High School AP Physics Student Proposes Design Solution to NASA’s CLERE Design Challenge

Gates Chili High School student Austin Susa plans to be a mechanical engineer and work in the space industry. He decided a good way to gain some experience for his future profession was to propose a solution to the NASA CLERE design challenge. 

The NASA CLERE Design Challenge is a yearly joint educational program of NASA and Portland State University (PSU) enabling students in grades 8-12 to participate in microgravity (near weightlessness) research. Teams create their own experiment using Computer Aided Design (CAD) and each teams’ proposed solution is conducted twice using low-viscosity and quick-reacting silicon oil in PSU’s Dryden Drop Tower, where it will fall 22 meters and experience 2.1 seconds of microgravity.

According to Austin the most difficult part of the challenge was analyzing the data. It took him about two-weeks to hand-draw a few different experimental ideas and then create the final drawing in CAD.  On Austin’s team was his sister, Shiana, a Gates Chili Middle School student. He also worked with his AP Physics teacher Mr. Eric Fooks.

“The best part of the challenge was the trip to Seattle with my family and the chance to meet and present to the scientists,” said Austin. “I learned a lot about writing a professional lab report and how microgravity works in my Regents Physics class and in my tech class I learned how to use CAD.”

Austin and Shiana are also known officially by their team name as the Marshmallow Astronauts. Shiana helped him analyzing the data frame by frame and helped write the report. She was also answered questions at the poster session in Seattle.

“Austin developed his own hypothesis and then the designed channels to examine how the angle of a vessel affects capillary flow upwards in microgravity,” said Fooks.  “Afterwards, he performed the test and obtained data that he analyzed and reviewed.  Finally, he created a conclusion based on this data and analysis which he presented at a formal poster session with NASA officials.” 

Throughout the course of the challenge, Austin discussed many physics principles including freefall, microgravity, capillary action, and surface tension with his teacher, who completed his undergraduate research at SUNY Geneseo.  They also worked on the format, standards, and expectations for formal scientific lab reports, posters, and presentations and called upon Mr. Fooks’ wife’s expertise as a scientist working at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics at the University of Rochester to prepare for the Questions and Answers session with the scientists.

Austin is currently working on a new experiment so he can enter the challenge next fall and has already begun analyzing the data and writing his report.