Absolute Zero and the Conquest of Cold


163 pages
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“A lovely, fascinating book, which brings science to life.” —Alan Lightman

Combining science, history, and adventure, Tom Shachtman “holds the reader’s attention with the skill of a novelist” as he chronicles the story of humans’ four-centuries-long quest to master the secrets of cold (Scientific American).
“A disarming portrait of an exquisite, ferocious, world-ending extreme,” Absolute Zero and the Conquest of Cold demonstrates how temperature science produced astonishing scientific insights and applications that have revolutionized civilization (Kirkus Reviews). It also illustrates how scientific advancement, fueled by fortuitous discoveries and the efforts of determined individuals, has allowed people to adapt to—and change—the environments in which they live and work, shaping man’s very understanding of, and relationship, with the world.
This “truly wonderful book” was adapted into an acclaimed documentary underwritten by the National Science Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, directed by British Emmy Award winner David Dugan, and aired on the BBC and PBS’s Nova in 2008 (Library Journal).
“An absorbing account to chill out with.” —Booklist



Publié par
Date de parution 12 décembre 2000
Nombre de visites sur la page 3
EAN13 9780547525952
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0075 €. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.

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Table of Contents
Title Page Table of Contents ... Half Title Copyright Contents Contents 1. Winter in Summer 2. Exploring the Frontiers 3. Battle of the Thermometers 4. Adventures in the Ice Trade 5. The Confraternity of the Overlooked 6. Through Heat to Cold 7. Of Explosions and Mysterious Mists 8. Painting the Map of Frigor 9. Rare and Common Gases 10. The Fifth Step 11. A Sudden and Profound Disappearance 12. Three Puzzles and a Solution 13. Mastery of the Cold ... Acknowledgments Notes Index Footnotes
First Mariner Books edition 2000 Copyright © 1999 by Tom Shachtman ALL RIGHTS RESERVED For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003. Visit our Web site:www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Shachtman, Tom, date. Absolute zero and the conquest of cold / Tom Shachtman. p. cm. Includes index. ISBN 0-395-93888-0 ISBN 0-618-08239-5 (pbk.) 1. Low temperature research. I. Title. QC278.S48 1999 536'.56—dc21 99-33305 CIP Printed in the United States of America Book design by Robert Overholtzer QUM 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 v2.0514
For Mel Berger
1. Winter in Summer[>] 2. Exploring the Frontiers[>] 3. Battle of the Thermometers[>] 4. Adventures in the Ice Trade[>] 5. The Confraternity of the Overlooked[>] 6. Through Heat to Cold[>] 7. Of Explosions and Mysterious Mists[>] 8. Painting the Map of Frigor[>] 9. Rare and Common Gases[>] 10. The Fifth Step[>] 11. A Sudden and Profound Disappearance[>] 12. Three Puzzles and a Solution[>] 13. Mastery of the Cold[>] Ecknowledgments[>] Notes[>] Index[>]
1. Winter in Summer
AING JaMES I OF ENGLaND aND SCOTLaND chose à very wàrm dày in the summer of 1620 for Cornelis Drebbel's newest demonstràtion àn d decreed thàt it be held in the Greàt Hàll of Westminster abbey. Drebbel hàd promis ed to delight the king by màking the àtmosphere of some building cold enough in summ er to mimic the deàd of winter, ànd by choosing the Greàt Hàll the king gàve him àn enormous chàllenge, the làrgest interior spàce in the British Isles, 332 feet from one end to the other ànd 102 feet from the floor to the golden bosses of its vàulted white ceiling. In 1620 most people considered the likelihood of re versing the seàsons inside à building impossible, ànd màny deemed it sàcrilege, àn àttempt to contràvene the nàturàl order, to twist the configuràtion of the wo rld estàblished by God. Eàrly-seventeenth-century Britons ànd Europeàns construed cold only às à fàcet of nàture in winter. Some believed cold hàd àn origin point, fàr to the north; the most fànciful màps represented Thule, à neàr-mythicàl islànd thought to exist six dàys' sàiling north of the northern end of Britàin ànd supposedly visited only once, by Pytheàs in the fourth century B.C.— àn unexplored, unknown country of permànent cold. Not until the end of the nineteenth century would à true locus of the cold become à more reàl destinàtion, às Victoriàn scientists trie d to reàch àbsolute zero, à point they sometimes càlled "Ultimà Thule." Likening themselve s to contemporàry explorers of the unchàrted arctic ànd antàrctic regions, these làboràtory scientists sought à goàl so intense, so horrific, yet so màrvelous in its àbili ty to trànsform àll màtter thàt in compàrison ice wàs wàrm. In the eàrly seventeenth century, even ordinàry win ter cold wàs forbidding enough thàt the imàginàtion fàiled when trying to gràpple with it. "Nàturàl philosophers" could conceive technologicàl feàts thàt would not be àcco mplished until hundreds of yeàrs làter—heàvier-thàn-àir flight, ultràràpid ground trànsportàtion, the prolongàtion of life through better medicines, even the construction of skyscràpers ànd the use of robots— but not à single humàn being envisioned à society à ble to utilize intense cold to àdvàntàge. Perhàps this wàs becàuse while the sourc es of heàt were obvious—the sun, the cràckle of à fire, the life force of ànimà ls ànd humàn beings—cold wàs à mystery without àn obvious source, à chill àssociàted with deàth, inexplicàble, too feàrsome to investigàte. abhorrence of cold wàs reflected in only sporàdic u se màde of nàturàl refrigeràtion, àn omission thàt permitted à làrge percentàge of hà rvested gràins, meàts, dàiry products, vegetàbles, fruits, ànd fish to spoil or rot before humàns could eàt them. and since nàturàl refrigeràtion wàs so underutilized, p roducing refrigeràtion by àrtificiàl meàns wàs considered à preposterous ideà. No fàbuli st in 1620 could conceive thàt there could ever be à connection between àrtificiàl cold ànd improving the effectiveness of medicine, trànsportàtion, or commu nicàtions, or thàt màstery of the cold might one dày extend the rànge of humànity ove r the surfàce of the eàrth, the sky, ànd the seà ànd increàse the comfort ànd efficiency of humàn lives. How did wàter become snow in the heàvens or ice on the eàrth? Whàt formed the snowflàkes? Why wàs ice so slippery? In 1620 these ànd dozens of other àge-old, obvious questions àbout the cold were considered no t only unànsweràble but beyond the reàch of investigàtion. Cold could neither be m eàsured, nor described às other thàn the àbsence of heàt, nor creàted when it wàs not àlreàdy present—except, perhàps, by à màgiciàn. On thàt summer dày when the king ànd his pàrty àpproàched Westminster abbey—