First Advisor

Erik Bodegom

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Environmental Sciences and Resources: Physics


Environmental Science and Management




Liquid helium



Physical Description

3, ix, 106 leaves: ill. 28 cm.


It is well known that most liquids exhibit a tensile strength which is much smaller in magnitude than the tensile strength predicted by homogeneous nucleation theory. This lack of agreement is usually attributed to the difficulty of preparing liquid samples free from foreign gases which act as heterogeneous nucleation sites. Liquid helium occupies a unique place among liquids for tensile strength measurements because all foreign gases are frozen out at liquid helium temperatures. Furthermore, superfluid 4He should fill all crevices on solid surfaces, eliminating the chance of heterogeneous nucleation on helium vapor pockets. Despite the quantum mechanical nature of liquid helium, Becker-Doring theory of nucleation of the vapor phase from the liquid phase should be valid down to 0.3 K in 4 He, yet previous results have been in stark disagreement with the theory. In this study, a piezoelectric transducer in the form of a hemispherical shell was used to focus high-intensity ultrasound into a small volume of 4He . The transducer was gated at its resonant frequency of 566 kHz with gate widths of less than 1 msec in order to minimize the effects of transducer heating and acoustic streaming. The onset of nucleation was detected from the absorption of acoustic energy and the scattering of laser light from microscopic bubbles. A new theory for the diffraction of light from the focal zone of a spherical converging sound wave was developed to confirm calculations of the acoustic pressure amplitude at the focus of the piezoelectric transducer, calculations which were based on the acoustic power radiated into the liquid and the nonlinear absorption of sound. The experimental results were in agreement with homogeneous nucleation theory for a nucleation rate of approximately 1015 critical size bubbles/sec-cm3. This is only the third liquid for which the theoretical tensile strength has been reached and it confirms homogeneous nucleation theory over a range three times greater than any other experiment. A noticeable decrease in the magnitude of the tensile strength was noted at temperatures near the lambda transition and a hypothesis that bubbles are being nucleated heterogeneously quantized vortices is presented.


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