There are tons of reasons kids and adults alike who love building with LEGO. The little plastic bricks (and various Technic motors, etc.) are one of the best ways to transfer structural designs, period tableaus, and of course, Star Wars dioramas, from imagination into reality; even NASA thinks they’re worthy of helping to conceptualize the types of interplanetary vessels that could eventually carry people to Mars. And now, we can add to list of reasons LEGO are great the fact that they can apparently withstand temperatures just a hair short of absolute zero—without losing their cool.
In a paper recently published in the journal Scientific Reports (via CNET), researchers in England showed how they were able to take a LEGO minifigure, as well as some LEGO bricks, and freeze them to a temperature of .004 degrees Kelvin, or -459.6628 degrees Fahrenheit. To test out this capacity for ultra-frigid temperatures, the researchers, led by low-temperature physicist Dmitry Zmeev, placed the LEGO inside of a dilution refrigerator at Lancaster University.
— Dmitry Zmeev (@dmitry_zmeev) December 23, 2019
A dilution refrigerator, for those wondering, is somewhat like a far more powerful version of a kitchen refrigerator, although it relies upon the mixing of Helium-3 and Helium-4 isotopes for its super-freezing abilities and costs a few hundred thousand dollars. (For a more detailed explanation of how the complex refrigeration system works, check out the Veritasium video below, which does a far better job of explaining the workings of a dilution refrigerator than we can.)
In regards to why Zmeev, et al. decided to test out the cold-temperature endurance of LEGO, it seems that they were trying to find out “how cold can a LEGO figure get”—quoted from the video above—as well as seeking materials that are especially effective at handling ultra-low temperatures. And not only did they find that LEGO handle these extraordinarily cold temperatures astoundingly well, but that they also provide “better thermal isolation than well-known bulk insulator materials in the explored temperature range….” On top of that, the researchers also said that LEGO “represent a cheap and superlative alternative to materials such as Macor or Vespel.”
This could mean that the ABS plastic that makes up LEGO pieces could be used as components in future dilution refrigerators, and even, potentially, quantum computing systems, as the latter requires extremely cold temperatures to operate. But even if neither of those use cases for LEGO materials pans out, it’s still good to know that the little buildable bricks can handle temperatures 2,000 times colder than deep space. LEGO are particularly great for making SPACESHIPS!!!!!! after all, right?
What do you think about researchers using LEGO to test the feasibility of using ABS plastics for ultra-cold-temperature applications? Are you going to stick some of your LEGO in the freezer right now to see how they hold up, or are you going to leave the research to the experts? Thaw out your opinions in the comments!
Images: Hamster Productions