PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University physicist Phil Marston
received a $625,000, four-year NASA grant to support his research on the
behavior of fluids in very low-gravity environments.

Marston is one of 75 researchers who will conduct experiments using NASA’s
microgravity research facilities such as drop tubes and towers, rockets, and
aircraft flying parabolic trajectories. Depending upon the results, his project
may be selected to continue on board the International Space Station, now
under construction.

Sponsored by NASA’s Office of Life and Microgravity Science and
Applications, the research program offers investigators the opportunity to
enhance the understanding of fundamental physical and chemical processes
associated with fluids. Marston’s proposal was one of 297 in this cycle’s grant
competition.

Marston’s grant, “Passive and Active Stabilization of Liquid Bridges in Low
Gravity,” provides his research team the chance to study the stability of liquid
columns.

“A liquid column normally becomes unstable when it becomes sufficiently
long. Like a stream flowing from a faucet, if the stream is slow enough it will
break up into droplets as a consequence of capillary instability,” Marston
explained. “Our project studies novel methods for suppressing capillary
instability.”

The basic science underway by the WSU research team has potential
commercial applications in purifying crystal growth for improving the quality
of semi conductors, coating optical and industrial fibers, and increasing the
flow of oil through pipelines, Marston said.

“The process we study is a fundamental nature of fluids and shows up in a
variety of situations,” he said. “Getting a better way to control it may have a
broad range of applications.”

Marston’s proposal was one of only two proposals selected by peer review to
proceed directly to “Flight Definition Evaluation” in the recently announced
results of the NASA Fluids Research competition. During the past three years,
David Thiessen, the co-investigator on the new grant, and two graduate
students performed experiments on parabolic flights in order to bring the
project to this stage.

In 1992, an experiment designed by Marston to manipulate bubbles using the
radiation pressure of sound and to measure the dynamics of bubbles in
reduced gravity was conducted on board a space mission. In addition, four
teams of WSU physics undergraduates, advised by Marston, have conducted
experiments in reduced gravity conditions on NASA parabolic trajectory
flights at the NASA Space Center in Houston, Texas. Undergraduates have
also assisted in the parabolic flight research supported at WSU by NASA’s
Fluid Physics Program.

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