Macromolecular crystallization in microgravity

Edward H Snell, John R Helliwell
  • Reports on Progress in Physics, March 2005, Institute of Physics Publishing
  • DOI: 10.1088/0034-4885/68/4/r02

The why, how, when, and what happened of crystallization in space

Photo by SpaceX on Unsplash

Photo by SpaceX on Unsplash

What is it about?

Crystallization in space was popular during the era of the Space Shuttle and is returning to popularity. Convective flow and sedimentation are reduced and for a few but not all experiments, dramatic quality improvements in crystal quality resulted. This review goes over the history of these experiments from some of the first satellites through to the Space Shuttle, MiR and the International Space Station. It covers fundamentals associated with the "why" of the microgravity environment but also some of the surprising lessons learned in 'how' that environment can be effectively used. The lessons are equally valid today as when the review was first written and it is useful material to gain knowledge easily, without the harder empirical process.

Why is it important?

The work is the first comprehensive look at the world wide effort in microgravity crystallization. It involved people close to both the European and US programs and who led the field in understanding the physical improvements that resulted and how they could be harnessed to improve data but also the unexpected aspects including the influence of Marangoni convection and that of astronaut impact on growth.

Perspectives

Dr Edward H Snell
Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute

As a young kid in their formulative years I was influenced by Carl Sagen, Star Trek and rushing home after school to listen to Voice of America and live rocket launches. I never thought I'd be involved with them myself and how that happened is a long story. What I did find was how much physics were hidden by gravity and discovered some of the simple things we often don't take into account. It was a fantastic period of time coupled with a lot of learning. Many crystals do not benefit from growth in a convective flow reduced environment but when they do, the improvement is striking. Fortunately technology has caught up with some of these improvements and it is possible to take advantage of them. There is still lots to learn and one day, I will see a rocket launch. I've seen them on the pad many times but all delayed until I left. Maybe they are trying to tell me something :)

Read Publication

http://dx.doi.org/10.1088/0034-4885/68/4/r02

The following have contributed to this page: Professor John Richard Helliwell and Dr Edward H Snell