Why Scientists Supercooled LEGO Bricks to Near Absolute Zero
(PopularMechanics) Researchers from the physics department at Lancaster University, wondered if LEGO bricks, made from mass-manufactured, brittle industrial plastic and molded into hollow, interlocking shapes, would perform comparably to more expensive plastics in tests of their heat conductivity.
The idea of testing LEGO bricks seems outlandish to civilians, but materials scientists have studied LEGO bricks in terms of their shape and the specific plastic they’re made of for a long time. The shape is special because it introduces tons of air cushions that boost the plastic’s insulating properties. The plastic itself, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), is a durable and easily worked thermoplastic.
Superconducting and quantum computing are both enabled by materials that perform best at extremely low temperatures. The slower these materials transfer heat, the longer a particular computer or conductor can work at peak capacity. The margin for “overheating” a quantum setup is tiny and seems ludicrous compared to anything that operates at room temperature, but extreme cold is required for these systems to even operate at all.
Researchers from Lancaster whether LEGO bricks could serve as a cheaper and effective alternative to more expensive options. he experiment exposed the bricks to an environment with temperatures between 70 milliKelvin and 1.8 Kelvin, colder than the vacuum of space. After calculating the LEGO brick stack’s thermal properties, the researchers concluded that LEGOs were an effective insulator at these very low temperatures.