Xy Aldrae B. Murillo

A place without the presence of gravity — this is one of the thoughts that boggle scientists and even learners when studying about geology and astronomy. Experiments are conducted to test out if there could be areas in the universe with little to no gravity. One Filipino student's heavy efforts on a lightweight study about gravity garnered big-time recognition in the International Space Station (ISS), setting the stage for an international, dense, and large-scale experiment.

Photo courtesy of UPLB Institute of Mathematical Sciences and Physics, JAXA/NASA

This student is no other than William Kevin Abran, an Applied Physics scholar of the University of the Philippines Los Baños. His "heavy efforts" are the months he spent conceptualizing and working out with the idea – the lightweight study that could provide us with better insights on the field of space science and physics.

To start off, microgravity is obtained from the prefix “micro-”, which implies something very small and miniscule, and the root word gravity, which refers to the force towards the center of a celestial body. Scientifically, the prefix “micro-” indicates that a quantity is one-millionth of a unit of it, though generally, “micro-” comes from a Greek word that means “small. When objects appear to be (but not necessarily) weightless, this is known as microgravity. Astronauts and things floating in space exhibit microgravity.”

Going back to the said experiment,  the Philippine Space Agency (PhilSA) in January stated that Astronaut Koichi Wakata from ISS carried out "Rotation of ‘Dumbbell-shaped’ Objects in Space,” Abran's proposed idea, inside the Japanese Experiment Module “Kibo.” Wakata also demonstrated the behavior of rotating dumbbell-shaped objects in space. “The Dzhanibekov effect, or the dancing screw motion, was not that evident during the experiment. However, it cannot be ruled out at the moment,” PhilSA said.

To explain further, according to Mr. Abran’s proposal, “a rigid object, like ‘dumbbell-shaped rotators,’ could be spun about the longitudinal axis and along the transverse axis. It only has two distinct principal moments of inertia, so a rotation along the principal axes must be stable and will not result in the Dzhanibekov effect.” The said effect states that for a rigid body with three unique moments of inertia, rotation about the intermediate axis is unstable, while rotation about the other two axes is stable.

Months are spent to come up with this experiment. This was one of the six entries chosen to be performed on the Kibo for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)’s Asian Try Zero-G (ATZG) 2022.

According to Abran, the PhilSA released a Call for Applications in May 2022, where he started conceptualizing his entry. Early in June 2022, he was chosen as one of the five representatives of PhilSA to proceed in the Final Selection in Japan. The same month, his proposal was accepted among 201 submissions from around 480 young enthusiasts. Experiments were set to be conducted beginning the end of the year, and his experiment was successfully performed by the ISS this January 17.

“I’m very honored to have my experiment conducted by Astronaut Koichi. The result was satisfying knowing that the dumbbell shapes behaved as predicted. Also, watching the experiments proposed by students from other countries gave me a new perspective about the microgravity environment. Hopefully, this initiative inspires more students to continue doing research and be curious about the world around us,” Abran ended.