We initially perceive the world through our senses. And the quantum world remains largely inaccessible to these senses. Hence our difficulty in understanding it. But things could be changing now that physicists have managed to “touch” a quantum object.
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The world of quantum physics is strange, to say the least. So different from ours that we can easily imagine it being intangible. But physicists like challenges. That’s why they looked for an answer to the question that was on the lips of all scientists – and perhaps some of you who are curious -: “What does it feel like to touch a quantum object?” »
Touching a quantum superfluid with a probe
Physicists from Lancaster University (Great Britain) report today in the journal Nature Communication how they (almost) succeeded in touching a superfluid made of helium 3 (3He). In order to make it superfluid, researchers have to keep the helium in question at a temperature of around one ten-thousandth of a degree above absolute zero. Therefore, it is impossible to actually put a finger in it.
The researchers therefore implemented a complex protocol. And finally they managed to dip a finger-sized probe into it. A probe whose goal was to transmit thermodynamic information to physicists. It worked. They concluded that most of the superfluid behaves like a vacuum. So if you were to dip your finger into it, a two-dimensional surface would form around it and the interaction would therefore only take place with a two-dimensional liquid.
A two-dimensional impression for the superfluid
It is strange ? Yes. But it is quantum… In any case, this work not only satisfies a little of our curiosity, but also gives a new vision of this superfluid, which has already been studied in detail by scientists. At the lowest temperatures and energies, the helium-3 superfluid is thermomechanically two-dimensional. And the implications could go beyond the limits of quantum physics and upend particle physics or even cosmology.