The refrigerator. This white box that sits in the kitchen may seem mundane nowadays, but it is one of the wonders of 20th century science – life-saver, food-preserver and social liberator, while the science of refrigeration is crucial, not just in transporting food around the globe but in a host of branches on the scientific tree. Refrigerators, refrigeration and its discovery and applications provides the remarkable and eye-opening backdrop to Chilled, the story of how science managed to rewrite the rules of food, and how the technology whirring behind every refrigerator is at play, unseen, in a surprisingly broad sweep of modern life.
Part historical narrative, part scientific mystery-lifter, Chilled looks at the ice-pits of Persia (Iranians still call their fridge the 'ice-pit'), reports on a tug of war between 16 horses and the atmosphere, bears witness to ice harvests on the Regents Canal, and shows how bleeding sailors demonstrated to ship's doctors that heat is indestructible, featuring a cast of characters such as the Ice King of Boston, Galileo, Francis Bacon, and the ostracised son of a notorious 18th-century French traitor. As people learned more about what cold actually was, scientists invented machines for making it, with these first used in earnest to chill Australian lager. The principles behind those white boxes in the kitchen remain the same today, but refrigeration is not all about food – for example, a refrigerator is needed to make soap, penicillin or orange squash; without it, IVF would be impossible.
Refrigeration technology has also been crucial in some of the most important scientific breakthroughs of the last 100 years, from the discovery of superconductors to the search for the Higgs boson. And the fridge will still be pulling the strings behind the scenes as teleporters and intelligent computer brains turn our science-fiction vision of the future into fact.
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