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Space Hardware Science

Corkscrew Cups Could Keep Space Drinks Flowing 181

holy_calamity writes "A Canadian chemical engineer has a novel solution to containing liquids in space. He has been experimenting with corkscrews of ribbon-like material that keep liquids suspended in their center while in microgravity. This effect is caused by the surface tension of the liquids. The helical containers allow the fluid to be sucked out of the coil in one go. In more conventional shapes, such as coffee cups, interaction between the container and the liquid's internal pressure makes the beverage break into annoying globules you have to chase with a straw."
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Corkscrew Cups Could Keep Space Drinks Flowing

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  • by kcbanner ( 929309 ) * on Thursday January 17, 2008 @08:01PM (#22087702) Homepage Journal

    They tested the candidates in a tank that simulates microgravity using two different liquids of equal density.
    I wonder if the surface tension of those two liquids affects the experiment at all? Thats interesting.
    • by LaskoVortex ( 1153471 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @08:32PM (#22088010)
      Surface tension arises from cohesion and not adhesion. The two types of liquids were probably chosen such that the cohesive forces in the experiment were similar to that for water in air. Adhesive forces may exist between the liquids, but should not affect the experiment. Cohesive forces can be calculated by measuring the angle of the meniscus (if the adhesive forces between the liquid and its container are known).
    • by Walt Dismal ( 534799 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @08:38PM (#22088100)
      As if we didn't have enough trouble with drunken diapered astronauts, now NASA's come up with a way to have martinis in space! They should have stuck with Jello Shots in a Tube, TangDrivers, and secretly fermenting raisins from their Space Lunches. Not to mention huffing escaping gas from the air conditioning system. Yes, these plain-vanilla pilots and scientists have a wild side. The dewy-eyed novices on all-male flights awarded their first "Member of 50-Mile High Club" patch. The ones with a secret tattoo of Richard Simmons on their lower back saying "Your Space Buddy!" The "NASA Says Save Water in Space, Shower With Your Co-Pilot" ecology program. Oh, the horror. Cover your eyes, children.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 17, 2008 @08:02PM (#22087714)
    "In more conventional shapes, such as coffee cups, interaction between the container and the liquid's internal pressure makes the beverage break into annoying globules you have to chase with a straw."

    Yes, but that's half the fun right there of going into space. The other is passing space gas.
  • by PrescriptionWarning ( 932687 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @08:02PM (#22087720)
    And also begs the question, what shape would the corkscrew opener be for that? the shape of a bottle perhaps?
    • whooa (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 17, 2008 @08:10PM (#22087784)
      Stop it you're totally freaking me out man
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Zeinfeld ( 263942 )
      This is so useful to me in my daily life. From now on I am going to insist on helical containers for all my micro-gravity beverage needs.
  • Star bucks (Score:3, Funny)

    by EmbeddedJanitor ( 597831 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @08:13PM (#22087830)
    Coffee in space?
    • by FiloEleven ( 602040 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @08:54PM (#22088234)
      In space, no one can hear you sip.
  • Prior art. (Score:5, Funny)

    by bobdotorg ( 598873 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @08:17PM (#22087876)
    I believe it's called a Silly Straw. I have one sitting right next to my Tang.
    • If you'd take just a moment's glance at the story page you'd notice that this spiral is completely different.
  • Capri Sun (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Asmor ( 775910 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @08:29PM (#22087976) Homepage
    Wouldn't a Capri Sun work just fine? Just a packet of liquid with no rigid structure which contracts to always contain the liquid...

    Reminds me of that old (and false) joke about Americans spending a million dollars to invent a pen that can write in space, while the Russians used a pencil.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Microlith ( 54737 )
      Did the russians have fun brushing the shavings and graphite dust out of the relays?
      • no, they bought the fisher space pens at retail price just like nasa. Oh, and an ordinary biro would have worked just as well anyway - you only need a pressurized pen for a de-pressurized area, like an airlock or the surface of the moon. Some people need to watch more QI.
        • by AJWM ( 19027 )
          Oh, and an ordinary biro would have worked just as well anyway - you only need a pressurized pen for a de-pressurized area,

          Not so, gravity helps the flow of ink in a biro (ballpoint pen to Americans). Try writing upside down and see how long that works, or even just horizontally (ie, pen horizontal on a vertical surface) if you think it's the gravity pulling the ink away from the tip. The pressurization helps force the ink out in a Fisher.

          Because it's pressurized, Fisher ink is thicker than regular ballp
    • by rtaylor ( 70602 )
      Which works great right up until a piece of graphite breaks off and floats into a control board causing a short circuit.
    • No silly, you use chopsticks! []

      If you notice the bag of tea is exactly like that - a pouch with a straw.
    • Yeah but have you tried to jam that straw through a Capri Sun lately? Now try doing that in weightlessness. Talk about frustration.
      • by Asmor ( 775910 )
        It's actually not hard when you know how, but there is a definite art to it.

