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Hydrodynamic excitations in a Bose-Einstein condensate

By R Meppelink


The field of Bose-Einstein condensation (BEC) in dilute atomic gases provides a fruitful playground to test well-developed theories of quantum fluids. Research using BECs can address open questions relating to the many-body aspects of two-component quantum liquids, namely the interaction between the hydrodynamic normal and the superfluid component at finite temperatures. After the first realization of BEC some pilot experiments have been carried out, but detailed experiments are missing. This has to be compared to the case of liquid helium II, where many experiments since the 1950s have added to our understanding of novel phenomena in quantum liquids, like collective excitations, first and second sound, and others. One of the drawbacks of liquid helium is that the interactions are so strong that a clear distinction between the two components is difficult and the interpretation of the phenomena remains ambiguous. Most experimental studies of dilute Bose-Einstein condensed gases use clouds, which are in the collisionless regime. The reason for the lack of detailed experiments in BECs to study quantum liquids and in particular the hydrodynamical aspects of it, is the limited number of atoms (typically 1--10 million) in the experiments leaving the thermal atoms virtually collisionless. Efforts to decrease the mean free path by increasing the confinement limits the lifetime of the sample, since the density is limited by three-body decay. Experiments on dilute clouds of cold atoms are generally conducted in highly asymmetric traps. In these elongated, cigar-shaped geometries the mean free path of the atoms can become much shorter than the size of the cloud in the long, axial direction, but at the same time exceeds the size in the other, radial directions. In this so-called hydrodynamic-collisionless regime the system can be considered radially collisionless and axially hydrodynamic. In our setup we have created BECs containing up to 300 million sodium atoms by evaporation of atoms in an axially strongly decompressed trap with an aspect ratio of 1:65. Hot atoms created in three-body collisions are able to leave the sample in this highly asymmetric trap, before they can heat other atoms in an avalanche. The sample is axially hydrodynamic, but due to the large aspect ratio collisionless in the radial direction. Such samples are ideal for the observation of the interaction between the superfluid and normal fluid component of the cloud. In this thesis we describe the setup which is used to reach the hydrodynamic regime and we describe a novel implementation of the well-known phase contrast imaging technique. Next, we study collective excitations in the crossover from the collisionless toward the hydrodynamic regime, we determine the heat conduction in a cold, hydrodynamic thermal cloud and observe the propagation of a thermal wave in the two-fluid regime. Furthermore, we study the friction between the superfluid and normal fluid component of the cloud. In the final chapters of this thesis we study the propagation of second sound, as well as the formation and propagation of shock waves

Publisher: Utrecht University
Year: 2009
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