Sub-micron solid air tracers for quantum vortices and liquid helium flows

Enrico Fonda, Katepalli R. Sreenivasan, Daniel P. Lathrop

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The dynamics of quantized vortices in superfluids has received increased attention recently because of novel techniques developed to visualize them directly. One of these techniques [G. P. Bewley et al., Nature 441, 588 (2006)] visualized quantized vortices and their reconnections in superfluid flows of 4He by using solid hydrogen tracers of micron-size or larger. The present work improves upon the previous technique by using substantially smaller particles created by injecting atmospheric air diluted in helium gas. These smaller particles are detectable thanks to the higher index of refraction of nitrogen compared to hydrogen and thanks to an improved visualization setup. The optical counting estimate, which agrees with terminal velocity estimates, suggests that the tracer diameter is typically 400 ± 200 nm and could be as small as 200 nm; being smaller, but not so small as to be influenced by thermal motion, the particles get trapped on the vortices faster, perturb the vortices less, possess smaller Stokes drag, and stay trapped on fast-moving vortices, as also on vortices generated closer to the superfluid transition temperature. Unlike the past, the ability to create particles in the superfluid state directly (instead of creating them above the λ-point and cooling the fluid subsequently), ensures greater temperature stability for longer periods, and enables the tracking of long and isolated vortices. These advantages have also led to the direct visualization of Kelvin waves. The use of other seed gases could lead to the visualization of even smaller tracers for quantized vortices. We discuss the visualization setup and provide suggestions for further improvement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number025106
JournalReview of Scientific Instruments
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Instrumentation


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