Superfluid transition in liquid helium

A thermodynamically consistent Ginzburg-Landau model for superfluid transition in liquid helium

Alessia Berti Facoltà di Ingegneria, Università e-Campus, 22060 Novedrate (CO), Italy  and  Valeria Berti Dipartimento di Matematica, Università di Bologna, Piazza di Porta S. Donato 5, I-40126 Bologna, Italy

In this paper we propose a thermodynamically consistent model for superfluid-normal phase transition in liquid helium, accounting for variations of temperature and density. The phase transition is described by means of an order parameter, according to the Ginzburg-Landau theory, emphasizing the analogies between superfluidity and superconductivity. The normal component of the velocity is assumed to be compressible and the usual phase diagram of liquid helium is recovered. Moreover, the continuity equation leads to a dependence between density and temperature in agreement with the experimental data.

AMS Classification: 82D50, 74A15, 82C26.

Keywords: Superfluids, second-order phase transitions, Ginzburg-Landau equation, thermodynamics.


The phenomenon of superfluidity occurs mainly in liquid helium below a characteristic temperature . Above , helium behaves like a conventional fluid with small viscosity. However, when the temperature is lowered below , liquid helium undergoes a phase transition characterized by the ability of the liquid to flow across narrow channels without apparent friction. Helium has two stable isotopes He and He that become superfluid at low temperatures. The most common isotope is He whose transition temperature, called the point, is about . The normal phase of He is called the He I-phase and the superfluid state is said He II.

In this paper we propose a phenomenological model to describe the phase transition in He. The first model to study the behavior of He was the two-fluid model, suggested by Tisza ([17]) and developed by Landau ([12]). According this theory, when the temperature is under , each particle of the fluid is endowed with two different excitations at the same instant: one of these is the superfluid velocity, denoted by , the other one is the normal velocity . The density of the fluid is the sum of a normal and a superfluid component

and the total current density is given by

If the temperature overcomes the point, the density vanishes, so that liquid helium becomes a normal fluid.

The two-fluid model has been widely adopted to describe some phenomenological aspects of superfluidity, when the involved velocity of the fluid is quite small (see [16] and references therein). Besides the two-fluid model, some authors follow the one-fluid theory of liquid helium, which is based on the extended irreversible thermodynamics (see [13, 15] for instance). They analyze the behavior of liquid helium II considered as a unique substance obeying a suitable Navier-Stokes equation. More recently in [6] the author studies the phase transition between helium I and helium II in the framework of the Ginzburg-Landau theory, by considering this passage as a second order phase transition and introducing a scalar variable as order parameter such that represents the concentration of the superfluid phase. This point of view emphasizes also the analogies between superfluidity and superconductivity ([14, 16]). Indeed, as in the two-fluid model, the velocity of the fluid is due to a normal and a superfluid excitation; however the superfluid component is supposed to satisfy an evolution equation similar to the differential equation governing the motion of the superconducting electrons inside a superconductor ([5]).

In our paper we consider a generalization of this model by keeping into account variations of the mass density of the fluid and variations of the temperature. The main assumption, distinguishing our model by the one proposed in [5], is that the normal component is a compressible fluid. Accordingly, the pressure becomes a new variable of the problem and the divergence of the normal component satisfies a constitutive equation depending on the phase variable . When the fluid is in the normal state, the evolution equation for the normal component reduces to the Navier-Stokes equation.

Figure 1. Phase diagram of He.

The occurrence of the pressure in the phase equation allows us to recover in the phase diagram the line (line) separating the normal from the superfluid phase (see Fig. 1).

We prove that our model is consistent with thermodynamic principles, deducing the differential equation for the temperature from the energy balance law and proving that Clausius-Duhem inequality is satisfied. In particular we assume that the heat flux is the sum of two contributions: the first term is proportional to the gradient of the temperature (Fourier law), the other one is due to the superfluid transition since it involves the superfluid component and the phase variables . This point of view is not dissimilar from models based on the extended irreversible thermodynamics, which interpret the superfluid velocity as a kind of heat flux ([13, 15]).

In the last section of the paper we show that the differential system governing the evolution of the fluid can be written by means of a different set of variables, similar to the unknown fields used in the context of superconductivity ([7, 18]). Such a formulation could be useful in proving some analytical results concerning the well-posedness of the system.

