March 20 is the day in 1916 that Albert Einstein published his general theory of relativity. Since the theory is sadly beyond my comprehension, I am compelled to deal with one of his more down to earth ideas- Albert Einstein invented a refrigerator. Well, he and his student Leo Szilard (no mean physicist in his own right. With Fermi, he perfected the idea of a nuclear reactor) did. The refrigerator had no moving parts, needed only a heat source to operate and was patented in the US on November 11, 1930. It used ammonia, butane and water instead of such early refrigerant components as sulfur dioxide, sulfuric acid, petrol ether and naptha. Nearly all of the early refrigerants were flammable, toxic, or both.
Early refrigerators could be, and sometimes were, deadly. Einstein and Szilard had read a newspaper article about a family in Berlin who had died from inhaling toxic fumes from a refrigerator leaking it’s refrigerant. This inspired them to invent three different models
of refrigerator (with no moving parts, hence no seals to leak), involving no less than 45 new patents. The refrigerator was noiseless, durable and inexpensive to produce. For some reason the refrigerator was not immediately put into production, even though the Swedish manufacturer Electrolux snapped up some of the patents.
In 2008 Malcolm McCulloch and his team at Oxford University completed a prototype of Einstein’s refrigerator in pursuit of a fridge that could be used in areas without electricity. They feel that by changing the types of gasses used, as well as small design changes, might quadruple the machine’s efficiency. If correct, could this start a revolution in appliance design?