Direct observation of vortices in an electron fluid

A. Aharon-Steinberg, T. Völkl, A. Kaplan, A. K. Pariari, I. Roy, T. Holder, Y. Wolf, A. Y. Meltzer, Y. Myasoedov, M. E. Huber, B. Yan, G. Falkovich, L. S. Levitov, M. Hücker, E. Zeldov*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Vortices are the hallmarks of hydrodynamic flow. Strongly interacting electrons in ultrapure conductors can display signatures of hydrodynamic behaviour, including negative non-local resistance1–4, higher-than-ballistic conduction5–7, Poiseuille flow in narrow channels8–10 and violation of the Wiedemann–Franz law11. Here we provide a visualization of whirlpools in an electron fluid. By using a nanoscale scanning superconducting quantum interference device on a tip12, we image the current distribution in a circular chamber connected through a small aperture to a current-carrying strip in the high-purity type II Weyl semimetal WTe2. In this geometry, the Gurzhi momentum diffusion length and the size of the aperture determine the vortex stability phase diagram. We find that vortices are present for only small apertures, whereas the flow is laminar (non-vortical) for larger apertures. Near the vortical-to-laminar transition, we observe the single vortex in the chamber splitting into two vortices; this behaviour is expected only in the hydrodynamic regime and is not anticipated for ballistic transport. These findings suggest a new mechanism of hydrodynamic flow in thin pure crystals such that the spatial diffusion of electron momenta is enabled by small-angle scattering at the surfaces instead of the routinely invoked electron–electron scattering, which becomes extremely weak at low temperatures. This surface-induced para-hydrodynamics, which mimics many aspects of conventional hydrodynamics including vortices, opens new possibilities for exploring and using electron fluidics in high-mobility electron systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)74-80
Number of pages7
Issue number7917
StatePublished - 7 Jul 2022
Externally publishedYes


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