1. The Ginzburg-Landau equation for the superfluid concentration

As known, the passage from the normal phase to the superfluid state is a second-order phase transition, since no latent heat is involved [14]. Therefore we propose a model to describe the phenomenon in the context of the Ginzburg-Landau theory. The first step is the identification of a suitable order parameter characterizing the state of the material. Here we introduce a scalar variable (phase-field), such that represents the concentration of the superfluid phase. Thus the values of are bounded in the interval with in the normal phase and in the superfluid regime. The variable provides a measure of the internal order structure of the material, since the superfluid phase is considered a more ”ordered” state than the normal one [12]. Accordingly, the differential equation governing the evolution of can be interpreted as a balance law on the internal order structure. For a general treatment of balance laws in continuous bodies with microstructure see [3, 4]. The interpretation of the Ginzburg-Landau equation as a balance equation has been proposed by Fried and Gurtin who introduce the notion of microforces ([10, 11]). In this context every change of the order parameter is related to the existence of microforces which expend power on the atomic configurations inside the material. A similar approach has been proposed in [5] where a balance of the internal order structure is postulated. The common idea of the two approaches is that, during the transition, in any sub-region of the body, the power expended on the atoms by the lattice is balanced by the power expended across the boundary by the configurations external but neighboring to and by the power expended by sources external to the body. We briefly recall the interpretation of the Ginzburg-Landau equation as a balance law, adopting the terminology of [5].

Let us consider a superfluid occupying a bounded subset with regular boundary , whose outward normal is denoted by . For any sub-body , we denote by the rate of absorption of the order structure per unit time, defined as


where is the mass density and is the internal specific structure order. Similarly, the external order structure is written in the form


where the vector denotes the order structure flux coming from the boundary and is the structure order supply.

Hence, the order structure balance is expressed by the equality


In local form, the integral equality (1.3) leads to the equation


Hence, the quantity can be assimilated to a vector stress and and to internal and external microforces distributed in the domain . As usual in phase transition problems, we assume . Moreover, the functions and are defined by means of the constitutive equations


where the superposed dot stands for the time derivative, is a suitable coefficient depending on the variables that induce the transition, the potentials and characterize the order and the feature of the transition and are positive constants. Accordingly, the evolution equation for the order parameter reads


In steady and homogeneous conditions (i.e. and ) the solutions of (1.7) are the stationary points of the function

A typical choice adopted for second-order phase transitions is


Such expressions are the same used in the classical Ginzburg-Landau theory of superconductivity ([9]). The functions and satisfy the following properties (see Fig. 2):

  • the function admits its minimum value at when and at , , when ;

  • as and as .

Figure 2. Plot of the potential for different values of : in the left , in the middle , in the right .

As a consequence the transition occurs when and identifies the normal phase.

Notice that there is no physical distinction between the positive and negative values of since the physical quantity is . As a consequence, we can consider as well as . In the latter case, we have to require that the potentials and are even functions.

Finally, we associate to equation (1.7) the usual Neumann boundary condition


2. Evolution equation for the velocity

According to Landau’s viewpoint, we assume that each particle of the superfluid exhibits a normal and a superfluid excitation. Thus the velocity is given by the superposition of such flows. In particular, we let


where , will be called normal and the superfluid components, respectively. This does not mean that superfluid is considered as a mixture of two fluids. Indeed, a particle of the material is endowed with two simultaneous excitations (normal and superfluid) when , while its velocity coincides with when . However, the expression (2.1) of the velocity is not in contrast with the traditional theories of superfluids which assume

when and are identified respectively with and .

The variables and are related by the continuity equation


By paralleling [6], the differential equations governing the evolution of the component are


where is a suitable scalar function referable to a “pressure” due to the superfluid component. It is worth noting that (2.3) and (2.4) are similar to the evolution equations governing the motion of superconducting electrons [9], emphasizing the evident analogies between superfluidity and superconductivity.

