Saturday, February 25, 2012

Light pulled from thin air

It is amazing what we are still discovering, thanks Mac for the article.

Late last year, with little fanfare, Chris Wilson and his team at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden pulled off the seemingly impossible. They managed to create light out of thin air.

In the process, they also proved what many physicists like Hal Puthoff, director of the institute for Advanced Studies at Austin in Texas, have maintained for many years - that empty space is not empty at all, but a plenum of energy and possibility, something that we can tap into at will.

The study was designed to offer first proof of a phenomenon known as the Casimir Effect.

Teeming with energy
In order to understand the magnitude of their discovery, it’s important to understand some things about so-called empty space. For the uninitiated, since the discovery of quantum physics, many quantum physicists have understood that empty space is not empty at all, but a place teeming with subatomic particles, constantly passing energy back and forth as if in an endless game of basketball.

All elementary particles interact through what are considered temporary or ‘virtual’ quantum particles, combining and annihilating each other in less than an instant.

The back-and-forth passes of these virtual particles, akin to two people taking turns constantly depositing and withdrawing the same amount of money from a bank, are known collectively as the Zero Point Field. The field is called “zero point” because even at temperatures of absolute zero, when all matter theoretically should stop moving, these tiny fluctuations are still detectable.

Disturbances in The Field
Although all matter is surrounded with zero-point energy, which bombards a given object uniformly, there have been some instances where disturbances in the Field could actually be measured.

One such disturbance was discovered in the 1940s, when a Dutch physicist named Hendrik Casimir demonstrated that two metal plates placed close together will actually form an attraction that appears to pull them closer together.

This is because when two plates are placed near each other, the zero-point waves between the plates are restricted to those that essentially span the gap. Since some wavelengths of the field are excluded, this leads to a disturbance in the equilibrium of the field and the result is an imbalance of energy, with less energy in the gap between the plates than in the outside empty space. This greater energy density pushes the two metal plates together, and this attractive force is called the ‘Casimir Effect.’ [AC1]

In the Swedish study, Wilson and his colleagues wanted to create a real demonstration of the ‘dynamical’ Casimir Effect, as predicted in the 1970s by an American physicist named Gerald Moore.

Moore had turned the Casimir Effect on its head. Instead of examining the effect of squeezing the vacuum and creating an attractive force between two plates, he believed that if you moved the plates together fast enough, you’d squash the wavelengths between them so much that the Zero Point Field would have to yield up some of its energy in the form of photons. In this way, he figured, you would transform virtual particles of light into true photons – or light beams.

To do this was no mean feat, though; you’d have to take these virtual photons and bounce them off a mirror traveling close to the speed of light.

Ingenious machine
Obviously there are problems trying to get any mirror, let alone a teensy mirror of the size of two subatomic particles, to move that fast. So Wilson and his colleagues came up with an ingenious solution through the use of varying electrical currents and a Superconducting Quantum Interference Device (SQUID), a quantum electronic component highly sensitive to the slightest of changes in magnetic fields. By passing a magnetic field through the SQUID, moving a mirror slightly and switching the magnetic field several billions of times a second at 5 per cent of the speed of light, they were able to simulate the effect of extremely fast-moving mirrors.

The result was a shower of sparks, exactly as Moore had predicted, all photons wrenched loose from the Zero Point Field.

The sea of virtual light had produced real light.

Significant breakthrough
The Chalmer team’s experiment, written up as a tiny news item in Nature magazine, was quickly latched onto by scientists and the lay public alike as one of the most unusual experimental proofs of quantum mechanics in recent years. It quickly became the most popular story at the Nature News site and was cited as one of the top ten breakthroughs of 2011.

A number of scientists realized the import of the Wilson experiment; by a little manipulation here and there of the Field you should be able to create certain pressures to push apart objects and so create machines that run on thin air.

Although the rank and file refuse to acknowledge The Field, an increasing number of scientists maintain that it accounts for everything from the Big Bang to all the Through-the-Looking-Glass properties of subatomic matter. Wilson himself wants to see if he can simulate the Big Bang with a variation of his SQUID experiment.

The Chalmers team’s discovery is the most dramatic demonstrations of the potential energy sitting out there in empty space. Although the study doesn’t offer any practical application, because it didn’t generate a large number of photons, Wilson hopes that it will demonstrate, once and for all, that the extraordinary energy-rich power of the Zero Point Field is, as one scientist put it, a Cosmic free lunch of free untapped energy.

But first mainstream science must begin to understand that in the universe out there, what you see is not all what you get.

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