Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Scientific Communities
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article

Physics on a Plane: Crystals Made Under Zero Gravity

Published: Thursday, January 17, 2013
Last Updated: Thursday, January 17, 2013
Bookmark and Share
Scientists overcome the limitations of the laboratory to examine the peculiar dynamics of helium crystals on a much larger scale than can be achieved with ordinary materials.

Their results could help researchers reveal the fundamental physics behind the development of crystals, whilst also unveiling phenomena that are usually hidden by gravity.

The helium crystals were grown using high pressures, extremely low temperatures (0.6K/-272°C) and by splashing them with a superfluid – a state of quantum matter which behaves like a fluid but has zero viscosity, meaning it has complete resistance to stress. Superfluids can also flow through extremely tiny gaps without any friction.

Footage from their zero-gravity flight, which also shows the formation of the crystals close up, can be viewed below.

Lead author of the study, Professor Ryuji Nomura from the Tokyo Institute of Technology, said: “Helium crystals can grow from a superfluid extremely fast because the helium atoms are carried by a swift superflow, so it cannot hinder the crystallization process. It has been an ideal material to study the fundamental issues of crystal shape because the crystals form so quickly.

“It can take thousands of years for ordinary classic crystals to reach their final shape; however, at very low temperatures helium crystals can reach their final shape within a second. When helium crystals grow larger than 1 mm they can be easily deformed by gravity, which is why we did our experiments on a plane.”

The experiments were carried out in a small jet plane in c ooperation with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). When on a specific trajectory, known as parabolic flight, the jet plane provided zero gravity conditions for 20 seconds. Around eight experiments were performed during a two-hour flight.

A small, specially designed refrigerator was taken on board the plane, which was fitted with windows so the formation of the crystals could be observed. Large helium crystals were placed at the bottom of a high-pressure chamber and then zapped with an acoustic wave to crush them into tiny pieces; they were then splashed with a helium-4 superfluid. Once crushed, the smaller crystals were melted and larger ones grew rapidly until only one 10 mm crystal survived.

The crystal grew under a process known as Ostwald ripening. This is commonly seen in ice cream when it becomes gritty and crunchy as it gets older – larger ice crystals begin to grow at the expense of smaller ice crystals.

“Ostwald ripening is usually a very slow process and has never been seen in such huge crystals in a very short period,” continued Professor Nomura.

Further Information
Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 2,700+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More Than 3,800+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters

Sign In

Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

The Bioprinted ‘Play Dough’ capable of Cell and Protein Transfer
Scientists have developed a new technique allowing the bioprinting at ambient temperatures of a strong paste capable of incorporating protein-releasing microspheres.
Tuesday, July 07, 2015
Nanoparticles Give up Forensic Secrets
Researchers from Switzerland have thrown light on the precise mechanisms responsible for the impressive ability of nanoparticles to detect fingermarks left at crime scenes.
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Researchers Estimate Over Two Million Deaths Annually from Air Pollution
Over two million deaths occur each year as a direct result of human-caused outdoor air pollution, a new study has found.
Monday, July 15, 2013
Scientific News
Breaking Through the Barriers to Lab Innovation
Here we examine the drivers behind the move for greater innovation, the challenges and current trends in laboratory informatics, and the tools that can be used to break these barriers.
Education and Expense: The Barriers to Mass Spectrometry in Clinical Laboratories?
Here we examine the perceived barriers to mass spec in clinical laboratories and explore the possible drivers behind the recent shift in uptake of the technology in clinical settings.
Fruit Fly Pheromone Flags Great Real Estate for Starting a Family
Finding could aid efforts to control mosquito-borne diseases like malaria by manipulating odorants
Gene Editing Could Enable Pig-To-Human Organ Transplant
The largest number of simultaneous gene edits ever accomplished in the genome could help bridge the gap between organ transplant scarcity and the countless patients who need them.
Antioxidants Cause Malignant Melanoma to Metastasize Faster
Fresh research at Sahlgrenska Academy has found that antioxidants can double the rate of melanoma metastasis in mice.
New Therapy Reduces Symptoms of Inherited Enzyme Deficiency
A phase three clinical trial of a new enzyme replacement medication, sebelipase alfa, showed a reduction in multiple disease-related symptoms in children and adults with lysosomal acid lipase deficiency, an inherited enzyme deficiency that can result in scarring of the liver and high cholesterol.
Adult High Blood Pressure Risk Identifiable in Childhood
Groups of people at risk of having high blood pressure and other related health issues by age 38 can be identified in childhood, new University of Otago research suggests.
Analyzing Protein Structures in Their Native Environment
Enhanced-sensitivity NMR could reveal new clues to how proteins fold.
Supercoiled DNA is Far More Dynamic Than the “Watson-Crick” Double Helix
Researchers have imaged in unprecedented detail the three-dimensional structure of supercoiled DNA, revealing that its shape is much more dynamic than the well-known double helix.
Mini-kidneys Successfully Grown from Stem Cells
Researchers from Murdoch Childrens Research Institute have perfected a method of turning stem cells into mini-kidneys for use in drug screening, disease modelling and cell therapy.
Scroll Up
Scroll Down
Skyscraper Banner

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
2,700+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
3,800+ scientific videos