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Researching at zero gravity

Prof. Dr. Thorsten Pöschel, Dr. Marcus Bannerman, Jonathan Kollmer, Michael Heckel, Fabian Zimber and Achim Sack (from left to right). (Photo: Achim Sack)

FAU researchers participate in a parabolic flight

Jonathan Kollmer and his colleagues from the department for Multiscale Simulation of Particulate Systems at Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg (FAU) only had 22 seconds. Exactly 22 seconds at almost zero gravity, in a “micro-g environment”, for him and a research team led by Prof. Dr. Thorsten Pöschel to conduct experiments to develop granular dampers. Granular dampers are easy to manufacture, require almost no maintenance and work at a range of temperatures. This makes them perfect for use in space travel and aircraft turbines, but also in daily life, to reduce vibrations from a dentist’s drill, for example.

The world’s largest airborne laboratory

The Airbus A300 Zero-G used to perform the parabolic flights is the world’s largest airborne laboratory. It takes off from Bordeaux (France) and crosses the Atlantic or, in bad weather, flies over Corsica. A total of three days of flight providing around 30 minutes at zero gravity are available to perform experiments. In addition to the FAU’s scientists, researchers from a raft of other Universities also take part in the parabolic flights.

The experiment

Jonathan Kollmer and his colleagues aim to develop a new model for granular dampers. This variety of damper contains many tiny particles that absorb the energy produced by mechanical impacts. This reduces vibration. The Erlangen experiment has two parts. For each of them, the team filled plastic containers with small pellets whose movement was measured during the short microgravity phase. Jonathan Kollmer explained why the experiment was performed on a parabolic flight and not in a conventional laboratory, “When the particles in the containers are almost weightless interfering influences disappear from our measurements.”

“In one of the two experiments, the container of pellets was constantly shaken by a motor. In the other, we mounted the other container on a spring and slowly allowed it to vibrate”, Kollmer said, describing the experiment’s setup. Additionally, during the parabolic flight, the research team varied both the granular material, e.g. glass and metal, and the quantity in the containers. The FAU team used a high speed camera to record the pellet’s movement patterns in the micro-g environment.

Granulare Daempfer / Foto: Achim Sack

The test setup (Photo: Achim Sack)

In order to achieve optimal results during this extremely brief window of time, the six-man team from the Department for Multiscale Simulation of Particulate Systems had to work together: in addition to changing the probes, measurement parameters had to be configured and cameras, the motor and data recording initiated. Fabian Zimber, an FAU student, was also given the opportunity to participate in the parabolic flight.


The result of the experiment was recordings of different patterns of movement allowing the Erlangen team to draw conclusions to produce even more efficient dampers in the future. Their results will be presented in different scientific publications and lectures.

Kollmer outlined the plans for the future, “The next step is to test how our findings translate into practice here on the ground”. Further experiments are planned to test the effects of viscous liquids on the efficiency of granular dampers.

The Department for Multiscale Simulation of Particulate Systems was created as part of the Excellence Initiative at the FAU and is part of the Excellence Cluster for the Engineering of Advanced Materials.

Further information for the media:

Jonathan Kollmer
Tel.: 09131/85-20832

uni | press service | research No. 34/2011 on 13.7.2011

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