Operating principle of an Adiabatic Demagnetization Refrigerator (ADR)

The basic operating principle of an adiabatic demagnetization refrigerator (ADR) is the use of a strong magnetic field to control the entropy of a sample of material, often called the “refrigerant”. Magnetic field constrains the orientation of magnetic dipoles in the refrigerant. The stronger the magnetic field, the more aligned the dipoles are, corresponding to lower entropy and heat capacity because the material has (effectively) lost some of its internal degrees of freedom. If the refrigerant is kept at a constant temperature through thermal contact with a heat sink (usually liquid helium) while the magnetic field is switched on, the refrigerant must lose some energy because it is equilibrated with the heat sink. When the magnetic field is subsequently switched off, the heat capacity of the refrigerant rises again because the degrees of freedom associated with orientation of the dipoles are once again liberated, pulling their share of equipartitioned energy from the motion of the molecules, thereby lowering the overall temperature of a system with decreased energy. Since the system is now insulated when the magnetic field is switched off, the process is adiabatic, i.e., the system can no longer exchange energy with its surroundings (the heat sink), and its temperature decreases below its initial value, that of the heat sink.
The operation of a standard ADR proceeds roughly as follows. First, a strong magnetic field is applied to the refrigerant, forcing its various magnetic dipoles to align and putting these degrees of freedom of the refrigerant into a state of lowered entropy. The heat sink then absorbs the heat released by the refrigerant due to its loss of entropy. Thermal contact with the heat sink is then broken so that the system is insulated, and the magnetic field is switched off, increasing the heat capacity of the refrigerant, thus decreasing its temperature below the temperature of the heat sink. In practice, the magnetic field is decreased slowly in order to provide continuous cooling and keep the sample at an approximately constant low temperature. Once the field falls to zero or to some low limiting value determined by the properties of the refrigerant, the cooling power of the ADR vanishes, and heat leaks will cause the refrigerant to warm up.

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