Astro Academy: Principia
From December 2015 until May 2016 the first British ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Tim Peake lived and worked on the International Space Station as part of Expedition 46/47.
His mission, called Principia, included work on a wide variety of education projects alongside his day-to-day work for ESA and in collaboration with other space agencies on the ISS.
In support of Tim's mission, various different organisations have been working with the UK Space Agency on related educational resources to take advantage of the opportunities that the mission has provided.
For one of these education projects the National Space Academy designed and built a set of kit for a series of simple demonstrations that Tim has conducted and filmed whilst on the International Space Station (ISS) to illustrate fundamental aspects of physics and chemistry curricula, comparing results in micro-gravity with those in classrooms on Earth for the project Astro Academy: Principia.
The demonstrations cover secondary science topics such as circular motion, collision physics, kinetic theory of gases and harmonic motion, using systems which act differently under Earth gravity than in the micro-gravity environment on the ISS, where the theory is beautifully clear.
You can see a teaser of the content that will be available at astroacademy.org.uk, from which site all of the resources will soon be available to download.
Astro Academy: Principia equipment
Crew transfer bag showing how the equipment was packed. During launch the kit would also be bubble wrapped and stowed in a zip-lock bag. Tim will have to inspect each item for damage before he removes it from the bag.
Centripetal force demonstration. Tim will push the smooth duralin ball around the lexan loop; in the micro-gravity environment on the ISS the ball will keep rotating round the loop until the energy loss due to friction slows the ball down enough to leave the loop.
Crew transfer bag closed ready for launch. The whole kit had to vibration tested by Leicester University Space Research Centre to show it would survive launch.
Tim will spin the ball on a thread (which is not easy to do in micro-gravity) and let it go to demonstrate Newton’s 1st Law of Motion.
Two hollow aluminium balls oscillating on a spring which Tim will use to show the harmonic oscillation of a diatomic molecule. It will also show other degrees of freedom as it rotates and translates.
Lexan box containing 45 hollow aluminium balls. Tim will shake the box to model the random motion of particles in a gas.
Tim's demonstrations have been used alongside Earth-based filming to create a series of five films, accompanied by written teacher guides, using the classroom expertise of the National Space Academy, whose UK wide team is comprised of award winning and Ofsted rated "outstanding" subject specialist teachers with years of experience and excellent records of exam results.
The films are aimed primarily at UK secondary school teachers, but the demonstrations they are based on can be used in dynamical analysis lessons up to A level and first year undergraduate. The video clips of Tim's demonstrations will also be released as standalone clips which teachers can use independently in their lessons, along with recorded dynamical analyses to explore the topics more deeply.
The videos and accompanying materials will be available to teachers for many years to come and will be a lasting legacy of Tim's mission.
Image: Academy Director Anu Ojha and Head of Teaching and Learning Andy McMurray meet with Tim at ESA’s European Astronaut Centre in Cologne to discuss Astro Academy: Principia in October 2015
What does "Astro Academy: Principia" mean?
The project's name incorporates Tim Peake's mission name, Principia, which he chose in homage to the great scientist Sir Isaac Newton, and in particular Newton's great work Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), commonly referred to as "Principia". The books that make up Principia include what is arguably Newton's most famous work and the basis of classical physics: Newton's Laws of Motion.
The "Astro" in Astro Academy refers to the suffix used by astronauts on their twitter handles (eg @Astro_TimPeake) as well as the word astronaut itself – the "astro" part coming from the Greek word astron meaning star (and naut coming from nautes meaning sailor). The inclusion of the word Academy is a reference to the National Space Academy model of supporting teaching and learning by using space contexts to tackle curriculum topics in the sciences and maths.
Astro Academy: Principia will demonstrate some of Newton's laws and other fundamental principles of physics and chemistry in a way that Newton and subsequent scientists could only have imagined.
The National Space Academy was asked by the European Space Agency to develop an on-station demonstration for ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, using equipment that was already on station. You can see the resulting video here.