Carbon Nanotubes Immersed in Superfluid Helium: The Impact of Quantum Confinement on Wetting and Capillary Action

A recent experimental study [Ohba, <i>Sci. Rep.</i> <b>2016</b>, <i>6</i>, 28992] of gas adsorption on single-walled carbon nanotubes at temperatures between 2 and 5 K reported a quenched propagation of helium through carbon nanotubes with diameters below 7 Å despite the small kinetic diameter of helium atoms. After assessing the performance of a potential model for the He–nanotube interaction via ab initio calculations with density functional theory-based symmetry adapted perturbation theory, we apply orbital-free helium density functional theory to show that the counterintuitive experimental result is a consequence of the exceptionally high zero-point energy of helium and its tendency to form spatially separated layers of helium upon adsorption at the lowest temperatures. Helium filling factors are derived for a series of carbon nanotubes and compared to the available experimental data.