In pursuit of the perfect bubble, Nestlé has given up gravity. Scientists at the Nestlé Research Center in Switzerland are working with the European Space Agency (ESA) to conduct zero gravity research on ‘parabolic’ flights to analyse the structure of foam.
The Nestlé scientists placed six 5 mL samples of water and milk protein in a machine that analyses the structure of foam, which was secured on board the ESA-sponsored Airbus A300. The plane made about 30 ‘parabolas’, or up-and-down movements, which created zero gravity for 20 seconds at a time.
“During those short periods, we study the milk protein closely to see if it makes foam and how stable the bubbles are,” said Dr Cécile Gehin-Delval, a scientist at the Nestlé Research Center.
The stability of the bubbles impacts on a product’s shelf life and can affect the textural qualities of a product, such as creaminess and lightness.
“We want to make a near to ‘perfect’ bubble in order to achieve the right balance for different products in our range - not too big, not too small,” Gehin-Delval said.
Gravity causes instability in bubbles because the liquid between the bubbles is pulled downwards by gravity. When the liquid between bubbles is thin, the foam can collapse. Nestlé says foam is easier to study under zero gravity conditions because the bubbles are more evenly dispersed through liquids.
“We have been conducting studies on foam for many years using other methods,” Gehin-Delval said. “Gaining a better understanding of foam may help improve the texture of our products.”
The ESA has been conducting research into foam technologies in space since the 1980s on the International Space Station (ISS). Nestlé will use a foaming device on the ISS to study foam in zero gravity for longer periods of time.
“Our projects generate knowledge that aims to connect to the development of ground applications and new space systems and technologies,” said Dr Olivier Minster, Physical Sciences Unit Head for the Human Spaceflight and Operations Directorate at the ESA. “This contributes to drive research in space.”