We've all got refrigerators to keep our leftovers not-rotten, but compared to the National Institute of Standards and Technology's latest creation, our hulking cooling boxes hardly compare. This tiny quantum prototype, no bigger than a few inches, packs as much power as a window air conditioner the size of the Nelson's Column.
This little-fridge-that-could specialises in cooling things down to ludicrously low temperatures around 300 milliKelvin. Typically, if you want to do that, you have to resort to a big annoying setup involving a whole bunch of liquid helium.
This tiny device instead uses 48 tiny sandwiches of a normal metal, a 1-nanometre-thick insulating layer, and a superconducting metal as cooling elements. When the electricity is turned on, electrons tunnel back and forth between the normal metal and the superconductor, dropping the normal metals temperature way down and cooling whatever target is in the machine.
Project leader Joel Ullom put it this way:
"It's one of the most flabbergasting results I've seen. We used quantum mechanics in a nanostructure to cool a block of copper. The copper is about a million times heavier than the refrigerating elements. This is a rare example of a nano- or microelectromechanical machine that can manipulate the macroscopic world."
So far the cooling process takes about 18 hours, but researchers hope that further iterations can reduce that and increase the fridge's power so it can reach all the way down to 100 mK. Meanwhile, the rest of us over here in consumer technology world are stuck with refrigerators with Evernote. You take what you can get, I guess. [NIST]
Image credit: Schmidt/NIST