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Absolute Zero: a local perspective

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By Roger Snodgrass

The second part of NOVA’s Absolute Zero series, “The Race for Absolute Zero” arrives on Tuesday, bringing the story of the scientific pursuit of the coldest temperatures in the universe up to the recent past.For an update with many related details, one need look no further than Los Alamos National Laboratory, where cryogenics – the production of low temperature phenomena and the study of their effects – has been an ongoing theme from the earliest days.As Laboratory Fellows Greg Swift and Joe Thompson recalled, research on plutonium in the early 1940s included studies of the metal’s cold-temperature characteristics and behavior, which was urgently needed for getting to know an entirely new element.  During the period when the hydrogen bomb was developed, laboratory scientists were called upon to liquefy deuterium as a fusion fuel, which required temperatures around 20 degrees Kelvin, or minus 253 degrees Celsius, a big step on the road to cold.Swift is one of the experts cited on NOVA’s Absolute Zero website.


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