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NASA Working With Pittsburgh To Bolster City's Space Economy

Pitt researchers are developing project proposals for research to be done on the International Space Station.

University of Pittsburgh scientists are working with NASA to conduct research 240 miles above Earth – on the International Space Station. 

One of the six projects will look at how microgravity affects the fabrication of magnesium alloy, a versatile material used in a variety of applications inculding electronics, medical devices, aircraft and motorcycles.

"In microgravity, you can formulate materials with fewer defects," said Jonathan Volk, Commercial Innovation Manager at the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space. "Because without the gravitational forces materials formulate much more uniform."

The extreme conditions in space make it a valuable environment for conducting scientific research. For example, microgravity, or the minimal gravitational forces on a spacecraft, influences cell behavior, fluid physics and combustion.

Six astronauts can live on the International Space Station at any given time, conducting research for scientists back on Earth. Some projects are more labor intensive, but others only need to be checked on periodically, according to NASA Assistant Scientist Jennifer Buchli. Buchli said astronauts have completed more than 2,500 investigations on behalf of more than 3,000 investigators.

Volk said CASIS is working to partner with universities and research and technology companies in different cities to spur more interest in conducting research in space.

He said the relationship with Pittsburgh was borne out of the University of Pittsburgh, but that CASIS is working to engage more technology companies, the Carnegie Science Center and other universities. 

"Pittsburgh companies and researchers at universities are really taking advantage of that platform," Volk said. "It kind of makes them a leader as a city and community in that area."