IComp helps bring Limerick students’ project to the International Space Station

An Orbital Sciences rocket blasted off from NASA Wallops Flight Facility in the USA last Sunday 13th July, bringing with it an experiment designed by Limerick students.  The students from St Nessan’s Community College, Limerick were winners of a competition ‘The Only Way is Up’ run by the Irish Centre for Composites Research (IComp) which offered them a once in a lifetime opportunity to bring their experiment to the International Space Station (ISS). The experiment will investigate the effects of microgravity on reinforced concrete while spending 30 days orbiting the earth.

The experiment was designed and built by Jason Hannan, Kevin Hanley, Jamie O’Connell, Jonathan Roche with support from their teacher Gavin Doyle while using the expertise of the Irish Centre for Composites Research and Irish Cement’s laboratory at its Drogheda facility. Irish Cement brought the experience to life by bringing the group to visit the NASA facility in May.

Dr. Terry McGrail, Director of IComp, explains why initiatives such as ‘The Only Way is Up’ are important: “The study of Science, Maths and Engineering opens up a world of fascination and intellectual stimulation which is not only satisfying in itself but can also lead to a well-rewarded career in terms of job satisfaction and making a positive contribution to society.”

The students wanted to test how concrete sets in micro-gravity. St Nessan’s student, Jamie O’Connell explains: “We spent about two months in class trying to get the mixture right. This is the sort of thing that you cannot learn in a text book. You have to work out the problems and the solutions for yourself and see what works best.”

The experiment will be ‘activated’ by an astronaut on the space station to mix the components in the tube: Irish Cement, water, sand/gravel mix and Mafic Basalt fibres. It will then be returned later in the summer for the students to carry out post spaceflight analysis on the experiment and compare it directly to a ground controlled experiment. The coordinator Dr. Norah Patten, Communication and Outreach Manager at IComp, remarks. “All the team here at IComp have been delighted to work with these innovative students. The project, which has put them in touch with engineers, researchers and even an astronaut, opens doors to the exciting opportunities the world of science can bring. The trip to NASA sponsored by Irish Cement was beyond all our expectations and its fantastic to see this experiment and all the work that went into it finally launched into space.”


{{Video}} : Ireland’s first secondary school experiment in space.

‘The Only Way is Up’ is funded by the Irish Centre for Composites Research (IComp), Science Foundation Ireland Discover Science and Engineering, and the Faculty of Science and Engineering at the University of Limerick. It is enabled through a partnership with NanoRacks LLC and is supported by the National Centre for Excellence in Maths and Science Teaching and Learning (NCE-MSTL), the Materials and Surface Science Institute (MSSI) at the University of Limerick and Irish Cement.