What is Superfluidity (the second part of the story about Pyotr Kapitsa)

Poststamp Russian Physicist Pyotr Kapitsa

Superfluidity was discovered by physicist Pyotr Kapitsa. What is Superfluidity?

Take, for example, regular water. If we heat it up, it will turninto a vapor (gas). If we cool it – it becomes ice (solid). Almost all chemical elements behave the same way: they transition from solid state to liquid stateand then to gas with an increasing temperature.

Helium, which at normal temperature is a light gas (it is used to inflate balloons), when cooled significantly is transformed into a liquid. It would seem nothing unusual. But, as Kapitsa discovered, if helium is cooled even more, this liquid will cease to be viscous!

If you live in a cold climate, you will have an easier time to imagine it. Imagine that you pour some conventional oil in the engine. In the cold weather, the oil becomes viscous. And the engine may not start. And the colder it gets,the more problems you will have. That is why you go and pay for the more expensive oil for low temperatures :)

If oil would behave like helium, then when the temperature went down at some point it would become not viscous, but on the contrary – liquid! This amazing phenomenon was discovered by Pyotr Kapitsa. And this phenomenon was the beginning of a new field in science – the physics of quantum liquids.

 “The patient does not need a great medicine that was invented after his death.”

P. Kapitsa

In the Name of Peace

Pyotr Kapitsa refused to participate in the creation of the atomic bomb, and for that he was suspended from duty and placed under house arrest for years. But he still continued his research work at home, basically laying the foundation for the creation of fusion energy.

 “The better the work, the shorter it can be delivered.”

P. Kapitsa

Nobel Lecture

Kapitsa allowed himself a great liberty to devote the lecture not to the subject for which he got an award, but to the work he was conducting on thermonuclear fusion, because it is specifically the fusion energy that can solve the problem of depletion of natural resources used in conventional energy development.


Pyotr Kapitsa’s two sons became scientists.

Sergei Kapitsa became a prominent popularizer of science, and for nearly four decades he had been hosting a popular scientific show on Russian TV “Believe it, or not.”

Andrei Kapitsa became a prominent Arctic explorer who made the last major geographical discovery of the 20thcentury. Based on calculations, he predicted, and then confirmed the existence of the largest Antarctic subglacial lake “Vostok” at a depth of more than 4 kilometers beneath the ice! The dimensions of this subglacial lake are about 250 by 50 kilometers, and its depth is more than a kilometer!

See also the first part


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