Tiny Twisters Whirl Around Inside Drops of Helium

Aug 23, 2014

By Kelly Dickerson


Inside a single wheel-shaped droplet of liquid helium rotating 2 million times per second, scientists have spotted a storm of dozens of tiny tornadoes whirling around.

The droplets of liquid heliumspun 100,000 times faster than in any previous experiments. The grid of quantum tornadoes inside the droplets could reveal interesting information on the bizarre nature of “superfluid” liquid helium and the nature of quantum rotation, say the international team of scientists involved in the study.

“The quest for quantum vortices in superfluid droplets has stretched for decades,” Andrey Vilesov, a professor of chemistry at the University of Southern California, said in a statement. “But this is the first time they have been seen in superfluid droplets.”

superfluid state happens when a substance behaves like a liquid with zero viscosity — a measure of a liquid’s thickness, or its resistance to flow. For example, honey has a much higher viscosity than water. The particles in superfluid liquid lose all friction and instead move around in unison like one supersize particle.

5 comments on “Tiny Twisters Whirl Around Inside Drops of Helium

  • How do you spin a helium droplet 2 million times a second without it being ripped apart?
    Also, why was the link in “said in a statement” for “Research explains how cellular guardians of the intestine develop”?

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  • 3
    inquisador says:

    Once the liquid helium is chilled to almost absolute zero on the
    Kelvin scale (about minus 460 F, or minus 273 C), the material becomes
    a superfluid. Inside the superfluid, the atoms of liquid helium
    constantly vibrate,

    Or as we might say; ‘constantly shiver’

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  • This seems quite important. I’m a Ghirardi Rimini Weber man myself. It’s good to know that the vortices did not disappear when observed.

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  • Interesting reading science brings about even greater understandings and more science to read. I noticed the droplets were sprayed through a -10°Kelvin nozzle and the first words out of my mouth was “WTF?” This is how the cold temperatures are maintained in the helium and once reached maintain the droplets. Of course it’s a spray of liquid helium, so they did eventually rip apart but they were taking literally thousands of pics a second to get the information they recieved.

    The -10°K though was the second most interesting thing to me in the article. Yes the swirls found in superfluid helium is extremely interesting in a possible lead to the formation of the early structures of the universe, but negative absolute zero? So of course I went searching for it, you should too. Essentially they zero out a material then use lasers to excite the electrons into higher energy states then they are in normally. Usually these electrons would reach these upper energy states then collapse releasing the energy into the rest of the system raising temperature but at near absolute zero they do the opposite. They stay in the higher energy states, it’s like building a pyramid on its head and it remains stable. Do this enough and more and more electrons gather in higher energy states and the substance gets colder then absolute zero. Further research has shown that these molecules actually begin to push away from each other and against magnetic and gravitational forces. This could explain so many things about the universe such as the expansion and negative gravity of the unknown dark matter/energy proposed to be between the galaxies what if it was just super cooled clouds of gas that have slowly gained enough energy to push against each other and the rest of the universe. It’s an idea but since you see so much “we don’t know” speak, I’m bothered by it. I want to hear more “it might be X, we are studying the phenomenon and have several ideas and working to test those ideas, but isn’t it interesting if X was true?”.

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