UNF Second Undergrad University To Have Helium Liquefier

The University of North Florida physics department is creating something unusual that will help its students with research. It’s a quarter-million-dollar helium liquefier machine. Helium gas is put into the machine and frigid, liquid helium comes out. “Helium gets down to 450 degrees below zero,” says UNF physics professor Tom Pekarek. Liquid helium is used for physics experiments. It can change the properties of materials, giving students the ability to do research that could result in things like more efficient semiconductors. “The education our students get, the research we’re able to do is really pretty unique for undergraduate students,” Pekarek said. It’s so specia that UNF is only the second undergraduate university in the United States to have a helium liquefier. The machine produces about one liter of helium an hour. At $17 a liter, the machine should be able to pay for itself in about three and a half years. The expensive liquid helium is poured into even more expensive instruments that measure crystals or semiconductors bathed in the frigid liquid. As the helium is heated, it turns into gas. The gas is captured and piped back into the room where it’s liquefied again — an efficient process and one that UNF hopes will put it in a much better position to win National Science Foundation grants in the years to come.

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