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FEATURE ARTICLE

Gardening in Space

On the space shuttle Columbia, an experiment explores chemical growth without gravity and the challenges of orbital science

David Jones

Figure 3. To grow chemical gardens . . .Click to Enlarge Image

Many a budding chemist has built a chemical garden by dropping crystals of various metal salts into a sodium silicate solution (water-glass). Fronds grow upward from the crystals over minutes or hours because the reacted solution is less dense than the original. What, however, would happen to a chemical garden in the (near) absence of gravity? The author managed, after considerable tribulation, to have his chemical garden launched aboard the space shuttle Columbia. The outcome was quite unexpected and a rarity in physical chemistry?a new example of a fluid instability.


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