Giant vortex clusters in a two-dimensional quantum fluid

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Science  28 Jun 2019:
Vol. 364, Issue 6447, pp. 1264-1267
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat5718

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Clustering vortices

Many-body systems generally become more disordered as more energy is pumped into them. A curious exception to this rule was predicted in the context of turbulent flow by the physical chemist Lars Onsager. He suggested that the entropy of certain two-dimensional (2D) systems can decrease with increasing energy, corresponding to an effective negative temperature. Using 2D Bose-Einstein condensates of atoms, Gauthier et al. and Johnstone et al. put Onsager's theory to the test. They provided energy to the system by perturbing the condensate, creating vortices and antivortices. With increasing energy, the system became more ordered as clusters containing either only vortices or only antivortices emerged.

Science, this issue p. 1264, p. 1267


Adding energy to a system through transient stirring usually leads to more disorder. In contrast, point-like vortices in a bounded two-dimensional fluid are predicted to reorder above a certain energy, forming persistent vortex clusters. In this study, we experimentally realize these vortex clusters in a planar superfluid: a 87Rb Bose-Einstein condensate confined to an elliptical geometry. We demonstrate that the clusters persist for long time periods, maintaining the superfluid system in a high-energy state far from global equilibrium. Our experiments explore a regime of vortex matter at negative absolute temperatures and have relevance for the dynamics of topological defects, two-dimensional turbulence, and systems such as helium films, nonlinear optical materials, fermion superfluids, and quark-gluon plasmas.

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