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When materials stay at an ultra-low temperature, their properties change. Studying these changes is what cryogenics consists of. What happens to various materials at an extremely low temperature? Do they change their form from solid, liquid, or gas to any other?
The origin of the word cryogenics comes from the Greek word “Kyros”, meaning cold. When Kyros was combined with genesis, it formed “cryogenics” as we know them today.
When the temperature of material falls to an extreme low, we no longer measure it in Fahrenheit or celsius - rather, we use Kelvin. This unit has been named after Baron Kelvin, the man who claimed that a really low temperature needed a new unit of measurement.
In the history of cryogenics, the first breakthrough came in 1877. It was when Louis Cailletet and Rasul Pictet liquified oxygen for the first time. Both scientists used different methods to achieve this.
Soon after, a third method was discovered using which oxygen could be liquified at 90K. Thereafter, liquid nitrogen was achieved at a temperature of 77K. And before long, the world was competing to lower the temperature of matter to the lowest - 0 Kelvin.
Just over a decade later, the world of cryogenics saw another great breakthrough. In 1898, James DeWar managed to liquefy hydrogen at a temperature as low as 20K. However, this new discovery came with its own challenges and surprises which eventually led to the creation of DeWar flasks. We use these flasks today to store gases.
Although the beginning of cryogenics was as humble as a scientist suggesting a new unit for low temperatures, we have come a long way today.
Cryogenics is part of the most for various purposes today and comes in handy in various fields as well. Let’s see some of them!
Cryogenic fluids can provide the ultra-low temperatures required for electrons to move freely in materials without much resistance. This has proven to be extremely useful in spacecraft designs.
Cryosurgery uses cryogenic temperatures to remove tumors or unwanted tissues. Over the years, scientists have used this knowledge to treat various ailments, especially those related to malignant skin conditions.
This field of study researches the effects of extremely low temperatures on various organisms. This field has been expanding rapidly for wider speculations on organisms in different temperatures.
Most of the food that is packaged away is protected and provided a long shelf life by spraying liquid nitrogen. This wouldn’t have been possible without the development of cryogenics.
Cryonics is the cryopreservation of humans and animals using low temperatures. This allows the researchers to preserve the bodies of humans and animals over a long period of time.
The field of study of low temperatures has developed empirically through the years. How cryogenics exactly works and its various processes have developed slowly.
A more in-depth study on cryogenics started only in the late 1990s by a group of metallurgists and material scientists - the ASM.
ASM formed a committee to study the field and various claims made about it. This committee promoted research into cryogenic processes and created a database on the research involving the field.
These four factors together determined and shaped the study and field of cryogenics as we see it today.