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Oil Bubble Mixing

Oil Bubble Mixing

The NSL Satellites Ltd-Oil Bubbles experiment is a student-designed investigation that explores whether microgravity affects a mixing phenomenon in space. Data from the investigation benefits materials research and future mixing methods in space.

Customer: NSL Satellites Ltd
Research: Oil Bubble Mixing
NanoRacks Facility: Internal NanoLab
Mission Duration: 09/2013 – 03/2014
Mission Status: Complete
More Info: From NASA website

Research Overview
On Earth, oil floats above water due to the liquids’different densities. NSL Satellites-Oil Bubbles aims to

  • investigate how oil and water mix differently in space than they do on Earth
  • allows students to further explore the behavior of materials and liquids
  • explores the mixing ability of different specific densities, in space

The goal of the high school students is to investigate how two materials (liquids) with different specific volumes mix. Just as water and oil do not mix on Earth, and oil floats above twater, NanoRacks-NSL Satellites Ltd-Oil Bubbles tests this in space and freezes the situation.

The challenge is in determining what liquids to use, and after a long set of mixing experiments, the liquids chosen are water and epoxy resin. In this case, the water is acting like the oil and the epoxy like the water. The epoxy is in its two-part state, when all mixed together the epoxy parts connect and start to mix (or not) with the water, and after many hours the epoxy dries and freezes that point in time.

What is observed when the MixStix is opened up on earth indicates what happened inside the MixStix under microgravity. Did they mix? If so, how? If not, how are the liquids positioned in the MixStix?

The investigation examines whether water and epoxy resin readily mix in microgravity. The epoxy begins in an unmixed, two-part state, and mixes when a crew member shakes the tube to combine the epoxy with water. Results improve engineers’ understanding of mixed materials in microgravity, which is important for future habitat construction, repairs, food preparation and other uses.

Results from the investigation are compared with those from epoxy mixing on Earth. If the mixing process is improved in microgravity, future epoxy mixing procedures can simulate microgravity conditions to enhance performance. The investigation also engages students in experimental design and scientific research, providing real-world experience to prepare them for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers.

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