Gel ant farms are just one of the hundreds of spin-offs from the space program. We?ve always thought of space research as being a bit wacky. Ever since the Russians launched Laika the dog into space for no apparent reason (other than to get one over on the Americans) and since Alan Shepard used a six iron to hit a golf ball on the moon, we?ve been wondering what space research is all about.
It’s all about gravity
Well, it turns out that ant farms also feature high on Nasa?s list of worthwhile experiments. Since the space program began there have been dozens of experiments devised to discover how processes that rely on gravity, or are affected by gravity, operate when freed from that ubiquitous force.
From trying to grow unfeasibly-large crystals of silicon (for micro-chip manufacture) to plant growth behavior, it’s all been done. Some are successful and some aren?t. But that?s science, of course.
The mystery of underground navigation
And one of these experiments was the now famous Gel Ant Farm. Quite how ants manage to build and navigate their way through subterranean tunnels has always been something of a mystery. Therefore, in order to discover how they did it, NASA scientists tried to develop a clear gel which would make the ants visible as they built their tunnels.
The gel also needed to be sufficiently stable to withstand the high G-forces associated with launch and re-entry. Of course, any tunnel built in sand or soil would collapse under this extreme G force. High G wouldn?t affect the ants, of course, they are easily strong enough to take such forces in their stride.
Up it went the Gel Ant Farm on a space shuttle and the ants started tunnelling in their transparent gel. As I understand it, the tunnels were a somewhat more wiggly than ones made in the same gel by the same species on earth so gravity was thought to play a part in the ants? subterranean efforts. But, as far as I know, we didn?t find out much else.
Not to worry though, the bonus is that we now have a huge range of gel ant farms that are educational and great fun for kids. Some people say that non-stick frying pans are the only good thing ever to come out of the space program ? not so ? we now have gel ant farms as well!
Source by John Richards