Strange though it sounds, vacuum is not exactly void. Absolute nothingness, according to quantum physics, is only imaginary. In truth, vacuums are populated by minute electromagnetic fluctuations. As proof, scientists have recently discovered an entirely new kind of force that is at play in vacuum. Acting on nanoparticles, this bizarre force has been shown to produce lateral motion.
Classical physics defines vacuum as an empty space, where absence of matter results in zero friction. Principles of quantum physics, however, point to the presence of tiny electromagnetic fluctuations in this apparent nothingness. First detected back in 1948, these fluctuations in turn impede the activities of photons, generating a discernible force in the process. The phenomenon, which is known as Casimir effect, is actually much stronger than previously thought, the new study states.
As explained by the team, these quantum forces couldhave a major effect on the production of nanoscopic technologies. Speaking about the findings, recently published in the Physical Review Letters journal, Alejandro Manjavacas, a professor at the University of New Mexico and the group’s lead scientist, said:
These studies are important because we are developing nanotechnologies where we’re getting into distances and sizes that are so small that these types of forces can dominate everything else. We know these Casimir forces exist, so, what we’re trying to do is figure out the overall impact they have [on] very small particles.
To that end, the researchers looked at rotating nanoparticles situated over a flat surface inside a vacuum, observing them for any kind of lateral motion. According to them, the movement would likely be caused by photons striking the surface and consequently, slowing down the tiny rotating spheres. Within the classical physics framework, however, this is not possible as there needs to be friction between the surface and the nanoparticles for the latter to undergo lateral motion.
Quantum theory, on the other hand, allows such a scenario, wherein the Casimir forces push the minuscule spheres across the flat surface even when the two are not in contact with each other. What’s more, the scientists have figured out a way to control the direction of this force, by altering the distance separating the surface and the particles. The research, the team believes, could play a significant role in the development of highly-advanced nanoscopic technologies as well as quantum computers. Manjavacas added:
The nanoparticle experiences a lateral force as if it were in contact with the surface, even though is actually separated from it. It’s a strange reaction but one that may prove to have significant impact for engineers.
Source: University of New Mexico