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Cryogenics is the study of very low temperatures or the production of the same, and is often confused with cryobiology, the study of the effect of low temperatures on organisms, or the study of cryopreservation. Likewise, cryonics is the nascent study of the cryopreservation of the human body. Unlike cryogenics, cryonics is not an established science and is viewed with skepticism by most scientists and doctors today.

Liquefied gases, such as liquid nitrogen and liquid helium, are used in many cryogenic applications. These gases are held in either special containers known as Dewar flasks, which are generally about six feet tall and three feet in diameter, or giant tanks in larger commercial operations. Dewar flasks are named after their inventor, James Dewar, the man who first liquefied hydrogen. Smaller vacuum flasks typically used at museums for demonstration are a Dewar flask fitted in a protective casing. Liquid nitrogen is the most commonly used element in cryogenics and is legally purchaseable around the world. (It's in the air we breathe!) Liquid helium is also commonly used and allows for the lowest attainable temperatures to be reached.

Leiden, Netherlands is sometimes called "The Coldest Place on Earth", because of the revolutions in cryogenics that happened there. Some of these advances in science were the discovery of superconductivity by Heike Kamerlingh Onnes, the liquefaction of helium by Kamerlingh Onnes, and the solidification of helium by Kamerlingh Onnes' pupil, Willem Hendrik Keesom. The word "cryogenics" does not get its name from the Netherlands though. The word "cryogenics" comes from two greek words; "kryos", which means cold or freezing, and "genes" meaning born or produced.

The field of Cryogenics advanced when, during World War II, scientists found that metals frozen to low temperatures showed more resistance to wear. Based on this theory, the commercial cryogenic processing industry was founded in the sixties by Ed Busch who passed away in December 2003. With a background in the heat treating industry, Mr. Busch founded a company in Detroit, MI called CryoTech during 1966 and experimented with the possibility of increasing the life of metal tools to anywhere between 200%-400% of the original life expectancy using cryogenic tempering instead of heat treating. The theory was based on how heat treating metal works (the temperatures are lowered to room temperature from a high degree causing certain strength increases in the molecular structure to occur) and supposed that continuing the decent would allow for further strength increases. Using liquid nitrogen, CryoTech formulated the first early version of the cryogenic processor . Unfortunately for the newly-born industry, the results were unstable, as components sometimes experienced thermal shock when they were cooled too fast. (Some components in early tests even shattered because of the ultra-low temperatures.)

In the early nineties Pete Paulin , an entrepreneur and airplane pilot at the time, imagined that he could control the accuracy of the temperatures by writing a computer program to accurately cycle the thermal state of components being processed. Ed Busch took notice of the idea and, along with his help, $400 and a credit card was all Pete needed to start 300 Below , Inc. out of the basement of his house. His idea worked and allowed for items to be accurately treated without the risk of thermal shock. Thirty years after the industry's slow start, Mr. Paulin sent shockwaves around the world and, shortly after, appeared on the Discovery Channel in the United States for his accomplishments. Since then, 300 Below has been responsible for establishing 153 operations in 36 countries around the world, including many of the competing companies today, and has appeared in many numerous publications around the world. Mr. Paulin also discovered new uses for cryogenics and applied the technology to improve sporting goods, brake rotors, guns, knives, racing engines and musical instruments by making them more durable, more accurate, more easy to maintain and even more pleasing to hear.

In the early 21st century, CryoTech was acquired by 300 Below after the Busch family decided to retire from the family business. The merger of the two businesses created 300 Below/CryoTech making it the largest and oldest commercial cryogenic processing company in the world. Numerous items of U.S. national interest have been cryogenically treated by 300 Below such as the secret service weaponry that protects the President of the United States, the plates used by the US Mint to produce money, portions of the head of the Statue of Liberty and the guns used in service by United States armed forces. 300 Below/CryoTech is also responsible for funding the research of Dr. Randall Baron from Louisana Tech University. Dr. Baron conducted the initial research a few decades ago to prove that cryogenics was a valid, legitimate science when applied to metals.

Also, recent research regarding superconductivity at low temperatures has been called cryoelectronics by some research firms. They term the utilization of these sciences as cryotronics.

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Last updated: 03-09-2005 20:20:11