LEGO® block structures as a solution for cryogenic temperature insulation?

British researchers have cooled LEGO® blocks at a temperature of a few mK in an experiment which reveals a possible new application for the material which composes the popular toy.

The English Lancaster University carried out an experiment with LEGO®. A team of ultra-low temperature physicists placed a LEGO® figure and four LEGO® blocks inside a dilution refrigerator.

The machine, which was built in the University, is said to be the most effective refrigerator in the world, capable of reaching 1.6 millidegrees above the absolute zero (-273.15 °C). This experiment shows that Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) – material used by LEGO® blocks modules, could be useful especially in the development of quantum computing.

According to the research team leader Dr Dmitry Zmeev, the LEGO ® structures behave as an extremely good thermal insulator at cryogenic temperatures due to the clamping arrangement between the LEGO ® blocks. They found that ABS/void compound material provides better thermal isolation than well-known bulk insulator materials in the explored temperature range (from 70?mK to 1.8?K). This makes it very attractive for the design of future scientific equipment like dilution refrigerators. The dilution refrigerator is at the centre of a global multi-billion dollar industry and is crucial to the work of modern experimental physics and engineering, including the development of quantum computers.

Replacing the solid materials in use today by Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene plastic structures as thermal insulator could significantly reduce the cost of production. According to researchers the next step is to design and 3D print a new thermal insulator for the next generation of dilution refrigerators.