Research ArticleQUANTUM SOLIDS

Equilibrium shape of 4He crystal under zero gravity below 200 mK

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Science Advances  23 Oct 2015:
Vol. 1, no. 9, e1500825
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1500825


Equilibrium crystal shape is the lowest energy crystal shape that is hardly realized in ordinary crystals because of their slow relaxation. 4He quantum crystals in a superfluid have been expected as unique exceptions that grow extremely fast at very low temperatures. However, on the ground, gravity considerably deforms the crystals and conceals the equilibrium crystal shape, and thus, gravity-free environment is needed to observe the equilibrium shape of 4He. We report the relaxation processes of macroscopic 4He crystals in a superfluid below 200 mK under zero gravity using a parabolic flight of a jet plane. When gravity was removed from a gravity-flattened 4He crystal, the crystal rapidly transformed into a shape with flat surfaces. Although the relaxation processes were highly dependent on the initial condition, the crystals relaxed to a nearly homothetic shape in the end, indicating that they were truly in an equilibrium shape minimizing the interfacial free energy. Thanks to the equilibrium shape, we were able to determine the Wulff’s origin and the size of the c-facet together with the vicinal surface profile next to the c-facet. The c-facet size was extremely small in the quantum crystals, and the facet-like flat surfaces were found to be the vicinal surfaces. At the same time, the interfacial free energy of the a-facet and s-facet was also obtained.

  • quantum solids
  • equilibrium shape
  • superfluid
  • zero gravity
  • interfacial free energy

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