Physicists’ ‘light from darkness’ breakthrough named a top 2011 discovery

Dec 19, 2011 By Nicole Casal Moore
A team of physicists including a researcher from the University of Michigan observed what's called the dynamical Casimir effect for the first time earlier this year. They essentially squeezed light particles from the vacuum of space. Credit: Philip Krantz

( -- They shook light from darkness. They coaxed something out of what we normally think of as nothing—the vacuum of space. And now their work has been named one of the top 10 breakthroughs of the year by Physics World, the international magazine announced today.

University of Michigan physics researcher Franco Nori is involved in the work, which was published in Nature in November.

The physicists directly observed, for the first time, particles that flicker in and out of existence in the vacuum. They witnessed the long-predicted quantum mechanical phenomenon known as the dynamical Casimir effect.

"One of the profound consequences of quantum mechanics is that we know that something can come from nothing," Nori said. "The vacuum is actually teeming with activity, the question is how to harness it and observe it because the particles move in an out of existence in the blink of an eye."

This background activity of fleeting particles is known as quantum vacuum fluctuations. It's the impetus for what's known as the static Casimir effect, an attractive force that can pull two parallel mirrors together in a vacuum. That effect is caused by a pressure drop between the mirrors because more photons can exist on the outsides of them. It was measured in the late '90s.

Scientists theorized that a similar force could be created by accelerating one mirror to near light speed. This "dynamical Casimir effect" was thought to be capable of producing real, observable photons, or light particles, from these quantum vacuum fluctuations. That's just what these physicists observed.

Based at the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, they achieve this by building a special type of superconducting circuit that could simulate a mirrored surface without a physical device that would be difficult to speed up to such high speeds.

Their paper is titled "Observation of the dynamical Casimir effect in a superconducting circuit." The first author is Christopher Wilson, a scientist at Chalmers. It was published in the Nov. 17, 2011 edition of Nature.

Explore further: Spin-based electronics: New material successfully tested

More information: Read the original article in Physics World at

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1 / 5 (4) Dec 19, 2011
The invention of the Zero Point Modulus would be even more revolutionary than Cold Fusion.

Hell, no fuel at all.

Just tap the universe for direct power.

Maybe one day we'll also learn how to extract not only "energy," but propellant from the vaccuum, in the form of particles, making "Star Wars" style space ships with near-infinite design life.
3 / 5 (4) Dec 19, 2011
Suppose you have a space ship which is using this effect.

According to Hawkings Virtual Pair idea with the black holes, the particles are supposed to come into space having opposite energy/momenta in order to maintain conservation of energy.

At first glance that doesn't appear useful for net thrust, but it is.

What you would need to do is have two mirrors on opposite sides of the point where the particles appear. have the mirrors angled at a 45 degree angle to the "rear" of your space ship, causing the particles (photons,) to be reflected at a 90 degree angle, i.e. perpendicular to the axis along which they were both originally moving.

This should provide net forward thrust to the ship since both photons will be deflected in the same direction, i.e. "aft" of the ship.
5 / 5 (3) Dec 19, 2011
What would be more useful would be the reversal of this. That is deconstruction an existing particle into the vacuum. This would effectively be a shield against radiation and would advance the possiblility of human space flight.
not rated yet Dec 19, 2011
Uh, has nano actually looked at how much zero point energy there should be out there, theoretically? I kind of doubt it...there's a reason Planck's constant is a real small number, you know. That's why seeing it at all is such a big deal.
1 / 5 (2) Dec 19, 2011
Uh, has nano actually looked at how much zero point energy there should be out there, theoretically?
Enough ZPE in a cubic centimeter to make the entire visible universe, theoretically. In practice, it's infinite.
1 / 5 (3) Dec 19, 2011
The dynamic Casimir effect was predicted by G. Moore in 1970. So I wouldn't call it a discovery - especially with respect of the fact, the above experiment wasn't first of his kind at all. And of course, from practical perspective of human civilization I'm pretty sure, Mr. Andrea Rossi will be quoted in textbooks more often, than prof. Ch. Wilson and his team.

From technical perspective the Wilson experiment could be more difficult and demanding, than A. Rossi experiments, but from pioneering innovation perspective Rossi clearly wins. He even invested whole his private property in his experiments like Faraday or Tesla. The contemporary physicists don't risk anything.
1.5 / 5 (2) Dec 19, 2011
The interesting thing, to me, is that this type of effect offers the possibility of creating reactionless drives. As long as you have an energy source on board you can create perticles which you can use to deliver a net impulse to your craft.

Though he effect is not much it may one day be harnessed effectively enough to allow for interstellar travel (at sub light speeds, of course).
1 / 5 (1) Dec 20, 2011
Uh, has nano actually looked at how much zero point energy there should be out there, theoretically?
Enough ZPE in a cubic centimeter to make the entire visible universe, theoretically. In practice, it's infinite.
Well anyway it's enough to keep He from freezing at absolute zero. Could this be the dark energy, like 73% of the energy in the visible U? I mean if you filled the visible U with helium at absolute zero that would seem like a lot of energy. Of course bringing down the visible U to absolute zero would take a lot of work.
not rated yet Dec 20, 2011
As long as you have an energy source on board you can create perticles which you can use to deliver a net impulse to your craft.

This effect is too weak to be used in that way. If you have "an energy source on board", better use it to create photons in the standard way, for example creating a flash of a light pointed in the backwards direction would create much more trust (photons don't have rest mass, but they have momentum and the total momentum has to be conserved) it would be much more efficient than wasting the current needed to circulate that superconducting virtual mirror.
1.5 / 5 (2) Dec 20, 2011
The thing is: Does circulating that mirror require energy?
The switching does, but that could be achieved by having two such devices slightly out of sync (which would just look like switching from the POV of the 'mirror')

The question then is: Does the creation of these photons draw energy from the apparatus or doesn't it (i.e. is it merely a function of certain energy states being possible while the mirror is in a certain state).
not rated yet Dec 26, 2011
I've been wondering about these gravitational wave detectors in space. Would they be affected by the zero point energy?