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Physics of Quantum Solid in Microgravity

Yuichi Okuda and Ryuji Nomura Department of Condensed Matter Physics, Tokyo Institute of Technology Oh-okayama, Meguro-ku, Tokyo 152-8551, Japan Jan. 13, 2004

Abstract Here we review several interesting and important physics aspect of solid 4 He in microgravity. Solid He is produced at low temperature by applying an external pressure of about 25 bar on superuid. Due to almost no latent heat involved in the phase transition and the rapid mass transfer in superuid, the growth coecient of solid 4 He is enormous. This fact enables us to study the true equilibrium crystal shape, which cannot be done with any other material. Thus, solid 4 He at low temperature is the ideal system to study the fundamental physics of a crystal: equilibrium crystal shape, roughening transition, s quantum surface physics, etc. Unfortunately solid 4 He is strongly aected by the Earth gravity, so that the ultimate study must be done in microgravity. A possible way these experiments can be performed on the ground is proposed.



We review here the interesting experimental issues of solid 4 He in microgravity. Most crystals in nature are often surrounded by beautiful facets and we are apt to think that is the crystals own shape. But they are not under the true equilibrium conditions. All crystals have been produced in the growing process and quenched to the quasi-stable state. So one can ask: what shape is realized in the ground state? It is not easy to answer such a question experimentally. For most crystals growth is determined by heat and mass transfer which are carried out by the diusion process. Generally it takes a reat amount of time to reach the equilibrium condition for a macroscopic size crystal [1]. Fortunately, however, we have only one crystal relevant to such an investigation: that is solid 4 He which is grown in the superuid phase at very low temperature. Liquid helium is regarded as a quantum uid which is melted by quantum uctuation (zero point motion) even at T = 0. Liquid 4 He becomes superuid at T =2.17 K at saturated vapor pressure, which is the manifestation of Bose-Einstein condensation. The most outstanding feature of this quantum system at low temperature is the fact that it is extremely pure. All foreign substances are frozen and excluded from the system, the thermodynamic parameters of temperature and pressure to specify the system can be controlled very accurately and precise measurements are possible. It is an ideal system with which to do basic research on the fundamental physics of the quantum system. If we apply an external pressure up to 25 bar for liquid 4 He, it is forced into the solid phase due to its strong repulsive interactions. Then we have a very interesting solid which coexists with the quantum uid. The atoms in the solid frequently change their sites due to the strong quantum uctuation, or zero point motion, thus it is often called a quantum solid. Solid 4 He has two crystallographic structures, bcc and hcp. Here we conne ourselves to hcp solid, (see the phase diagram in Fig.1). There is a naive physics in the interface between the quantum solid and the quantum uid which will be probably manifested strongly in microgravity [2]. As can be seen in this gure, the melting curve is at below 1 K. This means there is almost no latent heat involved in the liquid/solid transition, as is derived from the Clausius-Clapeyron relation. No heat diusion problem occurs during the phase transition. Furthermore, the melted solid 4 He is superuid and the mass transport proceeds very easily. Solid 4 He at low temperature can thus grow at enormous speed. The growth velocity is proportional to the chemical potential dierence and the coecient of it, which is called the growth coecient, is huge, something 2

hcp solid

bcc Normal fluid





0 0.0







Figure 1: Phase diagram of 4 He at low temperature.

like 1010 times larger than the ordinary solid case. The crystal forms its equilibrium shape within a very short time and is therefore the ideal crystal in nature in which to study the shape.

Typical outstanding features of solid 4 He

One of the spectacular examples of the interface of solid 4 He [3, 4]is that the crystal forms a horizontal surface under gravity thus minimizing the gravitational energy, similar to a liquid. Further, if some perturbation is applied, the horizontal interface oscillates with small damping, which is called a crystallization-melting wave. The dispersion of the wave is also very similar to the surface wave of water,
2 q = q 2 + (s l )g

l q (s l )2


This is a very unique wave observable only on the quantum solid surface in coexsistence with superuid, and it plays a fundamental role in the physics of the interface(see section 6). Another interesting feature is that the interface can be manipulated by acoustic waves [5, 6]. It has been observed that crystal growth and melting are induced by acoustic waves. A snap shot of the growing and melting of the solid during application of the acoustic wave pulse is shown in Fig. 2. The chemical potential dierence is provide by the radiation pressure of acoustic waves, P , in this case, which is given by c1 c1 ) + R2 (1 + )}, (2) c2 c2 where the acoustic wave is incident from medium 1 to medium 2. Here E is the energy density of the P = E{1 (

acoustic wave.

