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Famous inventions: The refrigerator

Famous inventions: The refrigeratorHow does a fridge work? And how did people survive without them?

Although salting and smoking are useful in preserving food, one of the most efficient ways is simply to keep things cool. Snow and ice, cool streams, springs, caves and cellars have all been used to chill food, but for a long time scientists worked on producing more efficient refrigeration.

Pioneers included Dr. William Cullen, a Scotsman whose studies in the early 1700s dealt with the evaporation of liquids in a vacuum. In the 1800s Michael Faraday, a Londoner, found that liquefied ammonia would cause cooling. Dr. John Goorie of Florida built a machine to make ice to cool the air for yellow fever patients in 1834.

Today's compression refrigeration system operates on a concept adapted from Faraday's experiments. It involves compressing gas into a liquid which will then absorb heat. In so doing it returns to gas. This is a simplified description of what happens in a home refrigerator, freezer, air conditioner or dehumidifier.

The first refrigerator for domestic use appeared in 1913, though mass production of modern refrigerators didn't get started until after World War II.

Did you know?

Einstein had a suggestion for a system that did not use man-made refrigerants (which are a major cause of global warming). It is being developed by Oxford researchers who hope to have a model ready to release into the marketplace soon. Check out Einstein's Fridge