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The Institute is a charity registered in England and Wales no. And how do they create such frigid environments, anyway?

LOW TEMPERATURE PHYSICS

Read on for the what, how and why of low temperature physics. What is low temperature physics? Imagine what it's like to drive through a dense fog.


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There are structures out there — buildings, trees, pedestrians -- but you can see these shapes only dimly, if at all. That's what it's like for physicists who want to observe certain quantum mechanical properties — behavior that occurs at the atomic level. At normal temperatures, they can't see these behaviors.

Low Temperature Physics

But if they make their experiments very, very cold, it's as if a mist dissipates, revealing a clearer view of what's going on. Invisible to the naked eye, atomic particles are constantly jostling, wiggling and zipping inside all materials, getting in the way of what the scientists want to see. When you cool the particles down, however, they slow down: Liquid water molecules have less energy than molecules of water vapor, and solid ice holds less energy than water.

When a material is cold enough, scientists can see some really neat stuff: heavy fermions, the quantum hall effect and exotic phase transitions. It takes a lot more than a Frigidaire to sedate atoms sufficiently for this kind of study. The fields of low-temperature and ultra low-temperature physics deal in degrees far below anything found in the natural universe — way down to almost degrees Celsius degrees Fahrenheit.

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Scientists, though, prefer a different temperature scale called Kelvin. This scale literally starts from zero: 0 K absolute zero is as cold as cold can be, a condition that has not even been achieved in a laboratory. We have, however, come pretty close.

As a matter of fact, two facilities at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory are dedicated to creating extremely low temperatures on a daily basis, so that scientists can see what happens when a material is cooled to the point of almost no thermal motion, then put inside a strong magnetic field. The particles in the material respond to the magnetic field in a way that can reveal fascinating secrets about matter. At the MagLab's Millikelvin Facility in Tallahassee, scientists conduct sensitive experiments at temperatures within 7 thousandths of a Kelvin above absolute zero.

Two tools make such low temperatures possible: dilution refrigerators and adiabatic nuclear demagnetization refrigerators. The former gets experiments colder than you can imagine. The later gets them even colder. Dilution Refrigerator. Dilution fridges dil fridge for short owe their cooling power to the incredible element helium and its two isotopes , helium-3 3 He and helium-4 4 He.

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LOW TEMPERATURE PHYSICS

Though most people are familiar with it as the gas inside their party balloons 4 He , helium can also condense into a liquid — but only at 4. This property makes helium a very valuable cryogen in science. A dil fridge in the Millikelvin Facility. That's no small feat.

Centre of Low Temperature Physics in Košice, Slovakia

But low-temperature physicists are aiming even lower. Learn More in these related Britannica articles:. Absolute zero , temperature at which a thermodynamic system has the lowest energy. The notion that there is an ultimately lowest temperature was suggested…. Superconductivity , complete disappearance of electrical resistance in various solids when they are cooled below a characteristic temperature. The use of superconductors in magnets is limited by the fact that strong magnetic fields above…. In each case the unusual behaviour arises from quantum mechanical effects.