NIST Scientists Modify Common Lab Refrigerator to Cool Faster with Less Energy

Illustration of a pulse tube refrigerator. Notice that in the unoptimized case there is an additional arrow on the left side of the figure (showing that part of the gas from the compressor is wasted because it is sent back to the compressor, instead of to the refrigerator). Also note the optimized refrigerator shows colder temperatures during the cooldown, since it cools more quickly. The image is taken during the same time in the cooldown process for the two refrigerators. Credit: NISTIn a groundbreaking development, scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have engineered a significant enhancement to the efficiency of cooling materials to temperatures near absolute zero. Through modifications to a commonly used laboratory refrigerator, they have achieved remarkable reductions in both cooldown time and energy consumption. This innovation holds profound implications for various fields reliant on ultracold temperatures, from quantum computing to astronomy and superconductors.

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Looking Backward and Forward

Cryo Bios

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Equigas’ Strategic Acquisition is a Catalyst for Innovation

Equigas’ Strategic Acquisition is a Catalyst for InnovationEquigas, Inc., a North Carolina-based gas equipment distributor, has embarked on an exciting new chapter with its recent acquisition of Correct Cryogenics, a respected cryogenic service provider headquartered in the Southwest US. This strategic move is a pivotal moment for Equigas as it seeks to expand its service offerings and solidify its presence in the US cryogenic and industrial gas markets.

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BHEX Leverages Cryogenics to Capture Black Holes

High-resolution image of a black hole, showing the photon ring. Credit: George Wong (IAS)Introduction to BHEX-The Black Hole Explorer (BHEX) is a mission that will discover and measure a black hole’s photon ring, capturing light that has orbited a black hole. BHEX will extend the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) into space, producing the sharpest images in the history of astronomy, whilst operating a space-Earth hybrid VLBI observatory by sending the BHEX radio telescope into space to link down with the existing EHT telescope on Earth.

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Barber-Nichols Optimizes Cryogenic Turbomachinery

Recently, a cryogenic N2 test rig was commissioned and first utilized to operate bearings at 45,000 rpm to simulate conditions for an LH2 pump that must operate at these speeds in space. Credit: Barber NicholsAccurate predictions for performance and life of motors and bearings in cryogenic turbomachinery have become more critical than ever with rapid advancements in space as well as for the burgeoning hydrogen economy. The use of cryogenic propellants for space application includes both needs for rockets and landers, as well as for in-space propulsion and transfer. For the hydrogen economy, there is the need to pump LH2 to higher pressures in vehicles for feeding into engines or fuel cells as well as to transfer with power dense solutions. For these applications, reliable long-term operation, small size and efficiency are paramount to successful adoption. Two of the most critical components to achieve the necessary requirements in these applications are long-lasting bearings and high-speed, efficient motors. While Barber-Nichols (BN) has successfully implemented cryogen immersed motors and ball bearings in turbomachinery for over 35 years, the requirements for these new applications are pushing advancement beyond the current state of the art.

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Fives Pioneers Renewable Energy Storage and Hydrogen Mobility

Cryogenic heat exchangers, known for their high reliability and low energy consumption, are widely used, for their high reliability and low energy consumption. Credit: FivesThe Largest Renewable Energy Storage Project-Fives, a global industrial engineering group, has been selected by Zhonglv Zhongke Energy Storage Technology Co. to supply cryogenic equipment for the largest renewable energy storage project on an industrial scale. This project, located in Golmud, Qinghai province, China, is set to be operational by the end of 2024 and marks the first industrial-scale implementation of Liquid Air Energy Storage (LAES) technology.

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Frozen Imaging: How Cryogenic Cameras Power Unprecedented Discovery

Researchers at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory are nearly done with the LSST Camera, the world's largest digital camera ever built for astronomy. Roughly the size of a small car and weighing in at three tons, the camera features a five-foot-wide front lens and a 3,200 megapixel sensor that will be cooled to -100°C to reduce noise. Once installed atop the Vera C. Rubin Observatory's Simonyi Survey Telescope in Chile, the camera will survey the southern night sky for a decade, generating a wealth of data for scientists to analyze. This data will help unravel some of the universe's biggest mysteries, including the nature of dark energy and dark matter. Credit: Jacqueline Ramseyer Orrell/SLAC National Accelerator LaboratoryThe Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST) Camera in Chile and NASA’s Compact Thermal Imager (CTI) represent cutting-edge advancements in astronomical and Earth science technology. The LSST Camera, soon to be operational at the Vera C. Rubin Observatory, will survey the entire southern sky every three nights for a decade, producing detailed data to study dark matter, dark energy and transient astronomical events. In contrast, NASA’s multiple high-resolution infrared cameras and their sensors, already in operation, are designed for specific scientific and practical applications, from monitoring wildfires to studying planetary compositions. These cameras provide high-resolution imaging for wildfire detection and atmospheric studies from the International Space Station.

