Inside your freezer at dwelling, it is about as chilly as a traditional winter day in Canada. Inside an ultra-low-temperature freezer, it is colder than Antarctica.
If you open the door of the latter, clouds of chilly air billow out like fog. When you contact the within along with your naked hand, it’s going to stick like that child’s tongue caught to that frozen pole in A Christmas Story. And for those who fill it with the form of stuff that goes in your fridge, like fruits, veggies and youngsters’ snacks… let’s simply say they turn into very fragile.
Extremely-low-temperature freezers have lengthy been commonplace tools in medical laboratories. However they’re all of the sudden a sizzling matter of curiosity, due to their very important function in rolling out vaccines for COVID-19.
Within the school of medication at Memorial College in St. John’s, a number of dozen ultra-low-temperature freezers are in use for ongoing analysis. To guard the integrity of the substances inside, the freezers are saved in areas off-limits to the general public, electronically monitored always for even the slightest rise in temperature.
However the workforce on the school of medication granted CBC Information entry to a freezer that had been emptied and decontaminated, so we might offer you a glance inside and reply some widespread questions on this very cool piece of kit.
How chilly does it get?
An ultra-low-temperature freezer can go all the way in which right down to –90 C. How chilly is that? It is colder than what a penguin in Antarctica is standing in proper now. It is about as chilly because the coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth.
Dr. Patricia Cousins, supervisor of medical laboratories on the school of medication, gave us one other means to consider it.
“We’re standing in a hallway proper now the place it is about 20 levels Celsius,” mentioned Cousins. “Minus-80 is 100 levels colder than that. So for those who can equate the distinction between boiling water and freezing water, that is the distinction between the air inside that freezer and the air we’re respiratory now.”
Why do some issues (like vaccines) must be saved so chilly?
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine must be saved at round –80 C. (Moderna’s vaccine solely must be saved at round –20 C.) However the precise freezing level of the Pfizer vaccine is not wherever close to that chilly. So why do some issues must be extra frozen than frozen? Cousins has the reply.
“Frozen just isn’t essentially frozen. Now we have completely different levels,” she mentioned. “Issues like mRNA, for instance, that everyone is aware of about due to the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine, these issues are very small stretches of nucleic acids, they usually’re not super-coiled or twisted round one another like DNA. So these objects are very liable to degrade.”
Dr. Rod Russell, a professor of virology and immunology on the school of medication, makes use of ultra-low-temperature freezers daily in his analysis. He says the identical precept applies not simply to vaccines however to all types of delicate substances, from tissue samples to enzymes.
“Some issues must be saved colder than others, as a result of principally they’re much less steady,” he mentioned. “Molecules vibrate, and the extra they’re vibrating, the extra they’ll degrade. So if you may get them right down to minus-50, minus-60, minus-80, they’re going to protect longer.”
Is the COVID-19 vaccine chilly once they inject you with it?
Cousins and Russell get this query on a regular basis. Some persons are involved that getting Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine will really feel like an injection of ice water, having been saved in an ultra-low-temperature freezer.
In case your enamel have been chattering in anticipation, concern not: vaccines saved in these freezers are thawed at common refrigeration temperatures and warmed to room temperature earlier than they’re administered.
What occurs to common stuff if it will get that chilly?
When not getting used to retailer vaccines, ultra-low-temperature freezers are sometimes filled with medical samples and substances with unpronounceable names. However what occurs for those who fill one with stuff from a daily fridge?
“If common objects are chilled that chilly, relying on the composition of the article, it will possibly do various things,” mentioned Russell. “Issues do get extra brittle, extra breakable, as they get colder and colder.”
Within the identify of science, we put a tray of fruits, greens and child snacks contained in the freezer for 4 hours. Then we examined how brittle these objects grew to become by means of rigorous experimentation.
Evidently, the experiment was a smashing success.
WATCH | See our smashing experiment and study extra about ultra-low-temperature freezers:
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