Physics graduate student conducts experiment in France with the International Space Station

Published: July 30, 2019
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Lori Scott, a third-year graduate student in the Department of Physics in the College of Sciences and Mathematics, remembers exactly when her interest in studying physics began.

“I knew in my junior year of high school that I would pursue a career in physics,” she said. Although Scott knew that her passion for physics would fuel her desire to pursue her doctoral degree and a career in physics, she had no clue that one day she would be conducting an experiment on board the International Space Station.

“The College of Sciences and Mathematics makes an impact around the world, and even in space,” said Dean Nicholas J. Giordano. “I am incredibly proud that Lori is part of a project with the International Space Station. I hope that she inspires other women to explore studying physics and shows where this path can take you.”

Scott is part of a team examining how the thermal properties of dust particles in a plasma environment evolve as the plasma parameters change in the Plasma Kristall-4, or PK-4, dusty plasma laboratory. With additional team members from Baylor University and Wittenberg University, 12 scientists are working on this experiment in collaboration with the German Center for Air and Space, European Space Agency, and ROSCOSMOS, the Russian Space Agency.

In February and May, Scott traveled to Munich, Germany, to finalize the team’s proposal and participate in testing the computer scripts that run the experiment for the upcoming experiment campaign. She worked to ensure that the framework for this project was correct and the scripts would be able to gather the appropriate data.

From July 22-28, Scott was in Toulouse, France. She interacted with Russian cosmonauts on the International Space Station and ensured the information captured in space is specifically what is needed for this experiment. She had the ability to instruct the cosmonauts if changes were necessary.

The goal of this project is to research polarity switching, a stopping technique used in PK-4, to see how the kinetic energy of flowing dusty plasmas is converted into other forms of energy once the particles are stopped. Once Scott returns to Auburn, she and the team will analyze the data.

“I love physics because I can apply concepts to real-world problems,” she said. “I cannot wait to be part of an experiment that is actually being conducted out of this world.”

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