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Space Systems Command Grants Contracts for Space Laser Communication Prototypes

Space Systems Command Grants Contracts for Space Laser Communication PrototypesThe United States Space Force's Space Systems Command (SSC) has awarded four contracts to Blue Origin, CACI International Inc., General Atomics, and Viasat to develop space  laser communication terminal prototypes. This marks the first phase of the $100 million Enterprise Space Terminal (EST) program.

The EST program, part of SSC's Space Domain Awareness and Combat Power Program Executive Office, aims to create on-orbit crosslink compatibility among future space systems. This will be achieved through a standardized enterprise waveform implemented in a long-range space optical communications terminal that is low in size, weight, power, and cost (SWaP-C). ESTs are fundamental to the broader Space Data Network, which will establish a space mesh network for enhanced resiliency and information path diversity.

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Cryogenic CMOS Innovations Advance Quantum Computing

SPICE models quantumIn the race to unlock the full potential of quantum computing, recent breakthroughs in cryogenic CMOS technology are paving the way for a new era of computational power. At the forefront of this frontier are pioneering efforts by Semiwise and SureCore, in collaboration with Cadence Design Systems, aimed at overcoming critical challenges in developing circuits that operate at near absolute zero temperatures.

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NASA Completes Flight Readiness Review for GOES-U Mission

GOES-U Mission NASANASA, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), SpaceX, and GOES-U (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-U) mission managers met on June 20 to conduct a Flight Readiness Review at NASA’S Kennedy Space Center in Florida. During the review, teams provided an update on the mission status and certified the readiness to proceed with final launch preparation activities. 

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Shine on: Upgraded Advanced Photon Source sees first X-ray light for science

A man presses a button while his colleagues look on with smiles.

A new era of science at the Advanced Photon Source (APS) is ready to begin. On June 17, 2024, the facility at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory delivered its first X-ray light beams to a scientific beamline as part of a comprehensive and complex upgrade.

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Fusion Power Is Now a Possible Dream

Fusion power, the Holy Grail of nuclear energy for decades, may finally be within our grasp.Fusion power, the Holy Grail of nuclear energy for decades, may finally be within our grasp. If the scientists and engineers at Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS), a company with close ties to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Plasma Science and Fusion Center, are right, fusion is nearly ready for power market entry. In Devens, Mass., CFS says it will be ready to ship its first devices in the early 2030s.

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Atomic Spreading Produces Novel Superconductors

A type of zero-resistance material called a topological superconductor could lead to error-free quantum computing, but efforts to make such a material have so far come up short. Researchers have now shown that a recently developed fabrication technique that could generate topological superconductors passes a key test [1]. They produced a superconducting layer on top of a topological insulator—a thin sheet of material in which electrical currents are confined to the edges. The technique uses a “seed” of deposited metal that spreads out much like a liquid over the topological insulator’s surface, forming a new crystalline structure. The resulting material exhibits zero resistance, but further tests are needed to determine whether it’s a topological superconductor. Even if it isn’t, the researchers are hopeful that new topological superconductors could be created using the technique.

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100 Years of Quantum Is Just the Beginning

100 years of qunatumOn June 7, 2024, the United Nations proclaimed 2025 as the International Year of Quantum Science and Technology (IYQ). According to the proclamation, this year-long, worldwide initiative will "be observed through activities at all levels aimed at increasing public awareness of the importance of quantum science and applications." The year 2025 was chosen for this International Year as it recognizes 100 years since the initial development of quantum mechanics. Join us in engaging with quantum science and technology education and celebration throughout 2025!

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Cool It Down--Isochoric Preservation

Tony Consiglio, Alan Maida and Boris Rubinsky in their Etcheverry Hall lab. (Photo by Adam Lau/Berkeley Engineering)If you’ve ever made the mistake of putting certain fresh fruits or vegetables in the freezer, then you’re already familiar with the effects of freezing on biological tissue. Banana skins turn black and slimy. Whole oranges leak and deflate. Lettuce comes out limp and soggy. The cause of all this spoilage? Ice crystallization.

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HL-LHC's Cold Powering System Successfully Passed Tests

HiLumi News: The HL-LHC’s cold powering system successfully passed the testsIf you're an avid follower of High-Luminosity LHC (HL-LHC) news, you will no doubt already have heard about "the python", the new superconducting link developed at CERN. It is a component of the new cold powering system that will power the HL-LHC inner triplet magnets, which will focus proton beams more tightly around the ATLAS and CMS collision points.

