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Copper Block Achieves a New Record for Cold Temperature

copper block

Image credit: Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare. A copper block has been cooled to a record cold temperature for something this size

A block of copper, which was cooled down to -273.144 °C, had been kept where it was for fifteen days with some little assistance from the ancient Romans. It was the newest record for cold temperatures on a visual thing to human.

According to the third law of thermodynamics, it is not possible to obtain temperatures of absolute zero (0K or -273.15 °C), however, it does not prevent scientists from making efforts in getting much closer to that figure.

Heat is regarded as the energy to vibrate atoms or molecules. Therefore, at absolute zero, molecules would stop their movements. Super low temperatures are recorded to be generally set with small samples of atoms. If lasers are applied to counterbalance such movements, collections of atoms could be brought to a nearly full stop.

By the means of evaporative cooling to allow atoms to reach temperatures of 0.003K and then laser the rest of the way, atoms of rhodium have been capable of cooling down to less than a billionth of a degree. These processes were awarded with the 1997 and 2001 Nobel Prize for physics respectively for their contributions in this regard.

Usually it is necessary to use some terrific lasers to get 400kg of copper to such temperatures. However, scientists from the Cryogenic Underground Observatory for Rare Events (CUORE) in Italy got their block to the degree of 0.006K. What they did was to encase the material in a container, which in their description, was very unique all over the world, considering its dimensions and extreme temperatures as well as cooling power. And its uniqueness also lies in the selective materials and the building techniques, both of which could ensure remarkably low levels of radioactivity.

Although it was thought to be the milestone of cool science, the work had not finished, because CUORE would like to have their name written into the Guinness Book of Records.

The block is being applied to examine unusual forms of radioactivity, such as process called neutrinoless double-beta decay, which was yet to be identified. Scientists can examine radioactive events by slightly increasing temperature inside block, which would be sensed by 1000 tellurium dioxide crystals.

It is necessary to exclude other types of radioactivity from the environment in order to stop heat from seeping into the block and at the same time maintain the noise levels down in the way that scientists could observe very rare processes when they occur.

The best approach to achieve it is to cover the copper with lead which was unearthed as long ago as possible, because the time would diminish the effects of other elements in the original ore. To this end, CUORE collected their lead from a sunken galley in Roman times. If it was not for the shipwreck, the metal would be used to make coins, water pipes or ammunition for slingshots.

Without human intervention, the lowest temperature known so far is 1K in the Boomerang Nebula, not much more than a third of the universal background.

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