In this facility we grow and characterize silica aerogels for studying superfluid 3He. Specifically, aerogels provide a unique way to study the effect of quenched disorder on the properties of superfluid 3He.

Aerogels are very porous glass structures (SiO2). The aerogel structure consists of a network of SiO2 strands with diameter δ = 30 Å and average separation ξa 300 Å.

Our aerogels have porosities ranging up to ~98.5% and are grown with a two-step sol gel process followed by supercritical drying. Recently we have developed a method that utilizes optical birefringence to characterize structural inhomogeneity and anisotropy of the aerogel.

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98% porosity aerogel exhibiting frequency dependent optical birefringence

98% porosity aerogel

98.3% porosity aerogel.

Chemical fume hood and aerogel drying oven

Sam Blinstein working in the aerogel lab

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