Absolute Zero - The Cold, Hard Facts About the Coolest Stuff in Physics

Making Better Clocks!
The web seminar titled, "Absolute Zero: The Cold Hard Facts about the Coolest Stuff in Physics" was held on Thursday, March 22, 2007, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern time. The presenters were Linda Devillier, President of Devillier Communications, and Nobel Laureate William Phillips, leading researcher in the physics of ultra-low temperature atomic gases at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The presenters talked about "Absolute Zero," a two-part public television special scheduled to air in the fall of 2007 and about the science of cold physics and the related research taking place at NIST.

Dr. Phillips performs a demonstration using liquid nitrogen.

Eighty-seven (87) participants were present at the live Web Seminar in addition to the presenters and the NSTA staff. Participating educators represented the states of California, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. Participants from Brazil, Canada, and Thailand also attended the presentation. One of the teachers reported hosting a group of (approximately) 300 students at an elementary school in Virginia.

In this seminar, Dr. Phillips shared with participants how and why he and his colleagues made the coldest gases ever seen, provided engaging ideas on how to make the physics of the ultra-cold appealing to middle and high school students, and described demonstrations for formal and informal educators. One of the applications of the science of cold physics is designing better clocks. Ms. Devillier also shared a brief description about the "Absolute Zero" two-part public television special and about educational resources available at the Absolute Zero web site for educators interested in this topic.

Here are some comments provided by the participants at the end of the Web Seminar:
  • "I teach about temperature, thermal energy, and absolute zero in my
    physical science course for 9th graders and my physics courses for 11th
    and 12th graders."
  • "Bill explains complex physics in a very basic way. I can explain it to my students in the same way."
  • "Gave information that is current and directly from someone working in the field. This is a subject that always seems to interest students."
  • "This goes right along with our course work. Students are fascinated by the idea
    of absolute zero and this web seminar provided a great enrichment opportunity for me!"

Thanks to the participants and the presenters for the learning opportunity, the interactions, and a job well done!

Emergence of a vortex structure in a Bose-Einstein Condensate

About Absolute Zero
Absolute Zero is a two-part public television special that is scheduled to air in 2007. The programs will demonstrate how civilization has been profoundly affected by the mastery of cold. They are a unique blend of science, cultural history and adventure story, and will explore key concepts, significant individuals and events in the field of low-temperature physics to show the enormous impact that the mastery of cold has had on society through such technologies as air conditioning, refrigeration and liquefied gases.

Absolute Zero is is based largely on Tom Shachtman’s acclaimed book, “Absolute Zero and the Conquest of Cold.” The documentaries feature the struggles of philosophers, scientists and engineers over four centuries as they attempted to understand the nature of cold, to explore its deepest reaches, to create the “cold technologies” that have transformed society and to seek a deeper understanding of matter itself.

Educational Resources

Absolute Zero Science Educator’s Guide
The Absolute Zero Science Educator’s Guide is meant for both informal and formal educators of middle school students and is a companion to the Absolute Zero Community Education Outreach Guide. Written in collaboration with low-temperature physicists and classroom teachers, the guide offers suggestions on how best to engage students in science and low-temperature physics, providing information on how to lead a classroom discussion, increase group participation, teach the process of scientific inquiry and encourage students to continue studying the science topic at hand. The guide can be downloaded at: www.absolutezerocampaign.org/ask_experts/pro_science_guide.pdf.

Absolute Zero Community Education Outreach Guide
Drawing from the history of the human quest to explore the cold, the Absolute Zero Community Education Outreach Guide focuses on topics — from historical attempts to understand the physics of heat to modern day magnetically levitating trains — that are covered in the two-part public broadcasting special, Absolute Zero. The guide provides a variety of low-temperature demonstrations and experiments that are meant to inspire the next generation of scientists, describing modern research while incorporating the national science standards. The guide can be downloaded at: http://www.absolutezerocampaign.org/get_involved/community_edu_guide.pdf.

The Absolute Zero Campaign Web site is a place where students, teachers, parents and others interested in low-temperature physics can learn more about this unique scientific field. Teachers can download exciting classroom ideas and students can find out about some very “cool” things. The site includes both Absolute Zero guides and links to local Absolute Zero Experts and activities. Additional educational resources including graphics, biographies of historical figures, games, and a time line of low-temperature physics history can be found in the “Get Involved” section of the site.

For more information contact symposia@nsta.org

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Underwritten by the National Science Foundation and Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.