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Eleanor Sigrest

Eleanor Sigrest

Age: 18
Hometown: Woodbridge, VA

Science: “'Can You Hear the Empty Spaces?' Improving Spacecraft Efficiency and Capability Through a Novel Microgravity Fluid and Slosh Management Technique”

About Eleanor

Hi! My name is Eleanor Sigrest and my dream is to be the first person on Mars. This fall I will be attending Stanford University and dual majoring in Aerospace Engineering and Computer Science.

I love flying, playing the violin, and fiber arts. Flying clears my head and opens my mind to the possibilities of the universe. I’ve finished ground school and I’m studying for the written exam.

For my fifth birthday, I convinced my parents to get me a violin. I was so proud to leave Brobst’s Violin shop carrying my tiny 1/16th violin. Thirteen years and five violins later, and I love playing now even more than when I was five. Playing my violin is a source of freedom and fun.

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"Becoming a Davidson Fellow is an awesome opportunity and stepping-stone towards my goal. Being a Davidson Fellow means becoming part of a like-minded group of people who are passionate about their goals and dreams. It means the work we are doing is important; it means our voices have been heard. Davidson Fellows represent the future of innovation and the ability to push the boundaries of society for the better. As a Davidson Fellow, students are encouraged and treated as professionals in their field. It’s an opportunity to learn about challenges in other scientific disciplines, solutions to those challenges, and then look for applications of those solutions that cross over to other research domains. It’s through opportunities like Davidson Fellows where diverse topics come together to create real innovation from the most unexpected connections."

Project Description

Slosh is unwanted movement of fluid in a tank. In space, slosh causes engines to misfire and spacecraft to move unpredictably. Engineers spend billions addressing slosh. Their best solutions (such as propellant management devices, PMDs) add weight and complexity. This research describes a new method to manage fluid and slosh in microgravity using surface energies to hold fluid in desired locations of tanks. Spherical tanks were treated with superhydrophobic (repels water) and superhydrophilic (attracts water) coatings and filled with various amounts of water (fill fraction). The settling time (time it takes for the fluid to stop moving after being disturbed) in coated tanks was compared to non-coated tanks. Additionally, fluid aggregation (where the fluid collects) was compared between coated and non-coated tanks. The experiment was replicated with simulated PMDs. Microgravity was achieved through parabolic flight aboard Zero-G’s G-FORCE One. Settling time was reduced by 73% for high fill fractions and 39% for low fill fractions. Coated tanks aggregated the fluid 100% of the time, compared to 12% for control tanks without PMDs and 64% for control tanks with PMDs. Results demonstrate an effective method and reduce/eliminate the need for traditional slosh subsystems. This method is patent pending.

Deeper Dive

My experiment required microgravity conditions, which posed a challenge because achieving microgravity requires a drop tower, parabolic flight, suborbital flight, or an in-space platform like the International Space Station. The drop tower would not provide a sufficient microgravity period, and the suborbital and in-space platforms take years to schedule. Therefore, the only option was parabolic flight; and, flight services fees alone were over $20,000 with the materials for my test apparatus costing approximately $5,000. Raising $25,000 was a major obstacle to overcome to conduct my research. Companies were nervous to invest or provide grants because I was “only a high school student.” I found the key to raising funds was to show people my passion for research, explain the importance and benefits of my research, and demonstrate a history of quality results. I ultimately accomplished my $25,000 goal through internship earnings, grants, and the generosity of people through a GoFundMe campaign.

This experiment is fundamental to interplanetary travel, human sustainability in space, and spacecraft efficiency. The results may be applied to spacecraft liquid systems including fuel, heating and cooling, water for life-support, and recycling systems. My technique reduces or eliminates the need for slosh subsystems (such as PMDs), saving tens of millions of dollars per year. My method simplifies the construction of SmallSats by eliminating the need for complex PMDs for conformal tanks. Ultimately, custom surface energy profiles are effective at controlling fluid behavior in microgravity.

To validate broader uses, I’m conducting additional experimentation and creating Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) models. CFD models are complementary to experimentation techniques, because microgravity experiments are expensive, opportunities for microgravity are few and far between, but experiments are necessary to develop CFD modeling parameters. Once a highly correlated CFD model is developed, then the CFD can be used to test and scale solutions rapidly. I’m using this approach to explore management of ultra-high wetting cryogenic fuels, which consume a large percentage of spacecraft mass. To improve SmallSat performance, I’m also testing the applicability to conformal tanks. The SmallSat market is growing and is expected to reach $51B by 2029, fueled by benefits of university-related research to global satellite-based internet to investigations beyond Earth.


Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

On Mars. 🙂  But seriously, I see myself on Mars preparing to set up the first Mars colony. I will have graduated from Stanford after completing a coterminal program with a masters in computer science and a bachelors in aerospace engineering. I will then go on to work at SpaceX until I’m accepted into the astronaut program. While on Mars, I hope to have prepared and established stable streaming connection and communication so that I may host my own youtube channel introducing kids to STEAM through fun experiments in microgravity. Whether it's seeing how plants grow in martian soil, how painting and pigments are affected under a different atmosphere, or attempting to play the violin in a spacesuit, I hope to show the fun creative side of STEAM and demystify the industry by encouraging the next generation to be curious and explore.

If you could magically become fluent in any language, what would it be?

I would love to be magically fluent in Russian. I started taking Russian my freshman year of high school. While I originally took it to prepare myself for co-flights with Roscosmos, I’ve become obsessed with learning about Russian culture. During college, I hope to study abroad in Russia.

What is your favorite food?

This is honestly such a hard question for me because I am super indecisive. I would probably have to say though that my favorite food is kielbasa and mac and cheese. (or my mom's chocolate almond mousse pie).

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In The News

Washington – The Davidson Fellows Scholarship Program has announced the 2021 scholarship winners. Among the honorees are Timothy Qian, 18, of Rockville, Md.; Eleanor Sigrest, 18, of Woodbridge, Va.; and Kaien Yang, 18, of Annandale, Va. Only 20 students across the country to be recognized as scholarship winners each year.

Download the full press release here