LEGO in an ultra low temperature fridge

Building Ultracool Instruments

Ultralow temperature physics research generates new refrigeration platforms and film awards

New technologies are being created that exploit superconducting and semiconducting materials at extremely low temperatures, colder than deep space. From improved sensors to powerful new computing platforms, these technologies rely on quiet, cold environments to allow quantum physics to control devices and do new things. A group of physicists at Lancaster worked with companies to make ultralow temperatures more accessible for commercial applications. Their lab, which they opened to the public through film and exhibitions, is one of the coldest places on earth.

Research by the Low Temperature Group (LTG) has resulted in new pioneering techniques and equipment built in-house that includes custom-made dilution refrigerators that achieve world-record low temperatures. LTG researchers continue to explore the application of new manufacturing techniques and materials.
In collaboration with Oxford Instruments NanoScience (OINS) they have produced and exhibited a low-cost, portable refrigeration platform for quantum technologies. This led to commercial impact and increased public understanding of ultralow temperature physics and technology.

  • Led an international collaboration within the European Microkelvin Platform, a consortium of 17 universities and companies, to demonstrate a new technique to cool devices using on-chip magnetic refrigeration. They were able to reach a device temperature of 0.002K.
  • LTG and OINS developed a prototype, cryogen-free, ultralow-temperature environment for applications including sensing and metrology. It is significantly cheaper, more compact, and easier to operate than other systems.
  • They also collaborated with OINS in public engagement, exhibiting at the national Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition with a footfall of over 12,000 people and media reach of more than 3 million people in 2019.
  • A short, multi-internationally-award-winning, documentary film about Lancaster research on the low temperature properties of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), in the form of LEGO®, called “The World’s Coolest LEGO® Set! (Literally)” received international media attention spanning 60 countries and 31 languages. It won several international science film awards and has a total audience reach in excess of 275 million.