A research project 10 years in the making is now orbiting the Earth, much to the delight of its creator Rohit Trivedi, a senior metallurgist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory. Equipment recently delivered to the International Space Station by the Space Shuttle Discovery will allow the Earth-bound Trivedi to conduct crystal growth experiments he first conceived more than a decade ago.
The equipment is actually a mini laboratory, known as DECLIC - DEvice for the study of Critical LIquids and Crystallization - will allow Trivedi to study and even control crystal growth pattern experiments, in real time, from his laboratory in Wilhelm Hall on the Iowa State University campus in Ames. The goal is to use the microgravity environment on board the Space Station to determine how materials form crystals as they move from liquid to solid and what effect variations in growth conditions have on crystallization patterns.
"When materials ‘freeze’ there are specific crystalline growth patterns that appear," Trivedi said, "and there are fundamental physics that govern these patterns. However, small effects can have significant influence on the patterns that form. Snow flakes, for example, form the same basic six-sided pattern, but because of minute variations, no two are exactly alike. These crystallization patterns play a critical role in governing the properties of a solidified material"