Physics and Chemistry

Temperature, Measurement, and Methodology

How is “absolute zero” defined?

Absolute zero is the theoretical temperature at which all substances have zero thermal energy. Originally conceived as the temperature at which an ideal gas at constant pressure would contract to zero volume, absolute zero is of great significance in thermodynamics and is used as the fixed point for absolute temperature scales. Absolute zero is equivalent to 0K, –459.67°F, or –273.15°C.

The velocity of a substance’s molecules determines its temperature; the faster the molecules move, the more volume they require, and the higher the temperature becomes. The lowest actual temperature ever reached was two-billionth of a degree above absolute zero (2 x 10–9K) by a team at the Low Temperature Laboratory in the Helsinki University of Technology, Finland, in October 1989.


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