Binary Colloidal Alloy Test - 5: Three-Dimensional Melt (BCAT-5-3D-Melt) - 10.21.14

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The Binary Colloidal Alloy Test 5: Three-Dimensional Melt (BCAT-5-3D-Melt) experiment crystallizes and melts tiny particles suspended in liquids, known as colloids, onboard the International Space Station where there is no gravity. The colloidal particles are designed to melt when the temperature of the liquid is raised. Crewmembers observe and photograph the particles as their sizes change when subjected to small temperature adjustments.

Science Results for Everyone
Information Pending

The following content was provided by Arjun Yodh, Ph.D., and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.

Experiment Details


Principal Investigator(s)

  • Arjun Yodh, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, United States

  • Co-Investigator(s)/Collaborator(s)
    Information Pending
    ZIN Technologies Incorporated, Cleveland, OH, United States

    Sponsoring Space Agency
    National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

    Sponsoring Organization
    Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD)

    Research Benefits
    Information Pending

    ISS Expedition Duration
    March 2009 - March 2013

    Expeditions Assigned

    Previous ISS Missions
    The predecessors to BCAT-5, BCAT-3 and BCAT-4 are in operation on the ISS.

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    Experiment Description

    Research Overview

    • The Binary Colloidal Alloy Test - 5: Three-Dimensional Melt (BCAT-5-3D-Melt) takes advantage of the microgravity environment on the ISS to allow the liquid suspended particles to crystallize and melt without the interference of gravitational forces which can alter the nature of these processes.

    • The particles are designed to melt when temperatures warm above 23


    The Binary Colloidal Alloy Test - 5 (BCAT-5) hardware supports four investigations. Samples 1 - 5, the Binary Colloidal Alloy Test - 5: Phase Separation (BCAT-5-PhaseSep) will study collapse (phase separation rates that impact product shelf-life). In microgravity the physics of collapse is not masked by being reduced to a simple top and bottom phase as it is on Earth. Samples 6 - 8, Binary Colloidal Alloy Test - 5: Compete (BCAT-5-Compete) will study the competition between phase separation and crystallization, which is important in the manufacture of plastics and other materials. Sample 9, Binary Colloidal Alloy Test - 5: Seeded Growth (BCAT-5-SeededGrowth) will study the properties of concentrated systems of small particles when 99.8% are identical 0.36 diameter micron spheres and 0.2% are 4.14 microns in diameter (11.5x larger); these seed particles may cause heterogeneous crystal growth. Sample 10, Binary Colloidal Alloy Test - 5: Three-Dimensional Melt (BCAT-5-3D-Melt) will look at the mechanisms of crystal formation and 3-dimensional melting using colloidal particles that change size with temperature.

    The BCAT-5-3D-Melt sample will consist of a monodisperse nearly-hard-sphere colloidal suspension near its crystallization point. For this investigation small temperature changes that change the particle volume fraction will move the equilibrium system towards and away from the melting transition. The key ingredient in these samples is a thermosensitive polymer, poly(N-isopropylacrylamide (NIPA); the temperature-sensitive character of the samples stems from the temperature dependent solubility of NIPA polymer in water. Below its theta temperature (the temperature at which the coiled polymer molecules expand to their full contour lengths and become rod-shaped) of approximately 31 degrees C, water is a good solvent and NIPA polymer assumes a swollen coil form; in this regime a small increase of temperature increases monomer-monomer attractions and thus the size of the isolated polymer decreases. Above the theta temperature, water is a poor solvent and NIPA has a collapsed globule form.

    The BCAT-5-3D-Melt experiment will simply record sample temperature and observe (by photography) whether the sample crystallizes, noting at what temperature the sample experiences the fluid-solid transition. This information will be also be useful for future experiments planned for ISS.

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    Space Applications

    The BCAT experiments can only take place in a microgravity environment, because gravitational forces alter the nature of the crystallization and melting processes. BCAT-5 gives scientists insight into how the size of particles affects their ability to organize into crystal structures. A better understanding of this phenomenon could lead to manufacturing improved materials and products for space applications.

    Earth Applications

    Colloidal engineering uses small particles suspended in liquid to create materials with new properties. A greater understanding of colloids could improve product designs for consumer products, household goods, food and industrial applications.

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    Operational Requirements

    The BCAT-5 experiment consists of ten small samples of colloidal particles. The ten BCAT-5 samples are contained within a small case the size of a school textbook. The experiment requires a crewmember to set up on the Maintenance Work Area (MWA) or on a handrail/seat track configuration. Initially the sample will require manual photographs to be downlinked by an astronaut to investigators on the ground for analysis. Following configuration confirmation from investigators the automated EarthKAM software will be setup to take digital photographs of samples at close range using the onboard Kodak DCS760 camera. Camera Control Files for running the EarthKAM software can be uploaded from Earth to control the photography intervals (how many photographs per hour and for how many days) once it is running. The pictures are downlinked to investigators on the ground for analysis.

    Operational Protocols

    A crewmember sets up the video camera and BCAT-5 hardware (Slow Growth Sample Module, DCS760 Camera, pen-light source, flash and SSC Laptop with EarthKAM software) in the Maintenance Work Area (MWA) to document the BCAT-5 operations as performed on-board the ISS. The crewmember homogenizes (mixes) the sample(s) and takes the first photographs manually. This helps them optimize the setup and shows that the samples were initially fully homogenized when publishing results later. The EarthKAM software automates the rest of the photography session over a period of days to a few weeks. The crewmember performs a daily status check once a day (when time is available) to assure proper alignment and focus. At the completion of the run, the crewmember tears down and stows all hardware.

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    Results/More Information

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    Related Websites
    Binary Colloidal Alloy Test - 3 (BCAT-3)
    NIH BioMed-ISS Meeting Video Presentation, 2009—BCAT-5-3D-Melt
    NIH BioMed-ISS Meeting, 2009—BCAT-5-3D-Melt

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    NASA Image: ISS016E027863 - Astronaut Dan Tani photographing the BCAT-3 Sample Module using his own design for a ceiling mount in Node 2 of the International Space Station. Great high contrast pictures of difficult-to-capture images resulted from using this setup (February 2008).

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    NASA Image: ISS025E008239 - NASA astronaut Shannon Walker, Expedition 25 flight engineer, uses a digital still camera to photograph Binary Colloidal Alloy Test-5 (BCAT-5) experiment samples in the Kibo laboratory of the International Space Station.

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