Investigations of Material Properties at Low Temperatures

Investigations of Material Properties at Low Temperatures

Understanding Material Properties at Low Temperatures

  • Material properties at low temperatures significantly differ from properties at normal or high temperatures.
  • Cryogenics, the study of materials at extremely low temperatures (below -150°C), investigates these variances and changes.
  • Important material properties studied in cryogenics include resistance to electricity, thermal capacity, ductility, and magnetism.
  • Materials used in cryogenic applications need to have low thermal expansion and high thermal conductivity to withstand rapid temperature changes.
  • Most materials will reduce in size as the temperature decreases which is because the particles are moving less and are closer together.

Investigation Techniques

  • Thermal contraction measurements are conducted to see how much a material will shrink in extreme cold, revealing its thermal contraction coefficient.
  • Electrical resistance measurements at low temperatures help determine a material behaviour.
  • Thermal conductivity measurements reveal how well a material conducts heat in a low-temperature environment.


  • Superconductivity is a state of zero electrical resistance and expulsion of magnetic fields occurring in certain materials when cooled below a characteristic critical temperature.
  • This phenomena has significant implications for applications such as magnets for MRI scanners, electrical power cables, and magnetic levitation trains.
  • Superconductivity is only possible at extremely low temperatures (close to absolute zero) and understanding this trait is a significant area of cryogenics.

Material Properties in Real World Scenarios

  • Materials used in constructing a cryocooler, a device that reaches low temperatures, need to have high resistance to thermal shock as the device cycles between high and low temperatures.
  • Rocket fuel tanks are often made of materials that contract little when cooled to prevent structural collapse when filled with cryogenic propellants.
  • Materials for high-speed electronic devices, such as quantum computers, need to be superconductive, highly stable, and capable of performing at extreme low temperatures.