We associate to these equations the boundary condition


A further boundary condition on has to be prescribed. Our model allows us to choose such a condition in an arbitrary way, since, as we will see in Sect. 4, the condition (2.5) is sufficient to ensure the vanishing of the power flux at the boundary of the domain. In the superconductivity model it is assumed


where is a known function. Therefore we can assume (2.6) by analogy with that model.

For the velocity we propose the following equation


where is the viscosity coefficient, is the pressure and denotes the external force density. By applying the curl operator to equation (2.3), we obtain

A substitution into equation (2.7) leads to the generalizing Navier-Stokes equation

We append to (2.7) the usual boundary condition:


3. Phase diagram

The differential equation of the phase variable is completed by the following constitutive choice:

Hence, (1.7) reads


As pointed out in Sect.1, in homogeneous and steady conditions the material is in the normal state when , that is when


and the transition occurs when . Therefore the model is naturally able to account for the existence of a critical velocity (depending on the temperature and the pressure), above which superfluid properties disappear (see [16]).

The regions where is respectively grater and smaller than are the stability regions of the normal and superfluid phase and the curve represented by the equation separates such regions. In particular, if we consider the equilibrium states, i.e. then the curve is represented by the equation

which is a line with negative slope . This is good approximation of the line shown in the phase diagram of liquid helium and represented in Fig.1.

In a previous model for superfluidity ([6]) the coefficient was supposed to vanish. This corresponds to approximate the line with a vertical line. Moreover in such a model the normal component was assumed to be incompressible, so that

In this paper, we consider a different case, by assuming that the normal component obeys the constraint


which generalizes incompressibility.

4. Heat equation and thermodynamics

In order to obtain the kinetic equation for the temperature, let us consider the first law of thermodynamics in the form ([8])


where is the total energy, are respectively the internal powers due to the order parameter and to the velocity and stands for the rate at which the heat is absorbed by the material. Hereafter we will consider some approximations of our model, valid in a neighborhood of the transition temperature. In particular, in the expression of the time derivative

we neglect last term, so that assumes the form

As a consequence


where the superscript denotes the transpose of a tensor.

Multiplying equation (3.1) by and accounting for (3.3) and (4.2), we obtain the power balance related to , that is

where the internal and external powers are given by


Similarly, by multiplying equation (2.3) by , we obtain

We substitute the term with equation (2.7) and we take (2.4) into account. Thus, we obtain

where the the internal and external powers due to the velocity are

It is worth noting that, as a consequence of the boundary conditions, after an integration on the domain the only contribution given by the external powers is due to the external source .

We assume that the total energy is written as


where is a function depending only on the temperature. We identify the first three terms of (4.7) with the internal energy

Last two terms of (4.7) involving the normal and the superfluid components of the velocity define the kinetic energy . Hence

Substitution of (4.3), (4) and (4.7) into (4.1) yields


The heat equation is given by


where is the heat flux and is the heat supply. In this framework, the heat flux is assumed to satisfy the constitutive equation


where denotes the thermal conductivity. Notice that, when the fluid is in the normal phase, i.e. , equation (4.10) reduces to the usual Fourier law. On the contrary, in the superfluid state, the superfluid component of the velocity is related to the heat flux inside the material.

By comparing (4.8) with (4.9), we obtain the evolution equation for the temperature, i.e.


Equation (4.11) is completed by the boundary condition

In view of the constitutive equation (4.10) and the boundary conditions (2.5) and (2.8), we conclude that


Now we prove that our model is consistent with the second law of thermodynamics. We write the Clausius-Duhem inequality in the form

where is the entropy. We introduce the Helmholtz free energy density which is supposed to depend on . In view of (4.1) and (4.9), we deduce

Accordingly, we have

In virtue of the arbitrariness of , the functions are compatible with the second law of thermodynamics if assume non-negative values, and the free energy satisfies the following conditions:



where depends only on the temperature. From the relation it follows that

Finally, we conclude this section by proving that the passage from the normal phase to the superfluid one is a second-order transition since no latent heat is involved. Indeed, from (4.13), it follows that the entropy assumes the form

and the latent heat is given by

where is the minimum of the function and , characterize the pure phases (see Fig.2). Since when , we have that .

5. The differential system and gauge invariance

Collecting the equations of motion we write the system of equations:


in the unknowns .

