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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. (CSTM)

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 drugs.

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 the Museum.