Pattern Formation during Ice Crystal Growth (Ice Crystal) - 09.23.15

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ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
The Pattern Formation during Ice Crystal Growth (Ice Crystal) investigation examines the effect of microgravity on the pattern formation of ice crystals by a method of in-situ observation.
Science Results for Everyone
How fast do your arms grow? The dendrites, or arms, of ice crystals grown from low-super-cooled heavy water grew faster than models suggested, while those grown from high-super-cooled heavy water agreed with models. This suggests growth velocity is influenced more by face growth than tip asymmetry. Researchers also measured growth rates of crystal thickness and found that it changed suddenly with time, indicating growth rates of the two faces are not identical. This different growth rate has been suggested as a cause of distortion that leads to a hexagonal dendrite growing from a round ice crystal. Better understanding of ice crystal growth could be applied to their use in pharmaceuticals and development of new materials.

The following content was provided by Yoshinori Furukawa, Ph.D., and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Information provided courtesy of the Japan Aerospace and Exploration Agency (JAXA).
Experiment Details


Principal Investigator(s)
Yoshinori Furukawa, Ph.D., Hokkaido University, Sapporo, Japan

Etsuro Yokoyama, Gakushuin University, Tokyo, Japan
Katsuo Tsukamoto, Tohoku University, Japan
Yukihiro Takahashi, Hokkaido University, Sapporo, Japan
Shigenao Maruyama, Tohoku University, Japan
Yukio Saito, Keio University, Japan

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Tsukuba, Japan

Sponsoring Space Agency
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)

Sponsoring Organization
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

Research Benefits
Information Pending

ISS Expedition Duration 1
October 2008 - April 2009

Expeditions Assigned

Previous ISS Missions
Information Pending

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • Crystals that are grown on Earth are affected by gravitational forces that disturb the fluid that surrounds the growing crystal. Crystals that are grown in microgravity are able to form without the influences of gravity.

  • The Pattern Formation during Ice Crystal Growth (Ice Crystal) investigation examines the mechanisms that cause the instability in ice crystals by observing the formation as it occurs.

In order to precisely analyze the factors concerning the pattern formation of crystal growth, an ice crystal growing freely in supercooled bulk water will be observed in-situ using an interference microscope under microgravity condition, in which the free convection in the growth chamber cannot occur. Three-dimensional patterns of ice crystals and the thermal diffusion field around the crystal will be analyzed from the experimental results.

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Space Applications
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Earth Applications
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Operational Requirements
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Operational Protocols
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Decadal Survey Recommendations

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Results/More Information

Ice crystal growth experiments were carried out 134 times from December 2008 to February 2009 in the Japanese Experiment Module Kibo of the International Space Station (ISS). Images taken during the experiments were analyzed to measure the growth rates of the tip of a dendrite (the branch-like arm) and thickness between the basal faces (the flat front and back surfaces) of an ice crystal growing from heavy water (D2O) in the range of 0.03 to 2.0 Kelvin (K) super-cooling.

Observed tip growth velocities were higher than theoretical values at very low super-cooling of below 0.1 K. Tip velocities were in agreement with theoretical values for larger amounts of super-cooling. Researchers concluded that the tip growth velocity is significantly influenced by kinetics of basal face growth rather than by the tip’s asymmetric shape. Researchers also observed that the growth rate of the thickness changed suddenly with time, which indicates that the growth rates of the 2 basal faces are not identical to one another. This is a significant observation since the difference between the growth rates of the 2 basal faces has been proposed as a possible cause of the distortion (morphological instability) that leads to the growth of an ice crystal from a round disk initially into the familiar hexagonal dendrite. There have been no reports to date on this time dependence of the basal face growth rate in experiments conducted under full gravity.

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Results Publications

    Yokoyama E, Sekerka R, Furukawa Y.  Growth of an ice disk: dependence of critical thickness for disk instability on supercooling of water. Journal of Physical Chemistry B. 2009 April 9; 113(14): 4733-4738. DOI: 10.1021/jp809808r. PMID: 19275135.

    Yokoyama E, Yoshizaki I, Shimaoka T, Sone T, Kiyota T, Furukawa Y.  Measurements of Growth Rates of an Ice Crystal from Supercooled Heavy Water Under Microgravity Conditions: Basal Face Growth Rate and Tip Velocity of a Dendrite. Journal of Physical Chemistry B. 2011; 115(27): 8739-8745. DOI: 10.1021/jp110634t. PMID: 21631108.

    Yoshizaki I, Ishikawa T, Adachi S, Yokoyama E, Furukawa Y.  Precise Measurements of Dendrite Growth of Ice Crystals in Microgravity. Microgravity Science and Technology. 2012; 24(4): 245-253. DOI: 10.1007/s12217-012-9306-9.

    Adachi S, Yoshizaki I, Ishikawa T, Yokoyama E, Furukawa Y, Shimaoka T.  Stable growth mechanisms of ice disk crystals in heavy water. Physical Review E. 2011 November; 84(5): 051605. DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevE.84.051605. PMID: 22181428.

    Adachi S, Yoshizaki I, Ishikawa T, Shimaoka T.  Stable growth of ice crystals under microgravity. Transactions of the Japan Society for Aeronautical and Space Sciences, Aerospace Technology Japan. 2014; 12(ists29): Ph_1-Ph_5. DOI: 10.2322/tastj.12.Ph_1.

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Ground Based Results Publications

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ISS Patents

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Related Publications

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Related Websites
Kibo Japanese Experiment Module
Ice Crystals in Space - Understanding the Formation of Ice Cystals

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image Initial image of Ice Crystal formation on the ISS during Expedition 18. Image courtesy of JAXA.
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image Ice Crystal formation on the ISS during Expedition 18. Image courtesy of JAXA.
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image Ground Support team at the JAXA Control Center during Ice Crystal operations on board ISS. Image courtesy of JAXA.
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