Quantum Instability

A spinning gas of ultracold atoms transforms from a needle-like structure to a series of vortices.

In our everyday lives, two fluids moving past one another often form a wave-like pattern thanks to the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability. We see it in the curl of waves on the ocean, in clouds in the sky, and even in spirals of lava on Mars. Here researchers explore an analogous instability in the quantum world.

By spinning a gas of ultracold atoms, the team observed a spontaneous transition from a needle-like configuration to a crystal made up of spirals. It’s a quantum Kelvin-Helmholtz instability! The authors found that wave’s phase is random; it arises purely from quantum interactions between the atoms. (Image, research, and submission credit: B. Mukherjee et al.; see also MIT News)

The spinning cloud of ultracold atoms breaks up into a series of spirals.
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