Characterization of Quantum Vortex Dynamics in Superfluid Helium

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Liquid helium obtains superfluid properties when cooled below the Lambda transition temperature of 2.17 K. A superfluid, which is a partial Bose Einstein condensate, has many exotic properties including free flow without friction, and ballistic instead of diffusive heat transport. A superfluid is also uniquely characterized by the presence of quantized vortices, dynamical line-like topological phase defects around which all circulation in the flow is constrained. Two vortices can undergo a violent process called reconnection when they approach, cross, and retract having exchanged tails.

With a numerical examination of a local, linearized solution near reconnection we discovered a dynamically unstable stationary solution to the Gross-Pitaevskii equation, which was relaxed to a fully non-linear solution using imaginary time propagation. This investigation explored vortex reconnection in the context of the changing topology of the order parameter, a complex field governing the superfluid dynamics at zero temperature.

The dynamics of the vortices can be studied experimentally by dispersing tracer particles into a superfluid flow and recording their motions with movie cameras. The pioneering work of Bewley et al. provided the first visualization technique using frozen gases to create tracer particles. Using this technique, we experimentally observed for the first time the excitation of helical traveling waves on a vortex core called Kelvin waves. Kelvin waves are thought to be a central mechanism for dissipation in this inviscid fluid, as they provide an efficient cascade mechanism for transferring energy from large to microscopic length scales. We examined the Kelvin waves in detail, and compared their dynamics in fully self-similar non-dimensional coordinates to theoretical predictions.

Additionally, two experimental advances are presented. A newly invented technique for reliably dispersing robust, nanometer-scale fluorescent tracer particles directly into the superfluid is described. A detailed numerical investigation of the particle-vortex interactions provides novel calculations of the force trapping particles on vortices, and a scaling was found suggesting that smaller particles may remain bound to the vortices at much higher speeds than larger particles. Lastly, a new stereographic imaging system has been developed, allowing for the world-first three-dimensional reconstruction of individual particles and vortex filament trajectories. Preliminary data, including the first three-dimensional observation of a vortex reconnection are presented.