Homemade Ice Sheets

Last weekend I asked if I could use one of the research freezers onboard Space Station during my off-duty time. I made thin sheets of water about a millimeter thick (sort of like a soap film, but without the soap), and froze them. Then I looked at the ice under polarized light, using a laptop display as the light source for one direction of polarized light and a filter I just happened to have in my personal kit to make “crossed polarizers.”

When the ice sheets were placed between the filter and the laptop screen, the crystal structure became vividly visible. I do not know at this time if the crystal structure is any different than normal ice, but I will find out.

Meanwhile, we were unloading the supplies from Dragon.

Ice sheets in polarized light

Ice sheets in polarized light

An ice sheet in ordinary light

My polarizer setup

Don’s blog also appears at airspacemag.com.

11 thoughts on “Homemade Ice Sheets”

  1. Don, we love all of your science experiments. It’s a true scientist who does things to see what will happen rather than waiting for someone to tell you what to try. Keep it up, we love it.

  2. magnetic solar torments always but comets and meteorites against the sun an explosion then

    If sun = if cosmos if cosmos = if sun

    if alive if deads if deads if alive

    communication between deads and alive people then if not we are alive ?? if not exist deads ?

    0 = + 0 –

    not +- 0 or 0

  3. Very interesting. Many decades ago, when I did a PhD on directionally solidified metal composites, and did not make the “New Wonder Material”, I suggested that the proper place to do my project would have been in zero g because even with a vertical zone refiner you couldn’t eliminate convection and this screwed up the diffusion processes at the solidification boundary. I suspect your crystal growing is largely being driven by heterogeneous nucleation- crystal nucleation at imperfections in the surface of the container or on small dust particles etc in the water and not by diffusion processes and so it won’t be too different from a non zero g result. It would be interesting to to try a simplified form of my project to see what shape crystals you got- say a space equivalent of the kids kit to grow alum or sugar crystals. Looks a lot of fun though!

  4. Plants come from other planet Green planet as The Greens or the ecologists

    They cannot walk as they only survive like us onto other planet as astronauts less possibilities and more limits

  5. Hi Don

    I’m a teacher in the Instituto Nun’Alvres in Portugal of industrial cooling systems and inner air control. I found this experiment truly cool ( in the essence of the word! )and that’s a great ideia to try in my classroom since we have a wide cooling lab for educational proposes. The problem here is gravity of course. Maybe I should use water with some soap or glicerine to make bigger sheets but this may tamper the results of the experiment. Either way, I think Your ideia a great way to capture the students attention and to bring a little bit of “space” to the classroom.

    Thank You and have a pleasant stay up there!


  6. Eeriely beautiful Don.
    Do you miss being on the ground? When do you get to come home?

  7. The ice film is very pretty under polarized light. I wonder what the folks downstairs will be able to figure out from this.

    I have a very crude but satisfactorily operational polariscope I made by hand from a calcite crystal, a small lens, a bit of pasteboard, and a hunk of strapping tape. Talk about stone knives and bearskins! I also know a wee bit of how to use and interpret “crossed polars” when examining tumbled gemstone, and it’s a lot of fun.

    Have fun up there.

  8. Your Homemade Ice Sheets could be called ephemeral space diamonds, they are so exotic. They’d make great sun catchers if you could reproduce them in glass. Arts & crafts shop on the ISS?

  9. Ingenuitive and interesting! Keep up the good work. Are you hoping to do more trial groups, or was this just out of curiosity?

    Seattle, WA

  10. Liked your paper “The Tyranny of the Rocket Equation”. My dad, an MIT educated ME, once suggested that a sufficiently large spring might put something in orbit. Any method that starts by pushing against the ground would raise the payload fraction for a launch vehicle; a catapult might work. But using atmospheric air for propellant, as in a ramjet, could become practical.

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