P 2 E= , 1 c2 1


c1 and c2 are sound velosity of each medium, R is the reection coecient of sound wave. The deformed crystal relaxes to an equilibrium at interface due to gravity after the acoustic wave is turned o. In this way, we are able to measure the growth (melting) coecient for the specied orientated plane, which cannot be done in a conventional bulk growth experiment. This radiation pressure is very important, since it may help to control the crystal in an experiment in microgravity in the future.


The transition region between a facet and an adjacent curved part of a crystal is known as a vicinal surface, which is also shown in Fig. 3. The vicinal surface is interesting because the steps are well separated and the functional form of the surface is determined only by a step energy and a step-step interaction . If the step-step interaction is an elastic or entropic one, in which case the interaction is dominated by the d2 term, where d is the distance between steps, the prole of the surface z(x) is proportional to x3/2 . It is believed that this form holds for general crystals, but this has not yet been conrmed experimentally. A stringent test of this theory can be done with the equilibrium crystal shape (ECS) of 4 He crystal. There have already been several trials to determine z(x) in solid 4 He. But experimental results dier among groups and are controversial. The exponent of x ranges between 1.2 and 1.8, and it too is controversial. The main reason could be that the crystal is deformed by gravity [8]. A rigorous test of the true functional form of the 4 He vicinal surface is only possible in microgravity.
Wulff plot Crystal shape x z(x) vicinal surface Surface free energy


Figure 3: Wuls plot. Figure 2: Crystal growth and melting of solid 4 He due to the radiation pressure of acoustic waves. Acoustic wave is initiated from the bottom (a) and from the top (b). T = 700 mK.

Roughening transition

Burton et al. [9] were the rst to point out that there is a transition on the crystal surface from the atomically rough surface to the atomically at 3 Equilibrium crystal shape faceted surface as the temperature goes down. This is called the roughening transition. It should be very The equilibrium crystal shape is determined by interesting to see how the roughening transition on minimizing the surface free energy for the given volthe quantum solid, 4 He, is realized. ume of the crystal. In the case of crystal, the anisotropy The roughening transition is classied into the makes the calculation complicated. Wul found a Kosterlitz-Thouless (KT) transition [10], which is the solution to this problem in 1901 geometrically [7]; it phase transition of the 2 dimensional (2D) XY-type is known as Wuls plot (Fig. 3). This plot has not universality class. The following relation between the been tested by rigorous experiment, but most crystal transition temperature, TR , and the surface stiness, shape experiments were analyzed on the assumption , is known. that the plot is correct. 2 kTR = h2 , (4) 3

where h is the lattice period perpendicular to the surface. The roughening transition was clearly observed on [0001] face of 4 He at TR1 =1.23 K [11] and a rigorous test of whether it is the KT transition was done for the rst time [12]. The transition was identied by observing the curvature of that plane. Following the c-facet, two other facets (a-facet and s-facet) were observed at the transition temperatures of 0.9 K [13] and 0.36 K [14], respectively. Though the roughening transition of c-facet is rather clear, the other two facets were not observed under an equilibrium condition, but were observed only in the growing process. There is an open question about the roughening transition of 4 He. In a recent experiment [15], 4 He crystal was cooled down to 2 mK, but no other roughening transition and no sign of freezing of kinks were observed at that temperature. According to eq.(1), most low index planes have to be faceted at 2 mK. The ground state of the crystal surface is expected to be the faceted state by the classical theory [16]. But for the quantum crystal, it is not clear whether it is faceted or rough at T = 0. Andreev and Parshin pointed out the possibility of the quantum roughening [17, 18]. They argued that quantum uctuation may wash out the surface ordering even at T =0. Contrary to this, the renormalization theory [19] predicted that the crystal lattice periodicity eventually takes over whatever the quantum uctuation is. At least for high Miller index planes, the roughening transition temperature can be extremely low, especially for solid helium. However, as long as the experiment is performed on Earth, there may be no denite conclusion. If the roughening transition is dened as the diverging point of the height-height correlation function, gravity kills the roughening transition. Gravity will have a smearing eect on the roughening transition. Suppose the correlation function of the crystal height z at the position r and R is given as G(R) [z(r) z(r + R)]2 . (5)

For the ordinary crystal gravity may have very little eect on the roughening transition, but for solid 4 He it could be signicant. The roughening transition experiment should be done in space. The concept of quantum roughening is a very interesting issue which should be tested by an experiment in microgravity at extremely low temperature.

