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Something Fascinating Happened When a Giant Quantum Vortex was Created in Superfluid Helium

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Scientists created a giant swirling vortex within superfluid helium that is chilled to the lowest possible temperatures and this is what happened next.

The University of Nottingham, in partnership with King’s College London and Newcastle University, developed a unique experimental platform called a quantum tornado.

They generated a massive spinning vortex inside superfluid helium that was cooled to the lowest feasible temperature.

By scrutinizing subtle wave dynamics on the surface of the superfluid, the research team has demonstrated that these quantum tornadoes replicate gravitational conditions akin to those near rotating black holes.

The findings were published in Nature.

The paper’s lead author, Dr. Patrik Svancara from the University of Nottingham’s School of Mathematical Sciences, said: “Using superfluid helium has allowed us to study tiny surface waves in greater detail and accuracy than with our previous experiments in water.

They utilized the ultra-low viscosity of superfluid helium to thoroughly examine its interaction with a superfluid tornado, then juxtaposed their observations with theoretical predictions.

The team engineered a specialized cryogenic system designed to house multiple liters of superfluid helium at temperatures below -271 °C. At such frigid temperatures, liquid helium exhibits extraordinary quantum characteristics. While other quantum fluids, such as ultracold atomic gases or quantum fluids of light, typically struggle to form large vortices, their system revealed how the interface of superfluid helium serves as a stabilizing influence for these phenomena.

Quantum vortices, which are tiny particles found in superfluid helium, tend to disperse from one another.

Dr. Patrik Svancara of the School of Mathematical Sciences added, “In our set-up, we’ve managed to confine tens of thousands of these quanta in a compact object resembling a small tornado, achieving a vortex flow with record-breaking strength in the realm of quantum fluids.”

Researchers discovered striking comparisons between vortex movement and black holes’ gravitational impact on the surrounding spacetime. This finding offers up new possibilities for simulating finite-temperature quantum field theories in the complicated world of curved spacetimes.

“When we first observed clear signatures of black hole physics in our initial analogue experiment back in 2017,” Professor Silke Weinfurtner added, “it was a breakthrough moment for understanding some of the bizarre phenomena that are often challenging, if not impossible, to study otherwise.

Now, with this new experiment, they “have taken this research to the next level, which could eventually lead us to predict how quantum fields behave in curved spacetimes around astrophysical black holes.”

Image Credit: Still from the video

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