Absolute Zero

Absolute Zero

2008, Science  -   50 Comments
Ratings: 8.85/10 from 158 users.

This two-part scientific detective tale tells the story of a remarkable group of pioneers who wanted to reach the ultimate extreme: absolute zero, a place so cold that the physical world as we know it doesn’t exist, electricity flows without resistance, fluids defy gravity and the speed of light can be reduced to 38 miles per hour.

Each film features a strange cast of eccentric characters, including: Clarence Birds Eye; Frederic ‘Ice King’ Tudor, who founded an empire harvesting ice; and James Dewar, who almost drove himself crazy by trying to liquefy hydrogen.

Absolute zero became the Holy Grail of temperature physicists and is considered the gateway to many new technologies, such as nano-construction, neurological networks and quantum computing. The possibilities, it seems, are limitless.

The bizarre story of how one court magician’s use of alchemy made a King shiver. Could the future become a strange quantum world as physicists get within a few millionths of a degree of this absolute zero?

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50 Comments / User Reviews

  1. Bruno

    Great 2 part Nova Documentary. I've learned a lot watching it. I won't look at my fridge the same way anymore.

  2. Sirlos

    I think it's crazy that people can look at rocks and say "Hey, maybe I can sell those" but then there are people who look at science and ask "How is that gonna help anybody?"
    Go fund science researchers, like NASA, people. It's not a waste of time or money.

  3. bryne

    Pls who are the two scientists who worked on the hydrogen and helium gasses trying to prove the could reach absolute zero

  4. StonerX

    @donttrustthemedia the only limited mind is the one unwilling to learn.

  5. Robert

    Amazing documentary, I learned so much about how everyday things that I take for granted work! It's funny that Eric forgot to bow to the king. I'm no "merica's the best" type of person but Americans don't bow to royalty. We fought a war to not care about that stuff.

  6. XenoLair

    Great docu with a great insight into some history, something I really like to see.

  7. sam lane

    What is the name of the song at the beggening? PLEASE TELL ME

    1. Pysmythe

      I THINK you might be referring to "Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary," by Henry Purcell.
      (If not, sorry, I tried.)

    2. kate

      I'm not entirely sure this Documentary even has a beggening.

  8. Godsclaws

    I'm somewhat confused? How do they know that absolute zero where all atomic activity stops is -273 degrees is they have never reached that degree? Did they base a guess on the decreasing activity of the atoms movement?

    1. Kendell Wainman

      Absolute zero is a completely theoretical value based on gas laws which work according to the principle that temperature and pressure have a linear relationship. This is fine at high temperatures and so a formula could be derived to illustrate this. However, when gasses are cooled past a certain point they change pahse to become liquids and then solids- The original formula no longer holds true. So what they did is to assume a pressure at which point no kinetic energy (brownian motion) can exist. i.e the particles stpeed moving altogether! Using simple maths principles they calculated what the temperature would be at this point = -273.15C or 0 kelvin. The interresting thing is at this point we see the comming into existence of the fifth and sixth states of matter viz Bose-Einistein Condensate and Fermi-Dirac Condensates. We have now entered the quantum world and things behave rather differently than in our perception of reality... Hope this helped explain where the absolute zero value came from. By the way they have managed to come within a few billionths of a degree of this valuer but not the actual value..

    2. OneSpecies

      laws can be broken...isnt it so? we are living proof...when something was created from nothing

    3. Sirlos

      Yea. What Kendell said. They briefly mentioned it in the video and they experimentally its been shown that it gets harder and harder to reach absolute zero the closer you get.

  9. James Green

    NOVA Rocks! Great Documentary. Thanks Vlatko . . .

  10. Clifford William Thomas

    So, if particles cease moving that is absolute zero. But then why hasn't anyone put a number on Absolute heat? Scientist generally agree that nothing can exeed the speed of light so why would particles be any different? Once particles reach the speed of light then that would therefore be the upper limit of temperature, whatever that may be.

    1. Kevin

      i agree there has to be a high point in heat. Heat is just fast moving particls. i had not thought of the fact that they cant move faster then light. and can they move so fast that they fly apart

    2. Donald Ray Royal

      Doth of those theories would be right if you don't take into account quantum physics. light has no mass that is why it is the fastest thing around. if a particle has mass it cannot travel that fast. As far as absolute heat i think that the hottest thing that we know of is a laser that was built in America that is suppose to reach temps of 25 million f.

    3. Godsclaws

      Interesting point, perhaps they haven't even attempted such a scientific feat yet because it would mean creating something on earth that's hotter than the sun. Since a star is made from nuclear fusion its obviously so damn hot we cant even go near a sun without being obliterated and yet its possible that even the suns own nuclear fusion heat isn't the hottest thing possible. Perhaps they will discover absolute heat if they manage to create nuclear fusion in the Hadron Collider but I'm not scientist so nothing I say is based on fact. I dont know if any of that made sense to you but it works in my own head... :)

  11. jennirn2005

    oops. I commented on the wrong page. I did like this one but I was refering to Chemistry: a Volatile History and Jim Al Khalili. Duh.

    1. oklima

      That's an awesome doco! Jim Al-Khalili is a legend, alll his documentaries are great. I recommend his `Everything and Nothing'

  12. jennirn2005

    This is one of my favorite docs. I learned a lot and was inspired to find out more. For some reason i can't explain I really liked the host and have been watching other dox just because he's in them. Good stuff.

