Will Clarke

Joe’s Hardened Thermal Filter


Joe’s hands trembled with excitement. The experiment currently sitting before him in a tub of liquid helium had the potential to revolutionise human energy production. All the other scientists had scorned, said he was wasting his time. They said that the laws of thermodynamics were well understood and that there was no known material that would withstand the heat and pressure of what he was trying to achieve.

His theorised breakthrough material had superb quantum-filtering properties. This meant that it acted like a sieve and could, over time, separate subatomic particles with high energy levels from those with lower energy levels. This material should be able to divide a beaker of lukewarm water into two sections, one hot and one cold. If this were possible in the physical world, it would eliminate any energy needs humanity could conceivably have. Of course, it would also open up new possibilities for creating weapons of mass destruction. Like any form of power - gunpowder or nuclear energy - this had the potential for great good or great evil. Despite their initial problems, both gunpowder and nuclear energy had proved beneficial overall for humanity, and Joe was certian his theoretical material would be similar.

His second theory, just as monumental as his first, was that it should be possible to construct a material that could withstand any heat or pressure. Its quantum structure hardened the more pressure was exerted on it. He originally thought it could help fusion-reactors achieve a higher temperature, but then thought of his quantum-filtering.

Joe had spent a couple of years trying to merge his two discoveries together and bring them into the physical world. Superconductive printing wasn’t particularly advanced, but it seemed just good enough for what he wanted.

Joe had started printing his hardened thermal filter over a week ago. He had printed it in a blast-proof tank of liquid helium. It had just finished. The device looked like a shiny ping-pong ball. It was just sitting, tantalisingly, in the tank, doing nothing.

To Joe’s disappointment, the temperature of the tank wasn’t changing. He’d expected to be able to sense the liquid helium getting colder and the device growing slightly warmer. Joe grew steadily more irritated watching the sensors. After waiting for five hours, he slunk off angrily to get some fresh air and find some food. As he was walking in the secluded wood around his house, he phone went off. A tiny temperature difference had been detected!

When Joe had raced back to the lab, the temperarture difference was larger. After another hour, the temperature differece was approaching 10 millikelvins.

Joe excitedly monitored the experiment, frantically watching the graphs showing an ever greate and greater temperature difference. He went to sleep at his desk, collapsed with exhaustion when the temperature difference was around one whole Kelvin.

He woke up hours later feeling cold. As he opened his eyes groggily he noticed frozen condensation around his lab equipment. Typical. Some of his lab equipment had malfunctioned at the crux of this experiment. Perhaps it was his cryogenic distillation compressor? Oh well. At least the experiment would be repeatable.

Curious, Joe tapped a few keys at his computer terminal and brought up the history of the experiment while he’d been asleep. He spent a full ten seconds stupidly trying to interpret the results. Great. His callibration had also broken. Apparently the temperature difference between the inside of the sphere and the tank had been more than 500 degrees before the sensors broke.

A flash of adrenaline, equal parts excitement and panic, rushed through Joe. Could this actually have worked? Had it actually been wildly successful? He’d known that the quantum-hardened material was tough, but couldn’t comprehend how it hadn’t broken down by now.

The liquid helium tank was virtually at absolute zero; it couldn’t really get any colder. The sphere had apparently ‘sucked’ heat out of not just the tank, but also the insulated equipment designed to maintain constant temperature. The frost looked like it had been spreading.

Was the frost still spreading?

Joe turned all the heating he had on and aimed the portable burners at the encroaching frost. The heat made little difference.

After three days the frost zone had taken over the room. It was visibly spreading slowly.

After a week, the frost had engulfed Joe’s entire lab building. Terrified, Joe had contacted the scientists and the police, imploring them to do something. The frost was creeping at a slow walking pace and still showed no signs of slowing down. The scientists had been unable to slow the pace of the creeping cold. The soldiers’ granades hadn’t shattered his device.

A couple of days later the military witnessed half the woods freezing. The cold crystals were spreading faster than a person could run. The military began launching missles at the heart of the frozen lab. Nothing seemed to stop, or even slow the inevitable and accelerating march of the frost across the woods. The missiles, like the granades, somehow seemed to speed the frost’s creeping.

After two week the frost had encroached one hundred miles in every direction. The world governments, scientiests and media had no idea what to do. How much further would it spread? Dozens of brave firefighters and soldiers had trudged into the wasteland, but none made it more than a few feet, even in heated veichles and clothing. Jet planes froze and fell out of the sky. Artillery still could hit the lab, but self-propelled missiles froze up. Global hysteria reigned.

The milirary detonated their first nuclear warhead. Like the missiles, the nuclear bomb did nothing to slow the ever-accellerating march of the frost. Thousands had been frozen in their own homes, unable to evacuate in time. Even people who had somehow managed to board airoplanes directly away from the calamity perished; the frost overtook the aeroplanes.

A month after Joe’s experiment, the entire planet became a lifeless frozen desert.