Portland State University professor invents zero-gravity coffee cup

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(Portland, Ore.) August 13, 2013 – Portland State University (PSU) is proud to announce a novel solution for zero-gravity refreshment.

Mechanical engineering professor Mark Weislogel and three colleagues were recently awarded a patent for a cup designed for drinking fluids in micro-gravity conditions. Without the pull of gravity, fluids behave very differently than they do on earth, confounding some of the most basic maneuvers, such as drinking from a cup.  

“The low-g cup exploits an interior corner, which combined with favorable wetting, lets surface tension replace the role of gravity so you can kind of drink normally,” explains Weislogel. “It’s pretty simple. Works well for champagne too.”

The zero-gravity coffee cup is one of many projects resulting from a suite of handheld and automated experiments known as the Capillary Channel Flow (CCF) and Capillary Channel Flow Experiments-2 (CFE-2). CCF tests are commanded remotely and robotically by stations at PSU and ZARM, a microgravity research laboratory in Bremen, Germany. CFE-2 experiments are guided from the NASA lab at PSU’s Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science, and performed by astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS). This research aims to improve current computer models and analytical tools used by engineers to design low gravity fluid systems on spacecraft.

Weislogel shares the zero-gravity coffee cup patent with two mathematicians, Paul Concus, professor emeritus at University of California, Berkley; Robert Finn, professor at Stanford University; and NASA astronaut Don Pettit. Pettit performed CFE-2 experiments during his time on board the ISS, making the zero-gravity coffee cup the first reduction to practice of an invention in a space environment, constructed of materials aboard the ISS.

Weislogel and his student research team recently completed a 40-day marathon of 24-hour experiments performed aboard the ISS. Undergraduate students and two-area high-school students contributed to this research over the summer.  

More information about the zero-gravity coffee cup and related experiments is available on the NASA website.

About Portland State University

Located in Portland, Oregon, one of the nation’s most livable cities, the University’s innovative approach to education combines academic rigor in the classroom with field-based experiences through internships and classroom projects with community partners. The Fariborz Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science at PSU evolved in parallel with the growth of the high-tech industry in Oregon. More than 2,200 students are currently enrolled in programs that lead to undergraduate and graduate degrees in disciplines such as Civil and Environmental Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Engineering and Technology Management; Mechanical and Materials Engineering; and Computer Science.