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Detection of the Earth's rotation using superfluid phase coherence

Abstract

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.

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