Refrigerator Researchers Do the Twist

Little did pop singer Chubby Checker know that his 1960 hit “The Twist” might be the basis for a futuristic refrigerator technology.

Yet that’s exactly what researchers at the University of Texas and China’s Nankai University are busy looking into. But rather than pursuing the 59-year-old dance craze, the engineers are exploring the cooling effect from twisting, stretching, coiling and relaxing certain fibers.

According to ARS Technica the process is called elastocaloric cooling, and it is potentially more efficient than current vapor compression systems, which use circulating coolant to remove heat from the fridge. You may have already seen the elastocaloric effect demonstrated in chemistry class by stretching and relaxing a rubber band. The action causes an increase in entropy and the release of heat energy, resulting in the rubber band feeling cool to the touch.

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The researchers began by twisting and untwisting various fibers, including strands of rubber and fishing line. But a uniquely elastic nickel-titanium alloy known as “memory wire” showed the most promise: untwisting a single 0.7-millimeter-wide wire caused a 14-degree Celsius drop in temperature.

Developed into a practical mechanism, twist cooling can conceivably reach a cooling efficiency of 84 percent compared to about 60 percent for today’s refrigerators, ARS Technica reported, while doing away with the greenhouse gas coolants that can adversely impact the environment.

Don’t expect wires to replace compressors anytime soon; but when they do, say goodbye to those odd grumbling noises coming from the fridge and say hello to the whirring sound of metal alloys doing the twist.