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NEWS
Airplane Research Focuses On Crystal-Bearing Clouds
August 1, 2008

Forget delays, lines and ticket costs – for many people, flying isn’t just an aggravation, it’s an outright phobia.

Thanks to research conducted by an engineering professor and College of Engineering students at Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J., those airplane passengers may be a little less fearful in the future.

The Rowan team has been focusing their research on ice clouds and crystals, which can contribute to plane crashes. Some crashes occur because ice crystals collect on a plane’s wings as it passes through a cloud, causing the shape of the wing to change, reducing the lift force needed for flying.

Though these clouds pose a serious threat, there is no way to determine which clouds are hazardous to fly through.

The Rowan team has re-created ice clouds in an ice cloud chamber on a small scale, successfully forming ice crystals with the same characteristics of those in nature. Using these labcreated crystals, they can project a laser beam through the chamber, measuring its change in polarization, which is dependent on the size, shape and distribution of ice crystals in the cloud. The polarization state of light is invisible to the naked eye, but measurable using sensitive lenses and photodetectors. Eventually, this process could enable a pilot to use low-power lasers to detect the crystals in time to allow the plane to avoid the crystal-bearing clouds.


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