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February 5, 1997
Steve Roy Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL (Phone: 205/544-0034 RELEASE: 97-23 SIGNIFICANT DISCOVERIES FROM SPACE SHUTTLE EXPERIMENTS TO BE PRESENTED AT CONFERENCE Details of significant scientific discoveries from experiments conducted on two recent Space Shuttle missions will be discussed at a conference Feb. 10-11 at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC. NASA researchers, astronauts and university scientists -responsible for the space-based experiments -- will be available for news media interviews at the two-day event, held to mark the joint, one-year anniversaries of the second U.S. Microgravity Laboratory (USML-2) and the third U.S. Microgravity Payload (USMP3). In the last year, researchers poring over results from the experiments chalked up findings that will improve life significantly on Earth. Their discoveries are expected to lead to better synthetic drugs, less expensive alloys and metal products, improved environmental cleanup, greater understanding of weather and climate, and greater knowledge of how blood clots in the human body. Highlights of the scientific results, to be presented at the conference, include: ¥ Improved radiation detectors, sensors and other electronic products are expected to result from a study of the technologically important compound cadmium zinc telluride. In an experiment carried onboard USML-2, Dr. David J. Larson of State University of New York at Stony Brook, discovered that crystals grown in space without touching the walls of their containers are
of markedly higher quality than Earth-grown crystals. This is expected to promote the use of these crystals in critical electronics applications. ¥ In the experiment "Geophysical Fluid Flow Cell" that flew on the USML-2 mission, Dr. John Hart of the University of Colorado at Boulder sought to better understand the flows in oceans and atmospheres of planets and stars. The study showed "banded," rotational patterns of flows, like those seen in the atmosphere of Jupiter. The observations are expected to be of great importance in understanding weather patterns and climatic conditions on Earth. ¥ Dr. J.J. Favier of the French Center of Nuclear Studies, Grenoble, France, sought to discover how small disturbances in gravity affect the production of alloys and metals. In his experiment on USMP-3, Favier found that structural changes resulted during crystal production because of tiny disturbances that occurred when the Shuttle's control jets were fired. The study showed that when the orientation of the growing metal was carefully controlled, the damage to the crystals by fluid flow could be eliminated. This and other findings from the experiment are expected to improve processes on Earth for making products ranging from alloys for airplane-engine turbine blades to electronic materials, and ultimately could bring dramatic improvements in materials manufacturing. ¥ In the biotechnology field, protein crystal growth experiments on USML-2, conducted by Dr. Daniel Carter of NASAÕs Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL, obtained important results from antithrombin crystals. This protein, which controls blood coagulation in human plasma, is very difficult to grow in Earthbased laboratories because of the forces of gravity. But its successful growth in space made it possible to further define its molecular model and understand how it works in the human body, which has important implications for medicine. ¥ Dr. Robert Gammon of the Institute for Physical Science and Technology, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, in an experiment on USMP-3, studied the behavior of an elemental gas at the critical point -- where liquid and vapor become one fluid. At the critical point on Earth, the fluid collapses under its own weight -- preventing precise experimentation. The microgravity environment of space enabled precise measurements closer to the critical point than ever achieved on Earth. This finding --
demonstrating that physical measurements can be made in the microgravity of space that cannot be done on Earth -- provides insight into a variety of physics problems, ranging from state changes in fluids to alterations in the magnetic properties of solids. The results will be valuable in such fields as superconductors and liquid crystals. ¥ As molten materials solidify during the production of most commercially important metal alloys, they form tiny, pine-treeshaped crystals called dendrites, which dictate the hardness and integrity of the material. Previous studies indicated that small variations in the growth rate of these patterns in metal were due to the microgravity environment of space. But Dr. Martin Glicksman of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY, in an experiment onboard USMP-3, discovered that the variations are instead controlled by the specimen size -- contrary to previous conclusions. His findings will lead to production of less expensive and more reliable cast or welded metal and alloy products. ¥ Dr. Robert Apfel of Yale University, New Haven, CT, has examined the influence of surfactants -- substances which alter the surface properties of a liquid. Soap and water is an example of a surfactant-liquid interaction. Apfel, with an experiment on USML2, found that surfactants can change the hydrodynamics of droplets. The findings will lead to new and improved technologies in manufacturing cosmetics and synthetic drugs, and in recovery of oil and cleanup of the environment. ¥ In his study on the behavior of liquid drops, onboard the USML-2 mission, Dr. Taylor Wang of Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, hit droplets with sound. The effect, he found, was the droplets lost symmetry, and began to rotate. Findings from this study promise improved technologies in the pharmaceutical industry, chemical processing and better understanding of rain formation and weather patterns. The conference, at the National Academy of Sciences, 2101 Constitution Ave., will include briefings and other activities from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. EST each day. News media interviews with research scientists will be available both prior to and during the conference. Members of the news media interested in covering the conference may contact Steve Roy at the Marshall Space Flight
Center Public Affairs Office in Huntsville, AL, at 205/544-0034. - end -