Review of John Weisend II’s Superfluid – How a Quantum Fluid Revolutionized Modern Science

Super Fluid book by John WeisendOver the recent holidays, we hosted some new friends in our home. The young couple are both technically savvy but have never previously encountered the world of cryogenics, low temperatures, or superfluid helium. I had a copy of John Weisend II’s new book Superfluid – How a Quantum Fluid Revolutionized Modern Science sitting around, and one of the two picked it up out of curiosity. The cover design is cool, and it grabs your attention. Our young friend was captivated by the contents and commented on how great it was that he could understand it all. I will now be ordering a copy for him. (I had yet to read my own copy and would not let him take it with him when he left.) This is a great book. It relates a technically fascinating story in a manner accessible to the general public. You should order a copy for yourself! 

For those of us who have studied superfluid helium at some point in our academic pursuits, we will confirm that it can be a very complex and confusing topic. It is easy to get lost in the details.  However, John gives us a happily readable journey through the many interesting features of superfluid helium. Rather than being confused when you read John’s account, you will enjoy the same fascination that captivated the attention of those who first investigated such features as the fountain effect, quantized vortices and film flow seemingly defying gravity. Of course, there have been numerous people involved in the exploration of this intriguing fluid, and the story John presents is even more captivating because of the human element that he includes. Within the story of superfluid helium, we encounter Nobel Prize winners such as Einstein and Feynman, as well as many amazing scientists like Kamerlingh Onnes, Willem Keesom, Peter Kapitza, Lev Landau, D.V. Osborne, Joe Vinen and others. Through the account of their discoveries and interactions within the background of major world events during the 20th century, John brings the story of superfluid helium to life.  

John Weisend II was an eager graduate student struggling with measurements of counterflow and bulk fluid flow in superfluid helium when I first met him in the mid-1980s. Following his graduation, we continued to bump into each other at various cryogenic conferences and associated committees. Each time we met, it seemed he was living in a new location. In fact, John has been involved in multiple large-scale science projects utilizing superfluid helium around the nation and the world, and it is from his firsthand encounter with these endeavors that we learn of the many impressive scientific advances that have been enabled by the unique properties of superfluid helium. From super-large particle accelerators in underground tunnels, to tanks of superfluid helium cooling telescopes in outer space, superfluid helium has played and continues to play a crucial enabling role in advancing our understanding of the universe. John relays this story also in a very enjoyably readable form, taking us from one location to another while summarizing the amazing features of such facilities as Tora Supra in Cadarache, the Superfluid On-Orbit Transfer (SHOOT) spacecraft at NASA-Goddard, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at Geneva, the TESLA facility in Hamburg, the European Spallation Source (ESS) in Lund, NASA’s Spitzer Infrared Space Telescope and the National High Magnetic Field Lab (NHMFL) in Tallahassee. 

It may take you more than one sitting to flow through the pages of Superfluid Helium, but not much more than that. The story is enjoyable and easy to read. So, grab a cup of coffee or tea, find a comfortable chair and treat yourself to a pleasant encounter with the story of superfluid helium. 

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