Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: superfluidity from Philip's Encyclopedia

Property of a liquid that has no viscosity and therefore no resistance to flow. Helium II - liquid helium at temperatures less than 2K (-271°C/-456°F) - was the first known superfluid. Helium II apparently defies gravity by flowing up slopes. It also appears to contravene the laws of thermodynamics, by flowing from a cool region to a warmer one. See also cryogenics

Summary Article: superfluidity from The Columbia Encyclopedia

tendency of liquid helium below a temperature of 2.19 degrees Kelvin to flow freely, even upward, with little apparent friction. Helium becomes a liquid when it is cooled to 4.2 degrees Kelvin. Special methods are needed to cool a substance below this temperature, which is very near absolute zero (see Kelvin temperature scale; low-temperature physics). When the temperature reaches 2.19 degrees Kelvin, the properties of liquid helium change abruptly, so much so that ordinary helium is known as helium I and helium below this temperature is known as helium II. The transition temperature between helium I and helium II is known as the lambda point because a graph of certain properties of helium takes a sharp turn at this temperature and resembles the Greek letter lambda (Λ). Liquid helium II flows easily through capillary tubes that resist the flow of ordinary fluids (see capillarity) and a Dewar flask filled with helium II from a larger container will empty itself back into the original container because the liquid helium flows spontaneously in an invisible film over the surface of the flask. The behavior of helium II can be partially understood in terms of certain quantum effects (see quantum theory). Helium stays a liquid down to absolute zero because its zero-point energy is such that it cannot become a solid without giving up an amount of energy that is less than that allowed by the quantum theory. Similarly, quantum restrictions keep helium II from behaving like a normal fluid because the energy interactions associated with friction and viscosity in normal fluid flow involve amounts not possible for helium II.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2017

Related Credo Articles

Full text Article superfluidity
Britannica Concise Encyclopedia

Unusual property of liquid helium cooled below −455.75 °F (−270.97 °C). At such low temperatures, helium exhibits an enormous rise in heat conducti

Full text Article Superfluid
The Big Idea: How Breakthroughs of the Past Shape the Future

Date: 1937 IN USE Similar to a superconductor, a superfluid has some amazing properties that have inspired a great deal of research by scientists

Full text Article superfluid
The Penguin Dictionary of Physics

A fluid that flows without any resistance. The electrons in SUPERCONDUCTIVITY constitute a superfluid. Another example is the form of liquid...

See more from Credo