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Ultimate chill: The epic race to reach absolute zero

发布时间:2019-03-13 03:19:01来源:未知点击:

By Michael de Podesta (Image: Environmental sculpture by Martin Hill www.martin-Hill.com) WE GET to grips with temperature at an early age. Parental rites ensure a baby’s room is stiflingly warm, its bathwater “just right”, and that some things are “Hot! Don’t touch”. As we grow older, we begin to associate numbers with temperature sensations. We learn that at 0 °C water freezes, that 20 °C describes a warm day and that 37 °C is a biochemical Mecca. At some point in our growing awareness, perhaps at school, we may even come across a temperature far beyond our everyday ken: absolute zero. Absolute zero is the ultimate in cool, an ideal, unattainably perfect state of coldness. Even so, since the concept first emerged in the mid-19th century, many careers have been devoted to getting ever closer to it. What might seem a quixotic quest – noble, but pointless – is in fact far from it. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first of many physics Nobel prizes awarded on the back of it. Each advance towards absolute zero has uncovered new states of unparalleled beauty and order, led to engineering marvels and enhanced our insights into basic science – not least about notions of temperature and matter itself. Temperature’s familiarity makes it easy to miss how puzzling the concept can appear. Early natural philosophers such as Galileo, Isaac Newton and Robert Boyle thought heat a kind of fluid, called caloric,