A Moment of Science

The Coldest Spot in the World

"The Coldest Spot in the World", on this Moment of Science.

The Coldest Spot in the World on today’s Moment of Science.

If you happened to catch our last Moment of Science, you may still be shivering. We were reading from the Big and Bad file, in which faithful listeners write in to ask us about record-setting things in nature. One listener wanted to know where the coldest place in the world was.

We said Antarctica–in particular, the Russian station Vostok, at which a record- setting low temperature of one hundred and twenty-eight point six below zero Fahrenheit was recorded in 1983.

However, Vostok is not the coldest place on the planet. Physics labs are actually some of the coldest places on earth. Cryogenics, the science of super-cooled helium, was pioneered almost a century ago. In 1908, the University of Leiden made history by producing the first super-cooled helium.

Liquid cold helium is actually four hundred fifty-two degrees below zero Fahrenheit, to be exact. Liquid nitrogen, liquid helium, and the like are of great use to scientists because substances at that temperature behave in radically different ways, especially when it comes to conducting electricity.

Thanks to advances in cryogenics, so-called “super- cooled” substances will be more and more a part of our technology in this century. So, what it comes down to is that anywhere someone is doing work with super- cooled materials, that little place is the coldest spot on earth.

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