UCSB Science Line
Sponge Spicules Nerve Cells Galaxy Abalone Shell Nickel Succinate X-ray Lens Lupine
UCSB Science Line
Home
How it Works
Ask a Question
Search Topics
Webcasts
Our Scientists
Science Links
Contact Information
First of all I am very excited to be able to have someone probably understand this question. I know very strange things happen at Absolute Zero, and we haven’t gotten there... yet. If we got there and we put a human in a chamber that happened to be absolute zero, then wouldn’t their perception of time stop? I know that molecules don’t completely stop, but they still slow down enough to be considered still. I know that they would die very quick but I still want to know.
Question Date: 2018-10-27
Answer 1:

Actually, molecules would completely stop at absolute zero - it's why it's absolute zero. So yes, if you could somehow be chilled down to absolute zero and then be warmed up without killing you, time would essentially stop for you while you are at absolute zero. The only reactions taking place in your body would be nuclear reactions such as carbon-14 decay, which are part of why absolute zero is impossible, as those nuclear reactions do produce heat.


Answer 2:

Think about it. What would happen to you if you were even put in a freezer overnight. Would you have ANY perceptions left?


Answer 3:

I’m glad to hear that you are excited about physics! I will do my best to answer your question, but it is a bit of a loaded question as the nature of time and whether or not it flows is a question theoretical physicists debate even today.

For the sake of this question, let’s consider “time” to be a “measurement of change” which flows forward. In other words, let’s accept an informal definition of the flow of time based on how the vast majority of us experience it.

The textbook definition of absolute zero (0 Kelvin) is “the temperature at which all molecular motion stops.” Practically, speaking this is unachievable because cooling to an infinitely low temperature requires an infinite amount of work. Theoretically speaking, quantum theory is at odds with this definition. You may be familiar with the Heisenberg uncertainty principle which states that the uncertainty in momentum of a particle and uncertainty in its position are related by a constant value. In other words, if you are quite sure there is at least one atom in the universe, you are quite unsure about its momentum and hence quite unsure as to whether or not it is moving at the quantum scale even though from a classical perspective we have said that all molecular motion has “stopped.” Physicists call this phenomenon “zero point energy.” So in that sense “time” wouldn’t stop as particles would continue to have some uncertainty in momentum.

That said, if you could somehow survive in a universe in which molecular motion on the micro and macroscopic scales had ceased or at least appeared to have ceased, you wouldn’t be able to perceive anything without molecular movement. Light and sound are both carried via particles which have wavelengths in the micro, not quantum scale. Plus, you own nervous system relies on the motion of molecules to tell your brain what you are feeling. So in that sense perhaps your perception of the universe (time included) would cease.



Click Here to return to the search form.

University of California, Santa Barbara Materials Research Laboratory National Science Foundation
This program is co-sponsored by the National Science Foundation and UCSB School-University Partnerships
Copyright © 2017 The Regents of the University of California,
All Rights Reserved.
UCSB Terms of Use