Simulated microgravity system created to experiment with materials


The image of the Advanced Materials front page has been drawn by the comic illustrator Adrián Bago.

The image of the Advanced Materials front page has been drawn by the comic illustrator Adrián Bago.


Noemí Contreras-Pereda (ICN2) and Josep Puigmartí (IQTCUB-ICREA) with the microgravity device.

Noemí Contreras-Pereda (ICN2) and Josep Puigmartí (IQTCUB-ICREA) with the microgravity device.

Crystallization studies conducted in space laboratories, which are costly and unaffordable for most research laboratories, showed the valuable effects of microgravity during the crystal growth process and the morphogenesis of materials. Now, a research study led by a scientific team of the University of Barcelona, has created an easy and efficient method to achieve experimentation conditions of microgravity on Earth that simulate those in space. The results were published in the journal Advanced Materials in an article highlighted on its front cover.

To get these simulated microgravity conditions, the researchers used custom-made microfluidic devices with which they created the 2D porous crystalline molecular structures. According to Josep Puigmartí Luis, ICREA researcher at the Department of Physical Chemistry and member of the Institute of Theoretical and Computational Chemistry (IQTCUB), “we confirmed that the experiments under these simulated microgravity conditions have unprecedented effects on the orientation, compactness and generation of 2D crystalline and porous materials”.

To create this new system, the research team, which counts on the participation of members of the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2) and the Institute of Materials Science of Barcelona (ICMAB-CSIC), designed a microfluidic device which consists of two interlinked substrates with a fine silicone film with variable thicknesses (from 200 to μm). The objective was to create a microfluidic environament of 6cm long and 1.5cm wide. One of the surfaces has two machine inlet ports that enable the complete filling of the microfluidic environment and prevent the appearance of air bubbles. The system enabled the growth of a 2D metalorganic framework prototype (MOF) of Ni3(HITP)2 composition, which forms a millimetric layer without defects with conductivity properties that act at a long distance under environmental conditions.

To date, the obtained value with this new method had been achieved outside an inert atmosphere with pellets prepared under high pressures. “This new simulated microgravity system will be like a ‘playground’ for chemists, physicists, and materials scientists who want to process 2D functional devices and materials”, concludes the researcher.

Article reference

N. Contreras-Pereda et al. “Synthesis of 2D porous crystalline materials in simulated microgravity”. Advanced Materials, June, 2021. Doi: 10.1002/adma.202101777

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