A team of students from the SCKā€¢CEN (Belgian nuclear research centre) located in Mol, Belgium, began their hypergravity research campaign at ESA’s Large Diameter Centrifuge (LDC) at ESTEC on 27 September and successfully completed their experiment on 1 October.
The LDC boasts a diameter of 8 m and is capable of generating hypergravity environments from 1 to 20g due to the centripetal forces as the centrifuge rotates. The LDC provides a scientific platform for scientists to examine relationships between varying levels of gravity and their experimental results. This can be paired with microgravity research to explore a broader spectrum of gravitational effects.

The team is researching in which capacity hypergravity can be used to speed up wound healing in tissue samples that have been exposed to simulated microgravity. Over the course of the Spin Your Thesis! (SYT) programme the team learned how to design, build, and operate an experiment within an ESA facility. Furthermore, the team performed the coordination, logistics, and project management required to perform their experiment effectively. The culmination of these aspects results in an extraordinary learning experience for the students involved.

The team is composed of three students, two PhD and one master’s level. The team explored the effects of hypergravity on the healing of damaged fibroblast monolayers. Initially cells undergo a simulated microgravity treatment. This is done using an RPM (Random Positioning Machine) with the addition of the stress hormone cortisol to mimic stress levels in astronauts. After this the cells are exposed to hypergravity at 10g and 20g. The team hopes to find a connection between the speed of wound healing and the exposure of hypergravity to the cells.

With the campaign complete, the team passed a monumental milestone and this excitement is noticeable. “It was an experience we will never forget”, said a team member on the last day of the campaign. However, there is still a lot of work to be done. The data collected during the hypergravity experiment need to be analysed and documented.

The employees working at the LDC and at ESA Academy enjoy working with the students and watching their projects grow from initial designs through to completion, and publication. “Every year, Spin Your Thesis! brings new students who are so eager to perform top-quality science on this centrifuge”, said Nigel Savage, Programme Coordinator for university student experiments. “Their boundless enthusiasm is contagious, and we do everything to help them achieve their goals. We are confident that their first ‘professional’ encounter was positive for them and that they will pursue their career in gravity related research.”

With FORTE wrapping up their experiment over the next few months, the SYT! 2021 campaign comes to a close. Currently the call for proposals for the upcoming SYT! 2022 is open. If you have an experiment you would like to perform in hypergravity as part of a SYT campaign, click here to apply fo a chance to perform your investigations at the LDC.

For other programmes that ESA Academy has to offer click here.