July 23, 2020, by Dr. Meghan Gray

Giuliana’s virtual summer school at the European Space Agency

The whole world has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with enormous disruption felt by all of our staff and students. However, that didn’t stop Giuliana Le Grazie-Brennan (BSc Physics and Philosophy, class of 2020) from making the best of a slightly unusual summer research opportunity. In this guest post, she describes her experience of a virtual summer school with the European Space Agency.

It’s safe to say that the Summer of 2020 has been slightly atypical. However, this did not stop the European Space Agency, who conducted their 2 week ESA/ELGRA Gravity Research Summer School almost identically to usual (other than the fact I was in my bedroom in Essex instead of Belgium whilst completing it…)! Thirty students from all over Europe came together for a virtual summer school, which comprised of approximately 30 hours of lectures, and a 30-hour group project. Lectures involved all things from the more physical phenomena of how complex fluids work in microgravity (anything < 1g), to the neuroscience and biological implications of space motion sickness and vestibular adaptation in microgravity, and even talks from previous ISS astronauts! Although my Physics and Philosophy degree was already quite interdisciplinary, I found it really inspiring to have such a range of professionals and academics talk about their research in all these different Scientific fields — despite what most Physicists would say, Biology was actually quite interesting!

The part that I probably enjoyed the most about the Summer School was the group project, where I was placed in a multidisciplinary team of 5, and we had to design a research project as if we were going to submit our idea to ESA’s official project calls for their different simulated gravity platforms across Europe. Our team NOAHS:ARC (Nutrient Osmosis/Absorption Hypergravity Simulation: Awesome Results Collected), presented the project HA NOPE (Hypergravity Absorption, Nutrient Osmosis/Permeation Experiment). Aside from the frivolous acronyms, this essentially meant that we were designing an experiment to test whether Astronauts can absorb nutrients in space, using ESA’s centrifuge in the Netherlands! From the mostly beyond me science, to the slightly more manageable project management, we virtually worked together to present our project design/plan etc. to our peers and organisers of the Summer School on the last day. This project gave us the opportunity to delve into science that none of us were familiar with, with the help of very intelligent academics who do this for a living — pretty cool in my opinion!

I highly recommend anyone from any STEM background who is even minorly interested in space to apply for this Summer School in future years. I was very sceptical that I would be accepted onto this experience, but if I can do it, you can too! It was a productive way to spend two weeks of lockdown, but hopefully next year this summer school will take place in Belgium, in which case I encourage you even more to apply (who can say no to space AND chocolate?). Not only does this summer school give you a whole breadth of knowledge and exposure to the space industry, it also offers the opportunity to further develop your research project should you choose to at ESA’s facilities. Maybe next year NOAHS:ARC will be in the Netherlands playing around with a centrifuge, and anyone one of you at UoN could be too — just ask one of our brilliant tutors for a reference and apply. The sky’s (or space?) the limit!

Posted in Student ResearchStudy AbroadSummer projectsUndergraduates