Science

Scientists just broke the record for the coldest temperature ever recorded in a laboratory

Scientists just broke the record for the coldest temperature ever measured in a laboratory: they achieved a chilling temperature of 38 trillionths of a degree above -273.15 degrees Celsius by dropping magnetized gas 120 meters (393 feet) down a tower.

The German research team was investigating the quantum properties of a so-called fifth state of matter: the Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC), a derivative of gas that exists only under ultra-cold conditions. While in the BEC phase, matter itself begins to behave like a large atom, making it an especially attractive subject for quantum physicists interested in the mechanics of subatomic particles.

Related: 10 Scientific Records Set In 2020

Temperature is a measure of molecular vibration: the more a collection of molecules moves, the higher the collective temperature. Absolute zero, then, is the point at which all molecular motion stops: minus 459.67 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 273.15 degrees C. Scientists have even developed a special scale for extremely cold temperatures, called the Kelvin scale, where zero Kelvin corresponds to absolute zero. .

Near absolute zero, some strange things start to happen. For example, light turns into a liquid that can literally be poured into a container, according to research published in 2017 in the journal Nature Physics. Supercooled helium stops experiencing friction at very low temperatures, according to a study published in 2017 in the journal Nature Communications. And at NASA’s Cold Atom Lab, researchers have even witnessed atoms exist in two places at once.

In this unprecedented experiment, scientists trapped a cloud of around 100,000 gaseous rubidium atoms in a magnetic field inside a vacuum chamber. Then, they cooled the camera downward, to around 2 billionths of a degree Celsius above absolute zero, which would have been a world record in itself, according to NewAtlas.

But this was not frigid enough for the researchers, who wanted to push the limits of physics; to cool down even more, they needed to mimic deep space conditions. The team then took their setup to the European Space Agency’s Bremen Drop Tower, a microgravity research center at the University of Bremen in Germany. By dropping the vacuum chamber in a free fall while rapidly turning the magnetic field on and off, allowing the BEC to float without being inhibited by gravity, they slowed the molecular motion of the rubidium atoms to next to nothing. The resulting BEC held at 38 picokelvins, 38 trillionths of Kelvin, for about 2 seconds, setting “an absolute negative record,” the team reported Aug. 30 in the journal Physical Review Letters. The previous record of 36 millionths of a Kelvin was set by scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Boulder, Colorado, with specialized lasers.

The coldest known natural place in the universe is the Boomerang Nebula, located in the constellation Centaurus, about 5,000 light-years from Earth. Its average temperature is -272 C (about 1 Kelvin) according to the European Space Agency. ]

The researchers of the new study said in a statement that they could theoretically hold this temperature for up to 17 seconds in truly weightless conditions, such as in space. Ultra-cold temperatures could one day help scientists build better quantum computers, according to MIT researchers.

Originally posted on Live Science.

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