A superfluid moves like a completely frictionless liquid, seemingly able to propel itself without any hindrance from gravity or surface tension. The physics underlying these materials — which appear to defy the conventional laws of physics — has fascinated scientists for decades.
Think of the assassin T-1000 in the movie "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" — a robotic shape-shifter made of liquid metal. Or better yet, consider a real-world example: liquid helium. When cooled to extremely low temperatures, helium exhibits behavior that is otherwise impossible in ordinary fluids. For instance, the superfluid can squeeze through pores as small as a molecule, and climb up and over the walls of a glass. It can even remain in motion years after a centrifuge containing it has stopped spinning.
Now physicists at MIT have come up with a method to mathematically describe the behavior of superfluids — in particular, the turbulent flows within superfluids. They publish their results this week in the journal Science.
"Turbulence provides a fascinating window into the dynamics of a superfluid," says Allan Adams, an associate professor of physics at MIT. "Imagine pouring milk into a cup of tea. As soon as the milk hits the tea, it flares out into whirls and eddies, which stretch and split into filigree. Understanding this complicated, roiling turbulent state is one of the great challenges of fluid dynamics. When it comes to superfluids, whose detailed dynamics depend on quantum mechanics, the problem of turbulence is an even tougher nut to crack."
To describe the underlying physics of a superfluid's turbulence, Adams and his colleagues drew comparisons with the physics governing black holes. At first glance, black holes — extremely dense, gravitationally intense objects that pull in surrounding matter and light — may not appear to behave like a fluid. But the MIT researchers translated the physics of black holes to that of superfluid turbulence, using a technique called holographic duality.
Consider, for example, a holographic image on a magazine cover. The data, or pixels, in the image exist on a flat surface, but can appear three-dimensional when viewed from certain angles. An engineer could conceivably build an actual 3-D replica based on the information, or dimensions, found in the 2-D hologram.
"If you take that analogy one step further, in a certain sense you can regard various quantum theories as being a holographic image of a world with one extra dimension," says Paul Chesler, a postdoc in MIT's Department of Physics.
Taking this cosmic line of reasoning, Adams, Chesler and colleagues used holographic duality as a "dictionary" to translate the very well-characterized physics of black holes to the physics of superfluid turbulence.
To the researchers' surprise, their calculations showed that turbulent flows of a class of superfluids on a flat surface behave not like those of ordinary fluids in 2-D, but more like 3-D fluids, which morph from relatively uniform, large structures to smaller and smaller structures. The result is much like cigarette smoke: From a burning tip, smoke unfurls in a single stream that quickly disperses into smaller and smaller eddies. Physicists refer to this phenomenon as an "energy cascade."
"For superfluids, whether such energy cascades exist is an open question," says Hong Liu, an associate professor of physics at MIT. "People have been making all kinds of claims, but there hasn't been any smoking-gun type of evidence that such a cascade exists. In a class of superfluids, we produced very convincing evidence for the direction of this kind of flow, which would otherwise be very hard to obtain. "The power of duality
Maldacena's theory of holographic duality demonstrates that behaviors within the gravity-bound 3-D interior can be mathematically translated into behaviors on the zero-gravity 2-D surface.
Liu and his colleagues applied equations of holographic duality to the physics of black holes — objects that are bound by extreme gravitational forces — and translated these forces to the behavior of zero-gravity superfluid turbulence, which is otherwise considered incredibly difficult to characterize.
"The power of this duality is that difficult questions on one side can become much easier on the other side," Liu says.
To make an accurate translation, the researchers first looked for a black hole whose surrounding matter would resemble the random turbulence of a superfluid. They eventually settled on a type of black hole surrounded by a chaotic swirl of matter and electromagnetism.
The researchers studied the complex physics of this particular type of black hole, solving equations to characterize its behavior. They then applied models of holographic duality to translate the black hole's physics to the turbulent flows of superfluids.
"It's like there exists a decoder ring that takes information about a black hole and maps it onto information about fluid mechanics," Chesler says.From the cosmos to fluid mechanics
In contrast, liquids in 3-D behave in the opposite manner, starting as large structures and spinning out into smaller structures, much like the dispersal of cigarette smoke.
In the case of superfluids, Chesler and his colleagues found that in 2-D, superfluids behave unlike ordinary fluids in 2-D, but more like ordinary fluids in 3-D, dispersing energy at smaller and smaller scales.
Written by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office
Andrew Carleen | EurekAlert!
New study: How does Europe become a leading player for software and IT services?
03.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI)
Reusable carbon nanotubes could be the water filter of the future, says RIT study
30.03.2017 | Rochester Institute of Technology
More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.
Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...
Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.
"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
03.04.2017 | Event News
25.04.2017 | Earth Sciences
25.04.2017 | Life Sciences
25.04.2017 | Earth Sciences