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The world’s 'coolest' physics study

08 March, 2011

The interior of a powerful machine newly installed at The University of Western Australia is not only the coldest place in the State, it is colder by far than anywhere in Antarctica or even in outer space.

In fact, the temperature inside the machine is less than eight thousandths of a degree above the coldest temperature possible (minus 273 degrees Celcius).

The machine, a $400,000 BlueFors dry dilution refrigerator manufactured in Finland and filled with $50,000 worth of Helium 3 gas from the United States, is a key piece of equipment to be used by Australian Laureate Fellow Winthrop Professor Mike Tobar and his team.

Based in UWA's School of Physics, Professor Tobar's group in the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Engineered Quantum Systems (EQuS) will use the machine to cool devices down to phenomenally low temperatures to examine their behaviour.

In doing so, they will better understand the sophisticated workings of quantum mechanics, the basics of which have enabled technology we now take for granted: computers and the internet.

"The strangeness of quantum mechanics could be used as a new and untapped resource," Professor Tobar said.

"To use a simple analogy: where once we were looking through a pea-soup fog, now we've got a clear blue sky," Professor Tobar said.

"We'll be able to engineer complex, multi-component, quantum systems for new science and new applications.  Long-standing questions in fundamental physics will be addressed; cross-disciplinary scientific advances will be made linking quantum physics with engineering, chemistry, and biology; and sophisticated technologies will be developed for 21st century Australian industries."

The BlueFors refrigerator, the only one of its kind in the southern hemisphere, is the most powerful ever built by the Finnish company whose co-founder Dr Rob Blaauwgeers accompanied it to UWA and supervised the installation.

Source: The University of Western Australia

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