Evolution of large-scale flow from turbulence in a two-dimensional superfluid

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Science  28 Jun 2019:
Vol. 364, Issue 6447, pp. 1267-1271
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat5793

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


Nonequilibrium interacting systems can evolve to exhibit large-scale structure and order. In two-dimensional turbulent flow, the seemingly random swirling motion of a fluid can evolve toward persistent large-scale vortices. To explain such behavior, Lars Onsager proposed a statistical hydrodynamic model based on quantized vortices. Here, we report on the experimental confirmation of Onsager’s model. We dragged a grid barrier through an oblate superfluid Bose–Einstein condensate to generate nonequilibrium distributions of vortices. We observed signatures of an inverse energy cascade driven by the evaporative heating of vortices, leading to steady-state configurations characterized by negative absolute temperatures. Our results open a pathway for quantitative studies of emergent structures in interacting quantum systems driven far from equilibrium.

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