Professor W.F. (Joe) Vinen research summary

Professor W.F. (Joe) Vinen received his undergraduate and graduate education in Cambridge, where he also taught for several years. He was appointed to a Chair of Physics in Birmingham in 1962, where he led the Condensed Matter Group for many years.

He was appointed to the Poynting Chair in 1973, and he served as Head of Department from 1973 until 1981. He formally retired, and was appointed Honorary Senior Research Fellow, in 1997. Joe's "retirement" was extremely active: after his formal retirement, he went on to author and co-author more than 50 research publications, focused on his enduring interest in quantum turbulence.

He took a strong interest in teaching at a national level; he chaired the Education Committees of both the Royal Society and the Institute of Physics, and he played a major role in the establishment of the four-year MPhys (orMSci) courses.

His national and international work included the Chairmanship of the Physics Committee of the Science and Engineering Research Council, of the Commission for Low Temperature Physics of IUPAP, of the Standing Conference of Professors of Physics, and of the Physics Panel for the 1996 Research Assessment Exercise.


Graph above: experimental evidence for the existence of quantised vortices in superfluid 4He: the friction coefficient, B,measured with second sound in rotating helium compared with theory for various values of the quantum circulation [1].

quantization-superfluidGraph above: first observation of the quantization of superfluid4He, around a thin wire:histogram showing the number of observations of a stable circulation equal to ph/m [2].

Much of his research centred on superfluids and superconductors. With Henry Hall, professor of low temperature physics at the University of Manchester, he made the experimental discovery of quantization of vortex motion in superfluid helium [1], and his subsequent observation in a macroscopic mechanical experiment of single quanta of hydrodynamic circulation was the first direct demonstration of a macroscopic quantum effect in a superfluid system [2].

Using both experiments and theoretical analysis, Joe explored the crucial role played by quantized vortices in any rotational motion in a superfluid, and in this way he was able to account for many aspects of superfluid behaviour that had previously been a mystery, including the nucleation of vorticity [3].

The quantized flux line is the analogue in a superconductor of a quantized vortex in liquid helium, and an array of flux lines allows a magnetic field to penetrate into the bulk of a type II superconductor. For some years in Birmingham, Joe explored (with Nozières, Muirhead, Forgan, Gough, Warren and Hood) the properties of such flux lines, focussing on their dynamical behaviour as seen in the Hall effect in a type II superconductor and on their role in thermal conduction and ultrasonic attenuation [4,5].


Illustrations above: a quantized vortex

An interest in the way liquid helium makes a transition from normal fluidity to superfluidity in the immediate neighbourhood of the superfluid phase transition led Joe (with Vaughan, Pike, Palin andHurd) to develop the techniques of very high resolution spectroscopy to explore fluctuations that are characteristic of this transition [6].


Graph above: thermal conduction in the superconducting mixed state of pure niobium as a function of magnetic induction. These experiments allowed us to determine how phonons and electronic excitations interact with flux lines[5].

Various charged particles can be trapped close to the free surface of liquid (especially superfluid)helium, and this makes possible the study of two-dimensional assemblies of charged particles on a substrate that is practically free from friction. With Barenghi, Muirhead, Mellor, Skrbek, Palin, Meredith (née Traverse), Sommerfeld, Cox, Levchenko, Pakes & Elliott, Joe studied for the first time both the plasma physics of such assemblies and the transition to states of crystalline order [7,8,9].

After his formal retirement, Joe returned to a topic relating to quantized vortices in the superfluid phases of both the common isotope of helium (4He) and the rare isotope (3He), namely Quantum Turbulence or the study of turbulence in a superfluid. He contributed to an upsurge of interest in this subject, at an international level, on the part of both low temperature physicists and those mathematicians and engineers interested in classical turbulence [10-13]. The resulting inter-disciplinary effort, in which Joe played a leading role, addressed questions relating to the effect of quantization on classical turbulent fluid motion and to the characteristics of turbulence in a fluid that has no viscosity. The work led much national and international collaboration, involving the universities of Lancaster, Manchester and Newcastle in the UK, together with groups in Finland, Japan,the Czech Republic, and the USA. The work combines the challenges that we meet in trying to understand phenomena in classical turbulence (many of enormous practical importance) with those associated with quantum phenomena characteristic of low-temperature condensed matter.

Joe received a number of awards in recognition of his achievements: the Simon Memorial Prize of the Institute of Physics in 1963, Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1973, the Holweck Medal of the Institute of Physics and the French Physical Society in 1978, the Rumford Medal of the Royal Society in 1980, Honorary Fellowship of the Institute of Physics in 2003, and the Guthrie Medal and Prize ofthe Institute of Physics in 2005. Joe Vinen also received an honorary doctorate from the prestigious Charles University of Prague,which was founded in 1348. A few pictures from the ceremony are shown below.


Prof. W. F. Vinen passed away on 8 June, 2022. His approach to physics was to combine innovative, resourceful experiments with sharp theoretical insight. He built his own experimental apparatus for study of superfluid helium, an example to bear in mind now, when so much advanced equipment is available off the shelf. He dedicated his career to questions of fundamental physics, and adhered to the highest possible standards both in his research and his teaching. He had enormous impact on the School of Physics and Astronomy at Birmingham, and on physics education throughout the U.K., and will be remembered for a long time.

The 11 Oct. 1999 issue of Journal of Physics: Condensed Matter contains a series of articles marking Joe's formal retirement. Among these articles, a celebration of his work written by his former student and later faculty colleague Colin Gough is available here.

[1] H E Hall & W F Vinen, The rotation of liquid helium II, Proc. Roy. Soc., A238, 204, 215 (1956).
[2] W F Vinen, The detection of single quanta of circulation in liquid helium II, Proc. Roy. Soc., A260,218 (1961).
[3] C M Muirhead, W F Vinen & R J Donnelly, The nucleation of vorticity by ions in superfluid 4He,Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc., A311, 433 (1984).
[4] P Nozières & W F Vinen, The motion of flux lines in type 2 superconductors, Phil. Mag., 14, 667(1966).
[5] W F Vinen, E M Forgan, C E Gough & M J Hood, Ultrasonic absorption and thermal conduction in the mixed state of type-II superconductors, Physica, 55, 94 (1971).
[6] W F Vinen & D L Hurd, Light scattering studies of the dynamical behaviour of liquid 4He close to the ?-line, Adv. Phys. 27, 533 (1978).
[7] C F Barenghi, C J Mellor, J Meredith, C M Muirhead, P K H Sommerfeld, Ions trapped below the surface of superfluid helium: the observation of plasma resonances and the measurements of effective masses and ionic mobilities. Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc., A334, 139 (1991).
[8] P L Elliott, C I Pakes & L Skrbek, Novel Edge Magnetoplasmons in a Two- Dimensional Sheet of4He+ Ions, Phys. Rev. Lett., 75, 3713 (1995).
[9] P L Elliott, C I Pakes, L Skrbek & W F Vinen, Capillary wave crystallography crystallization of two dimensional sheets of He+ Ions, Phys. Rev. B61, 1396 (2000).
[10] W F Vinen, Classical character of turbulence in a quantum liquid, Phys. Rev, B61, 1410 (2000).
[11] W F Vinen & J J Niemela, Quantum turbulence, J. Low Temp. Phys., 128, 167 (2002).
[12] W F Vinen, M Tsubota & A Mitani, Kelvin-wave cascade on a vortex in superfluid 4He at very low temperatures, Phys. Rev. Lett., 91, 135301 (2003).
[13] W F Vinen, An Introduction to Quantum Turbulence, J. Low Temp. Phys., 145, 7 (2006).