Universal Sound Diffusion in a Strongly Interacting Fermi Gas

Parth B. PatelZhenjie YanBiswaroop MukherjeeRichard J. FletcherJulian StruckMartin W. Zwierlein


Transport of strongly interacting fermions governs modern materials — from the high-Tc cuprates to bilayer graphene –, but also nuclear fission, the merging of neutron stars and the expansion of the early universe. Here we observe a universal quantum limit of diffusivity in a homogeneous, strongly interacting Fermi gas of atoms by studying sound propagation and its attenuation via the coupled transport of momentum and heat. In the normal state, the sound diffusivity D monotonically decreases upon lowering the temperature T, in contrast to the diverging behavior of weakly interacting Fermi liquids. As the superfluid transition temperature is crossed, D attains a universal value set by the ratio of Planck’s constant h and the particle mass m. This finding of quantum limited sound diffusivity informs theories of fermion transport, with relevance for hydrodynamic flow of electrons, neutrons and quarks.