Researchers discovered elusive half-quantum vortices in a superfluid


Gained understanding in quantum physics may be a step towards quantum computers.

A half-quantum vortex combines circular spin flow and circular mass flow, leading to the formation of vortex pairs that can be observed experimentally. Image: Ella Maru Studio.

Researchers in Aalto University, Finland, and P.L. Kapitza Institute in Moscow have discovered half-quantum vortices in superfluid helium. This vortex is a topological defect, exhibited in superfluids and superconductors, which carries a fixed amount of circulating current.

‘This discovery of half-quantum vortices culminates a long search for these objects originally predicted to exist in superfluid helium in 1976,’ says Samuli Autti, Doctoral Candidate at Aalto University in Finland.

‘In the future, our discovery will provide access to the cores of half-quantum vortices, hosting isolated Majorana modes, exotic solitary particles. Understanding these modes is essential for the progress of quantum information processing, building a quantum computer,’ Autti continues.

Macroscopic coherence in quantum systems such as superfluids and superconductors provides many possibilities, and some central limitations. For instance, the strength of circulating currents in these systems is limited to certain discrete values by the laws of quantum mechanics. A half-quantum vortex overcomes that limitation using the non-trivial topology of the underlying material, a topic directly related to the 2016 Nobel Prize in physics.

Among the emerging properties is one analogous to the so-called Alice string in high-energy physics, where a particle on a route around the string flips the sign of its charge. In general the quantum character of these systems is already utilized in ultra-sensitive SQUID amplifiers and other important quantum devices.

The research article has been published 14 December in the online version of Physical Review Letters. The article has also been highlighted in online publication Physics (DOI: 10.1103/Physics.9.148). Experiments were done in the Low Temperature Laboratory at the national OtaNano infrastructure. The research group is part of the Centre of Excellence in Low Temperature Quantum Phenomena and Devices at Aalto University.

For more information:
Samuli Autti, Doctoral Candidate
Aalto University, Dept. of Applied Physics
+358 400 458 345
Rota – Topological superfluids research group:

Article: S. Autti, V.V. Dmitriev, J.T. Mäkinen, A.A. Soldatov, G.E. Volovik, A.N. Yudin V.V. Zavjalov, and V.B. Eltsov: Observation of Half-Quantum Vortices in Topological Superfluid 3He. Physical Review Letters 2016. DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.117.255301.