Scientists chilled Lego bricks to near absolute zero to see what happens

That's 2,000 times colder than deep space.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
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Lancaster University's Josh Chawner and Dmitry Zmeev pose with the chill Lego pieces.

Lancaster University

We know a lot about Lego bricks, especially how they interact with bare feet. A team of physicists at Lancaster University in the UK wanted to learn something new, so they chilled some Lego pieces to near absolute zero and discovered they have some intriguing thermal properties.

The scientists used a special "dilution refrigerator" that plunged the plastic to a mere 4 millidegrees above absolute zero. Absolute zero is theoretically the lowest temperature possible, which works out to  –459.67 degrees Fahrenheit or –273.15 degrees Celsius. 

The researchers popped four stacked bricks and an astronaut minifigure into the super-cool machine. You can check out the complicated process in a video deep-dive into the experiment.

The toys survived their journey to becoming the world's coldest Lego pieces ever. The team collected data from the experiment and discovered Lego-like plastic structures might be useful as a low-cost construction material for future dilution refrigerators.

"Our results are significant because we found that the clamping arrangement between the Lego blocks causes the Lego structures to behave as an extremely good thermal insulator at cryogenic temperatures," said team leader Dmitry Zmeev. The researchers published the results of the study in the journal Scientific Reports on Monday. 

Calling all Lego Ideas enthusiasts! Now we need a dilution-refrigerator Lego kit so we can build our own models and pretend to be ultra-low-temperature physicists at home.

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Originally published Dec. 23.