In the fourth-grade, Eleanor Sigrest entered her first science fair. Now she has created a technique that could help humanity reach Mars.
Sigrest, 18, a senior at Forest Park High School and the Governor’s School at Innovation Park, was named one of 40 finalists in the Regeneron Science Talent Search 2021 for her research on improving spacecraft efficiency and capability through mitigating slosh, or the unwanted movement of fluid in a tank.
This “unwanted movement” makes spaceflights like the future ones to Mars difficult, as slosh makes a spacecraft hard to control and mitigating it requires “costly subsystems that add spacecraft weight and complexity,” according to Sigrest’s research. She, however, has come up with a possible solution.
“I used custom surface energies to control slosh in microgravity [space], and this is a novel technique so it’s brand new,” said Sigrest, whose technique is patent pending. “Custom surface energies are basically how attractive or repulsive a surface is … so I’m trying to control any fluid by pulling it to where I want it to be or pushing it away to where I don’t want it to be.”
To test this technique, Sigrest coated tanks with various levels of fluid in a parabolic flight aboard Zero-G’s G-FORCE One. She used superhydrophobic and superhydrophilic coatings, then compared them to tanks without any coatings. In the end, she found that these coatings reduced settling time for the fluid, or eliminated slosh, 73% faster in certain tanks. These results, according to Sigrest’s research, “demonstrate a successful method to reduce or eliminate traditional slosh subsystems.”
With research verifying the capabilities of her technique, Sigrest is currently patenting it and experimenting with it further. She will be testing her technique on a suborbital Blue Origin flight and its effectiveness on different types of fluids, as her initial experiments used only water. Eventually, Sigrest hopes to take her technique to market and potentially even further.
“I hope … to maybe one day put my experiment on the International Space Station,” she said.
While Sigrest is an accomplished scientist for her age, it is a feat years in the making. She entered her first science fair in fourth grade, in which she tested whether the size of a violin affected its tone quality. Then, in middle school, Sigrest began experimenting with changing the design of a rocket nozzle, something that led her to the Broadcom Masters National Science Fair.
“Honestly, that seventh-grade project was really the catalyst for everything in my life,” Sigrest said. “It just showed me that my research matters and what I’m doing is really important to society and I can actually make a difference.”
Sigrest plans to study aerospace engineering and computer science in college. She hopes to work at any space company that will help her achieve her dream of being one of the first people on Mars.
“I hope to be the computer science specialist on the first mission to Mars,” she said. “I honestly don’t care which space company I work at – SpaceX, NASA, Blue Origin – as long as they’re gonna send me to space.”