Dr. Stuart Williams receives funding from the NASA Kentucky EPSCoR Program

Stuart WilliamsAn alumnus of the Speed School born and raised in Louisville, Dr. Stuart Williams has an affinity for infinity and beyond. A recently tenured member of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Williams was recently awarded funding from the NASA Kentucky EPSCoR Program for his work on “Enhanced Science on the ISS: Influence of Gravity on Electrokinetic and Electrochemical Assembly in Colloids,” which exams the impact of weightlessness on particle solutions.

You might see a colloid in detergent or blood, any solution that might separate over time. Williams and his team will work to determine if there is any way to suspend that process, which will add longevity to products that may otherwise have a limited shelf life.

“Think of a colloid as any particle that stays in homogeneous suspension. We are trying to determine the impact of specialized nano-particles and how they prevent micro-particles from aggregating. We’re using certain chemical and electro-field means to control it and to understand the governing mechanisms to use that knowledge and apply it to future products,” explains Williams.
Williams gravitated towards Mechanical Engineering as a field with a diverse array of study. After the events of 9/11, Williams, then an undergraduate, had the opportunity to intern at San Dimas National Laboratory, who at the time had received a generous amount of funding to work on chemical sensors for bomb detections. It was there that Williams found his focus.

“We had the lowest level security clearance, but we didn’t always know what we had in our hands. There was interesting stuff going on, and I thought this is neat. Let me stick with this. Let me make a difference. That blossomed into continuing to educate myself and learn everything I can,” says Williams.

Attending Purdue in pursuit of his PhD, Williams’ was exposed to manipulating particles. When Deep Water Horizon happened, a host from NPR contact his advisor, who specialized in particle visualization, to get an idea of the environmental impact. That attention helped bring in funding, which again gave Williams new opportunities for research.

He says, “I learned how to use particles and fluids into how to learn how to get information from that. In that case, particles were able to give us information. I built research on that. What kind of information can I gain from particle behavior?”

Now Williams is a backed by a multi-disciplinary team of students and researchers, all at varying stages of their education and with different motivations. One of Williams roles is to ensure the continuity of the project, and navigate the many moving parts that comes with working with NASA.

“It is a team approach. Every once in a while, people do their own thing. It is a managerial role,” he says. “I talk to NASA. Their launch time is always fluctuating. We can’t become reliant on their timeline, because it’s not set in stone. You have to make sure that students are properly trained. There is a lot of communication and making sure people are on the same page.”

Ultimately, he hopes that this is one leg of his research, and one that may yield another tool for use in stabilizing solutions.

“The scientist in me, wants to understand the physics in how this works. We have some goals in terms of why this physical mechanism does what it does. Once we can understand the fundamentals, then we can apply it. Then we can apply it to products,” says Williams.