Crystals to grow in low gravity on Space Station


The International Space Station will soon host an experiment to examine crystal growth patterns in a low-gravity environment. (Courtesy: NASA)

IOWA STATE (US)—An experiment to study crystal growth patterns in a microgravity environment that is on its way to the International Space Station may have important implications for developing new materials.

“The different shapes and patterns in a material’s structure govern the properties of materials,” says Rohit Trivedi, the Anson Marston Distinguished Professor of Engineering in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Iowa State University.

“Our experiment is designed to record the crystal growth process as the material solidifies, and that will help us understand the physics of how these structures develop so that we can precisely design new materials to have specific properties,” he adds. “The experiment needs to be conducted in the low-gravity environment of outer space because on the ground convection effects mask the physics.”


In November, Professor Rohit Trivedi will be examining video of crystal growth patterns sent from the International Space Station to this big-screen, high-definition monitor in his lab on the Iowa State campus.

Trivedi, who is also a senior metallurgist with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory, and colleague Alain Karma, a theoretical physicist at Northeastern University in Boston, are collaborating with the French space agency Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) on the project.

With input from Trivedi, CNES developed the specialized equipment called DECLIC (device for the study of critical liquids and crystallization) that is now on the Space Station.

Once the data starts coming back, Trivedi and Karma will begin analysis to compare the experimental results with their theoretical model.

It is expected that real-time video of the experiment will begin transmitting from the Space Station in November.

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