Untitled Essay, Research Paper
Cryogenics and the Future Cryogenics is a study that is of great importance to the human race and
has been a major project for engineers for the last 100 years. Cryogenics, which is
derived from the Greek word kryos meaning "Icy Cold," is the study of matter at
low temperatures. However low is not even the right word for the temperatures involved in
cryogenics, seeing as the highest temperature dealt with in cryogenics is 100 (C (-148 (F)
and the lowest temperature used, is the unattainable temperature -273.15 (C (-459.67 (F).
Also, when speaking of cryogenics, the terms Celsius and Fahrenheit are rarely used.
Instead scientists use a different measurement called the Kelvin (K). The Kelvin scale for
Cryogenics goes from 173 K to a fraction of a Kelvin above absolute zero. There are also
two main sciences used in cryogenics, and they are Superconductivity and Superfluidity. Cryogenics first came about in 1877, when a Swiss Physicist named Rasul
Pictet and a French Engineer named Louis P. Cailletet liquefied oxygen for the first time.
Cailletet created liquid oxygen in his lab using a process known as adiabatic expansion,
which is a "thermodynamic process in which the temperature of a gas is expanded
without adding or extracting heat from the gas or the surrounding system"(Vance 26).
At the same time Pictet used the "Joule-Thompson Effect," a thermodynamic
process that states that the "temperature of a fluid is reduced in a process
involving expansion below a certain temperature and pressure"(McClintock 4). After
Cailletet and Pictet, a third method, known as cascading, was developed by Karol S.
Olszewski and Zygmut von Wroblewski in Poland. At this point in history Oxygen was now
able to be liquefied at 90 K, then soon after liquid Nitrogen was obtained at 77 K, and
because of these advancements scientist all over the world began competing in a race to
lower the temperature of matter to Absolute Zero (0 K) [Vance, 1-10]. Then in 1898, James DeWar mad a major advance when he succeeded in
liquifying hydrogen at 20 K. The reason this advance was so spectacular was that at 20 K
hydrogen is also boiling, and this presented a very difficult handling and storage
problem. DeWar solved this problem by inventing a double-walled storage container known as
the DeWar flask, which could contain and hold the liquid hydrogen for a few days. However,
at this time scientists realized that if they were going to make any more advances they
would have to have better holding containers. So, scientists came up with insulation
techniques that we still use today. These techniques include expanded foam materials and
radiation shielding. [McClintock 43-55] The last major advance in cryogenics finally came in 1908 when the
Dutch physicist Heike Kamerling Onnes liquefied Helium at 4.2 and then 3.2 K. The rest of
the advances in cryogenics have been extremely small since it is a fundamental
Thermodynamic law that you can approach but never actually reach absolute zero. Since 1908
our technology has greatly increased and we can now freeze sodium gas to within 40
millionths of a Kelvin above absolute zero. However, in the back of every physicists head
they want to break the Thermodynamic law and reach a temperature of absolute zero where
every proton, electron, and neutron in an atom is absolutely frozen. Also , their are two subjects that are also closely related to
cryogenics called Superconductivity and Superfluidity. Superconductivity is a
low-temperature phenomenon where a metal loses all electrical resistance below a certain
temperature, called the Critical Temperature(Tc), and transfers to "…a state of
zero resistance,…"(Tilley 11). This unusual behavior was also discovered by Heike
Kamerlingh Onnes. It was discovered when Onnes and one of his graduate students realized
that Mercury loses all of its electrical resistance when it reaches a temperature of 4.15
K. However, almost all elements and compounds have Tc’s between 1 K and 15 K (or -457.68
(F and -432.67 (F) so they would not be very useful to us on a day to day basis[McClintock
208-226]. Then in 1986, J Gregore Bednorz and K. Alex Muller discovered that an
oxide of lanthanum, barium, and copper becomes superconductive at 30 K. This discovery
shocked the world and stimulated scientists to find even more "High-Temperature
Superconductors". After this discovery, in 1987, scientists at the University of
Houston and the University of Alabama discovered YBCO, a compound with a Tc of 95 K. This
discovery made superconductivity possible above the boiling point of liquid Nitrogen, so
now the relatively cheap, liquid nitrogen could replace the high priced liquid helium
required for cryogenic experiments. To date the highest reported Tc is 125 K, which
belongs to a compund made of Thallium, Barium, Calcium, Copper, and Oxygen. Now, with the
availability of high-temperature superconductors, all the sciences including, cryogenics
have made extraordinary advances. Some applications are demonstrated by magnetically
levitated trains, energy storage, motors, and Zero-Loss Transmission Lines. Also,
superconducting electromagnets are used in Particle Accelerators, Fusion Energy Plants,
and Magnetic Resonance Imaging devices (MRI’s) in Hospitals. Furthermore high-speed
cryogenic computer memories and communication devices are in various stages of research.
