' programme will be supported by ESA’s Education Office, ZARM engineers and members of the European Low Gravity Research Association (ELGRA). ESA is offering financial support to cover part of the cost of building the experiment and to cover the costs of team travel and accommodation associated with the campaign.
For more information please e-mail the 'Drop Your Thesis!' team: dropyourthesis @ esa.int