Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

What do Racquel Welch and quantum physics have in common...? Leicester scientist leads 'Fantastic Voyage'

30.06.2006
The University of Leicester is leading a three-nation consortium in a ‘fantastic voyage’ to explore empty space - with potential benefits that have only been explored in the realms of science fiction.

The study aims to delve into a ‘void’ or empty space in which atoms move, which has a large intrinsic energy density known as zero-point energy

Recent investment by the University of Leicester in the Virtual Microscopy Centre and the Nanoscale Interfaces Centre has put the University in a key position to take a lead in Casimir force measurements in novel geometries.

The Casimir force is a mysterious interaction between objects that arises directly from the quantum properties of the so-called ‘void’. Within classical Physics the void is a simple absence of all matter and energy while quantum theory tells us that in fact it is a seething mass of quantum particles that constantly appear into and disappear from our observable universe. This gives the void an unimaginably large energy density.

The research team carrying out this work has received a grant of 800,000€ from the European framework 6 NEST (New and Emerging Science and Technology) programme to lead a consortium from three countries (UK, France and Sweden).

The programme, entitled Nanocase, will use the ultra-high vacuum Atomic Force Microscope installed in the Physics and Astronomy Department to make very high precision Casimir force measurements in non-simple cavities and assess the utility of the force in providing a method for contactless transmission in nano-machines.

Chris Binns, Professor of Nanoscience at the University of Leicester explained: “The research will help to overcome a fundamental problem of all nano-machines, that is, machines whose individual components are the size of molecules, which is that at this size everything is ‘sticky’ and any components that come into contact stick together. If a method can be found to transmit force across a small gap without contact, then it may be possible to construct nano-machines that work freely without gumming up.

“Such machines are the stuff of science fiction at present and a long way off but possible uses include the ability to rebuild damaged human cells at the molecular level.

“In a sense the actual value of the zero-point energy is not important because everything we know about is on top of it. According to quantum field theory every particle is an excitation (a wave) of an underlying field (for example the electromagnetic field) in the void and it is only the energy of the wave itself that we can detect.

“A useful analogy is to consider our observable universe as a mass of waves on top of an ocean, whose depth is immaterial. Our senses and all our instruments can only directly detect the waves so it seems that trying to probe whatever lies beneath, the void itself, is hopeless. Not quite so. There are subtle effects of the zero-point energy that do lead to detectable phenomena in our observable universe.

“An example is a force, predicted in 1948 by the Dutch physicist, Hendrik Casimir, that arises from the zero-point energy. If you place two mirrors facing each other in empty space they produce a disturbance in the quantum fluctuations that results in a pressure pushing the mirrors together.

“Detecting the Casimir force however is not easy as it only becomes significant if the mirrors approach to within less that 1 micrometre (about a fiftieth the width of a human hair). Producing sufficiently parallel surfaces to the precision required has had to wait for the emergence of the tools of nanotechnology to make accurate measurements of the force.”

The new instrumentation at the University of Leicester will enable researchers to extend measurements to yet more complex shapes and, for the first time, to search for a way to reverse the Casimir force.

This would be a ground-breaking discovery as the Casimir force is a fundamental property of the void and reversing it is akin to reversing gravity. Technologically this would only have relevance at very small distances but it would revolutionise the design of micro- and nano-machines.

The Nanocase partner institutions are: University of Leicester Department of Physics and Astronomy, UK (lead institution); University of Birmingham, UK; Université Pierre et Marie Curie, France; Linköping University, Sweden.

Alex Jelley | alfa
Further information:
http://www.le.ac.uk

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht What happens when we heat the atomic lattice of a magnet all of a sudden?
18.07.2018 | Forschungsverbund Berlin

nachricht Subaru Telescope helps pinpoint origin of ultra-high energy neutrino
16.07.2018 | National Institutes of Natural Sciences

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

Im Focus: Chemical reactions in the light of ultrashort X-ray pulses from free-electron lasers

Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.

Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Metal too 'gummy' to cut? Draw on it with a Sharpie or glue stick, science says

19.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

NSF-supported researchers to present new results on hurricanes and other extreme events

19.07.2018 | Earth Sciences

Scientists uncover the role of a protein in production & survival of myelin-forming cells

19.07.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>