Major physics breakthrough in understanding supersolidity

December 05, 2007

Physicists at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, have made a major advance in the understanding of what appears to be a new state of matter.

Working in the highly specialized field of quantum fluids and solids, Prof. John Beamish, chair of the Department of Physics, and PhD student James Day, report their findings in a paper to be published in the science journal Nature on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2007. Beamish and Day are the only researchers in Canada conducting experimental research in this area of fundamental physics.

At very low temperatures, helium gas turns into a liquid. Put under extreme pressure the liquid turns into a solid. Physicists have been manipulating solid helium so they can study its unusual behaviour.

In 2004, a research team at Penn State university in the United States, led by Dr. Moses Chan, electrified the physics world when it announced that it may have discovered an entirely new state of matter - supersolidity. The team made the discovery by cooling solid helium to an extremely low temperature and oscillating the material at different speeds. They found that the particles behaved in a way not seen before, which suggested it might show the "perpetual flow" seen in superfluids like liquid helium.

Day and Dr. Beamish have taken this research a different direction. In an experiment not done before, they cooled the solid helium and manipulated the material another way - by shearing it elastically. In doing so, they found that the solid behaved in an entirely new and unexpected way - it became much stiffer at the lowest temperatures.

"The experimental results from the University of Alberta are remarkable," Dr. Chan said. "Namely, Professor Beamish and his student James Day found that the shear modulus of solid helium increases by 20% when it is cooled below 0.25K.

"Furthermore, the temperature dependence of the shear modulus seems to track the period change seen in torsional oscillator. It seems the two phenomena are related and probably have the same mechanical origin.

"This is an important breakthrough since the original discovery," Chan said.

Other physicists around the world are also studying the implications. Through this discovery, Beamish and Day have significantly added to the body of knowledge about the fundamental states of matter allowed by nature.
James Day

University of Alberta

Related Physics Articles from Brightsurf:

Helium, a little atom for big physics
Helium is the simplest multi-body atom. Its energy levels can be calculated with extremely high precision only relying on a few fundamental physical constants and the quantum electrodynamics (QED) theory.

Hyperbolic metamaterials exhibit 2T physics
According to Igor Smolyaninov of the University of Maryland, ''One of the more unusual applications of metamaterials was a theoretical proposal to construct a physical system that would exhibit two-time physics behavior on small scales.''

Challenges and opportunities for women in physics
Women in the United States hold fewer than 25% of bachelor's degrees, 20% of doctoral degrees and 19% of faculty positions in physics.

Indeterminist physics for an open world
Classical physics is characterized by the equations describing the world.

Leptons help in tracking new physics
Electrons with 'colleagues' -- other leptons - are one of many products of collisions observed in the LHCb experiment at the Large Hadron Collider.

Has physics ever been deterministic?
Researchers from the Austrian Academy of Sciences, the University of Vienna and the University of Geneva, have proposed a new interpretation of classical physics without real numbers.

Twisted physics
A new study in the journal Nature shows that superconductivity in bilayer graphene can be turned on or off with a small voltage change, increasing its usefulness for electronic devices.

Physics vs. asthma
A research team from the MIPT Center for Molecular Mechanisms of Aging and Age-Related Diseases has collaborated with colleagues from the U.S., Canada, France, and Germany to determine the spatial structure of the CysLT1 receptor.

2D topological physics from shaking a 1D wire
Published in Physical Review X, this new study propose a realistic scheme to observe a 'cold-atomic quantum Hall effect.'

Helping physics teachers who don't know physics
A shortage of high school physics teachers has led to teachers with little-to-no training taking over physics classrooms, reports show.

Read More: Physics News and Physics Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to