Physics: Record-Breaking Nanochip Reaches One-Thousandth of a Degree From Absolute Zero, ‘Magic’ Quantum Threshold. Physicists have adapted a nanoelectric chip to drop to a temperature lower than three millikelvin—the closest anything’s ever gotten to absolute zero, believed by many experts to be the coldest temperature that can physically exist. Absolute zero refers to zero degrees Kelvin, which corresponds to -459.67 degrees Fahrenheit. At that threshold, particles—which vibrate with greater kinetic energy the hotter they become—come to a standstill, which is why scientists think nothing could ever become colder. No energy can be less than nothing, as Scientific American put it.
Credit: Kastalia Medrano Newsweek December 30, 2017
“The combination of cooling systems allowed us to cool our chip down to below 3 millikelvin, and we are optimistic than we can use the same method to reach the magic 1 millikelvin limit,” Dominik Zumbühl, a physicist at the University of Basel, said in the press release. The temperature the physicists achieved corresponds to -459.665 degrees Fahrenheit—less than one thousandth of a degree Kelvin above absolute zero. A paper describing the work was published in the scientific journal Applied Physics Letters.
The team is able to maintain the temperature for seven hours, meaning there’s enough time to conduct any number of experiments to try to better understand the properties of such an environment. At such extreme lows, the regular laws of nature come to a dead end, and the abstract world of quantum physics takes over.
Despite the conventional understanding of absolute zero, research has shown that colder temperatures can exist. Particles that cold might not retain energy as it’s understood by classical physics, but could be explained with quantum physics, the sort of Wild West of scientific theory where the normal rules cease to apply.
In 2013, scientists created an ultracold quantum gas comprising potassium atoms that they brought to “negative temperatures,” a realm below absolute zero. By using magnetic fields to manipulate the atoms’ potential as well as kinetic energy, the scientists created “negative pressure” in the interactions between the atoms, causing them to attract each other more than they repelled each other.
“A better understanding of temperature could lead to new things we haven’t even thought of yet,” Ulrich Schneider, a physicist at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany, told Live Science. “When you study the basics very thoroughly, you never know where it may end.”