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27 March 2013
By Dan Wessels
You're hungry. Your crops aren't growing, your chickens have run away to live out their destiny elsewhere, and your next fresh meal seems a long way off. This calls for a trip down to your trusty ice-cellar, where huge frozen blocks keep your spare food preserved (until they eventually thaw out and you need to throw everything away.)
Sound familiar? No, of course it doesn't, and for that you should be eternally grateful for your trusty fridge and all the misery it spares you from.
In fact, you probably want to know: "Who should I thank for this life saving masterpiece of technology?"
Well, the answer may surprise you:
An 11th Century Persian by the name of Ibn Sina.
Let me explain this a bit better. Ibn Sina was the Leonardo DaVinci of his day. He was a master poet, philosopher, alchemist and doctor, whose writings have influenced the world for 1,000 years after his death.
On one particularly busy day he invented the "Refrigerated Coil" (probably while brainstorming a dozen new ways to change the world forever over lunch.)
In a strange twist, the mighty inventor actually created the device for "steam distillation". His master plan was to successfully extract essential oils from plants (the ancient Persians loved to smell nice.) Refrigerated tubing was a vital part of his system for condensing aromatic vapours into oils, without causing damage from over-heating.
Doesn't sound like it has much to do with your fridge? Well, keep this in mind:
In 1805, the American inventor Oliver Evans created the "Vapour Compression Refrigeration Machine". The device extracted heat from the environment and created a "refrigerated state" by recycling "vaporized refrigerant", which passed through a compressor and a condenser, turning from gas to liquid and back again.
Sound familiar? It's an almost identical process to the one which Ibn Sina created a millennium ago. Today, refrigerators still rely on that same basic technology.
Why did it take so long for someone to pick up the ball which the noble Ibn Sina left behind, and run with it? Who knows. Maybe the Dark Ages are to blame for the huge wait.
Either way, the darkness has lifted. Fridges are truly a part of our world and we should never forget the genius who set out the blueprint for us, far back in the misty world of ancient history.