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Wobbling Droplets in Space Confirm late Professor’s Theory

While astronomers worldwide are enjoying fresh perspectives of the far-off universe, an experiment on the International Space Station has provided Cornell researchers with new information about something a bit closer to home: water. The microgravity environment of the space station, in particular, shed light on how water Droplets oscillate and propagate across solid surfaces; this information has highly earthbound uses in 3D printing, spray cooling, manufacturing, and coating processes.

Physical Review Letters published the research team’s article titled “Oscillations of Drops with Mobile Contact Lines on the International Space Station: Elucidation of Terrestrial Inertial Droplets Spreading” on August 16. PhD candidate Joshua McCraney is the main author.

Wobbling Droplets in Space Confirm late Professor's TheoryAlthough the experiment was successful, the results are also rather disappointing. Paul Steen, the Maxwell M. Upson Professor in the Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the College of Engineering and a co-senior author of the study, passed away in September 2020, just before the experiment was carried out. The Fred H. Rhodes Professor in the Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and co-senior author Susan Daniel expressed her regret that Paul Steen was unable to witness the experiments’ ascent into orbit.

We hoped that in the end we had treated him fairly and that he would be pleased with the paper we had created as a result of our efforts. Soon after Steen was hired in 2007 as an assistant professor at Cornell, Daniel and Steen started working together. Her PhD work was in chemical interfaces and fluid mechanics, a field in where Steen was making a number of theoretical predictions based on how Droplets resonate when subjected to vibrations, even though her current study is concentrated on the biological interface of the coronavirus.

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