ACE-ing Product Stability with Space Station Research

NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg works on the Advanced Colloids Experiment-1 at the Light Microscopy Module in the Fluids Integrated Rack / Fluids Combustion Facility during Expedition 36 aboard the International Space Station.(Credit: NASA)
NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg works on the Advanced Colloids Experiment-1 at the Light Microscopy Module in the Fluids Integrated Rack / Fluids Combustion Facility during Expedition 36 aboard the International Space Station.(Credit: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — Extending the shelf life of everyday items such as shampoo, laundry detergent and toothpaste is a complex process, and one with potentially significant impacts to commercial products and to the family pocketbook. Using microgravity to study the exceptionally small particles, known as colloids, which make up these types of liquid products, researchers can gain more insight into the characteristics of these particles. This may ultimately aid research efforts in improving health, beauty and household care products.

The Advanced Colloids Experiment-1 (ACE-1) is the first set of tests in a series of microscopic imaging investigations of materials which contain small colloidal particles.  These particles have the specific characteristic of remaining evenly dispersed and distributed within the material. The ACE-1 investigation uses the microgravity environment on the International Space Station to minimize the process of sedimentation in materials containing pinhead, or smaller-sized, colloidal particles. This keeps the particles evenly dispersed within the materials for longer periods of time. On Earth, gravity influences those particles to settle out of the liquid over time, decreasing the quality of a product.

“Really, what we’re hoping to learn is basically the fundamental roles that govern the formation of these structures, how those structures change over time, and by doing so, we can make a much better directed experiment and more rational design of our products,” says Matthew Lynch, Ph.D., Earth-based principal investigator of ACE-1 who is also a principal scientist at the Proctor and Gamble Company.

Gaining a better understanding of the physical processes of particles obtained through ACE-1 samples may greatly impact the quality, production and longevity of commercial products. Buying a product that lasts longer and is of higher quality will provide more bang for the buck, which makes for a satisfied consumer.

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