Jul 25, 2017 | By David

A group of engineering students from the University of Toronto have recently been given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, due to their pioneering research project in a previously unexplored niche of physics. They are investigating a phenomenon known as the ‘liquid rope coil’ effect, which is seen when a viscous liquid such as honey is poured out of a container, and also when molten 3D printer filament is extruded on the print bed. They will be carrying out one of their experiments in low gravity, on board one of the Canadian Space Agency’s special training aircraft for astronauts.

Very thick liquids such as honey or maple syrup tend to flow slowly out of a spout or off a spoon, and they gather on whatever surface they are poured on in a way that gives the appearance of a coiling rope. This behaviour is very similar to the way that molten 3D printing filament moves as it is squeezed out of the print head and on to the bed of the printer. Despite how commonplace this liquid behaviour is, not much is known about the physics that underpins it.

“We were surprised that this hasn’t been given the full treatment yet in the scientific literature,” says undergraduate engineering student Andrew Ilersich, of Team AVAIL (Analyzing Viscosity And Inertia in Liquids). “It turns out to be a very complex process to describe mathematically.”

Understanding more about this ‘liquid rope coil’ effect will enable the 3D printing process to be better understood and subsequently improved or optimized depending on the situation or context. With a reliable mathematical model, the effect could be controlled to create coils that could be woven together into materials with customized strength, flexibility “springiness.” New porous materials could be created for use in tissue engineering, filtration and catalysis.

Another situation where more information about the ‘liquid rope coil’ effect would be very useful is the use of 3D printing in a reduced gravity environment. 3D printing is being investigated more and more as a possible solution to various space exploration problems, as it would greatly reduce the amount of equipment and resources required for a mission. Not only is it fast and cost-effective, but the capacity of 3D printing technology to self-replicate (i.e. the possibility for a 3D printer to print and assemble another version of itself), means that the potential applications for unmanned missions would be hugely increased.

Little is known, however, about the effects of low-gravity on the flow of viscous liquids, and the radically different relative magnitude of forces involved could mean that the 3D printing process would be strongly affected. This could be what inspired the judges in charge of the Canadian Reduced Gravity Experiment Challenge to give Team AVAIL the chance to perform their experiment in a micro-gravity environment.

The Canadian Reduced Gravity Experiment Challenge was supported by the National Research Council and the Canadian Space Agency. It was a competition aimed at creating “tangible student-led impact in space exploration and development.” Ilersich and his fellow students  Neell Young, Caulan Rupke, and Michael Lawee, will be taking their apparatus on board a Falcon-20 Research Aircraft. This is a jet modified for parabolic flight paths which simulate a reduced gravity environment.

To watch the liquid rope coiling effect in reduced gravity, the team custom-built a self-contained experiment, one that had to fit inside the 50 cm x 50 cm x 50 cm box that was provided by the flight organizers. Existing off-the-shelf pumps did not meet their needs, so the team custom built their own system that carefully controls the flow of a viscous liquid, in this case corn syrup, through 15 different nozzles. A video camera inside the box will record the behaviour of the liquid, and the team’s custom-built software will analyze it.

Before any experiments can be carried out, the students need to get used to the extreme low-gravity environment that they will be in. They will be flying 12 to 14 times, in parabolic flights lasting around 20 seconds each. Team AVAIL will be in Ottawa from July 24 to 28 for three days of training and their flight.

“None of us has any experience with this kind of flight, so I’m heading to Canada’s Wonderland to ride all of the roller coasters for training,” jokes Rupke.



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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