As we have pointed in Section 2, the model we propose is similar to the Ginzburg-Landau model of superconductivity. In order to stress this analogy, following [2], we introduce the transformation:


is an arbitrary scalar function and denotes the imaginary unit.

Our aim is to write equations (5.1)-(5.7) by means of the variables . Multiplying equation (5.1) by , we obtain


Dividing (5.2) by and substituting the expressions of and , we deduce


We substitute equation (5.9) into (5.8). Moreover, the identities

lead to

In addition, it is easy to prove the relations

where denotes the conjugate of . Accordingly, the equations (5.1)-(5.7) transform into

It is worth noting that the previous equations are independent of , which can be chosen arbitrarily. This formulation allows a more direct comparison with the Ginzburg-Landau model of superconductivity, where the choice of the variables is crucial in order to prove well-posedness results for the differential system.


  • [1] V. Berti and M. Fabrizio, Existence and uniqueness for a mathematical model in superfluidity, Math. Meth. Appl. Sci. 31 (2008) 1441–1459.
  • [2] V. Berti, M. Fabrizio and C. Giorgi, Gauge invariance and asymptotic behavior for the Ginzburg-Landau equations of superconductivity, J. Math. Anal. Appl. 329 (2007) 357-–375.
  • [3] G. Capriz, Continua with Microstructure, Springer-Verlag, New York, 1989.
  • [4] G. Capriz and P. Podio-Guidugli, Materials with spherical structure, Arch. Rational Mech. Anal. 75 (1981) 269–279.
  • [5] M. Fabrizio, Ginzburg-Landau equations and first and second order phase transitions, Internat. J. Engrg. Sci. 44 (2006) 529–539.
  • [6] M. Fabrizio, A Ginzburg-Landau model for the phase transition in Helium II, Z.Angew.Math.Phys. 61 (2010) 329–340.
  • [7] M. Fabrizio and A. Morro, Electromagnetism of Continuous Media. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2003.
  • [8] M. Frémond, Non-smooth Thermomechanics. Springer, Berlin (2002).
  • [9] V.L. Ginzburg and L.D. Landau, On the theory of superconductivity, Zh. Eksp. Teor. Fiz. 20 (1950) 1064–1082.
  • [10] E. Fried and M. E. Gurtin, Continuum theory of thermally induced phase transitions based on an order parameter, Physica D 68 (1993) 326–343.
  • [11] E. Fried and M. E. Gurtin, Dynamic solid-solid transitions with phase characterized by an order parameter, Physica D 72 (1994) 287–308.
  • [12] L.D. Landau, On the theory of superfluidity of helium II, Journal of Physics USSR 5 (1941) 71–77.
  • [13] L. Lindblom and W. Hiscock, A one-fluid model of superfluids, Physics Letters A, 131 (1988) 280–284.
  • [14] K. Mendelssohn, Liquid Helium. In Handbuch Physik, Flugge S, Springer, Berlin 1956, 370–461.
  • [15] M. S. Mongioví, Extended irreversible thermodynamics of liquid helium II, Phys. Rev. B, 48 (1993) 6276–6283.
  • [16] D.R. Tilley and J.Tilley, Superfluidity and superconductivity, Graduate student series in physics 138, Bristol 1990.
  • [17] L. Tisza, Transport phenomena in He II, Nature, 141 (1938) 913.
  • [18] M. Tinkham, Introduction to superconductivity. McGraw-Hill, New York 1975.
Comments 0
Request Comment
You are adding the first comment!
How to quickly get a good reply:
  • Give credit where it’s due by listing out the positive aspects of a paper before getting into which changes should be made.
  • Be specific in your critique, and provide supporting evidence with appropriate references to substantiate general statements.
  • Your comment should inspire ideas to flow and help the author improves the paper.

The better we are at sharing our knowledge with each other, the faster we move forward.
The feedback must be of minimum 40 characters and the title a minimum of 5 characters
Add comment
Loading ...
This is a comment super asjknd jkasnjk adsnkj
The feedback must be of minumum 40 characters
The feedback must be of minumum 40 characters

You are asking your first question!
How to quickly get a good answer:
  • Keep your question short and to the point
  • Check for grammar or spelling errors.
  • Phrase it like a question
Test description