Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Letter
  • Published:

Detection of the Earth's rotation using superfluid phase coherence


It has long been recognized that the macroscopic quantum properties of superfluid helium could form the basis of a technique for measuring the state of absolute rotation of the containment vessel1–5: circulation of superfluid helium is quantized, so providing a reference state of zero rotation with respect to inertial space. Here we provide experimental proof of this concept by detecting the rotation of the Earth using the spatial phase coherence of superfluid 4He, thus providing independent corroboration of an earlier report6 that demonstrated the feasibility of making such a measurement. Our superfluid container is constructed on a centimetre-size silicon wafer, and has an essentially toroidal geometry but with the flow path interrupted by partition incorporating a sub-micrometre aperture. Rotation of the container induces a measurable flow velocity through the aperture in order to maintain coherence in the quantum phase of the super-fluid. Using this device, we determine the Earth's rotation rate to a precision of 0.5% with a measurement time of one hour, and argue that improvements in sensitivity of several orders of magnitude should be feasible.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Gregory, D. D. Observations of low-lying superfluid states in a rectangular annulus. Thesis, Univ. California, San Diego (1972).

  2. Guernsey, R. W. in Proc. 12th Int. Conf. on Low Temperature Physics 79–81 (Keigaku, Tokyo, 1971).

    Google Scholar 

  3. Crooker, B. C. Studies of the flow properties of superfluid 3He and of the superfluid density of 4He films in restricted geometries. Thesis, Cornell Univ. (1984).

  4. Anandan, J. The Josephson effect in superfluid helium and general relativeity. J. Phys. A 17, 1367–1380 (1984).

    Article  ADS  MathSciNet  Google Scholar 

  5. Bonaldi, M., Vitale, S. & Cerdonio, M. Rotationally induced dissipation in superfluid helium. Phys. Rev. B 42, 9865–9874 (1990).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Avenel, O. & Varoquaux, E. Detection of the Earth rotation with a superfluid double-hole resonator. Czech. J. Phys. (Suppl. S6) 48, 3319–3320 (1996).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  7. Packard, R. E. & Vitale, S. Principles of superfluid helium gyroscopes. Phys. Rev. B 46, 3540–3549 (1992).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Schwab, K. C. Experiments with superfluid oxcillators: design and microfabrication of a superfluid gyroscope; modulation of a 4He rf SQUID analog by the Earth's rotation. Thesis, Univ. California, Berkeley (1996).

  9. Zimmermann, Wm. The flow of superfluid 4He through submicron apertures: phase slip and critical velocities due to quantum vortex motion. Contemp. Phys. 37, 219–234 (1996).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Avenel, O. & Varoquaux, E. Josephson Effect and quantum phase slippage in superfluids. Phys. Rev. Lett. 60, 416–419 (1988).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Schwab, K., Steinhauer, J. Davis, J. C. & Packard, R. E. Fabrication of a silicon-based superfluid oscillator. J. Microelectromechan. Syst. 5, 180–186 (1996).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Amar, A., Lozes, R., Sasaki, Y., Davis, J. C. & Packard, R. E. Fabrication of submicron apertures in thin membranes of silicon nitride. J. Vac. Sci. Technol. B 11, 259–262 (1993).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. Paik, H. J. Superconducting tunable-diaphragm transducer for sensitive acceleration measurements. J. Appl. Phys. 47, 1168–1178 (1976).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Schwab, K., Bruckner, N. & Packard, R. Detection of the Earth's rotation using superfluid phase coherence. Nature 386, 585–587 (1997).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing