Scientists just broke the record for the coldest temperature ever recorded in a lab


Researchers came closer than ever before to achieving absolute zero (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Scientists just set a new record for the coldest temperature ever measured in a lab, dumping magnetised gas 393 feet (120 metres) down a tower to produce the bone-chilling temperature of 38 trillionths of a degree above -273.15 Celsius.

The German researchers were looking into the quantum features of a so-called fifth state of matter: Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC), a gas derivative that only exists at extremely low temperatures. Matter begins to act like one giant atom during the BEC phase, making it an extremely interesting subject for quantum physicists interested in the mechanics of subatomic particles.

Temperature is a measure of molecular vibration; the higher the aggregate temperature, the more molecules move. Absolute zero, or minus 459.67 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 273.15 degrees Celsius, is the temperature at which all molecular motion ceases. Scientists have even devised a separate scale for extremely cold temperatures, known as the Kelvin scale, in which 0 Kelvin equals absolute zero.

Strange things start to happen around absolute zero. According to research published in the journal Nature Physics in 2017, light transforms into a liquid that can be poured into a container. According to a study published in the journal Nature Communications in 2017, super cooled helium no longer experiences friction at extremely low temperatures. Researchers at NASA's Cold Atom Lab have even seen atoms exist in two places at the same time.

Scientists trapped a cloud of 100,000 gaseous rubidium atoms in a magnetic field within a vacuum chamber in this world-record-breaking experiment. According to New Atlas, they next chilled the chamber to roughly 2 billionths of a degree Celsius above absolute zero, which would have been a world record in and of itself.

But for the researchers who wanted to push the boundaries of physics, this wasn't cold enough; they needed to simulate deep-space conditions to get much colder. As a result, the team brought its setup to the Bremen drop tower, a microgravity research centre at the University of Bremen in Germany, run by the European Space Agency. They slowed the rubidium atoms' molecular speed to nearly nothing by putting the vacuum chamber into free fall while rapidly switching the magnetic field on and off, allowing the BEC to float unrestrained by gravity. The resulting BEC lasted at 38 picokelvins (38 trillionths of a Kelvin) for nearly 2 seconds, setting a "absolute negative record," according to the team's paper published in Physical Review Letters on Aug. 30. Scientists from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Boulder, Colorado used specialised lasers to set the previous record of 36 millionths of a Kelvin.


The Boomerang Nebula, located in the Centaurus constellation around 5,000 light years from Earth, is the coldest known natural point in the universe. According to the European Space Agency, its average temperature is -272 C (approximately 1 Kelvin).

According to the current study's authors, they could theoretically maintain this temperature for up to 17 seconds under completely weightless conditions, such as in space. According to MIT experts, very freezing temperatures may one day aid scientists in the development of stronger quantum computers.

Originally published on Live Science.

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