The features of the scientific method

It is not so much a series of absolute, unchangeable steps as a guideline to the method that must be used when trying to reach a scientifically acceptable theory about a subject matter.

The features of the scientific method

NASA Advertisement The following essay is reprinted with permission from The Conversationan online publication covering the latest research.

Space agencies and private companies already have advanced plans to send humans to Mars in the next few years — ultimately colonising it.

One of the main challenges with long-distance space flight is transporting enough oxygen for astronauts to breathe and enough fuel to power complex electronics. Using the unbounded resource of the sun to power our everyday life is one of the biggest challenges on Earth.

As we are slowly moving away from oil towards renewable sources of energy, researchers are interested in the possibility of using hydrogen as fuel. The best way to do this would be by splitting water H2O into its constituents: This breaks down the water into oxygen and hydrogen, which are released separately at the two electrodes.

Launching a rocket with water would in fact be a lot safer than launching it with additional rocket fuel and oxygen on board, which can be explosive.

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There are two options for doing this. The energy of a photon gets absorbed by an electron in the material which then jumps, leaving behind a hole. The free electron can react with protons which make up the atomic nucleus along with neutrons in water to form hydrogen.

Meanwhile, the hole can absorb electrons from water to form protons and oxygen. The process can also be reversed. Recombination forms only water as a product—meaning the water can also be recycled. This is key to long-distance space travel.

The process using photo catalysts is the best option for space travel as the equipment weighs much less than the one needed for electrolysis. In theory, it should work easily. As objects accelerate towards Earth in free fall, the effect of gravity diminishes as forces exerted by gravity are cancelled out by equal and opposite forces due to the acceleration.

This is opposite to the G forces experienced by astronauts and fighter pilots as they accelerate in their aircraft. The researchers managed to show that it is indeed possible to split water in this environment.

However, as water is split to create gas, bubbles form. Getting rid of bubbles from the the catalyst material once formed is important—bubbles hinder the process of creating gas.

On Earth, gravity makes the bubbles automatically float to the surface the water near the surface is denser than the bubbles, which makes them buyonant —freeing the space on the catalyst for the next bubble to be produced. In zero gravity this is not possible and the bubble will remain on or near the catalyst.

However, the scientists adjusted the shape of nanoscale features in the catalyst by creating pyramid-shaped zones where the bubble could easily disengage from the tip and float off into the medium.

But one problem remains. In the absence of gravity, the bubbles will remain in the liquid—even though they have been forced away from the catalyst itself.

Gravity allows for the gases to easily escape from the liquid, which is critical for using the pure hydrogen and oxygen.

The features of the scientific method

Without the presence of gravity, no gas bubbles float to the surface and separate from the mixture—instead all the gas remains to create a foam. This reduces the efficiency of the process dramatically by blocking the catalysts or electrodes.

Engineering solutions around this problem will be key to successfully implementing technology in space—with one possibility being using centrifugal forces from rotation of a spacecraft to separate the gases from the solution.

Nevertheless, thanks to this new study we are a step closer to long-duration human spaceflight. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.If you purchase the auto-renewing offer, your subscription will renew at the end of the current term.

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