BUFFALO, N.Y. – NASA is welcoming six students from the
University at Buffalo to test how much more effective a pump could
be if it used electricity instead of mechanical parts in the
low-gravity conditions of space travel.
The researchers believe that the experiments are the first to
test the effectiveness of electrokinetic micropumps in
“I'm proud that my students were selected to perform our
experiments at the NASA facilities,” says UB Chemistry
Professor Luis Colón, PhD, who supervised the micropump
research for two years. “It is rewarding to see how much they
have matured, and how much potential has been unleashed.”
After heading to Houston on July 11, the research team will test
their pump on a plane that will fly 30 parabolic maneuvers over the
Gulf of Mexico, providing about 18 seconds of microgravity
conditions as the plane starts to nose over the top of the parabola
to descend toward Earth.
The four-inch electrokinetic micropump the team designed moves
liquid through a process called electro-osmosis, which involves
applying a voltage across a porous disk.
Unlike the costly and heavy mechanical pumps currently employed
by NASA, an electrokinetic micropump has no moving parts, which
makes it simpler and lighter. Any reduction in weight on space
vehicles means less money NASA has to spend on fuel to power them
out of orbit.
Aside from lowering costs, the pump is compatible with a variety
of liquids. It could recycle the space vehicle’s drinking
water or drive ammonia solutions to fuel cells for power.
Houston is only the first step for the team of UB students.
If successful, NASA may retest their pump in zero gravity at the
International Space Station. And if all goes well there, NASA may
decide to incorporate it into the agency’s space
The experiments are a part of the Reduced Gravity Education
Flight Program at NASA’s Microgravity University. Every
summer the program invites 12 teams of students from across the
nation to propose, design, assemble, fly and evaluate a reduced
gravity experiment of their choice. The teams travel to Houston,
Texas to spend 10 days conducting their experiments at the Johnson
The UB team heading to NASA includes:
- Erika Salem, a mechanical engineering undergraduate
- Jimmy Lam, a mechanical and aerospace engineering
- Thomas Prato, a chemical and biological engineering
- Sandra Czarnecki, an aerospace engineering
- Nathan Guterry, a mechanical and aerospace engineering
- and Ivonne Ferrer, a graduate student in the Department
Salem, a Syracuse native who has aspired to be an engineer like
her father since she was 12 years old, has moved one step closer to
fulfilling her dream through this opportunity.
“I’m excited,” says Salem. “Not many
people can say their work flew on a NASA plane. This opportunity
makes me want to stay involved in research and work towards my
Salem and Guttery, the undergraduate leaders on their research
team, will take a week off from internships at Sikorsky Aircraft, a
military and commercial helicopter manufacturer based out of
Stratford, Conn., to ready the pump for its tests on the reduced
“Their achievements will serve to attract other talented
students to our programs, and to bring additional national
recognition to UB,” says Colón.