Absolute Zero

4 Jun, 2020 530 Physics

In a programme first broadcast in 2013, Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss absolute zero, the lowest conceivable temperature. In the early eighteenth century the French physicist Guillaume Amontons suggested that temperature had a lower limit. The subject of low temperature became a fertile field of research in the nineteenth century, and today we know that this limit - known as absolute zero - is approximately minus 273 degrees Celsius. It is impossible to produce a temperature exactly equal to absolute zero, but today scientists have come to within a billionth of a degree. At such low temperatures physicists have discovered a number of strange new phenomena including superfluids, liquids capable of climbing a vertical surface.

Play on BBC Sounds website


  • Simon Schaffer 25 episodes
    Professor of the History of Science at the University of Cambridge
  • Stephen Blundell 3 episodes
    Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford
  • Nicola Wilkin No other episodes
    Lecturer in Theoretical Physics at the University of Birmingham

Reading list

  • The Laws of Thermodynamics: A Very Short Introduction
    Peter Atkins (Oxford University Press, 2010) Google Books →
  • Superconductivity: A Very Short Introduction
    Stephen Blundell (Oxford University Press, 2009) Google Books →
  • Concepts in Thermal Physics
    S. J. Blundell and K. M. Blundell (Oxford University Press, 2006) Google Books →
  • Heike Kamerlingh Onnes's Discovery of Superconductivity
    R. de Bruyn Ouboter Google Books →
  • Ludwig Boltzmann: The Man who Trusted Atoms
    C. Cercignani (Oxford University Press, 2006) Google Books →
  • The Quest for Absolute Zero: The Meaning of Low Temperature Physics
    K. Mendelssohn (Taylor & Francis Ltd, 1977) Google Books →
  • Bose-Einstein Condensation in Dilute Gases
    C. J. Pethick and H. Smith (Cambridge University Press, 2002) Google Books →
  • History and Origins of Cryogenics
    Ralph Scurlock (Oxford University Press, 1993) Google Books →
  • Absolute Zero and the Conquest of Cold
    Tom Shachtman (Mariner Books, 2000) Google Books →

Related episodes

Programme ID: b01r113g

Episode page: bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01r113g

Auto-category: 530 (Physics)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello. The coldest natural temperature ever known on Earth was recorded 30 years ago at a Soviet research base in the Antarctic.