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Feb. 23, 2011

Superscience For Supersolids

by Sam Flatow

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There is new research suggesting that supersolids exist. No, I didn’t know what a supersolid was either, and neither did anyone else I asked. Apparently, a supersolid is a new state of matter with its own set of rules, combining the properties of a solid and a superfluid.

Right. Superfluid. Sure. A superfluid is another state of matter with its own set of properties. (I am becoming increasingly distressed over the lies my middle school science teachers have taught me. First plasma, now two super-states. That doubles the types of matter that I was originally told existed.) Among the properties a superfluid has are the near perfect conductance of heat and, more importantly, no measurable viscosity. It is a frictionless fluid. So, if I push one atom of a superfluid past another, it would flow by without effect.

Ok, that’s a little weird; but a fluid is fairly shapeless. There’s very little holding those atoms together, so the idea that they may not interfere isn’t too strange.

On the other hand, what if a solid were to act this way? That is, if I were to take a disk made out of a supersolid and spin it in a circle, most of the atoms would behave as expected and follow the rest of the model. But some atoms just wouldn’t move at all. They would stand motionless, passing perfectly in between the gaps separating other molecules.

A completely frictionless solid. That’s just crazy talk. Crazy talk, and the perfect new roller-skate material. We’ve officially un-invented the wheel. Well, as long as you don’t mind skating at 15 millikelvin. That’s 1/15,000th of a degree Kelvin, the only temperature that this supersolid exists in right now. So, hat weather.

About Sam Flatow

Sam is an assistant producer at Science Friday where he prepares the tasty SciFri snacks and blogs about smart cephalopods and zombie ants.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

Science Friday® is produced by the Science Friday Initiative, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Science Friday® and SciFri® are registered service marks of Science Friday, Inc. Site design by Pentagram; engineering by Mediapolis.

 

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