Josh Chawner and Dmitry Zmeev of Lancaster University pose with Lego's cold pieces.
A world leading team of ultra-low temperature physicists at Lancaster University chose to place a LEGO ® figure and four LEGO ® blocks inside their record-breaking dilution refrigerator.
Strapped inside a custom-made (record-breaking) dilution refrigerator-the most effective fridge in the world, capable of reaching 1.6 millidegrees above absolute zero (-273.15 °C)*-the toys did what no human can: survived.
LEGO bricks have been around for generations and are still a popular toy with people of all ages. Shockingly, they held up quite well. In low temperatures, the environment becomes rather quiet and subtleties of material physics where quantum mechanics come into play become easier to see.
Dilution refrigerators are now rather expensive to build, but they're critical to various developments in physics including progression in quantum computing - so, bring down the cost of building a dilution refrigerator, and it can become a more accessible tool for researchers to use in the development of quantum computers.
Moreover, it turns out that LEGO is an incredibly good insulator at low temperatures. Enter, the dilution refrigerator.
"Our results are significant because we found that the clamping arrangement between the LEGO blocks causes the LEGO structures to behave as an extremely good thermal insulator at cryogenic temperatures", lead researcher Dr. Dmitry Zmeev said in a statement.
The scientists used a special "dilution refrigerator" that dipped the plastic to only 4,000 degrees above absolute zero. The researchers published the results of the study in the journal Scientific Reports on Monday. The use of plastic structures, such as LEGO, instead of the solid materials now in use, means that any future thermal insulator could be produced at a significantly reduced cost.