Low-Gravity Colloidal Engineering

Principal Investigator:  Dr. William Meyer

Universities Space Research Association (USRA)

A Low-Gravity Colloidal Engineering (LGCE) investigation is proposed with flight heritage and commercial relevance. Characterization of the microgravity environment also is proposed to measure the acceleration experienced by the LGCE investigation and provide SpaceX with critical information for future flight investigations. This effort will address fundamental questions in colloidal engineering that impact product shelf life and answer how concentrated systems of particles of select sizes and shapes cause order to naturally arise out of disorder when gravity is removed.

We will conduct three parallel sets of sample monitoring and imaging experiments: (1) Crystallization of (NYU-provided) ellipsoidal colloidal and PS-DNA particles, (2) Equilibration of (UPenn-provided) graphene along with disks with liquid crystal properties that should be visible between cross-polarizers as they approach equilibrium after initially being homogenized, and (3) Phase separation of colloidal (P&G- and Harvard-provided) samples of commercial interest. The objectives of these experiments examine different conditions that result in entropically-driven colloidal crystallization, melting, self-organization, and phase separation of systems. The long-duration low-gravity environment provided by the SpaceX mission allows such structures to form and persist for sufficient time to establish the evolution toward equilibrium through time sequenced images. This cannot be done on Earth because of problems caused by sedimentation, convection, and jamming. Being able to track the time evolution allows scientists to see the underlying physics, which is of particular relevance to product manufacturers for the pharmaceutical, food, and cleaning industries (in terms of shelf life and mechanical and thermodynamic properties). Of particular note is to have the first low-gravity flight of self-replicating PS-DNA, ellipsoidal colloidal particles, and 2-D graphene carbon sheets in equilibrium.

We intend to update, automate, and fly the Binary Colloid Alloy Test (BCAT) flight hardware that flew on the MIR Space Station as a small suitcase (while utilizing a later ISS BCAT flight spare for sample containment). In addition, a Space Acceleration Measurement System triaxial sensor head will be integrated to characterize the microgravity environment for the investigation and the SpaceX vehicle.

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