Negative Pressure Unveiled: The Dual Power of Light & Sound Waves

Liquid-Filled Glass Capillary

Artist’s impression of a liquid-filled glass capillary. By encapsulating liquids in optical fibers, scientists observed and measured negative pressure effects with sound waves acting as sensors. Credit: © Long Huy Dao

Scientists have developed an innovative method to study the metastable state of liquids with negative pressure by encapsulating them in optical fibers. This technique provides a simpler way to measure pressure using light and sound waves, paving the way for new discoveries in thermodynamics and chemical reactions.

As a physical quantity pressure is encountered in various fields: atmospheric pressure in meteorology, blood pressure in medicine, or even in everyday life with pressure cookers and vacuum-sealed foods.

Pressure is defined as a force per unit area acting perpendicular to a surface of a solid, liquid, or gas. Depending on the direction in which the force acts within a closed system, very high pressure can lead to explosive reactions in extreme cases, while very low pressure in a closed system can cause the implosion of the system itself.

Overpressure always means that the gas or liquid pushes against the walls of its container from the inside, like a balloon expanding when more air is added. Regardless of whether it’s high or low pressure, the numerical value of pressure is always positive under normal circumstances.

Metastable State in Liquids

However, liquids exhibit a peculiar characteristic. They can exist in a specific metastable state corresponding to a negative pressure value.

In this metastable state, even a tiny external influence can cause the system to collapse into one state or another. One can imagine it as sitting at the top of a roller coaster: the slightest touch on one side or the other sends you hurtling down the tracks.

In their current research, the scientists are examining the metastable state of liquids with negative pressure. To achieve this, the research team combined two unique techniques in a study published in Nature Physics to measure various thermodynamic states.

Initially, tiny amounts — nanoliters — of a liquid were encapsulated in a fully closed optical fiber, allowing both highly positive and negative pressures. Subsequently, the specific interaction of optical and acoustic waves in the liquid enabled the sensitive measurement of the influence of pressure and temperature in different states of the liquid. Sound waves act as sensors for examining negative pressure values, exploring this unique state of matter with high precision and detailed spatial resolution.

MPL Stiller Research Group Members

(From left to right) Research group leader Birgit Stiller in the lab with Andreas Geilen and Alexandra Popp. Credit: © Florian Ritter, MPL

Negative Pressure’s Impact and Measurement Techniques

The influence of negative pressure on a liquid can be envisioned as follows: According to the laws of thermodynamics, the volume of the liquid will decrease, but the liquid is retained in the glass fiber capillary by adhesive forces, much like a water droplet sticking to a finger. This results in a “stretching” of the liquid. It is pulled apart and behaves like a rubber band being stretched.

Measuring this exotic state typically requires complex equipment with heightened safety precautions. High pressures can be hazardous endeavors, particularly with toxic liquids. Carbon disulfide, used by the researchers in this study, falls into this category. Due to this complication, previous measurement setups for generating and determining negative pressures have required significant laboratory space and even posed a disturbance to the system in the metastable state.

With the method presented here, the researchers have instead developed a tiny, simple setup in which they can make very precise pressure measurements using light and sound waves. The fiber used for this purpose is only as thick as a human hair.

Comments from the Researchers

“Some phenomena that are difficult to explore with ordinary and established methods can become unexpectedly accessible when new measurement methods are combined with novel platforms. I find that exciting,” says Dr. Birgit Stiller, head of the Quantum Optoacoustics research group at MPL. The sound waves used by the group can detect temperature, pressure, and strain changes very sensitively along an optical fiber. Furthermore, spatially resolved measurements are possible, meaning that the sound waves can provide an image of the situation inside the optical fiber at centimeter-scale resolution along its length.

“Our method allows us to gain a deeper understanding of the thermodynamic dependencies in this unique fiber-based system,” says Alexandra Popp, one of the two lead authors of the article. The other lead author, Andreas Geilen, adds: “The measurements revealed some surprising effects. The observation of the negative pressure regime becomes abundantly clear when looking at the frequency of the sound waves.”

Potential Applications and Concluding Remarks

The combination of optoacoustic measurements with tightly sealed capillary fibers enables new discoveries regarding the monitoring of chemical reactions in toxic liquids within otherwise difficult-to-investigate materials and microreactors. It can penetrate new, hard-to-access areas of thermodynamics.

“This new platform of fully sealed liquid core fibers provides access to high pressures and other thermodynamic regimes,” says Prof. Markus Schmidt from IPHT in Jena, and Dr. Mario Chemnitz, also from IPHT in Jena, emphasizes: “It is of great interest to investigate and even tailor further nonlinear optical phenomena in this type of fiber.”

These phenomena can unlock previously unexplored and potentially new properties in the unique thermodynamic state of materials.

Birgit Stiller concludes: “The collaboration between our research groups in Erlangen and Jena, with their respective expertise, is unique in gaining new insights into thermodynamic processes and regimes on a tiny and easy-to-handle optical platform.”

Reference: “Extreme thermodynamics in nanolitre volumes through stimulated Brillouin–Mandelstam scattering” by Andreas Geilen, Alexandra Popp, Debayan Das, Saher Junaid, Christopher G. Poulton, Mario Chemnitz, Christoph Marquardt, Markus A. Schmidt and Birgit Stiller, 25 September 2023, Nature Physics.
DOI: 10.1038/s41567-023-02205-1

3 Comments on "Negative Pressure Unveiled: The Dual Power of Light & Sound Waves"

  1. Nature Physics firmly believe that even without understanding how θ & τ were formed, it can be concluded that they are CP violations. Is it scientific?
    Nature Physics firmly believe that even if two objects (such as cobalt-60) that rotate in opposite directions are asymmetrical, they are still two objects that mirror each other. Is it scientific?
    Nature Physics oppose to discuss the aforementioned topics. Are they honest?
    Their absurd theory leads to absurd scientific research behavior, which has been ongoing. Is the Natural Physics noble?
    Does the author feel honored to publish an article in such a publication?
    Today’s physics has entered the dirtiest and ugliest era in the history of human science. They humiliate the public’s wisdom in a grand and dignified manner, without any shame.

  2. Knowing both sides thoroughly presents a formulation. Great work in your effort to understand.

  3. Anyone who studies physics knows ther is no such thing as negative pressure.

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