A key opportunity of microgravity materials science research is to gain a better understanding of how gravity-driven phenomena affect solidification and crystal growth. Buoyancy-driven convection, sedimentation, and hydrostatic pressure can create irregularities in internal structures. Microgravity allows researchers to study underlying events free from these effects. For example, microgravity provides an excellent window on segregation and containerless processing.
Materials science research in microgravity can lead to a better understanding of how materials are formed and how the properties of materials are influenced by their formation. Improved knowledge of the physics and chemistry of phase changes from microgravity experiments could improve design of process-control strategies. Microgravity may permit production of materials of high-quality or unique properties for use as benchmarks.
Microgravity provides insight into influences in the crystallization process as well as production of low-defect crystals for semiconductor and other applications. Microgravity can discover ways to control the processing of ceramics to prevent imperfections for improved optical fibers, higher reliability turbines, and bioceramics.
By removing the influence of buoyancy-driven convection, scientists can more closely observe influential processes during solidification of metals and alloys. Some alloys that are difficult or impossible to produce on Earth can be made in microgravity. For example, a company used microgravity to understand the properties of steels with high carbon content. Another area of interest is multiphase solidification of eutectics and monotectics.
Manipulation of polymer bonds under microgravity conditions may lead to the development of processes to produce polymers with more uniform and controlled properties, for potential optoelectronic and photonic applications. Crystallinity in particular may be more easily understood and controlled when removed from the influence of gravity.