Bristol Science Film Festival award for Lancaster student


The LEGO ® figure and block used in the experiment
The LEGO ® figure and block used in the experiment

A film made by a Lancaster University student about his research into cooling LEGO ® has won a prize at the online Bristol Science Film Festival.

The short documentary film by Physics PhD student Josh Chawner was chosen from around 450 entries in the annual science film competition. Shortlisted films were screened online during this year’s virtual version of the Festival, watched live by attendees and the filmmakers before the Judges’ scores were announced.

Josh said: “From Carl Sagan's 'Cosmos' to David Attenborough's 'Planet Earth', film has been the most powerful tool to communicate science to the public for decades. I believe this is because film has the ability to throw the audience on a journey into strange and wonderful phenomena.”

Josh was part of a team of ultra-low temperature physicists at Lancaster University who decided to place a LEGO ® figure and four LEGO ® blocks inside their record-breaking dilution refrigerator.

“I was very excited to share my film with the public as I believe Lancaster’s Ultra Low Temperature lab is an amazing and unique lab, and it would seem many people agree with me as my film had been viewed over 100,000 times within 2 weeks of its release."

The dilution refrigerator - specially made at the University - is the most effective refrigerator in the world, capable of reaching 1.6 millidegrees above absolute zero (minus 273.15 Centigrade), which is about 200,000 times colder than room temperature and 2,000 times colder than deep space.

This was the first time LEGO ® has been cooled to this degree and its special properties mean it could be useful in the development of quantum computing. The results published in the prestigious journal Scientific Reports showed that the LEGO ® structures behave as an extremely good thermal insulator at cryogenic temperatures.

This means it could be useful for construction materials used for the design of future scientific equipment like dilution refrigerators. Invented 50 years ago, the dilution refrigerator is at the centre of a global multi-billion dollar industry and is crucial to the work of modern experimental physics and engineering, including the development of quantum computers.

The use of ABS plastic structures, such as LEGO ®, instead of the solid materials currently in use, means that any future thermal insulator could be produced at a significantly reduced cost.

Researchers say the next step is to design and 3D print a new thermal insulator for the next generation of dilution refrigerators. 

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