Weak coupling of the interface to the lattice in 4He

As mentioned in the introduction, the quantum uctuation in solid 4 He is large. This eect shows up in the coupling of the interface atoms to the lattice periodic potential. Facet size L is given by the following relation [21], Lhkl hkl R/dhkl 0 (8)

where hkl is the step energy of the plane (h, k, l), dhkl is the interplane distance, and R is the crystal size. Putting the experimental values in eq. (8), we get L/R w/d 101 , (9) where w is the step width. The step width is found to be very wide due to the quantum uctuation, which is shown in Fig.4 together with the classical sharp step width case. The interface is weakly coupled to the lattice potential. At the same time it turns out to be dicult to observe the facet even below the roughening transition point. We need a larger size crystal to observe it. In solid 4 He, the vicinal surface is only meaningful for less than 3 deg. from the c-facet. Though this vicinal surface is realized only very close to the c facet, it may be a new quantum system where kinks (defects on the step) behave as quantum mechanical particles (quasi-particles) on the step. The growth rate of this surface or the dynamics of steps is determined by these quasi-particles, which may not freeze even at T =0. Contrary to the results on solid 4 He, in solid 3 He, which is regarded as more quantum, the step width is much narrower [22]. It is more strongly coupled to the lattice, which remains a puzzle at the moment [23].

The roughening transition temperature TR is thus dened as the divergence of G(R) as


lim G(R) =


(for T < TR ) . (for T > TR )


If one introduces the Fourier transform of z of wave vector q, the next approximation is obtained. [z(r) z(r + R)]

1/a 1/R

2kB T 2kdk , g + k 2


Instability of the quantum surface of solid

where g is the gravity acceleration and is the surface tension [20]. When g goes to zero, the correlation function always diverges regardless of temperature. No roughening transition is expected. Gravity suppresses the long wavelength uctuation. 4

As the solid-superuid interface of 4 He is very sensitive to external perturbation, the process of crystallization and melting propagates as a wave if the solid surface is not faceted. Surface tension is the force restoring atness to the interface so that it


W h (b)

wave number and the frequency becomes zero at qc, at the critical stress. If g = 0, the frequency becomes imaginary, the wave uctuation is amplied and the interface is unstable for a small wave number q. The dispersion curve in this case is curve 5 in Fig. 5. Similarly, another instability is predicted [27] if superuid at the interface ows with a velocity v. The interface becomes unstable (corrugated) when the ow velocity exceeds the critical value vc = 4 g l l s l




Figure 4: Vicinal surface inclined by a small angle of 1 with respect to a high symmetry facet. In helium crystal the step (b)is much wider than the classical ones (a). Schematic picture of the kink on the step is also shown. It moves back and forth with the quantum uctuations.

recovers the equilibrium shape from the perturbed shape. It is eective only at small wavelengths and gravity is responsible for maintaining the at interface at a long wavelength (this is why we observe a horizontal interface in solid 4 He). Thus, without gravity it is not possible to stabilize the solid-liquid interface against external perturbations. If non-hydrostatic stress is exerted on the crystal, the crystal melts to reduce the elastic energy. In the classical case, the crystal deforms to release the elastic energy created by the stress. The melting proceeds as the stress increases, but nally when the stress reaches the critical value, the at interface is no longer stable and becomes corrugated. This is called Grinfeld instability [24, 25]. Even gravity can exert a uni-axial stress on solid 4 He, since it is always conned in the chamber. So the crystal is slightly melted by gravity. The Grinfeld instability is easily understood if we look into the dispersion relation of the crystallization wave with the stress. When the solid encounters a 0 non-hydrostatic uni-axial stress xx , the wave frequency is modied to the following formula [26]:
2 0 q = q 2 2q(xx )2 2 1 P E l q +(s l )g (s l )2

Without gravity the critical velocity vanishes, and any tangential ow at the surface makes the interface unstable. The experimental implication is that under microgravity the surface of 4 He crystal is macroscopically unstable with a very weak uni-axial stress or very slow superuid ow. In principle, the former instability with stress is universal for all solids, but in practice it is observable on a macroscopic scale only in solid 4 He which coexists with superuid. The latter instability with ow, if observed, is a very new phenomenon, in which superuidity plays an essential role.

