Experiments in Microgravity
A primary function of the space shuttle and International Space Station is to
provide orbiting platforms for experiments dealing with the behavior of
materials in a microgravity environment. Does oil separate from water the
same way it does on the ground? Do materials crystalize with the same
structure and size in space? Answers to such questions are provided by
experiments like QUELD (Queen's University Experiment in Liquid Diffusion).
It is one of a series of experimental systems developed since 1970 by
Dr Reginald Smith in Kingston, Ontario.
Learning how materials form
in space is the objective of
scientists using Canadian
designed equipment like
QUELD (above) and MIM.
QUELD (2001.0120*) contains a
furnace into which an astronaut
feeds a small cylinder of
material. It is heated (to 700 to 1100 C) until it melts, allowing the materials to
mix without the separating effects of gravity. The sample is then cooled using
quench blocks until it resolidifies - in only two or three minutes. The
conditions are continuously recorded in QUELD's electronic modules.
Returned to Earth with the samples, material scientists examine the structure
and properties of the new materials. These may be used for a new generation
of integrated circuit for computers or for "designing" new
The most recent version, QUELD II, has flown on the Russian MIR station
with good results when used with another highly successful piece of Canadian
space hardware - MIM (I01323). The Microgravity Isolation Mount
acts like a shock absorber to isolate QUELD and similar apparatus from the
vibrations of the spacecraft, resulting in even higher quality materials.
* The numbers in brackets are the accession numbers of artifacts held by