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Liquid helium

'Superfluids' like liquid helium seemingly defy laws of physics, baffling scientists

Tuesday, July 30, 2013 by: Ethan A. Huff, staff writer
Tags: liquid helium, superfluids, laws of physics

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(NaturalNews) Scientists have long been baffled by the fact that certain objects of matter appear to evade the physical laws of nature, existing and functioning to the beat of a different drum, if you will. At least as far as human understanding is concerned, so-called "superfluids" like liquid helium, for instance, do not seem to be affected by either gravity or surface tension, which makes them an anomaly in the realm of physical science.

Superfluids, in case you have never heard of them, possess a unique type of turbulence or movement that is apparently not bound by certain aspects of natural law. And a team of scientists from the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently set out to come up with a valid explanation as to how these one-of-a-kind substances perform their unusual actions, such as climbing up and out of a cup without a visible source of energy propelling them.

Published in the peer-reviewed journal Science, their study attempted to learn more about the physics of liquid helium by comparing them to those of so-called black holes, which are extremely dense, gravitationally intense objects out in space that pull all sorts of other objects like matter and light into them. But using a technique known as holographic duality, the team extrapolated data from what is understood about black holes and applied it to what is not understood about liquid helium.

What they learned, in short, is that humans still cannot explain how something like liquid helium, when it is cooled to very low temperatures, is able to apparently squeeze through tiny pores that other liquids are unable to penetrate. Liquid helium is also somehow able to travel in contrast to the natural gravitational pull, a phenomenon that still has no concrete explanation.

"To the researchers' surprise, their calculations showed that turbulent flows of a class of superfluids on a flat surface behave not like those of ordinary fluids in 2-D (two-dimensional), but more like 3-D fluids, which morph from relatively uniform, large structures to smaller and smaller structures," explains a ScienceDaily.com report on the study.

"The result is much like cigarette smoke: From a burning tip, smoke unfurls in a single stream that quickly disperses into smaller and smaller eddies. Physicists refer to this phenomenon as an 'energy cascade,'" it adds.

To get a better understanding of how this process works, check out this short video that illustrates liquid helium in action:

Superfluids seem to act like cream poured in hot coffee, except without the coffee

As you will notice, the substance behaves unlike almost anything else we are currently aware of in nature. A similar comparison is how cream disperses in a cup of hot coffee -- trapped by an invisible top layer, which is the 2-D surface, the cream gradually bursts out in all directions, traveling on its own within a larger 3-D environment below the coffee's surface. But for liquid helium, this mechanistic action occurs in the open air.

"Scientists have previously found that 2-D liquids tend to start out as relatively small structures, but as they flow, their energy combines to form larger and larger structures -- similar to the way tornadoes can merge to form hurricanes," adds ScienceDaily.com. "In contrast, liquids in 3-D behave in the opposite manner, starting as large structures and spinning out into smaller structures, much like the dispersal of cigarette smoke."

Be sure to read the full ScienceDaily.com report for more information about how superfluids work, and how they continue to evoke a sense of mystery and awe as to how the universe functions:

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