Cryogenics is the science and technology associated with generation of low temperature below 123 K.
Cryogenicists use theáKelvináoráRankineátemperature scales present in nature.
Cryogenic fluids with their boiling point inákelvins.
Cryogenic conditions are produced by one of four basic techniques: heat conduction, evaporative cooling, cooling by rapid expansion (the Joule-Thomson effect), and adiabatic demagnetization.
Heat conduction is a relatively simple concept to understand. When two bodies are in contact, heat flows from the body with the higher temperature to the body with a lower temperature. Conduction can occur between any and all forms of matter, whether gas, liquid, or solid. It is essential in the production of cryogenic temperatures and environments. For example, samples may be cooled to cryogenic temperatures by immersing them directly in a cryogenic liquid or by placing them in an atmosphere cooled by cryogenic refrigeration. In either case, the sample cools by conduction (or transfer) of heat to its colder surroundings.
The second process for producing cryogenic conditions is evaporative cooling. Humans are familiar with this process because it is a mechanism by which our bodies lose heat. Atoms and molecules in the gaseous state are moving faster than atoms and molecules in the liquid state. Add heat energy to the particles in a liquid and they will become gaseous. Liquid perspiration on human skin behaves in this way. Perspiration absorbs body heat, becomes a gas, and evaporates from the skin. As a result of that heat loss, the body cools down.
Cryogenic liquids, such as oxygen, nitrogen, and argon, are often used in industrial and medical applications. The electrical resistance of most metals decreases as temperature decreases. Certain metals lose all electrical resistance below some transition temperature and become superconductors. An electromagnet wound with a wire of such a metal can produce extremely high magnetic fields with no generation of heat and no consumption of electric power once the field is established and the metal remains cold. These metals, typically niobium alloys cooled to 4.2 K, are used for the magnets of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) systems in most hospitals. Superconductivity in some metals was first discovered in 1911 by Onnes, but since 1986 another class of materials, known as high temperature superconductors, have been found to be superconducting at much higher temperatures, currently up to about 145 K. They are a type of ceramic, and because of their brittle nature, they are more difficult to fabricate into wires for magnets.
Other applications of cryogenics include fast freezing of some foods and the preservation of some biological materials such as livestock semen as well as human blood, tissue, and embryos. The practice of freezing an entire human body after death in the hope of later restoring life is known as cryonics, but it is not an accepted scientific application of cryogenics. The freezing of portions of the body to destroy unwanted or malfunctioning tissue is known as cryosurgery. It is used to treat cancers and abnormalities of the skin, cervix, uterus, prostate gland, and liver.