Absolute Zero and the Conquest of Cold  
   
 
 

 

 

 
Historical Timeline
1592
Galileo invents the thermoscope -- a precursor to the thermometer, it could not measure specific temperatures, but could indicate that temperatures changed.
Galileo The thermoscope
1620
Cornelius Drebbel
attempts to air-condition Westminster Abbey.
Cornelis Drebbel
1657
Grand Duke Ferdinand de Medici develops the first accurate liquid-in-glass thermometer.
Grand Duke Ferdinand de Medici
1665
Robert Boyle publishes New Experiments and Observations Touching Cold, which dispels ancient myths and reveals many facts about the cold.
Robert Boyle New Experiments and Observations Touching Cold
1703
Guillaume Amontons derives the idea of an "absolute zero."
 
1720
Daniel Fahrenheit invents the thermometric scale still named after him.
Daniel Fahrenheit thermometric scale
1741
Anders Celsius develops the centigrade scale (though it’s possible it was in use before he perfected it).
Anders Celsius
1748
William Cullen produces artificial refrigeration in the laboratory – but uses it for no practical purpose.
William CullenArtificial refrigeration
1787
Martinus van Marum liquefies ammonia at a temperature well below freezing.
Martinus van Marum Liquefies ammonia
1800
Michael Faraday liquefies chlorine and ammonia and recognizes that the chemical change from gas to liquid state radically lowers temperature. 
(This research caused a rift between Farday and his mentor, Sir Humphrey Davy, who always felt he should have gotten more credit for this work that his student did . . . )
Michael Faraday
1824
Sadi Carnot publishes Reflexions on the Motive Power of Fire, which introduces the first concepts of thermodynamics – though the book still presents the incorrect notion that heat is due to a material substance, caloric, which transmutes from object to object.
Sadi Carnot
1834
Dr. John Gorrie of Apalachicola, Florida, built a machine to make ice to cool the air for yellow fever patients.
Dr. John GorrieA machine to make ice
The first practical refrigerating machine was built by Jacob Perkins.  It was not dissimilar to current refrigerators, but it used ether instead of the modern Freon.  The ether cooled food as it evaporated, and then re-condensed to be used again. Jacob Perkins
Charles Saint-Ange Thilorier makes "dry ice"  -- which is frozen carbon dioxide -- and reaches -110° C. Dry ice
Jean-Charles-Athanase Peltier discovers that current between two dissimilar metals will produce heat or cold depending on the direction of current flow – beginning the field of thermoelectricity.  The Peltier effect is still used in devices for measuring temperature and in refrigeration units. Thermoelectricity
1848
William Thomson (later knighted Lord Kelvin) develops a new “absolute” temperature scale that sets as zero the coldest anything can be – which came to be known as absolute zero.
William Thomson“Absolute” temperature scale
1850 - 1860
William Thomson and Rudolf Clausius separately articulate the first and second laws of thermodynamics.
William Thomson Rudolf Clausius
1850 - 1875
Heyday of the natural-ice trade
Heyday of the natural-ice trade
1859
Ferdinand Carré produces a commercial artificial-ice-making machine
Ferdinand Carré
1877
Louis-Paul Cailletet liquefies oxygen and nitrogen, setting the stage for the descent toward absolute zero.
 
1883
Measureable quantity of liquid oxygen is made by Syzgmunt von Wróblewski & Karol Olszewski in Kraków, at 90 K.
Syzgmunt von Wróblewski Karol Olszewski
1886
Oxygen is solidified by James Dewar, Robert Lennox & James Heath, London, reaching temperatures of 54 K.
James Dewar
1892
James Dewar develops a vacuum-insulated, silver-plated glass flask -- essentially the first thermos bottle.
The first thermos bottle
1898
Dewar liquefies hydrogen at -250° C (23 K)
 
1899
Hydrogen turned into a solid by James Dewar, Robert Lennox & James Heath, London bringing the coldest temperature record down to 14 K.
James Dewar
1900 - 1915
Alfred Wolff, Stuart Cramer, and willis carrier invent commercial air conditioning.
 
1905
Walther Ernst articulates the third law of thermodynamics, which shows that absolute zero is unreachable.
 
1908
Heike Kamerlingh Onnes liquefies hlium at below 5 K
Heike Kamerlingh Onnes
1911
Onnes discovers superconductivity in mercury at 4.19 K.
Onnes discovers superconductivity in mercury
1923
Clarence Birdseye begins mass marketing of frozen foods.
Clarence Birdseye
1925
Albert Einstein and Sat yenda Bose predict a new state of matter at ultra-low temperatures.
Albert EinsteinSat yenda Bose
1926
Einstein and his former student Leó Szilárd invent the "Einstein refrigerator."
Albert EinsteinLeó Szilárd
Willem Henrik Keesom solidifies helium Willem Henrik Keesom
1937
Pyotr Leonidovich Kapitsa, John F. Allen, and Don Misener discover superfluidity using helium 4 at 2.2 K
Pyotr Leonidovich KapitsaDon Misener
1951
H. London invents the principle of the dilution refrigerator
 
1957
John Bardeen, Leon Cooper, and Robert Schrieffer
explain superconductivity (for which they won a Nobel Prize in 1972).
Nobel Prize
1980's
Coolants become essential in the production and use of microchips and other electronics.
Microchip

1985
Steven Chu invents laser cooling (for which he won a Nobel Prize in 1997).

Steven Chu
1986
Alex Müller and Georg Bednorz produce "high-temperature" superconductivity.
Alex MüllerGeorg Bednorz
1995
A Bose-Einstein condensate is created at 170-billionths of a degree above absolute zero.  (Carl Weiman, Eric Cornell, and Wolfgang Ketterle won the Nobel Prize for this achievement in 2001.)
Nobel Prize
2000
Peter Toennies demonstrates superfluidity of hydrogen at 0.15 K
Peter Toennies
2003
The first fermionic condensate created by Deborah Jin.
Deborah Jin
 
 
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