Monday, January 10, 2011

Absolute Zero

Gary Reecher sends me information from time to time. One of the nice things about having a network of  friends is that you don't have to know everything, you can use the network's collective knowledge. I am blessed with a good network. Gary recently sent me this on a show he saw on NOVA about absolute zero and I wanted to pass the information along. It is rare to find television that is both entertaining and educational, but NOVA usually accomplishes that. What follows is the text  of Gary's message.

Many times when one watches television it is to be entertained. Occasionally a program not only entertains but educates and enlighten. That is the instance of NOVA's Absolute Zero series. 

Our local PBS channel re-aired this 2009 2 part series. And here is an outline of the series. 

NOVA brings the history of cold to life with historical recreations of great moments in low-temperature research and interviews with historians and scientists to reveal how civilization has been profoundly affected by the mastery of cold.
Hour one of the program (The Conquest of Cold):
  • reports on the pioneering experiments done by Robert Boyle to understand what cold was.
  • presents how the first temperature scales were determined by Daniel Fahrenheit and Anders Celsius.
  • recounts how Guillaume Amontons first came to speculate that cold had an absolute limit.
  • explains how scientists came to understand what heat and cold actually were, including the incorrect caloric theory proposed by Antoine Lavoisier.
  • reports on the first industrialization of cold through ice sales.
  • details how experiments on the steam engine led to the development of artificial refrigeration.
  • profiles how Clarence Birdseye and Willis Carrier harnessed the cold to create frozen foods and air conditioning.

Hour two of the program (The Race for Absolute Zero):
  • features the race between nineteenth-century scientists James Dewar and Heike Kamerlingh Onnes to become the first to liquefy hydrogen, the last of the so-called permanent gases.
  • notes how unexpected events in the study of cold led to new areas of research, including superconductivity and superfluids.
  • details how Albert Einstein came to predict that a new state of matter—one that behaved according to quantum mechanical rules—could be produced at temperatures just above absolute zero.
  • shows how particles would change into overlapping waves in this state of matter, known as the Bose-Einstein condensate.
  • details the race among scientists to create this condensate.
  • describes how one scientist found a way to slow down the speed of light.
  • reports on research being done to develop quantum computers.
  • shows how far down the scale scientists have traveled and explains why reaching absolute zero is not possible.
If one is interested in the history and development of refrigeration I would give this series a 2 thumbs up.   

More information is available including instructor resources for using this program.

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