|Super state: three independent groups have caught sight of supersolidity. (Courtesy: iStock/3quarks)|
Topics: Bose-Einstein Condensate, Condensed Matter Physics, Electromagnetism, Quantum Mechanics
Atomic systems that behave very much like supersolids have been created independently by teams of physicists in Italy, Germany have Austria. The teams have shown that dipolar quantum gases trapped by magnetic fields can spontaneously separate into arrays of coherent droplets, providing a system closer to the original conception of a supersolid.
The supersolid phase is a counterintuitive quantum state of matter that has both crystalline order and frictionless flow at very low temperatures. The phenomenon is related to superfluidity and was predicted 50 years ago by Soviet physicists Alexander Andreev and Ilya Lifschitz. However, supersolidity has proved frustratingly difficult to observe.
In a superfluid, the energy required to create a density modulation generally increases as the modulation’s wavelength gets shorter. At one characteristic wavelength, however, the energy takes a sudden dip – much as waves pass more easily through a crystal when the wavelength equals the separation between the atoms. If the superfluid were cold enough, Andreev and Lifschitz reasoned, the energy required would drop to zero at this wavelength. The superfluid would then spontaneously separate into tiny droplets, effectively forming an ordered crystal.
Supersolid behavior spotted in dipolar quantum gases, Tim Wogan, Physics World