Weiner: Surprises in weightless experiments

       None of his experiments went as predicted, but West Middle School technology teacher Ranganath Weiner had a “phenomenal, incredible” time in an Oct. 20 jet flight where he and other teachers repeatedly experienced zero or nearly zero gravity. Weightless inside a Boeing 727 Oct. 20, West Middle
School’s Ranganath Weiner (left) implements the “Cartesian
Divers” experiment with  Lois Vavra of Russell Middle School
and Tom Henson of the Northrup Grumman Foundation.
Courtesy of Northrup Grumman
       “The end result is that it piqued kids' interest,” Weiner said. “Suddenly they're very interested in my experience, because of its applications to everyday life.”
       The three-hour flight occurred in a Boeing 727 called G-Force One, provided by the Northrup-Grumman Foundation's Weightless Flights of Discovery program. The jet, carrying more than 50 math and science teachers from Colorado and neighboring states, circled above the Colorado Springs Municipal Airport.
       Weiner had selected three well-known experiments to try while weightless. The popular “Tornado in a Tube” did not make a vortex at all; instead, “the water formed small balls, and the glitter got trapped inside spheres because of the micro-gravity. They looked like marbles.” A few of his students had predicted the water would not go from one bottle to the other in weightlessness, so at least that part was true.
       The “Cartesian Divers” experiment, which tests water bouyancy, found the little divers rotating around in the middle instead of rising to the top or sinking to the bottom.
       Weiner's final experiment, with two balls of differing density, found the spheres caroming off at 90 degree angles. He had thought they'd keep going up and down.
       “I'm using it as a teachable moment for the students,” Weiner said. “When you do real science, it shouldn't come out as expected.”
       At West, Weiner teaches elective science classes that focus on space science and technology.

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