CLEVELAND, Ohio – 26 Jan 11
NASA USRP Intern Experiments with Fire
By: Heather L. Ogletree
When many people hear the word ACME, visions of Warner Brother’s Wile E. Coyote trying to catch the Road Runner using ACME explosives and contraptions comes to mind. However for NASA, ACME stands for Advanced Combustion via Microgravity Experiments, which is close, but also quite different as Kevin Swenson discovered this fall.
The Undergraduate Student Research Project (USRP) offered Swenson a chance to take part in an experiential hands-on ACME project with NASA Mentors Dr. Fumiaki Takhashi and Dennis Stocker in coordination with combustion researchers from University of California, Irvineover a 15 week period at Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. Swenson is the 7th intern to work on this on-going research project.
According to Stocker, “The overall purpose of the ACME project is to advance combustion technologies used on Earth (for power, propulsion, etc.) by improving our fundamental understanding of combustion processes.”
As part of his experience, Swenson was assigned to rebuild a rig used in microgravity combustion research.“The rig had been very faulty in the past in terms of electrical wiring, so it was a challenge for me to trace every wire of every component [to] fix the bad wiring and install new wiring, “ said Swenson.
Bad wiring was probably also a similar detriment to Wile E. Coyote’s plight, but for Swenson, “It was very rewarding when my hard work paid off and the rig worked properly.”
The other part of Swenson’s project involved experimenting with fire. He applied an electric field, generated by a high voltage power source, in order to learn how it affects a methane flame.Swenson noted, “It is incredibly interesting to me that flames can be controlled by electric fields. Prior to my internship at NASA I did not know that such an effect was possible.” He also indicated that “if a strong enough electric field is applied to a flame, the flame will extinguish.”
Stocker expects that the four ACME experiments will be conducted on the International Space Station (ISS) in approximately 2014.
While the results of the Electric-Field Effects on Laminar Diffusion Flames (E-FIELD Flames) experiment have clear implications for space, they may also have valuable applications here on Earth. He Swenson explained, “The electric field also controls the sooty region of a flame, so implications on Earth include controlling the burning process of combustion engines to produce higher efficiency and lower emissions.”
Swenson has dreamed of working for NASA since he visited Johnson Space Center in Houston when he was a Cub Scout, but he “had never seriously considered it until [he] found the USRP program.” Although he was not initially selected for the program, his persistence paid off.
While at Glenn, Swenson tried to capture the full NASA experience. “The USRP internship program strongly encourages learning outside of your assigned area,” stated Swenson. “I have really enjoyed visiting different labs and going to talks on topics ranging from Mars rovers to supersonic engines.”
Currently, Swenson is studying mechanical engineering at University of Southern California in Los Angeles. After graduation, Swenson plans on pursuing a Master’s degree and one day hopes to work in the space industry.
For more information on the ACME project click here.