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A Fridge in Space

A Case Study in Thermodynamics


Lok C. Lew Yan Voon
Department of Physics
Wright State University


This case analyzes the principles of thermodynamics and the operating cycle of an adiabatic demagnetizing refrigerator (ADR), a piece of equipment NASA uses to keep x-ray detectors cold enough to work.  A synthesis of all the basic principles of thermodynamics, the case would be appropriate for students enrolled in a thermal physics course, typically taught at a sophomore level.


  • Provide students with a stimulating real-life application of thermal physics.
  • Develop critical thinking and reasoning skills.
  • Train students to synthesize facts from various portions of a course.
  • Illustrate the variety of physical parameters.
  • Illustrate the difference between textbook and real-life physics.


Thermodynamics; heat energy; heat engine; adiabatic; isothermal; adiabatic demagnetizing refrigerator; magnetic refrigeration; magnetocaloric effect; x-ray spectrometer; cryogenics; NASA

Topical Areas


Educational Level

Undergraduate lower division



Type / Methods

Analysis (Issues), Interrupted



Subject Headings

Physics  |   Aerospace Engineering  |   Engineering (General)  |  

Date Posted


Teaching Notes

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