Quantum fluids and solids

Theoretical and experimental studies of the quantum mechanical phenomena of superfluids, typically through the study of helium (He) just above 0K. This research area includes studies of solid, liquid and superfluid phases of 4He, 3He, hydrogen and 3He/4He mixtures, and encompasses investigation of properties (e.g. topological defects, flow and quantum turbulence) as well as early potential applications.

We aim to maintain the size of this research area as a proportion of the EPSRC portfolio. We will continue to support the world-leading experimental aspects of our superfluid helium portfolio, while nurturing theoretical research (especially where there is overlap with condensed matter physics).

By the end of the Delivery plan we aim to have:

  • Consolidation of experimental capacity at sites with existing necessary infrastructure, taking advantage of the geographical proximity of some of the key groups to combine expertise and to focus research in collaborative, strategic and ambitious programmes
  • Encouraged upgrades and full utilisation of existing capital, in preference to large additional investments. For the current generation of experiments, we expect that current, existing equipment will be sufficient, based on previous investments through the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme (UKNQTP), critical-mass grants and industry
  • Continuation of training and early-career development, without intervention, through research centres where established research leaders, capital or theoretical expertise are present

We will strongly encourage collaboration and knowledge transfer across disciplines, to accelerate advances through to application and maximise links with other research areas (e.g. Condensed Matter Physics - Electronic Structure, Condensed Matter Physics - Magnetism and Magnetic Materials, Superconductivity, Cold Atoms and Molecules, and Fluid Dynamics).

While this research is fundamental in nature, many of the resultant techniques and outputs have strong applications in the cryogenic industry, with significant crossover with the low and ultralow-temperature physics and technology community. We will encourage strengthening of interdisciplinary interactions, with pathways to application identified through appropriate industries and translational activities (e.g. the UKNQTP).

Highlights:

While the number of groups active in this research area is small, the UK has a specific, world-leading capability which represents a significant proportion of the international Quantum Fluids and Solids community (Evidence source 1). Quality is concentrated at a few universities which maintain internationally renowned experimental capability and theoretical expertise. Leading researchers are recognised, with significant collaborations in other fields to utilise ultralow-temperature physics techniques. (Evidence source 2)

This area is essential for providing expertise and equipment for cryogenics, thermometry and ultralow-temperature physics, an area where the UK is strong and which the international community has prioritised (Evidence source 3). As a result, it is a key enabler of quantum technologies, analytical science, manufacturing, superconductivity, plasmas and lasers, cold atoms and molecules, and quantum optics (Evidence source 4). Previous international helium shortages had prioritised research into developing cryogenic methods, from which key collaborating industry partners have greatly benefitted (Evidence source 5).

Beyond cryogenics, applications are largely very long-term, with direct relevance to turbulence (which could revolutionise energy usage and transport), quantum mechanical phenomena and far-from-equilibrium physics (Evidence source 6). There will be some enabling of disruptive technologies, local manufacturing and energy sustainability, but research is largely fundamental.

Capital remains relatively expensive and the previously high cost and low availability of liquid helium has made it more difficult to expand these activities. Theoretical groups are more widespread and have large crossover with condensed matter and far-from-equilibrium physics. PhD training and early-career development are largely driven and hosted by established and significant groups, with skills exchange between the enabling and enabled disciplines listed above.

This area specifically contributes towards the following Productive and Resilient Nation Ambitions:

P1: Introduce the next generation of innovative and disruptive technologies

Advances in cryogenics driven by this research area will underpin quantum technologies, superconducting systems and new low-temperature electronics and analytical techniques.

R1: Achieve energy security and efficiency

In the long term, contributions to understanding quantum turbulence could revolutionise understanding of conventional turbulence and underpin new superconducting technologies to dramatically reduce energy usage.

R4: Manage resources efficiently and sustainably

Previous quantum fluids research has opened up dry-dilution refrigeration and closed-cycle cryogenics. Similarly, future advances are likely to move cryogenics away from reliance on (non-renewable) liquid helium.

  1. EPSRC/Leiden university bibliometric analysis
  2. Institute of Physics, Inspirational Physics for a Modern Economy (PDF), (2014).
  3. European Microkelvin Collaboration, Periodic Project Report (PDF), (2013).
  4. European Association of National Metrology Institutes (EURAMET), Implementing the New Kelvin, (2012).
  5. Warwick Economics and Development, Cryogenics Impact Report (PDF), (2015).
  6. European High-Performance Infrastructures in Turbulence (EuHIT), EuHIT: Transnational Facilities for Quantum Turbulence, (2013).

Research area connections

This diagram shows the top 10 connections between Research Areas within the EPSRC research portfolio. The depth of the segment relates to value of grants and the width of the segment relates to the number of grants shared by those two Research Areas. Please click to see the related Research Area rationale.

Maintain

We aim to maintain this area as a proportion of the EPSRC portfolio.

Visualising our Portfolio (VoP)
Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships.

EPSRC Support by Research Area in Quantum Fluids and Solids (GoW)
Search EPSRC's research and training grants.

Contact Details

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: James Dracott
Job title: Manager
Department: Physical Sciences
Organisation: EPSRC
Telephone: 01793 444348