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The long-held, but unproven idea that helium-4 enters into an exotic phase of matter dubbed a “supersolid” when cooled to extremely low temperatures has been challenged in a new paper published recently in Science.
Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers Alexander Balatsky and Matthias Graf joined Cornell University physicist J.C. Séamus Davis and others in describing an alternative explanation for behavior of helium-4 that led scientist to believe for nearly 40 years that the substance could hold properties of a liquid and solid at the same time when cooled to near Absolute Zero.
Helium-4 is the same gas used to fill carnival balloons. When cooled to temperatures below minus 452 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, helium-4 becomes a liquid—and an extraordinary liquid at that. At very low temperatures, helium-4 can become a “superfluid,” a liquid without viscosity that can flow unhampered by friction.
When placed under pressure at these low temperatures, helium-4 atoms arrange in an orderly lattice, or solid, which physicists nearly 40 years ago believed could behave in a similarly frictionless manner as a supersolid—a unique theoretical state of matter in which a bulk lattice of material could move as a single frictionless object.
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