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Probable observation of a supersolid helium phase

Abstract

When liquid 4He is cooled below 2.176 K, it undergoes a phase transition—Bose–Einstein condensation—and becomes a superfluid with zero viscosity1. Once in such a state, it can flow without dissipation even through pores of atomic dimensions. Although it is intuitive to associate superflow only with the liquid phase2, it has been proposed theoretically3,4,5 that superflow can also occur in the solid phase of 4He. Owing to quantum mechanical fluctuations, delocalized vacancies and defects are expected to be present in crystalline solid 4He, even in the limit of zero temperature. These zero-point vacancies can in principle allow the appearance of superfluidity in the solid3,4. However, in spite of many attempts6, such a ‘supersolid’ phase has yet to be observed in bulk solid 4He. Here we report torsional oscillator measurements on solid helium confined in a porous medium, a configuration that is likely to be more heavily populated with vacancies than bulk helium. We find an abrupt drop in the rotational inertia5 of the confined solid below a certain critical temperature. The most likely interpretation of the inertia drop is entry into the supersolid phase. If confirmed, our results show that all three states of matter—gas7, liquid1 and solid—can undergo Bose–Einstein condensation.

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Figure 1: Torsional oscillator used in this experiment.
Figure 2: Resonant period as function of temperature of solid 4He in Vycor glass.
Figure 3: ΔP at the low temperature limit, ΔP0, as a function of rim velocity of the Vycor disk. ΔP0 values are deduced by subtracting the measured periods at 30 mK from the (shifted) empty cell period, as shown in Fig. 2.
Figure 4: Resonant periods as a function of temperature for a variety of solid helium samples.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge discussions with J. Banavar, J. Beamish, V. Crespi, J. Goodkind, J. Jain, A. Leggett and J. Reppy. This work was supported by the Condensed Matter Physics Program of the National Science Foundation.

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Correspondence to M. H. W. Chan.

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Kim, E., Chan, M. Probable observation of a supersolid helium phase. Nature 427, 225–227 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature02220

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