High-Frequency Cryocooler Is Tiny, Cold and Efficient

Feb 15, 2007

A new cryogenic refrigerator has been demonstrated at the National Institute of Standards and Technology that operates at twice the usual frequency, achieving a long-sought combination of small size, rapid cooling, low temperatures and high efficiency. The cryocoooler could be used to chill instruments for space and military applications, and is a significant step toward even smaller, higher-frequency versions for integrated circuits and microelectromechanical (MEM) systems.

The new cryocooler, described in the current issue of Applied Physics Letters, is a “pulse tube” design that uses oscillating helium gas to transport heat, achieving very cold temperatures (-223 degrees C or -370 degrees F) in a matter of minutes without any cold moving parts.

With cold components about 70 by 10 millimeters in size, the device operates at 120 cycles per second (hertz), compared to the usual 60 Hz, which enables use of a much smaller oscillator to generate gas flow, as well as faster cool-down. Because changing the size of one component can negatively affect others, the researchers used a NIST-developed computer model to find the optimal combination of frequency, pressure and component geometry.

The new cryocooler is as efficient as the low-frequency version because it uses a higher average pressure and a finer screen mesh in the regenerator—a stainless steel tube packed with screening that provides a large surface area for transfer of heat between the gas and the steel. This is a key part of the cooling process.

The helium gas is pre-cooled by the screen in the regenerator before entering the pulse tube, where the gas is expanded and chilled. The cold gas reverses its direction and carries heat away from the object to be cooled before it enters the regenerator again and picks up stored heat from the screen. Then it is compressed again for a new cycle. Compared to a prototype NIST mini-cryocooler flown on a space shuttle in 2001, the new version is about the same size but gets much colder.

Pulse tube cryocoolers are more durable than conventional (Stirling) cryocoolers typically used in applications where small size is essential. These applications include cooling infrared sensors in space-based instruments used to measure temperature and composition of the atmosphere and oceans for studies of global warming and weather forecasting, and cooling night-vision sensors for tanks, helicopters, and airplanes. With continued work, the NIST researchers hope to increase operating frequencies to 1,000 Hz, which could enable development of chip-scale cryocoolers. Many difficult technical challenges need to be overcome to attain frequencies that high while maintaining high efficiency, such as the design of regenerators with pores just 10 micrometers in diameters.

Citation: S. Vanapalli, M. Lewis, Z. Gan, and R. Radebaugh. 120 Hz pulse tube cryocooler for fast cooldown to 50 K. Applied Physics Letters. 90, 072504 (2007)

Source: NIST

Explore further: New filter could advance terahertz data transmission

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Planets orbiting red dwarfs may stay wet enough for life

Feb 09, 2015

Small, cold stars known as red dwarfs are the most common type of star in the Universe, and the sheer number of planets that may exist around them potentially make them valuable places to hunt for signs of ...

Exploring the universe with nuclear power

Feb 02, 2015

In the past four decades, NASA and other space agencies from around the world have accomplished some amazing feats. Together, they have sent manned missions to the Moon, explored Mars, mapped Venus and Mercury, ...

Scientists look for what's causing Texas earthquakes

Jan 14, 2015

Swarms of small quakes rippled up from unknown faults beneath the soil. They rustled Cleburne, Azle and Irving. Fifteen recent earthquakes around the old Texas Stadium in Irving site included the strongest yet in Dallas County, ...

Recommended for you

New filter could advance terahertz data transmission

Feb 27, 2015

University of Utah engineers have discovered a new approach for designing filters capable of separating different frequencies in the terahertz spectrum, the next generation of communications bandwidth that ...

The super-resolution revolution

Feb 27, 2015

Cambridge scientists are part of a resolution revolution. Building powerful instruments that shatter the physical limits of optical microscopy, they are beginning to watch molecular processes as they happen, ...

A new X-ray microscope for nanoscale imaging

Feb 27, 2015

Delivering the capability to image nanostructures and chemical reactions down to nanometer resolution requires a new class of x-ray microscope that can perform precision microscopy experiments using ultra-bright ...

Top-precision optical atomic clock starts ticking

Feb 26, 2015

A state-of-the-art optical atomic clock, collaboratively developed by scientists from the University of Warsaw, Jagiellonian University, and Nicolaus Copernicus University, is now "ticking away" at the National ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.