Digging deep into droplets

Feb 26, 2008

Kettering University's Chemical Agent Fate Research Project recently received $1 million from the defense appropriations bill and is continuing to provide critical data to military organizations.

The droplets are small. Miniscule. Nearly imperceptible to the human eye. But for Dr. Homayun Navaz of Kettering University’s Mechanical Engineering Dept., they’re all worth a million dollars.

That’s the amount of funding recently awarded to his Chemical Agent Fate Research Project through the 2008 Defense Appropriations Bill. This project uses computer-based mathematical models to predict the spread and persistence of chemical elements in the air, on the ground and on other surfaces.

The project goals are to establish the length of time chemicals remain active following release and create simulation scenarios utilizing mathematical analysis to predict what could happen with chemical releases to assist officials in taking preventative actions.

According to a November 2007 press release from Rep. Dale E. Kildee (D-MI) from his Washington, D.C., office, data from the Fate Agent project has already shown positive effects for military applications.

For example, the U.S. Air Force has utilized new advancements in the physical transfers of chemical weapons. Additionally, the project allows military planners to take full advantage of data to evaluate conditions in contaminated environments in which they must operate.

This drop of water on the Digi-Drop evaporates within 10 seconds when wind is applied as an environmental change.

This is a video clip of a drop of water positioned on the Digi-Drop, which Dr. Mory Gharib, a professor of Aeronautics at Caltech in Pasadena, Calif., developed. This drop of water took exactly 11 seconds to evaporate.

For Navaz and his team of faculty, scientists, post-graduate researchers and co-op students, this support is gratifying. Currently, the team is working with the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) to develop digitized droplets, which they will use to assemble a sessile droplet by using a matrix of nano drops.

This innovative technology is useful in measuring the precise evaporation rate of a droplet under different environmental conditions and for determining evaporation rates for elements with thicker viscosities and textures, which the team refers to as thicken agents.

“This new technology allows us to study the evaporation rate of sessile droplets that have topologies other than a spherical cap as they are deposited on the ground,” Navaz said.  In the past, research efforts to characterize these kinds of thicker droplets were unsuccessful because of the difficulties in producing such geometries. As a result, the Kettering/Caltech team can analyze thickened nerve agents.

“This technique is highly innovative and has yielded a wealth of new and important data,” Navaz explained, adding that the technique was pioneered by Dr. Mory Gharib, a professor of Aeronautics at Caltech in Pasadena, Calif. “It also has great potential in helping to find new funding sources,” Navaz concluded.  

Thus far, Navaz is correct in his assessment regarding the importance of this new digitized droplet technique and of the overall results obtained thus far from the project. According to the Kildee release from November, “Agent Fate has already begun to show positive effects for military operations.

The U.S. Air Force has utilized new advancements in the physical transfers of chemical weapons. Agent Fate will allow military planners to take full advantage of the data to evaluate conditions in the contaminated environments in which they must operate.

Future plans for the Kettering team include seeking additional funding to expand the research capabilities of the project. Additionally, Navaz and his team continue to present their findings at conferences around the country and through publications of their results in professional journals. Since the inception of the project in 2005, the team has received more than $5 million in funding to continue its ground-breaking work.

To learn more about the Chemical Agent Fate Research Project, contact Dr. Homayun Navazat hnavaz@kettering.edu.

Written by Gary J. Erwin