Guest Article: Casimir Effect

It’s often said that we’re living in the future, and when you take a look around at the technology we use every day without a second thought, such as smart phones and tablets, it does seem that we are. Then you sit down and watch a sci-fi with huge ships hurtling through space, nanobots constantly working to fix anything that goes wrong in your body, no hunger or poverty and near limitless energy provided from some outlandish source and it seems as though the future is as far away as ever.

Well, it now appears as if that sort of future is within our grasp. A paper  released this week, written in (mostly) plain English,  covers the implications of recent research into what’s called the Casimir expulsion effect. In the most basic sense, this effect is a realistic source of unlimited energy at no cost. The energy literally comes from nothing. This isn’t just a theoretical source either,  physical experiments have demonstrated it.

The Casimir effect was discovered some 60 years ago as a peculiar consequence of quantum mechanics. According to quantum theory, a vacuum can never be completely empty nor have zero energy; there is a non-zero lower limit to the energy of a quantum system, known as zero-point energy. This vacuum energy is represented by oscillations in the fields; for example, the electromagnetic field is present in the vacuum. When two uncharged flat metal plates are placed in a vacuum, the space between them can only support a fraction of the possible oscillations, just like a string can only support certain standing waves when strummed. This causes a force which pushes the plates together as there is less energy between the plates than outside them (where all oscillations can exist). This is the idea behind the Casimir effect.

The basic Casimir effect does not allow for unlimited energy as the energy gained by the motion of the plates is finite and very limited. However, if more complicated geometries than just flat plates are considered, then harnessing this energy becomes a very real possibility. The Casimir expulsion effect allows for the expulsion of energy in very significant amounts. This energy can be directed based on the structure used, resulting in a force in the desired direction.

With the right designs, the applications are limited only by our imaginations. The amount of energy released by this effect is mind-boggling. To produce enough lift to allow a human to fly would only take 10 mm2 of gold perhaps 100 nm thick. That means with 100 kg of gold, every person on earth would be able to fly as high and for as long as they liked. If you had a space suit you could even fly to the moon. As a source of electricity it could be included in every device as a battery that never runs out and can always keep up with demands.

This technology holds the potential to solve uncountable problems our world is facing. Check out the article to get an idea of just how far-reaching the application goes.

Kris Roberts has his BSc in Physics, and is starting his honours year this year. He’s adept at making waffles and is wonderfully kind.

Everyone is welcome to write in guest articles and send them to scicotago@gmail.com, and I look forward to reading them!

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