One of the coldest spots in the universe is in Gainesville, Florida

Published: June 24th, 2008

Category: Spotlights

Yoonseok Lee

Yoonseok Lee

Assistant Professor of Physics
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

At one of the coldest places in the universe, Yoonseok Lee and a team of University of Florida physicists are studying what happens to matter under the most extreme conditions.

Lee is the director of UF’s Microkelvin Laboratory, the world’s largest ultra-low temperature facility. The laboratory is designed to reach temperatures less than 100 millionth of a degree above absolute zero, equivalent to -460 degrees Fahrenheit.

“This type of facility involves a lot of technical know-how and state-of-the-art cryogenic technology, so it’s one of a kind,” Lee says.

At ultra-low temperatures, matter begins to behave in unexpected ways. It becomes superconductive, allowing electric current or mass to flow through the material without resistance, and it reveals quantum mechanical properties that would be difficult to observe at higher temperatures, because of the interference from thermal noise.

The Microkelvin Laboratory was established in 1988 by five founding UF faculty, with funding from the National Science Foundation and the state of Florida. At Bays 1 and 2, scientists study the quantum mechanical aspects of helium, the only element that is able to remain a fluid at these ultra-low temperatures.

Bay 3 is dedicated to researching quantum properties of matter that are observable only when it is subjected to extreme low temperatures in combination with a powerful magnetic field. Known as the High B/T Facility, the third Bay was completed in 1998 as part of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory.

In his own research, Lee studies the structure of superfluid helium-3, one of the two isotopes of helium.

“At high temperatures, helium-3 and helium-4 are not much different,” he says. “But if you go into the quantum region, these are two fundamentally different particles.”

These studies of the inner dynamics of a drop of quantum fluid give scientists insight into the fundamental nature of matter, Lee says.

Since arriving at UF in 2001, Lee has received a prestigious NSF Career Award (2003), and an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship (2004-2006), both recognizing his outstanding promise as a young researcher.

In August 2005, UF will host the 24th International Conference on Low Temperature Physics in Orlando, as well as the International Conference on Ultra Low Temperature Physics, which will be held at UF.

Photo credit: Ray Carson — University Photography

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