Middle School Science Students Prove Visit to NASA Ames Was Anything But a “Drag”

Thirteen-year-old Ajay Ramesh and 12-year-old Prithvi Aiyaswamy, two seventh grade boys from Chaboya Middle School, San Jose, Calif., enjoyed a visit to the Fluid Mechanics Laboratory to learn about reducing drag with carsThirteen-year-old Ajay Ramesh and 12-year-old Prithvi Aiyaswamy, two seventh grade boys from Chaboya Middle School, San Jose, Calif., were so excited about their visit to the Fluid Mechanics Laboratory at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., that they could barely sleep the night before their visit.

"I sort of slept. I was really excited," Ramesh recalled.

The sleepy-eyed students were prepared to conduct an experiment studying the effects of airflow resistance or "drag" of automobiles for the Santa Clara Valley Science Engineering Fair – 2010 Synopsys Championship held recently.

Ramesh called the education office at NASA Ames and was surprised when he got a phone call back that his visit had been approved. Both Ramesh and his best friend, Aiyaswamy, were invited to visit the Fluid Mechanics Laboratory at NASA Ames to perform their project.

"This is NASA and they called me back. I was surprised. We weren’t expecting them to call back," Ramesh said.

The orange liquid behind the car illustrates the wake, which can be used to determine drag for the car. The green lines across illustrate the air moving across the car"I don’t think that they will ever forget this. This is a once in a lifetime experience for them," ventured his father, Ramesh Nagar.

The boys were fortunate to request their visit when the Fluid Mechanics Laboratory was uniquely set up to accommodate their request. Kurtis Long, test engineer at the Fluid Mechanics Lab got permission from Rabindra Mehta, chief of the Experimental Aero-Physics Branch, for the boys to visit and Long donated his time during his lunch hour when the boys performed their test.

"This is the perfect age at which we can effectively help, inspire and guide the next generation towards a future with NASA," said Mehta.

"These boys just happened to ask at the right time. If you don’t ask, you’ll never get what you want. It’s a scary thing to call NASA and ask for help with an experiment,” said Long. “These boys are really amazing and showing great initiative." Aiyaswamy’s life science teacher, Leslie Schafer, said that Aiyaswamy "is very motivated and talks a lot about his experience at Ames."

The two young students both showed up for their experiment with a half dozen toy cars they found at home. "Our project is to find the best design shape that has the least amount of drag," said Aiyaswamy. "As we began the experiment, we realized that cars with a sloping shape perform better."

The boys placed the cars in a pool of water. Dye was added to the water and photos were taken of the dye flowing around the toy cars. "Air and water have the same flow characteristics, but by using water we can slow down time and see the flow more clearly," explained Long. With these photos, the boys could measure the drag of each car. "These are real, no kidding, NASA photos," smiled Long.

Ajay Ramesh, a thirteen year old boy from Chaboya Middle School in San Jose, Calif., places a truck into the tank of waterThe boys were assisted by Christina Ngo, an intern from the Foothill / De Anza college program. "I wasn’t surprised the students were allowed to visit. They love kids here," said Ngo.

During their visit, the boys learned about aerodynamic principles that will help them with their project. "We learned about separation points and what principles a car has to have for minimum drag," said Ramesh. The boys walked away from their lunch hour experiment with an entirely different hypothesis regarding their experiment. "This is why we do experiments," explained Long.

"I think the coolest part of this is the way that NASA responded. Top scientists showing an interest in two middle school kids from San Jose. That's more impressive than anything else," Nagar said. The boys enjoyed their time with the scientists. "We really enjoyed the whole NASA experience - the people, as well as the lab. It was like being part of the NASA team for a day," Ramesh added.

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