The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) today announced five projects have been awarded from a joint fluid dynamics solicitation for focused research onboard the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory for Earth benefits. Through this partnership, CASIS and NASA will facilitate hardware implementation and on-orbit access to the ISS National Laboratory. NSF will award $1.5 million total in funding for the selected projects to advance fundamental science and engineering knowledge through microgravity inquiry.

The unique high-quality and long-duration microgravity environment on the ISS National Laboratory has many benefits for the study of fluid dynamics processes and phenomena. Many processes that affect the behavior of fluids on Earth, such as thermal convection, sedimentation, hydrostatic pressure, and buoyancy, are absent in microgravity. The elimination of these variables allows physical phenomena of interest to be studied without gravitational interference.

Through this solicitation, CASIS and NSF sought proposals to evaluate fluid flow phenomena including capillary flow, diffusion, interfacial behavior, multiphase flow, separation, and surface tension. Studies in fluid dynamics are important not only for fundamental physics research but may have significant applications for many industries, including consumer products, electronics, manufacturing, medical devices and pharmaceuticals, and oil and gas. All proposals needed to demonstrate a tangible benefit to improving life on Earth.

“We welcome the opportunity to support research onboard the ISS National Laboratory,” says Grace Wang, NSF acting assistant director for Engineering. “In the microgravity environment of space, NSF grantees will be able to investigate fluid dynamics phenomena and processes not observable on Earth — to further our scientific understanding that will lead to advances to benefit all Americans.”

”This is an exciting partnership with the NSF wherein researchers will leverage the ISS National Laboratory to better understand fluid dynamics in microgravity,” says Dr. Michael Roberts, CASIS deputy chief scientist. “These five selected projects will have the ability to advance fundamental knowledge of how fluids react in the absence of gravity, which in turn will lead to future discoveries and opportunities benefitting life on our planet.”

Below is a list of the research projects that have received awards from CASIS and NSF:

ISS: Constrained Vapor Bubbles of Ideal Mixtures
Investigator: Joel Plawsky, Rensselaer Polytech Institute (Troy, NY)

Heat pipes are heat transfer devices that are used regularly for cooling a variety of electronic equipment, including laptop computers. Heat pipes use a fluid to transfer heat, but an essential feature of the device is that the fluid undergoes change of phase between liquid and vapor. The detailed motion of the liquid and vapor, and the motion and dynamics of the interface between the two phases, can strongly affect the performance of heat pipes and similar systems. This project will use the constrained vapor bubble system on board the ISS to examine various interfacial phenomena for mixtures of organic fluids. Parallel experiments conducted on Earth will help reveal the influence of gravity on interfacial dynamics and heat transfer performance characteristics. Results from the project will provide information that practitioners can use to improve phase-change heat and mass transfer operations, which are becoming increasingly important in fields such as energy conversion, distillation, microelectronics cooling, and coating processes.

ISS: Inertial Spreading and Imbibition of a Liquid Drop Through a Porous Surface
Investigator: Michael Louge, Cornell University (Ithaca, NY)

This investigation will utilize the microgravity environment on the ISS to improve understanding of imbibition, a process in which water is absorbed by solids. An array of capillaries is going to be used as the experimental set up for investigating contact line pinning and de-pinning as a liquid wets the capillaries. The reason for conducting experiments on the ISS is to take advantage of the extended time scales for these wetting phenomena to occur: the measurement resolution is much higher in the absence of gravity on ISS than on Earth. The imbibition process is important to many engineering and industrial processes. For example, understanding how liquids penetrate porous solids can help design better flooding control by avoiding the liquefaction of earth dams and levies. Another engineering application of this work is the process of wet granulation, an important process used by pharmaceutical companies for drug manufacturing.

ISS: Kinetics of Nanoparticle Self-Assembly in Directing Fields
Investigator: Eric Furst, University of Delaware

The number of advanced materials manufactured by assembly of colloidal particles is growing. Assembly can be controlled by applying external fields that affect the motion of the particles and their organization during assembly. This project will use facilities onboard the ISS to study the assembly of ellipsoidal magnetic particles in the presence of a controlled magnetic field. The microgravity environment of the ISS is important for these experiments because the particles would sediment due to gravity with a sedimentation rate that increases as they form large and complicated structures. Relatively short duration, ground-based experiments will be conducted using the same magnetic particles to provide additional details about structure formation from particle-level to mesoscale structure. The colloidal ellipsoids examined in this project could serve as building blocks for phononic bandgap materials that control the propagation of sound and heat, ultra-low thermal conductivity coatings, and photonic crystals with rich structural color.

ISS: Quantifying Cohesive Sediment Dynamics for Advanced Environmental Modeling
Investigator: Paolo Luzzatto-Fegiz, University of California-Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara, CA)

This inquiry is focused on the study of forces between particles that tend to cluster. The physical system is that of sentiments of quartz and clay particles. The advantage of conducting experiments on the ISS is that it will be possible to separate the forces acting on the particles among short range (adhesive forces) and long range (cohesive forces). One can observe the clustering dynamics over very long time scales without gravitational settling, which complicates the measurements when doing experiments on Earth. The quartz/clay system is commonly found in a wide variety of environmental settings (rivers, lakes, oceans) and plays an important role in technological efforts related to deep sea hydrocarbon drilling and carbon dioxide sequestration. Oil companies typically spend millions per well to fund exploratory drilling operations, and might require multiple exploration missions to find one good site. Results from this work could lead to a better computation model that will allow oil companies to find spots on the deep sea for drilling productive oil wells with higher precision.

ISS: Unmasking contact-line mobility for Inertial Spreading using Drop Vibration and Coalescence
Investigator: Paul Steen, Cornell University (Ithaca, NY)

The proposed research is focused on the study of the behavior of drops pinned on a surface that vibrates. Researchers at Cornell hope to develop a theory to predict the drop oscillation modes and the mobilization of the drop, while conducting very careful experiments to verify the theoretical findings in microgravity conditions. Results from this work can have applications on Earth in medical, manufacturing, industrial and agricultural processes. For example, one of these processes is immersion lithography – an important technique th
at has allowed for down-scaling in semiconductor chip manufacturing processes. Results for the proposed work could improve the process of inertial spreading, a fundamental component in immersion lithography, and reduce defects found on semiconductor manufacturing over current standards.

Each award is contingent upon the completion of an agreement between the recipient, NSF and CASIS on mutually acceptable terms and conditions.

For additional information about CASIS opportunities, including instructions on submitting a proposal, please visit: To learn more about the ISS, including past research and available hardware and facilities, please visit: .