We have constructed an apparatus to study DC electrical breakdown in liquid helium at temperatures as low as 0.4 K and at pressures between the saturated vapor pressure and ∼600 Torr. The apparatus can house a set of electrodes that are 12 cm in diameter with a gap of 1–2 cm between them, and a potential up to ±50 kV can be applied to each electrode. Initial results demonstrated that it is possible to apply fields exceeding 100 kV/cm in a 1 cm gap between two electropolished stainless steel electrodes 12 cm in diameter for a wide range of pressures at 0.4 K. We also measured the current between two electrodes. Our initial results, I < 1 pA at 45 kV, correspond to a lower bound on the effective volume resistivity of liquid helium of ρV > 5 × 1018 Ω cm. This lower bound is 5 times larger than the bound previously measured. We report the design, construction, and operational experience of the apparatus, as well as initial results.

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Published in Review of Scientific Instruments, v. 87, issue 4, 045113, p. 1-13.

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The following article appeared in Review of Scientific Instruments 87, 045113 (2016), and may be found at https://doi.org/10.1063/1.4946896.

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This work was supported by the United States Department of Energy Office of Nuclear Physics. Development of acrylic-substrate electrodes was supported by the Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. We gratefully acknowledge the support of Physics and AOT Divisions as well as the former LANSCE Division of Los Alamos National Laboratory.