Absolute Zero

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During the seventeenth century in England, outside temperatures reached so low during the winter that it is actually considered to be a “mini ice age” by scientists today. During this time, people were still somewhat fatalistic and believed that cold was an act of god, and that people should just leave it alone. That was until an alchemist named Cornelius Drebbel came along. Drebbel bet the King he could turn summer into winter by chilling the air in the Great Hall of Westminster. Drebbel did so by using ordinary table salt, which will lower the temperature at which ice melts, to keep a freezing mixture as cold as possible while he ran warm air over it. Because of his elaborate design, Drebbel’s invention worked and he invented the first “air conditioning unit” of his time. However, Drebbel’s invention was never documented and he was never given credit.

The infamous question, “what is cold?” is a question that would haunt scientist Robert Boyle for years. Boyle was famous for his experiments on the nature of air and was also known as a master of cold. During Boyle’s time, it was believed that cold was an actual substance that bodies take in and give off as their temperature adjusts. However, Boyle remained unconvinced as far as this theory was concerned. To prove his point, he performed an experiment on water. He filled a barrel with water and weighed it. He then let it freeze and weighed it again, only to find that it weighed the same. With this information, Boyle concluded that there was no outside substance making the water cold. He determined that the particles of the water were simply moving farther apart, causing the barrel to expand. Not only was Boyle the first scientist to prove that cold was not a substance, but he was also among the first to use an accurate thermometer.

Accurate thermometers did not exist until the mid 17th century. They used alcohol, as opposed to mercury, and had no universally accepted way of measuring...
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