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Advancing Spin Qubit Technology With Cryogenic Probing

a. Charge-stability diagram showing the configuration in which electron temperature is extracted. b. 1D measurement across the transition indicated by the dashed red line in a with theoretical fit overlaid. Image Credit: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-024-07275-6In a recent article published in Nature, researchers developed a 300-mm cryogenic probing process to obtain high-volume data on spin qubit devices across full wafers. They optimized an industry-compatible process to fabricate spin qubit devices on a low-disorder host material, enabling automated probing of single electrons in spin qubit arrays across 300-mm wafers.

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New Guide Published: "Select Thermal Properties for Cryogenic Insulation Materials"

Korean RegisterKorean Register has published the "Guide to Selection of Thermal Properties of Cryogenic Insulation Materials" for safe storage of cryogenic fuels, including LNG and liquid hydrogen. Last year, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted the '2023 Greenhouse Gas Strategy' with the goal of achieving carbon neutrality in international shipping by 2050. The strategy aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20%, striving for 30%, by 2030, at least 70%, striving for 80%, by 2040, and to achieve net-zero emissions by around 2050.

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Why We Still Need a CERN for Climate Change

Worrying trend Reliable climate models are needed so that societies can adapt to the impact of climate change. (Courtesy: Shutterstock/Migel)It was a scorcher last year. Land and sea temperatures were up to 0.2 °C higher every single month in the second half of 2023, with these warm anomalies continuing into 2024. We know the world is warming, but the sudden heat spike had not been predicted. As NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt wrote in Nature recently: “It’s humbling and a bit worrying to admit that no year has confounded climate scientists’ predictive capabilities more than 2023 has.”

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Modified Pulse Tube Refrigerator Halves Cryogenic Cooling Time

A simple modification to a popular type of cryogenic cooler could save $30 million in global electricity consumption and enough cooling water to fill 5000 Olympic swimming pools. That is the claim of researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Colorado Boulder who describe their energy-efficient design in Nature Communications.   Ryan Snodgrass and colleagues in the US have designed a new way to operate pulse tube refrigerators (PTRs), which compress and expand helium gas in cooling cycle that is similar to that used in a household refrigerator. Developed in the 1980s, PTRs can now reach temperatures of just a few Kelvin, which is below the temperature that helium becomes a liquid (4.2 K).  While PTRs are reliable and used widely in research and industry, they are very power hungry. When Snodgrass and team looked at why commercial PTRs consume so much energy, they found that the devices were designed to be efficient at their final operating temperature of about 4 K. At higher temperatures, the PTRs are much less efficient – and this is a problem because the cooling process begins at room temperature.  Easier repairs As well as using lots of electricity to cool down, this inefficiency means that it can take a very long time to cool objects. For example, the Cryogenic Underground Observatory for Rare Events (CUORE) – which is looking for neutrinoless double beta decay deep under a mountain in Italy – is cooled to a preliminary 4 K by five PTRs in a process that takes 20 days. Reducing such long cooling times would make it easier and less costly to modify or repair cryogenic systems.  READ MOREEngineers installing MIRI onto the JWST at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center The ten-billion-dollar gamble: Keeping the JWST cool  A careful study of the room-temperature operation of PTRs revealed that the helium gas is compressed to a very high pressure. This causes a relief valve to open, sending some of the helium back to the compressor. Less helium is therefore used for cooling, reducing the efficiency of the PTR.  Snodgrass and colleagues solved this problem by replacing the manufacturer-supplied needle valves in a PTR with customized needle valves that can be adjusted constantly. These needle valves control the flow of gas between the refrigerator and its helium reservoirs. They are normally set to optimize the operation of the PTR at cryogenic temperatures.  In the new operating protocol developed at NIST, the needle valves are open at room temperature. This allows gas to flow in and out of the reservoir, which moderates the pressure in the refrigerator. As the temperature drops, the valves are slowly closed – keeping the system at an ideal pressure throughout its operation.  The team found that the modification can boost the cooling rate of PTRs by 1.7–3.5 times. As well as making cooling quicker and more energy efficient, the new design could also be used to reduce the size or number PTRs needed for specific applications. This could be very important for applications in space, where PTRs are already used to cool infrared telescopes such as MIRI on the James Webb Space Telescope.   A simple modification to a popular type of cryogenic cooler could save $30 million in global electricity consumption and enough cooling water to fill 5000 Olympic swimming pools. That is the claim of researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Colorado Boulder who describe their energy-efficient design in Nature Communications.

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