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The Force of the Vacuum

by Dr. Inés Urdaneta, Resonance Science Foundation Research Scientist

One of the most common physical manifestations of the vacuums’ force is the Casimir effect, which was first predicted by the Dutch physicist Hendrik Casimir in 1948, and measured for the first time by Steven Lamoreaux in 1996. Nonetheless, the physical interpretation and whether or not the effect comes from the vacuum fluctuations, is still under discussion in theories of quantum gravity and quantum electrodynamics. It also remains a mystery that the energy density of the vacuum is so high it should act gravitationally to produce a large cosmological constant, as well as curving spacetime. And yet, there is a difference of 122 orders of magnitude between the classical vacuum represented by the cosmological constant, and the quantum vacuum energy density. This discrepancy is known as the Vacuum catastrophe (Investigation of the gravitational property of the quantum vacuum may explain the accelerating expansion of the universe), and it is one of the main unresolved problems in physics.

Regardless of the nature and origin of the effect, which could be considered to be still under debate, the Casimir effect has been proved to act not only between fixed or moving plates micrometers appart (as the video below shows), but it also has a measurable impact in nanoparticles; objects so small that these forces can play the major role.

Video of the Casimir effect: Casimir Effect & Black Holes - Sixty Symbols

"At separations of 10 nm – about 100 times the typical size of an atom – the Casimir effect produces the equivalent of about 1 atmosphere of pressure…" – Astrid Lambrecht

The effect of the vacuum interaction with an object has also been measured in bigger 3D structures, but there was a gap in between where the effect is now being acknowledged: 2D lattices. The effect at this scale is dominated by phonon-polaritons –coupling of virtual photons in the vacuum chamber and the phonons of the lattice-, and could play an important role in the behavior of the material. For instance, it could enhance its conductivity. In this sense, the theoretical and computational simulation performed by Michael Sentef et al., and published in Science Advances, draws a connection between these forces of the vacuum and many modern materials.

The vacuum catastrophe, which is one of the main unresolved issues is physics, has been addressed in terms of the model proposed by Haramein et al, giving very promising results, which have been presented at the Kavli Royal Society Center.

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