Article image

Quantum vortex created in the lab to mimic black hole behavior

In an unprecedented experiment, scientists have successfully created a massive quantum vortex within superfluid helium, a breakthrough that mirrors the gravitational dynamics of black holes.

This fascinating research, a collaborative effort among the University of Nottingham, King’s College London, and Newcastle University, introduces a sophisticated experimental model dubbed the “quantum tornado.”

Creating a quantum vortex in the lab

Their innovation allows for an in-depth exploration of the behaviors and interactions of analog black holes with their environments.

At the heart of this experiment is the creation of a colossal swirling vortex in superfluid helium, achieved by cooling it to the lowest temperatures imaginable.

This setup has enabled researchers to observe the minute wave dynamics on the surface of the superfluid with unprecedented detail and precision.

According to the study published in Nature, these observations have revealed that the quantum tornados effectively replicate the gravitational conditions found near rotating black holes.

How superfluid helium brought theory to life

Dr. Patrik Svancara, a leading figure in the research and an author of the paper from the University of Nottingham’s School of Mathematical Sciences, shared insights into the significance of using superfluid helium for their study.

“Using superfluid helium has allowed us to study tiny surface waves in greater detail and accuracy than with our previous experiments in water,” Svancara explained.

“As the viscosity of superfluid helium is extremely small, we were able to meticulously investigate their interaction with the superfluid tornado and compare the findings with our own theoretical projections,” he said.

Cryogenic system that created the quantum vortex

The research team developed a custom cryogenic system capable of maintaining several liters of superfluid helium at temperatures below -271°C.

At such extreme temperatures, liquid helium exhibits unique quantum properties that are usually restrictive in forming giant vortices in other quantum fluids.

However, this experiment showcased how the interface of superfluid helium can act as a stabilizing mechanism for these phenomena.

Quantum vortices and black hole analogies

Dr. Svancara further elucidated the nature of their setup, which marked a record-breaking achievement in the strength of vortex flow within quantum fluids.

“Superfluid helium contains tiny objects called quantum vortices, which tend to spread apart from each other. In our set-up, we’ve managed to confine tens of thousands of these quanta in a compact object resembling a small tornado, achieving a vortex flow with record-breaking strength in the realm of quantum fluids,” Dr. Svancara explained.

These quantum vortices, typically dispersed from each other in superfluid helium, were manipulated to create a concentrated vortex flow.

The parallels drawn between the behavior of the vortex flow and the gravitational effects of black holes on surrounding spacetime have unveiled new opportunities for simulating finite-temperature quantum field theories in the complex environment of curved spacetimes.

Implications of simulating black holes

Professor Silke Weinfurtner, who leads the Black Hole Laboratory where this experiment was conducted, reflected on the evolution of their research.

She highlighted the initial discovery of black hole physics in their analog experiments in 2017 as a pivotal moment for studying the enigmatic phenomena of the universe.

“When we first observed clear signatures of black hole physics in our initial analog experiment back in 2017, it was a breakthrough moment for understanding some of the bizarre phenomena that are often challenging, if not impossible, to study otherwise,” Weinfurtner explained.

“Now, with our more sophisticated experiment, we have taken this research to the next level, which could eventually lead us to predict how quantum fields behave in curved spacetimes around astrophysical black holes,” she concluded.

What lies ahead in black hole research

With the advancements made in their current experiment, the team is optimistic about the potential to predict the behavior of quantum fields in curved spacetimes around astrophysical black holes, propelling the field into new dimensions of understanding and exploration.

In summary, this study marks a significant leap in quantum physics, demonstrating for the first time the creation of a giant quantum vortex within superfluid helium to mimic the gravitational dynamics of black holes.

The collaborative effort has deepened our understanding of analog black holes and set the stage for future simulations of quantum fields in curved spacetimes.

Through meticulous experimentation and innovative approaches, the research team has unveiled new avenues for exploring the complex interplay between quantum mechanics and general relativity, bringing us closer to unraveling the mysteries of the universe.

The full study was published in the journal Nature.


Like what you read? Subscribe to our newsletter for engaging articles, exclusive content, and the latest updates.

Check us out on EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and


News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day