Flash & Splash Reloaded !

Four years have passed since our last parabolic flights in 2006…Danjo, Aurèle, Nico and Phil split between England, Germany and Switzerland in different PhD studies and jobs, and we used to meet for our Christmas fondue to remember the wonderful weightlessness sensations that we all shared…With a glas of wine, we were thinking to ourselves: What happened to the proposal we submitted to ESA in 2007?

One day of May this year, Mohamed (the Head of cavitation group at the Laboratory of Hydraulic Machines at EPFL) received a surprise call from the European Space Agency (ESA): They had a final look at our proposal and there was a place for us in the A300 aircraft to fly…this coming October!

We immediately gather together on Skype. The issue of the discussion was clear-cut. Although the time left until October was a challenge, it was now or never. Postponing the offer would cast a serious doubt on the feasibility of the experiment as we had no clue where the team would be in a year or two…But the delay until October was to short for our geographically-split team, and we needed extra-force. Mohamed directly put his new PhD student, Marc, to work on the experiment. Welcome to the team, Marc! Plus, Nico was hired 60% by the lab after his PhD.

Our new experiment was scientifically and technically ambitious. Our goal: investigate the direct effects of gravity on the collapse of small vapor bubbles, co-called cavitation bubbles, an effect that has never been fully observed. Our means: generate the bubbles by a high-power laser focused through a parabolic mirror inside a depressurized water container. Our problem: Except for water :o) we basically had none of the technical parts of the experiments at the lab! And we had only four months to design the experiment mechanically and electronically, order the missing components, test and assemble everything…

From left to right: the optical table;o) Marc, Phil, Dan and Nico

Marc and Nico were sweating everyday, while the complete team used to travel meet on weekends. Down in our cave at the Laboratory of Hydraulic Machines, little by little, the optical table was taking shape…

Aurèle and Marc next to our experiment, here leaving the optical table to sit in its Aluminium “rack” structure

Plus, we had to care about safety issues. Our laser is indeed among the most dangerous: one shot would burn a small hole in a piece of wood and make you blind! As you can imagine, bringing such a powerful laser in a plane requires some precaution, for which the ESA requires careful procedures and documentation. Just imagine that the aircraft will be filled with fifteen other experiment, all as dangerous as ours. That just adds more fun to the risky parabolic flight maneuvers;o)

Phil protecting himself against the laser…

A top view of the experiment; Upper left, the high-speed camera (up to 300’000 frames per second!!! Upper right, the laser

Finally, the last weekend before our departure to Bordeaux our ideas were transformed into matter. Our new baby, ‘Louis II’ was born with a total weight of 228 kg!

Last Updated (Tuesday, 28 May 2013 16:47)

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