Article ID: CBB001320840

Absolutely Negative (2013)


In the mid-1 800s, Lord Kelvin postulated that nothing could be colder than the temperature of absolute zero degrees, when all atomic particles are at rest. But in the mid-20th century, physicists realized that the mathematics governing absolute temperature indicated that subzero temperatures were possible and, soon after that they were demonstrated. Recently, the first subzero Kelvin temperatures were achieved for particles in motion. Temperature depends on the kinetic and potential energies of atoms and on the interactions between them. By using an optical lattice of laser beams, atoms could still move, but their kinetic and potential energies were held in check. Researchers controlled interactions between the atoms with magnetic fields. This discovery has implications for technology, because negative temperatures could result in more efficient heat engines, and for cosmology, because negative temperatures may explain properties of dark energy.


Description Looks at the history of subzero temperatures and its implications for technology and cosmology.

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Authors & Contributors
Hunt, Bruce J.
Kragh, Helge S.
Nahin, Paul J.
Tazzioli, Rossana
Buntebarth, Günter
Chang, Hasok
Historia Mathematica
Annals of Science: The History of Science and Technology
Earth Sciences History: Journal of the History of the Earth Sciences Society
NTM: Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften, Technik und Medizin
Revue d'Histoire des Sciences
Physics in Perspective
Oxford University Press
Johns Hopkins University Press
The Robert Boyle Project
Princeton University Press
Cambridge University Press
Theories of heat
Science and technology, relationships
Electricity; magnetism
Kelvin, William Thomson, Baron
Melloni, Macedonio
Cavendish, Henry
Regnault, Henri-Victor
Boyle, Robert
Fourier, Jean Baptiste Joseph
United States
Great Britain
19th century
20th century
21st century
18th century
17th century

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