Experiment Designed By South Coast Researchers To Study Sediment Movement Launched Into Space

Jun 29, 2018

Some South Coast researchers are trying to figure out something you’ve probably never thought about, and are reaching into space to find answers. How does sediment in waterways and oceans move, and come together? An experiment designed by some UC Santa Barbara researchers to look at that question was onboard a rocket launched from Florida Friday morning, carrying a payload of supplies to the International Space Station.

It’s a more important question than you might think. For instance, an earthquake can cause large scale ocean sediment movement, which under the right conditions will trigger a tidal wave.

UC Santa Barbara mechanical engineer Paolo Luzzatto-Fegiz and a team of researchers are intrigued by sediment transport.

It’s hard to study in a lab. You would have to have a huge tank that’s deep enough to allow you to follow the movement of sediment. So, what if you took away the gravity, to study the electrostatic forces which bring sediment together in fluids? You could do that if the lab you use is the International Space Station.

For the last two years, the UCSB team has been working on developing the parameters for experiments in space, and getting the support to get it on the latest SpaceX flight to the Space Station.  The rocket successfully lifted off from Cape Canaveral Friday morning.

The UCSB team will work with the onboard scientists, and monitor the tests from Earth. The researchers say we could potentially use the findings to learn more about things like how oil and gas deposits formed, as well as more basic things like water quality.