NIST’s prototype solid-state refrigerator uses quantum physics in the square chip mounted on the green circuit board to cool the much larger copper platform (in the middle of the photo) below standard cryogenic temperatures. Other objects can also be attached to the platform for cooling.


Quantum refrigerator offers extreme cooling and convenience

March 6, 2013

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have demonstrated a solid-state refrigerator that uses quantum physics in micro- and nanostructures to cool a much larger object to extremely low temperatures.

What’s more, the prototype NIST refrigerator, which measures a few inches in outer dimensions, enables researchers to place any suitable object in the cooling zone and later remove and replace it, similar to an all-purpose kitchen refrigerator. The cooling power is the equivalent of a window-mounted air conditioner cooling a building the size of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

“It’s one of the most flabbergasting results I’ve seen,” project leader Joel Ullom says. “We used quantum mechanics in a nanostructure to cool a block of copper. The copper is about a million times heavier than the refrigerating elements. This is a rare example of a nano- or microelectromechanical machine that can manipulate the macroscopic world.”

The technology may offer a compact, convenient means of chilling advanced sensors below standard cryogenic temperatures—300 milliKelvin (mK), typically achieved by use of liquid helium—to enhance their performance in quantum information systems, telescope cameras, and searches for mysterious dark matter and dark energy.

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