Week 3: Plasma rockets, Dialysis, and Sunburns

This week we traveled for 3 hours to Guanacaste to stay at Earth University for the next two weeks. This school is founded on sustainability and entrepreneurship, teaching young leaders agricultural skills so they can further cultivate economic and environmental sustainability in their communities.

Earth’s campus alone is a vacation! The wildlife here is amazing. The first animal I saw was a coati. I would describe this as a hybrid of a cat, dog, and possum. I’ve also seen monkeys eat mangoes high in the trees outside our classroom. As a safety precaution we can’t go running at night because there’s an actual threat of poisonous snakes and jaguars. Neature!!!!

On Tuesday we had the unique opportunity to tour Ad Astra, a rocket company. Dr. Jose Castro, a Costa Rican native who got his PhD at Rice in physics showed us Ad Astra’s latest technology with in-space exploration. I’ll do my best to paraphrase what I learned below!

  • This company is proposing another way to propel spacecraft compared to the current(and only) method of burning tons and tons of fuel- an expensive and bulky endeavor.
  • The Proposal: heat a gas to the 4th dimension of matter (not a solid, not a liquid, not a gas…. But plasma!).
  • Then, magnets are applied to the superheated plasma in the form of magnetic fields to prevent melting of the metal exterior AND channel this plasma down a tube to create thrust to move a spaceship.
  • Basically- the hotter the plasma, the faster the ship goes. However, the plasma/magnet ship doesn’t move as fast combustion fuel methods.
  • The coolest part of this tour was how the company looked at their competitors, and realized their design could be implemented in a way that complements fuel combustion. Think of the two methods of propulsion (fuel combustion and plasma/magnets) as gear shifts in a car- the first couple gear shifts get you going from zero to very fast in a short amount of time(fuel combustion). Once you’re in space, there’s no air resistance. So a less powerful 4th gear shift(plasma/magnets) introduces a savvy way of getting around with a small volume of compressed gas on a spacecraft.
  • Even though the GMI program doesn’t directly work with rockets, we had a pleasure learning from Dr. Castro and found out his wife is an architect! This source of expert advice will definitely help us as we design our dialysis room.

On this same day we began our kickoff to implement a dialysis room project the previous Rice students have worked on for the past year. We compared and contrasted different design methods we studied for the past 3 weeks, and pooled the best concepts together. A large takeaway from the pooled design concepts was this: if a group of people are excited and focused on one project or goal, so much more can be accomplished compared to individuals working on their own assignments.

Photo taken after working on our implementation project.

On Wednesday and Thursday, we toured Liberia hospital to gather more needs for our upcoming designs this year. We toured departments of pathology, a morgue, women’s health- particularly with HPV and cervical cancer, physical therapy, and dialysis. For the curious readers, no bodies were in the morgue but I did see some amputated limbs.

Visiting the Pathology department.

After some reflection, I am completely humbled by the luxury of good health. I learned peritoneal dialysis patients cannot drink any liquids as it affects their 4x daily life-sustaining procedures of ridding their body cavity of toxins. I also learned that only 1% of women in the world are vaccinated for HPV, a common sexually transmitted disease that is directly proven to cause cervical cancer.

On Friday, the team spent all day dividing roles and planning our next week as we build and test our dialysis room prototype. Although things never go exactly according to the plan, it’s always good to make one anyway (Paraphrase quote taken from Dr. Richardson)!

Today we leave for Playa Hermosa as we rest up and relax before our big implementation week! I’ll let you know how it goes.

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