Feature Stories

Professor Boris Khusid -- He's a Rocket Man!

Our team in Houston: Dana Qasem, CBPE undergraduate student, Professor Boris Khusid, and John Tang, CBPE post-doc

If Boris Khusid, professor of chemical, biological and pharmaceutical engineering, spends a lot of time with this head in the clouds, it’s all part of his NASA-supported research.

With one experiment already set to fly (July 26-August 3 campaign) in microgravity aboard a NASA Boeing 7272 at the NASA Ground Facilities, in Houston, he received word of a second NASA grant is supporting a 5-year study that will include three experiments on the International Space Station.

Khusid is an expert in the field of electro-hydrodynamics, or electro-fluid-dynamics , the study of the motions of ionized particles or molecules and their interactions with electric fields and the surrounding fluid.  He explains that the lack of the gravity-driven gas-liquid phase separation in microgravity has severely compromised a wide range of space technologies, ranging from liquid pumps to volumetric techniques for sampling liquids and to electrolytic oxygen generators.

A decade ago, Khusid led a team of researchers carrying out experiments on polarized suspensions in microgravity aboard the NASA aircraft. See the story of that flight in NJIT Magazine. Unexpectedly, the NJIT team observed the appearance of a gas-liquid phase separation caused by the application of high-gradient electric fields. Based on these observations and supported by the NASA grant, the team developed a novel method for concentration and removal of air bubbles from fluids in microgravity.

“The main idea behind this method is to apply an electric force directly to a fluid via capacitive coupling to external electrodes in order to eliminate the adverse effects of electro-chemical reactions at the fluid-electrode interface,” Khusid said. “The EHD method can induce a gas-liquid phase separation even in a microliter-sized volume of bubble dispersions, requires no moving parts and offers easy adaptability to electronics.”

As bubbles inevitably experience a buoyancy force in a normal gravity environment, laboratory experiments were conducted on suspensions of neutrally buoyant particles to confirm that the EHD separation does not require the presence of the buoyancy force. In 2012, the NJIT technology was selected for parabolic flight tests aboard the NASA aircraft to provide the ultimate proof-of-concept for the EHD gas-liquid separation in microgravity and elucidate the salient effects of the buoyancy force. The device was designed to withstand crash loads (up to 9 g in all three directions) as required by the NASA Payload Users Guides. Read more about the technology.

In this research, Dr. Ezinwa Elele was instrumental in developing an electro-hydrodynamic method that utilizes high-gradient electric fields to control the bubble behavior in microgravity. He validated the operation of this technique in ground-based experiments and built the device for parabolic flight tests in a reduced gravity environment onboard the NASA aircraft. The projected benefit of this research is the development of a scalable design of an electric device for gas-liquid phase separation that mitigates the adverse effect of reduced gravity on the operation of various systems in future NASA mission.

The NJIT crew  -- Post-doc John Tang and Dana Qasem, undergraduate chemical engineering major, and Khusid – are flying the device aboard NASA Boeing 7272 in the flight campaign July 26-August 3, 2013 at the NASA Ground Facilities, Ellington Field3, Houston, TX. 

The NJIT research group is also hosting a NASA internship team sponsored by the NASA Education Office: Rai Munoz, CCNY undergraduate; Ian Peczak, Basking Ridge, NJ, high-school student; and Tiffany Boney, a New York high-school teacher. The interns participate in testing the setup for parabolic flight tests.

While waiting for the flight in Houston, Khusid learned that his project on the kinetics of electric field-driven phase transitions in polarized colloids was one of eight in the nation to be funded by NASA's Physical Science Research Program to help investigate how complex fluids and macromolecules behave in microgravity. The investigations will be conducted aboard the International Space Station. 

According to NASA, these studies will result in new basic knowledge that provides a foundation upon which other NASA researchers and engineers can build approaches to problems confronting human exploration of space or that translate into new tools or applications on Earth.