Refrigeration: Where to?


In this day in time, who is not aware of the role of refrigeration in human life? How can we not be? It is the main reason why we are able to preserve food for months without spoiling. In reality, the applications of refrigeration are no longer restricted to food preservation; they have expanded to include much more. The most important and most common implementation in the scientific community is probably its application in preserving human bodies!

The medical community had long recognized that the chances of bringing a person back to life after his/her body temperature decreases to 28°c did not exceed 10%. However, now, after in-depth studies in the science of refrigeration, it is now natural to see body temperature drop below zero with 100% chance of bringing that person to life.

The scientific mystery here is that body cells need a certain amount of oxygen to carry out their biological roles; otherwise, the cells would die within minutes. However, when the body is cooled to reach very low temperatures, the cells activities decrease noticeably. The decrease of the body temperature by a mere one degree decreases the cell activities by 30%; as such, the need for oxygen also decreases. As a result, cooling the body to very low temperatures decreases the cells needs for oxygen compared to normal need.

Science embarked on its refrigeration journey in the twentieth century, when the whole world witnessed the first human body refrigeration experiment. It took place when Robert Prehoda, Dante Brunol, and Robert Nelson freezed the body of Psychology Professor James Bedford to keep it from decomposition. With scientific progress, refrigeration is no longer limited to the living; it is used with the dead as well. It is now possible to keep dead bodies at –160° for years in order to take them out again later. At times, scientists choose to only freeze body parts to transplant them in someone else's body later.

Moving from medicine to physics, in 1911, German scientist Heike Kamerlingh Onnes and his team found that cooling mercury to very low temperatures makes it a superconductor of electricity. Later on, scientific research in the field generalized this feature to include all conductors; when cooled to very low temperatures, the electric power does not face any resistance. The importance of this discovery is that the resistance that the electric power faces in conductors in normal temperatures causes great waste of energy. With the long distances the electric power has to cross, the energy waste increases, resulting in increased cost. On the other hand, decreased conductors temperatures prevents any waste of energy; thus, saving a lot of money.

With the widespread of refrigeration applications, science cannot predict the limits of its ability to change the shape of life in the future. As such, the question still posed by the scientific community is: Refrigeration, where to?


Cover image credits: Fer Gregory.

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