1 q 5 3 4 0 0 q qc 2

Figure 5: Instability of softening of the crystallization wave with respect to uni-axial stress or superow. Microgravity example is also included (5).


where P is the Poisson ratio and E the Young modulus. As the stress, xx , increases (from curve 2 to 4 in Fig.5), the wave becomes softer for the typical

Microgravity experiment relevance

We have mentioned that there are many interesting and important experiments on solid 4 He in microgravity. One may say that the gravity eect is 5

neglected for the crystal smaller than the so called capillary length h. h= . g (12)

For solid 4 He, h is the order of 0.1 mm. This may be a macroscopic scale size, even though we need a microgravity environment for the ultimate study of solid 4 He. The true equilibrium crystal shape has been dened for macroscopic size crystal, and practically speaking, solid 4 He smaller than 0.1 mm is not suitable to study. It is strongly aected by the wall. As mentioned in section 5, the quantum uctuation requires a larger crystal to study the basic physics of solid 4 He. For example, the facet will be very dicult to observe in a crystal smaller than 0.1 mm. The big advantage of performing the experiment in microgravity would be to enhance the precision of the measurement. Very precise and basic measurement of crystal growth is possible with the 4 He crystal, but unfortunately, gravity obscures the experimental results. The pressure gradient in gravity both in the liquid and the solid hampers the precise measurement of pressure; not only does the liquid compress the solid to deform, but the crystal itself is easily deformed by its own weight. Such a deformation makes the true equilibrium shape obscure and causes the rst principle of determining the crystal shape (Wuls theorem) to be inapplicable. Another benet of carrying out the experiment under microgravity is that a crystal can be studied, which is free from any contact with the wall. We can essentially access all crystallographic orientations. This is totally impossible on earth. Finally, to demonstrate that the solid 4 He can be deformed under gravity, Fig. 6 is a picture taken while the crystal was growing very slowly. The temperature is about 200 mK. The bright area in the gure is about 10 mm 10 mm, allowing the approximate crystal size to be obtained. When the crystal is smaller (a or b in the gure), rather clear facets are observable. As it grows bigger, the relative size of the facet shrinks, and nally the top surface becomes almost at to minimize the gravitational potential. Solid 4 He is very soft and easily deformed by gravity.

Figure 6: Crystal appears to be deformed as it grows (from a to d).

Cryogenics in microgravity

There is no argument about performing a low temperature experiment on solid 4 He in microgravity. In practice, we have to cool solid 4 He well below 1 K, probably down to 100 mK. To produce such a low temperature in a microgravity environment is an another big challenge. To date, there has been only one experiment of superuid 4 He cooled down 6

to 1.5 K on a rocket to study how it behaves in microgravity [28]. No trial has yet been done to reach 100 mK. We usually use a dilution refrigerator to cool solid 4 He down below 100 mK. The cooling power of this refrigerator is produced at the phase boundary between 3 He rich phase and 3 He dissolved 4 He phase in a mixing chamber [29]. The phase boundary is stabilized by gravity, however, in microgravity the refrigerator encounters a serious problem. Several studies to develop a dilution refrigerator operable in microgravity [30, 31, 32] are being done to reach very low temperature. At this point, those model machines are still very complicated and poor in obtaining proper cooling power. Another trial to construct a multi-stage ADR (Adiabatic Demagnetization Refrigerator) is now progressing rapidly [33]. This refrigerator is much simpler than the dilution or 3 He evaporator [34] refrigerators. Superconducting magnets and magnetic refrigerants are free from any eect of gravity. If a mechanical cryocooler is installed as the base temperature bath of the demagnetization, we are completely free from liquid 4 He which is tedious to handle in a microgravity environment. The technical challenge will be the innovation of the heat switch, anti-vibration mechanism and high cooling power magnetic refrigerant, and it is hoped those will soon be resolved [33, 35]. The best place to perform the experiment mentioned here would be in the International Space Station, which is under construction but would be far distant. A rocket or a jet-plane may be the next priority, but here we would be concerned with the free fall facility. The capsule is fallen vertically for 100 m in a vacuum tube underground. It has only 4.5 seconds of microgravity and 0.5 sec of 10 g for braking. Generally, a low temperature experiment requires a long relaxation time to get thermal equilibrium. But in an experiment with solid 4 He at low temperature, the relaxation is very rapid. 4.5 seconds would be

long enough to observe the phenomenon described here. Using a combination of ADR and free fall there may be a chance to perform the low temperature solid 4 He experiment, which would open a new eld of low temperature physics and cryogenics.

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The surface of solid helium provides a new and unique system for fundamental understanding of crystal growth and surface physics. But the essential result will be obtained only if the proposed experiments are performed under microgravity. Although a few technical problems must be overcome, we believe this would open up a new eld and contribute to a fundamental understanding of condensed matter physics. This kind of project should proceed with international collaboration, and we are currently promoting joint research with foreign groups. This review is based on experiments done in Tokyo Institute of Technology with S. Kimura, F. Ogasawara H. Abe and S. Tatara. We thank them for discussions and are also grateful to M. Uwaha of Nagoya Univ. for many fruitful exchanges. Finally, we would like to mention that the work related to the topics here was partly supported by the Ground-based Research Announcement for Space Utilization promoted by the Japan Space Forum, and Grants-inAid for Scientic Research from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan.

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