This field has grown immensely since 1986 as you can see and will probably keep growing. The second subject related to cryogenics is Superfluidity.
Superfluidity is a strange state of matter that is most common in liquid Helium, when it
is below a temperature of 2.17 K. Superfluidity means that the liquid "…discloses
no viscosity when traveling through a capillary or narrow slit…"(Landau 195) and
also flows "…through the slit disclosing no friction…"(Landau 195) That this
means is that when Helium reaches this state it can flow, without any friction, through
the smallest holes and in between atoms in a compund. If the top is off the beaker it is
also possible for the liquid Helium to flow up the side of the baker and out of the beaker
until all the liquid helium is gone. It was then discovered that when any liquid
approaches about .2 K it has almost the exact same properties of superconducting metals,
as far as specific heat, magnetic properties, and thermal conductivity. Even though, both
superconducting and Superfluidic materials have similar properties, the phenomenon of
Superfluidity is much more complex, and is not completely understood by today’s
physicists.[McClintock 103-107] Cryogenics also consists of many smaller sciences, including
Cryobiology, which is "the study of the effects of low-temperatures on materials of
biological origin."(Vance 528) Developments in this field have led to modern methods
of preserving blood, semen, tissue, and organs below the temperature that was obtained by
the use of liquid nitrogen. Also Cryobiology has led to the development of the cryogenic
scalpel which can deaden or destroy tissue with a high degree of accuracy, making it
possible to clot cuts as soon as you cut them. So in theory you could one day have surgery
without having to deal with any blood.
Another field is Cryopumping. Cryopumping is the process "of condensing gas or vapor
on a low-temperature surface."(Vance 339) This is done by extracting gas from a
vacuum vessel by conventional methods then freezing the remaining gas on low temperature
coils. This process has been useful when trying to simulate the properties that the vacuum
in outerspace will have on electronic circuitry. Cryogenics has also been a part of many modern advances including:
The transportation of energy in the form of a liquefied gas.
Processing, handling, and providing food by cryogenic means has become a large business,
providing both frozen and freeze-dried food.
Liquid Oxygen powers rockets and propulsion systems for space research.
Liquid Hydrogen is used in high-energy physics experiments.
Using cryogenic drill bits so drilling for oil and other gases is easier.
Chemical synthesis and catalysis.
Better fire fighting fluids.
Metal Fabrication. As you can see by now cryogenics is still a very young science, but in
the last ten years it has catapulted to being the backbone of almost every other form of
science. However, its full potential will probably not be understood for quite a while.
Though, as you can see, if we can grasp the concepts of cryogenics we will have a tool
that will allow us to do things ranging from making better drill bits to exploring the
universe. The future of cryogenics can best be summed up by Krafft A. Ehricke, a rocket
developer, when he said, "It’s centeral goal is the preservation of
civilization."ReferencesKhalatnikov, I. M., An Introduction to the Theory of Superfluidity (New York: W.A.
Benjamin Inc., 1965).
McClintock, Michael, Cryogenics (New York: Reinhold Publishing Corp., 1964)
Tilley, David R. and Tilley, John, Superfluidity and Superconductivity (New York: John
Wiley and Sons, 1974)
Vance, Robert W., Cryogenic Technology (London: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1963)