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Physical Science…In Space!

Physical Science...In Space!

Each month, we highlight a different research topic on the International Space Station. In May, our focus is physical science.


The space station is a laboratory unlike any on Earth; on-board, we can control gravity as a variable and even remove it entirely from the equation. Removing gravity reveals fundamental aspects of physics hidden by force-dependent phenomena such as buoyancy-driven convection and sedimentation.


Gravity often masks or distorts subtle forces such as surface tension and diffusion; on space station, these forces have been harnessed for a wide variety of physical science applications (combustion, fluids, colloids, surface wetting, boiling, convection, materials processing, etc).


Other examples of observations in space include boiling in which bubbles do not rise, colloidal systems containing crystalline structures unlike any seen on Earth and spherical flames burning around fuel droplets. Also observed was a uniform dispersion of tin particles in a liquid melt, instead of rising to the top as would happen in Earth’s gravity. 

Physical Science...In Space!

So what? By understanding the fundamentals of combustion and surface tension, we may make more efficient combustion engines; better portable medical diagnostics; stronger, lighter alloys; medicines with longer shelf-life, and buildings that are more resistant to earthquakes.


Findings from physical science research on station may improve the understanding of material properties. This information could potentially revolutionize development of new and improved products for use in everything from automobiles to airplanes to spacecraft.

For more information on space station research, follow @ISS_Research on Twitter!

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