Superfluid Instabilities

The wind forms waves on water due to the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability.

Superfluids — like Bose-Einstein condensates — are bizarre compared to fluids from our everyday experience because they have no viscosity. Without viscosity, it’s no surprise that they behave in unusual ways. Here, researchers simulated superfluids moving past one another. In each of these images, the blue fluid is moving to the left, and the red fluid is moving to the right. In a typical fluid, such motion causes ocean-wave-like curls due to the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability.

Instead, with a low relative velocity and high repulsion between atoms of the two layers, the superfluids form a tilted, finger-like interface (Image 1) that the authors refer to as a flutter-finger pattern. (Repulsion essentially sets the miscibility between the superfluids. With a high repulsion, the superfluids resist mixing.)

With a higher relative velocity (Image 2), the wavelength of the ripples becomes comparable to the thickness of the interface, and the superfluids take on a very different, zipper-like pattern. Note how the tips detach and reconnect to the neighboring finger!

With lower repulsion, the interface between the two liquids is thicker and breaks down quickly (Image 3). The authors call this a sealskin pattern. (Image credits: water – M. Blažević, simulations – H. Kokubo et al.; research credit: H. Kokubo et al.; via APS Physics)

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