  13. Rachelnico

    Wow, the Bose-Einstein condensate does sound interesting ... Too bad I'm science inept and 10 years behind on knowledge...so many things I wish I knew. Lasers can cool? I feel so slow ... LOL I guess this is why I went into art instead of science.

    1. Donald Ray Royal

      lasers cool by hitting particles at the same wavelength that the particle is resonating at slowing it down. in order to cool with a laser the laser has to change frequency with the slowing down of the particle. so it changes as the particle changes. really cool

  14. donttrustthemedia

    what does this documentary do other than tickle your limited minds?

  15. Gaz

    i agree with all of the above very nice doco. id never heard of this bose einstein condensate imagine if it could be cooled instantly to that temperature. now i want to watch a documentry on chryogenics that takes all of this into acount XD

  16. Carl_hendershot@yahoo.com

    Errr. Dam it felt like this show lasted a few seconds.. I found it beyond interesting.. Wish there was more to it. There are to many questions and ideas one will devolop during this show and one this is slightly answered at the end.. Even then you are left with this want for more and a way you yourself would like to share.. Enjoy and please share =)...

  17. Dave Landon

    My first enlightenment of the Bose Einstein condensate theory. Science that stirs the imagination.

  18. jesse

    Absolutely superb documentary.

    A must see.


  19. Nick

    Fantastic doc. Other then freezing my tv dinner I'm still puzzled to know what else they can do with something that cold.

  20. Ubik

    the most brilliant doc

  21. Che Pedro the Swift

    I wet myself it was that good , also there was a laser pointed at my pee which turned it into a Bose Einstein condensate !!.Vlatko thank you :D!!

  22. GeoffreyNL

    Just utterly brilliant. I'm so in love with these kinds of documentary's. Its all about Facts and history. Amazing stuff,. And thanks to vlatko.

  23. Doc

    WOW super duper good documentary!

  24. Achems Razor

    Must of missed this doc. somehow, will watch and logging in for the comments.

  25. Fuco

    @Karetin: that's why they used the combination "lowest RECORDED temperature".

  26. ahmad atia

    it is the best documentry movi I had seen in my life it is the best all of the informantion is the frist time to seen or know ..... great scientests who make the future

  27. magarac

    One of the best doc´s on TDF. Just cant get enough of this site. Thanks!

  28. Andrew

    One of the best documentaries i've ever watched. I saw this many years ago, but it's always one of my favorites!!!!

    This is science at it's best. :)

  29. Eff

    COLD Science EXCELLENTLY Re-enacted. It sent SHIVERS up and down my Bose-Einstein spine!

  30. Jewells

    Interesting Documentary although everyone in it seems to have a strange accent or speech impediment. Something to do with the cold maybe. Could be a good documentary right there. "We left John in a room with a glass of Bowes Einstein Condensate for 30 minutes and he came out talking like Donald Duck.."

  31. VFenix

    I loved this. BBC Four documentary's are amazing, thanks!

  32. DMB

    Just wondering... what happened to the ratings scale usually found below the docs but before the commentary? Thx

  33. Karetin

    It's very arrogant to assume that we humans are the first to reach this temperature in the universe. There are 100 billion galaxies and about 100 billion stars in every one of them.

  34. Calvin

    @ Charles, theres actually 5 states of matter, bose einstein is 5th, where 4th being plasma :)

  35. KC

    Getting so close to the absolute zero, and the ability to measure the temperature at this level is really mind boggling! An absolutely absorbing video.

  36. Joe

    How come we don't have BBC here in States?
    Absolutely brilliant documentary! V-this is the reason why you have so many hits.

    Slowing down lights with bows einstein condensate? If this isn't science fiction meeting reality than I don't know what to make of.......

  37. Thomas

    Fantastic :)

  38. Thomas

    Once again, it's proven that the BBC is playing in a different league. They succeed in delivering the perfect mix between hardcore scientific details and trivial historical facts, in telling a story that is both very informative and entertaining at the same time.
    Nice add, Vlatko!

  39. Vlatko

    Not a problem charles.

  40. charles

    Utterly spectacular documentary, Vlatko!

    Great historical film footage and fantastic reenactments, and very down-to-earth presentations of very complicated scientific theoretics.

    This film starts out stating that theoretically, there is no outer limit to "heat" but traces the discovery of the fact that there is a limit to lack of heat, or "cold" down to the point of theoretical "absolute zero."

    I was totally shocked that we have actually succeeded in reaching a record low temperature of 0.0000000001 degrees nanokilvin! I had previously believed we were nowhere near such a low temperature.

    Also, this is the first time I have ever heard of a 4th state of matter (not gas or liquid or solid) known as a "Bose Einstein condensate". Not just a theory from Bose and Einstein nearly 70 years ago, but now a proven 4th state of matter which we have acheived in the labratory setting. Amazing.

    I agree with the conclusion of the film that we will most likely never reach perfect 0k (absolute zero = 273.15° on the Celsius scale and ?459.67° on the Fahrenheit scale), but coming to 1 billionth of 1 percent to absolute zero is mind-boggling!

    I think this has been my favorite documentary that I've seen on your sight so far, and you know how much I love those nature documentaries with David Attenborough. Thanks again, Vlatko!