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Absolute Zero

Program Overview

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Zero NOVA brings the history of cold to life with historical recreations of great moments in low-temperature research and interviews with historians and scientists to reveal how civilization has been profoundly affected by the mastery of cold.

Hour one of the program (The Conquest of Cold):

  • reports on the pioneering experiments done by Robert Boyle to understand what cold was.

  • presents how the first temperature scales were determined by Daniel Fahrenheit and Anders Celsius.

  • recounts how Guillaume Amontons first came to speculate that cold had an absolute limit.

  • explains how scientists came to understand what heat and cold actually were, including the incorrect caloric theory proposed by Antoine Lavoisier.

  • reports on the first industrialization of cold through ice sales.

  • details how experiments on the steam engine led to the development of artificial refrigeration.

  • profiles how Clarence Birdseye and Willis Carrier harnessed the cold to create frozen foods and air conditioning.


Hour two of the program (The Race for Absolute Zero):

  • features the race between nineteenth-century scientists James Dewar and Heike Kamerlingh Onnes to become the first to liquefy hydrogen, the last of the so-called permanent gases.

  • notes how unexpected events in the study of cold led to new areas of research, including superconductivity and superfluids.

  • details how Albert Einstein came to predict that a new state of matter—one that behaved according to quantum mechanical rules—could be produced at temperatures just above absolute zero.

  • shows how particles would change into overlapping waves in this state of matter, known as the Bose-Einstein condensate.

  • details the race among scientists to create this condensate.

  • describes how one scientist found a way to slow down the speed of light.

  • reports on research being done to develop quantum computers.

  • shows how far down the scale scientists have traveled and explains why reaching absolute zero is not possible.

Taping Rights: Can be used up to one year after program is recorded off the air.

Teacher's Guide
Absolute Zero
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