LEGO bricks have been around for generations and are still a popular toy with people of all ages. The bricks can be snapped together to create just about anything that you can think of. Researchers at Lancaster University have devised a new use for LEGO bricks.
The scientists have taken LEGO blocks and cooled them to the lowest temperature possible in an experiment and found a new use for the toy. A team of ultra-low temperature physicists at the university put four stacked LEGO bricks, and a LEGO Figure inside a contraption called a dilution refrigerator. The machine was made at the university and is the most effective refrigerator in the world. It can cool to 1.6 millidegrees above absolute zero, or minus 273.15 Centigrade.
That is about 200,000 times colder than room temperature and 2,000 times colder than deep space. The team found that the clamping arrangement between the LEGO blocks causes the LEGO structures to behave as an extremely good thermal insulator at cryogenic temperatures. The team says that makes the bricks a desirable construction material for future scientific equipment like dilution refrigerators.
The first dilution refrigerator was created 50 years ago and is the center of a multi-billion dollar industry that is crucial to the work of modern experimental physics and engineering. The refrigerators are also key to the development of quantum computers.
The use of ABS plastic structures, like LEGO blocks, instead of solid materials currently used in dilution refrigerators means that the thermal insulator material could be priced at a significantly reduced cost. The next step for the researchers is to design and 3D print a new thermal insulator for the next-generation of dilution refrigerators.