Nestlé carries out experiments with the European Space Agency

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 9th July 2012

Nestlé is using zero gravity research to develop its understanding of the foam technology used in its products.

The study could help Nestlé scientists create better air bubbles in chocolate, coffee, dairy and pet food.

Scientists at the Nestlé Research Center in Switzerland are working with the European Space Agency (ESA) on foam experiments designed to produce the ‘perfect’ bubble. Bubbles are added to products, such as chocolate mousse and coffee froth, to make the right texture or consistency.

The company recently conducted zero gravity research on ‘parabolic’ flights with the European Space Agency and a team of international foam research scientists.

How the experiment was conducted

Before the flights, Nestlé scientists placed six 5mL samples of water and milk protein in a special machine that analyses the structure of foam, carried on board the European Space Agency sponsored A300 airbus plane. Flying at a maximum height of 28,000 ft (8,500m), the plane made about 30 ‘parabolas’, or up-and-down dips, creating weightlessness inside the fuselage in short bursts.

Dr Cécile Gehin-Delval, a scientist at the Nestlé Research Center, said, “Each parabola lasts about 20 seconds and creates zero gravity or weightlessness.”

During those short periods, Gehin-Delval studies the milk protein to see if it makes foam and how stable the bubbles are. The stability of the bubbles determines the shelf-life of a number of products and is key to the consumer’s taste experience.

“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,” she added.

Why zero gravity is important

Foam is unstable in gravity because the liquid between the bubbles flows downwards.

When the liquid film between the bubbles is very thin, it can break and the foam collapses. Foam is easier to study under zero gravity conditions because weightlessness causes bubbles to be evenly dispersed rather than floating to the top.

Nestlé has been following ESA’s activities in this field for over a decade. This is the first time Nestlé is conducting foam experiments in zero gravity conditions.