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Giant vortex clusters in a two-dimensional quantum fluid

Guillaume Gauthier, Matthew T. Reeves, Xiaoquan Yu, Ashton S. Bradley, Mark A. Baker, Thomas A. Bell, Halina Rubinsztein-Dunlop, Matthew J. Davis and Tyler W. Neely

Adding energy to a system through transient stirring usually leads to more disorder. In contrast, point-like vortices in a bounded two-dimensional fluid are predicted to reorder above a certain energy, forming persistent vortex clusters. In this study, we experimentally realize these vortex clusters in a planar superfluid: a 87Rb Bose-Einstein condensate confined to an elliptical geometry. We demonstrate that the clusters persist for long time periods, maintaining the superfluid system in a high-energy state far from global equilibrium. Our experiments explore a regime of vortex matter at negative absolute temperatures and have relevance for the dynamics of topological defects, two-dimensional turbulence, and systems such as helium films, nonlinear optical materials, fermion superfluids, and quark-gluon plasmas.

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