The long-held, but unproven idea that helium-4 enters into an exotic phase of matter dubbed a "supersolid" when cooled to extremely low temperatures has been challenged in a new paper published recently in Science.
Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers Alexander Balatsky and Matthias Graf joined Cornell University physicist J.C. Séamus Davis and others in describing an alternative explanation for behavior of helium-4 that led scientist to believe for nearly 40 years that the substance could hold properties of a liquid and solid at the same time when cooled to near Absolute Zero.
Helium-4 is the same gas used to fill carnival balloons. When cooled to temperatures below minus 452 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, helium-4 becomes a liquid—and an extraordinary liquid at that. At very low temperatures, helium-4 can become a “superfluid,” a liquid without viscosity that can flow unhampered by friction.
When placed under pressure at these low temperatures, helium-4 atoms arrange in an orderly lattice, or solid, which physicists nearly 40 years ago believed could behave in a similarly frictionless manner as a supersolid—a unique theoretical state of matter in which a bulk lattice of material could move as a single frictionless object.
Physicists came to the idea that helium-4 becomes a supersolid after oscillating liquid helium-4 back and forth in a special apparatus that measured the rotational speed. When the researchers measured these motions under conditions that would induce a solid form of helium-4, they noticed that the oscillation speed increased slightly, as if some part of the mass had come loose and was uninhibited by interaction with the rest of material. This effect was interpreted as evidence of supersolidity, a phase in which some of the mass of a solid does not move with the rest of solid lattice, but rather flows freely through the lattice.
Los Alamos researchers Balatsky and Graf posited that the effect could be described by an entirely different explanation. They believed the change in oscillation speed could have arisen as the result of a gradual "freezing out" of imperfections within the helium-4 lattice. To illustrate on a very basic level, Balatsky uses a rotating egg.
A fresh egg is a mixture of yolk and albumen within a shell. When spun, the interaction of the liquid within the eggshell results in a relatively slow rotation. If the egg is frozen, however, the imperfections within the shell freeze out, and the egg spins much faster—like the increase in oscillation speed observed in the early torsional oscillation experiments.
To test this simplified analogy, Balatsky, Davis and colleagues devised an experiment using a torsional oscillator that was 10,000 times more sensitive than the ones used in previous experiments. The researchers looked at results of varying temperature at a constant oscillation speed versus results of varying oscillation speeds at constant temperature. They compared the microscopic excitations within solid helium-4 under both conditions and found that the plotted curves were nearly identical.
Perhaps more significantly, the researchers didn’t see a sudden, clearly demarked change in the relaxation of microscopic defects at some "critical temperature" during their experiments. Lack of such a sharp demarcation provides evidence against a change in phase of helium-4 to a supersolid.
Instead, it suggests that the earlier observed behavior was the result of everyday physics rather than some exotic behavior.
"While this experiment does not definitively rule out the possibility of the formation of a supersolid in helium-4, the fact that we have provided a reasonable alternative explanation for the observed behavior in earlier experiments weakens the argument that what was being seen was a phase change to a supersolid," Balatsky said.
In addition to Los Alamos researchers Balatsky and Graf, and Cornell physicist Davis, co-authors of the paper include: Ethan Pratt, formerly of Cornell, but now at the National Institute of Standards and Technology; Ben Hunt and graduate student Vikram Gadagkar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Minoru Yamashita at Kyoto University.
Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Center for Integrated Nanotechnology, a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Basic Energy Sciences user facility, and Laboratory-Directed Research and Development (LDRD) Program funded the work at Los Alamos. Other funding came from the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics and the National Science Foundation.
The Science paper may be found here: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/332/6031/821.full
About Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos National Laboratory, a multidisciplinary research institution engaged in strategic science on behalf of national security, is operated by Los Alamos National Security, LLC, a team composed of Bechtel National, the University of California, The Babcock & Wilcox Company, and URS for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.
Los Alamos enhances national security by ensuring the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, developing technologies to reduce threats from weapons of mass destruction, and solving problems related to energy, environment, infrastructure, health, and global security concerns.
LANL news media contact: James E. Rickman, (505) 665-9203, firstname.lastname@example.org
James E. Rickman | EurekAlert!
Engineering team images tiny quasicrystals as they form
18.08.2017 | Cornell University
Astrophysicists explain the mysterious behavior of cosmic rays
18.08.2017 | Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
18.08.2017 | Life Sciences
18.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
18.08.2017 | Materials Sciences