American physicist who was the corecipient, along with Douglas Osheroff
and David Lee, of the 1996 Nobel Prize for Physics for their discovery
of superfluidity in the isotope helium-3 (3He).
At the time of their discovery in 1972, Richardson and Lee were senior
researchers in the low-temperature laboratory at Cornell and were investigating
the properties of the isotope helium-3. They had cooled a sample of
helium-3 to within a few thousandths of a degree of absolute zero (-273
C) and were monitoring its internal pressure. Osheroff, a graduate student
on the research team, noticed small jumps in the internal pressure that
the researchers eventually explained as a phase transition to superfluidity.
When a liquid becomes superfluid, its atoms lose their randomness and
can flow in a coordinated manner. Helium-3 in this state lacks the internal
friction that exists in normal liquids and thus flows without resistance.
Because superfluid helium-3 is governed by the quantum laws of microphysics,
it has allowed scientists to study directly in macroscopic--or visible--systems
the quantum mechanical effects that previously could be studied only
indirectly in such invisible particles as molecules, atoms, and subatomic
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