Turbulent Times in Quantum Physics

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Speaker: A/Prof. Brian Anderson (College of Optical Sciences, University of Arizona)
Date: 13th August 2010

Turbulent fluid flows are found throughout nature, from the interstellar medium, to planetary atmospheres, to water in bathtubs. Turbulence studies are likewise undertaken in numerous disciplines, such as physics, biology, geology, engineering, and meteorology – yet a physical understanding of the nature of the observed phenomena stubbornly remains far from clear. Even Richard Feynman was baffled by turbulence, calling it β€œthe last great unsolved problem of classical physics.” Turbulence has also been investigated for decades in superfluids, where the presence of quantized vortices and the laws of quantum mechanics offer some simplifications to characterizing fluid flows. Similar studies are now appearing on a new front in quantum physics: atomic Bose-Einstein condensates (BECs). With these microscopically controllable superfluid droplets, along with accompanying theories able to describe the microscopic dynamics of BECs, new opportunities to investigate quantum turbulence arise. In this talk, I will briefly summarize the concepts of classical and quantum turbulence, BECs, and quantized vortices – the building blocks of quantum turbulence. I will then discuss recent experimental research at the University of Arizona investigating BEC quantum turbulence and the dynamics of vortices. Although we are far from a complete characterization of quantum turbulence, it is hoped that these studies may eventually shed new light on the general turbulence problem.