Scientists are to start a project which could see new materials created in space with properties which are impossible to develop on Earth.
The University of Strathclyde-led experiment will be carried out on the International Space Station (ISS) in 2021, after getting £1.3 million in funding from the UK Space Agency.
It will take advantage of the micro-gravity environment to create alloys or medicines with properties that cannot be made on Earth.
Marcello Lappa, who is leading the project, said: “With these experiments we aim to investigate how, by shaking a complex fluid in microgravity conditions, we can create materials with structures that we cannot make on Earth.
“These experiments will lead to advanced contactless manipulation strategies for the assembly of new materials and alloys.
“They may even shed some new light on the mechanisms supporting the formation of asteroids and planets.”
The team will investigate complex fluids, which can be formed by adding fine particles to a liquid.
These mixtures can show peculiar properties – for instance, yoghurt appears as a solid but behaves as a liquid once pressure is applied.
When on Earth, gravity causes the dispersed particles to separate according to their weight – with heavy particles sinking to create sediment and lighter particles floating to the top.
This can make the production of materials with specific structures and properties difficult to achieve.
The researchers will study how the dispersed particles form highly-ordered structures which can be used to make new materials when in space.
They will do this by vibrating and heating complex fluids, largely free from the influence of gravity.
Engineers believe it could be a big step forward in the production of so-called unobtanium – a notion of a material with amazing properties which does not exist on Earth.
The experiment will involve using existing equipment on the ISS, with additional hardware built in the UK being launched into space in 2021.