West’s Weiner will work while weightless

       West Middle School technology teacher Ranganath Weiner is no stranger to space studies. And, in a few weeks, he and several dozen other teachers will get to perform science experiments while weightless in an airplane.
       The plane, a Boeing 727 called G-Force One, will be provided by the Northrup Grumman Foundation's Weightless Flights of Discovery program. While circling above the Colorado Springs Municipal Airport the morning of Oct. 20, repeated 30-second periods of weightlessness will be achieved by G-Force One flying upwards at a 50-degree angle and then back down at 45 degrees.
       Weiner's been weightless before, but this will be the first time it was planned. “I flew once with NASA [National Aeronautics and Space Administration] and we had to fly up to avoid a storm,” he recalled.
       Not everyone's stomaches handle the experience well, he noted, but fortunately anti-nauseous medicines have been created in recent years, which will be made available for the teachers on board.
       Weiner has gained nationwide recognition at West as he developed an elective curriculum through which, over the past dozen or so years, students have simulated space travel, communicated with astronauts, competed in the American Rocketry Challenge and attended space camps.
       According to a press release, the Weightless Flights program started last year “to inspire students to pursue science and technical careers by first inspiring their teachers.” The foundation is an extension of the Northrop Grumman Corporation, a $30 billion global defense and technology company that employs 120,000 people.
       Going up with Weiner Oct. 20 will be 57 math and science teachers from Colorado and five neighboring states who were also selected for the program. According to a Northrop Grumman release, “teachers are selected by region based on their demonstrated teaching performance, and the impact they expect to have on students and other teachers.”
       In preparation, the selected teachers attended a recent workshop where they planned their in-flight microgravity experiments.
       He's looking forward to his experiments, which are intentionally simple due to the difficulty of doing anything in a weightless environment. One will use the well-known “tornado in a tube” phenomenon, to see if the vortex in the upper bottle will occur the same way and how the water in general will behave. Weiner said he was surprised to learn from Northrop Grumman that “it's never been tried before” on one of the program's weightless flights.
       The second experiment will use “Cartesian divers.” This one is a test of bouyancy, pressure and density in which each little “diver” in a bottle of water rises or sinks depending on its individual combination of air and water.
       Weiner's third experiment may have others on the plane ducking. He has two balls, each weighing the same but with greatly differing amounts of density (one bounces, the other doesn't.) But what will they do when they're weightless? “I think they'll both keep going up and down,” he said. “They'll hit the top of the plane and come back down.”
       Weiner said he is keeping his students involved by talking about the experiments in class. Also, the whole event will be videotaped, so they'll get to see what their teacher looks like in a flight suit and floating around with his experiments.
       As for his own desire to go on the weightless flight, Weiner said it's part of staying sharp in his field. By actively participating in what's going on, instead of just giving lectures from books, he regenerates his own enthusiasm and gains a greater “credibility with the kids,” he said. “You can capture their imagination somehow.”
       Trained as an earth science teacher, he never set out to teach space technology. But a personal interest inspired him to start a space science club in his early days at West, and this grew eventually into the elective class he now teaches. “Space is a great way to treat all subjects,” Weiner observed.
       According to a Northrop Grumman press release, the Weightless Flights of Discovery program started as a joint effort between Northrop Grumman and Zero Gravity Corporation, “a private company that specializes in bringing the exhilaration of weightlessness to the general public.”

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