Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Quantum fluids and solids

This research area focuses on the theoretical and experimental study of superfluids (typically helium), encompassing investigation of a range of their properties.

Partners involved:
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

The scope and what we're doing

This research area focuses on the theoretical and experimental studies of the quantum mechanical phenomena of superfluids, typically through the study of helium (He) just above zero kelvin (absolute zero).

This research area includes studies of solid, liquid and superfluid phases of 4He, 3He, hydrogen and 3He/4He mixtures, and encompasses investigation of properties (for example topological defects, flow and quantum turbulence) as well as early potential applications.

We aim to:

  • consolidate 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
  • encourage upgrades and full use of existing capital, in preference to large additional investments – for the current generation of experiments, we expect that existing equipment will be sufficient, based on previous investments through the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme (UKNQTP), critical-mass grants and industry
  • continue training and early-career development, without intervention, through research centres where there are established research leaders, capital, or theoretical expertise.

We will strongly encourage collaboration and knowledge transfer across disciplines, to accelerate advances through to application and maximise links with other research areas, including:

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, such as the UKNQTP.

Why we're doing it

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.

The EPSRC portfolio 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 use ultra low-temperature physics techniques.

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.

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. Previous international helium shortages had prioritised research into developing cryogenic methods, from which key collaborating industry partners have greatly benefited.

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. 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.

View evidence sources used to inform our research strategies.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships. Find out more about research area connections and funding for Quantum Fluids and Solids.

Find previously funded projects on Grants on the Web.

Last updated: 4 January 2023

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