Project is a multidisciplinary international collaboration investigating the effects of gravity on aluminium-based alloy solidification using real-time in situ X-radiography
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Dr David Browne, a senior lecturer in materials science and engineering at University College Dublin (UCD), has been chosen by the European Space Agency (ESA) to lead the XRMON project, a multidisciplinary international collaboration investigating the effects of gravity on aluminium-based alloy solidification using real-time in situ X-radiography.

UCD has been chosen as the lead partner in the next phase of this research, which involves preparing and flying an experiment in which an aluminium alloy will be solidified in zero gravity. UCD (PI: Dr David J Browne, postdoc Dr Andrew G Murphy) will lead the XRMON consortium until 2018.

All metal solidification (casting) processes are subject to the effects of gravity. Computer modelling of these processes is difficult because gravity cannot be controlled anywhere on earth but by conducting experiments in microgravity conditions, a greater understanding of the effect of gravity on solidification can be gained.

Dr David Browne explained: “The aim of this research project is to uncover scientific detail on how metal alloys solidify from the liquid state, and this is of relevance to industrial casting processes. During such freezing of alloys, solid specks appear in the liquid and then grow as dendrites – looking essentially like snowflakes.

“Gravity affects what happens to these dendrites on earth because it forces them to move – for example around a mould in natural convective flow or straight up or down in the remaining liquid according to buoyancy forces which cause either floating or settling.

“This makes the physics of alloy solidification hard to predict. We can make the science easier if we can extract the flow due to gravity, but this is only possible for any reasonable period of time in zero gravity conditions achievable in space. This is where ESA come in as they have a sounding rocket programme which achieves zero gravity on board for up to 10 minutes.” (Watch Browne and Murphy experience zero gravity:) 

The rocket is due to launch from Kiruna, Sweden, in October this year; Dr Andrew Murphy will be controlling the experiment remotely from ground control at the Swedish Space Corporation, and Dr David Browne will participate with an advisory and back-up role. This is a first both for Ireland and UCD as it is the first time an Irish scientific team have led such a project, which is funded under ESA’s Microgravity Applications Promotion (MAP) programme.

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  Dr David Browne, a senior lecturer in materials science and engineering at University College Dublin (UCD), has been chosen by the European Space Agency (ESA) to lead the XRMON project, a multidisciplinary international collaboration investigating the effects of gravity on aluminium-based alloy solidification using real-time in situ X-radiography. UCD has been chosen...