The phase of helium-3 can be described by an "order parameter," which according to the standard Ginzburg-Landau formalism, expresses the free energy of a superconductor. The authors of the new Science paper were able to determine the order parameter from the line shape of the NMR spectra of helium Other researchers had conducted similar investigations using NMR, however the signal to noise ration in the readout system limited the conclusions that could be drawn.
The NMR also requires a significant magnetic field which complicates the effect of the magnetic field needed for manipulating the phase. Because of the small volumes involved, the magnetic fields used need to be low to prevent additional symmetry breaking.
The PTB sensor chip is ideal for obtaining low temperature NMR fingerprints of extremely thin helium-3 layers—essentially thin films. In addition to being able to discover new superfluid phenomena, the researchers hope to be able to investigate excitations at the surfaces of the various helium-3 phases known as Majorana fermions. A Majorana particle is a fermion that is its own antiparticle. These particles exist as quasiparticle excitations in superconductors and have recently been the focus of many intense research efforts. Superfluidity has also found applications in high-energy physics and theories of quantum gravity, namely superfluid vacuum theory.
The ultimate goal here is to develop a model that would unify quantum mechanics with gravity. For now, the researchers have plenty of experiments ahead to keep themselves busy.
Improved sensor arrangements are expected to be able to resolve spatial features helium-3 films, which should in turn lead to new discoveries about superfluidity. Explore further. However, mapping out the phase diagram in a confined geometry has been experimentally challenging. We confined a sample of 3He within a nanofluidic cavity of precisely defined geometry, cooled it, and fingerprinted the order parameter using a sensitive nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer.
The measured suppression of the p-wave order parameter arising from surface scattering was consistent with the predictions of quasi-classical theory. Controlled confinement of nanofluidic samples provides a new laboratory for the study of topological superfluids and their surface- and edge-bound excitations. Journal information: Science.
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