Yale Experiment Features Quantum Physics in a Liquid

For the first time, Yale physicists using liquid helium directly observed quantum behavior within the vibrations of a liquid body.

A great deal of ongoing research is currently devoted to discovering and exploiting quantum effects in the motion of macroscopic objects made of solids and gases, so this new experiment opens a potentially rich area of further study into the way quantum principles work on liquid bodies.

The findings come from the Yale lab of physics and applied physics professor Jack Harris, along with colleagues at the Kastler Brossel Laboratory in France. A study about the research appears in the journal Physical Review Letters.

“We filled a specially designed cavity with superfluid liquid helium,” Harris says. “Then we use laser light to monitor an individual sound wave in the liquid helium. The volume of helium in which this sound wave lives is fairly large for a macroscopic object—equal to a cube whose sides are one-thousandth of an inch.”

Harris and his team discovered they could detect the sound wave’s quantum properties: its zero-point motion, which is the quantum motion that exists even when the temperature is lowered to absolute zero, and its quantum “back-action,” which is the effect of a detector on the measurement itself.