Working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Cold Atom Laboratory, the team has designed the box which contains lasers, a vacuum chamber, and an electromagnetic "knife."
The lasers in the box will create an environment a few millionths of a degree above absolute zero. The electromagnetic knife will then scrape off the hottest atoms in the box, allowing the rest of the atoms to cool off even further.
"In a sense, it is very similar to the blowing on top of a hot cup of coffee," said project scientist Robert Thompson, who is in charge of the Cold Atom Lab at NASA's JPL.
A few steps later, the items in the box will cool the atoms to a billionth of a degree above absolute zero. This is approximately one hundred times colder than the temperature of space.
By contrast, the coldest known place in the universe outside of physics labs is the Bommerang Nebula, which at its coldest point is just above absolute zero.
The team will send the rig to the International Space Station this summer because the zero gravity environment will allow them to study things they would not be able to observe on Earth.
According to physics, atoms can behave like both particles and waves.
Under normal conditions, these gas atoms bounce off each other in random conditions. However, under freezing conditions, gas atoms act more wave-like. As they cool, the atoms slow down, and their wavelengths begin to overlap.
The research could lead to new understandings of matter and dark matter and the development of new sensors and quantum computers.