        The secret is to squish the bottom so that the the straw hole is facing vertically. Cover the end of the straw and jam it in-- don't worry about leaking or anything, it forms a remarkably airtight seal (after you drink it, try blowing the thing up with the straw. I blow as hard as I can and can't get any air to leak out around the straw)
    • It's a great joke, but I'm sure everyone else already posted that the graphite shavings get in the equipment, so they actually use a "china marker" (grease pencil).
  • by Teflon_Jeff ( 1221290 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @08:29PM (#22087986)
    If you keep the liquid in a tube smaller than the globule it will break into, it won't break into a globule? Next thing, they'll be supplying these "astronauts" with "air" Brilliant!
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by xenocide2 ( 231786 )
      No, no. It's even more simple than that. All you have to do is put the liquid in the straw before takeoff, then you don't have to chase the globule down with a straw!
  • Sounds like a space-age beer bong
  • How do you fill it? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by foxxer ( 630632 )
    It's really cool and clever... but how do you fill it on earth with all its delicious gravity? Unless you load it up *in* space, but that doesn't really solve the problem does it?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Duh, the replicator serves drinks in these things. Sheesh - do I have to explain even the most BASIC space technology to you guys?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    This device would ruin all the fun [].
  • The future WILL look like (1977) Buck Rogers and/or (1978) Battlestar Galactica when we get twirly space cups.
    • by moosesocks ( 264553 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @09:58PM (#22088742) Homepage
      Personally, I'm waiting for them to start cutting the corners off of our paper.

      (The urban legend goes that the production company behind BSG liked the series, but thought that it was too expensive for what it was, and instructed the director to "cut some corners." Not being too happy with this, the director subsequently told his props manager to cut the corners off of every square and rectangular object he could find in his inventory. Oddly enough, this added to the "futuristic" appearance of the props)
  • In other words ... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jc42 ( 318812 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @09:10PM (#22088370) Homepage Journal
    So the solution is to package the liquid in a long, flexible straw, and then coil the straw up into the shape of a cup.

    Clever, clever!

    (Of course, we have had a number of cases where we did extensive research, and when someone finally found a simple solution to a problem, everyone who saw it said "That's obvious." This happened with things like the zipper, barbed wire, and the paper clip, all of which took decades of experimenting before someone stumbled across the simple way to do it. Simple solutions to problems are often much more difficult to see than complex solution.)

    • Actually, no. It's more like a curly straw with the fluid clinging to the outside of it. Not stored in the middle.
    • by enos ( 627034 )
      Not quite. The liquid is not in a straw at all. It's ON a ribbon that's shaped like a corkscrew. You can see in the pictures how the liquid is bulging out of the corkscrew with only surface tension holding it in.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 17, 2008 @09:20PM (#22088444)
    two girls, a camera, soothing music, and a space ship.
  • Would this work on earth as a sippy cup that won't leak?
    • by TBone ( 5692 )

      You obviously have no kids. If you did, you'd know you're asking for the Holy Grail. :)

      I'd be happy with a sippy cup that had enough resistance to pressure from inside that the cup full of milk we lose under the couch every other month didn't start blowing whey out the spout and making the living room smell like baby vomit.

  • What's wrong with just sucking the juice in microgravity from a sponge? or from one of those Capri Sun juice bags?
  • by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @10:54PM (#22089152) Homepage least I think it's original.

    I'm just stunned at someone coming up with a totally new way to do something simple (hold liquid) in a simple way (in a container of the right shape) based on a familiar principle (surface tension).

    In a sense, the idea of using surface tension to hold fluids is not new--think of a sponge or a towel--but getting cup-like and pipe-like functionality is.

    I've no doubt that if humans had evolved in zero gravity this would have been discovered back around the same time as clay pots and chipped flint arrowheads, but as it is they didn't.

    It's nice to know there are still inventions to be invented that don't rely on a billion microchips and a million lines of code.
  • ... just use a container like a collapsible juice box?

    Like the ones they use for little kids' drinks, they can contain liquids and prevent spills ....

    .... on second thought, never mind.

  • I'm gratified to see that Crazy Straw technology has space!
  • When I go to space, I just bring cups with internal centrifuges. Well, that and popsicles. I've never hand any trouble, though I've found it difficult to throw my cups in a straight line.
  • A Canadian chemical engineer has a novel solution ... that keep liquids suspended in their center

    Shouldn't that be centre. :)

    • by mks113 ( 208282 )
      The great thing about being Canadian is that we can understand both the yanks and brits -- and have our choice as to which terminology to use.

      Center happens to be the usual choice here.

      Good to see my university on here, though I took EE.
  • Reminds me of a powerful suction effect, similar to a whirlpool or tornado...Similar principles?
  • or did my fellow Canadian just happen to look at the cross section of an Onacup [] and go "Eureka!"?

    Take a look at this cross-section [] of one of the more complex models.

    (warning deep linked image from a site which contains NSFW material)

  • Someone mentioned sponges. I was thinking along a different line, that if you have a long thin straw especially if the reservoir is stiff maybe it is hard to suck it out. So if you had more openings at the mouth end it would multiply the ease with which you could extract liquid (or is it really just herding barely connected globules into the air floating in the middle of the ribbon, in which case not so hard).

    This kind of a tree-like network could be three dimensional, like a rock or well a shower head you
  • I don't understand why they don't have more of a "juice box" design. Put the drink in a flexible bag with a hole for the straw. There's no air in it, and air doesn't go in when you drink, it just collapses the bag until it's empty. No chasing globs of liquid with the straw. Seems too obvious for them to have overlooked, so why not?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Maybe not a cardboard juicebox, but more like a foil or plastic bag.... I was thinking the same thing.

      This goes back to the millions of dollars spent researching and developing an ink pen that would write in zero G. The Russians laughed all the way to the pencil sharpener.

Help! I'm trapped in a PDP 11/70!