A breakthrough in refrigeration technology has enabled Chinese scientists to reach temperatures nearing absolute zero. This significant scientific advancement may provide the edge needed for China to become self-sufficient in the quantum computing industry.
Representatives at the Beijing-based Institute of Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) say that new developments in ultra-low cooling systems, something imperative for both supercomputers and superconductors to function optimally, will lead to significant progress in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Typically, dilution refrigeration units use liquid helium or other cryogens like liquid nitrogen, which are circulated throughout the exterior portion of the fridge, cooling the fridge’s interior in the process. However, this new refrigerator is described as a dilution refrigerator without the liquid helium, according to CAS.
This new unit can reach temperatures as low as -273.14 degrees Celsius. Absolute zero is -273.15 Celsius – just 0.01 of a degree colder than CAS’s refrigerator – and is the coldest possible temperature on earth.
In June, CAS representatives ran the refrigerator for an extended period, proving it could not only reach near absolute zero but maintain the sub-freezing temperature over a period of time.
The refrigerator is the first domestically built device of its type in China and research fellow at CAS, Ji Zhongqing, told Science and Technology Daily that the development team would continue to improve the technology so it would be comparable to any international product in terms of usability and sustainability.
Ji explained that the prototype ‘fridge’ required no helium to create cooling, which meant that a significant amount of space was freed up and that maintenance and operating times could be optimised as well. He pointed out that liquid helium-free commercial refrigerators were rising in popularity too.
Helium, while abundant in the universe, is rare and expensive to produce on earth. The gas is odourless, colourless and extremely stable, lending itself to a variety of industrial applications. Used in everything from welding to microchip manufacturing to rocket pumps, the vast majority of helium production is imported, according to Denver Li Danfeng, an assistant professor at Hong Kong University’s physics department.
Denver Li said the refrigeration breakthrough was doubly significant as it promised independence of helium supply and thrust China into the international quantum-computing race.