Nestlé and the European Space Agency Use Zero Gravity for Scientific Explorations

To other newsLausanne, Switzerland,Jul 6, 2012

What do Nestlé and the European Space Agency have in common? A lot it seems. Both organizations focus on knowledge-building and real-life applications of science. The perhaps uncommon link between Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, and the European Space Agency (ESA) is their shared interest in the properties of foams.

Nestlé has been conducting foam studies for many years to improve the foam structure in products such as mousses, coffee, dairy products and even pet food. ESA, a government organization founded in the 1960’s and currently comprised of 19 member states, has been investigating foam physics in space since the 1980’s.

Foams are substances formed when gas bubbles are trapped within liquids or solids.  Foams can be found in many aspects of daily life, such as foods and beverages, materials and even on the surface of ocean waves. Understanding the mechanisms of foam formation and stability helps improve their many uses.

“It seemed a natural fit to work together with Nestlé since we are both interested in gaining more knowledge in foam technologies,” said Dr Olivier Minster, Physical Sciences Unit Head for the Human Spaceflight and Operations Directorate at the European Space Agency.

The benefit of conducting foam experiments in zero gravity conditions is that the bubbles in the foam are evenly dispersed, rather than floating to the top (as the liquid flows downward) in gravity. Nestlé scientists study foam in zero gravity to better understand foam properties and stabilization.

“If we can improve the bubbles in our foams, we may be able to enhance the sensory properties, shelf-life and stability of our foam-containing products,” said Dr. Cécile Gehin-Delval, the Nestlé Research Center scientist who is leading the ESA collaboration. “This knowledge-building research may also help us to improve our foam processes, including our capabilities for natural processing.”

Nestlé scientists began their exploration on foams in zero gravity conditions by testing samples on an ESA-sponsored parabolic flight campaign last month. Parabolic flights are performed onboard an A300 airbus plane operated by Novespace. The plane follows ‘parabolic trajectories,’ or up-and-down dips, creating short bursts of weightlessness inside the fuselage.