Feeds

Boffins flick Quantum vacuum switch from suck to blow

Goldenballs will power gecko hoverships, raygun gloves

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Cartoon-loving boffins from University of St Andrews believe they have found a way to reverse the "Casimir force" which causes really small things to stick to each other. This has been widely written up, usually with the word "levitation" in the headline.

The University press release notes that:

"Professor Ulf Leonhardt and Dr Thomas Philbin of the University's School of Physics & Astronomy believe that they can engineer the Casimir force of quantum physics to cause an object to repel rather than attract another in a vacuum.

"Casimir force (discovered in 1948 and first measured in 1997) can be demonstrated in a gecko's ability to stick to a surface with just one toe ..."

This suggests some truly exciting possibilities. Firstly, that boffins used geckoes to demonstrate the Casimir force in '97, after taking 49 years to notice them; and secondly that the Scottish-based researchers have now found a way to make gecko feet frictionless rather than sticky - or even that geckoes, at any rate, could be made to levitate.

This raises visions of a beautiful but perhaps ethically troubling future with mighty hover vessels plying the skies, lifted on the backs of hundreds of genetically or surgically modified ground-repelling geckoes. No doubt in time some kind of squamatan-effects coating or generator would replace the early aerial gecko-galleons but in the meantime the potential for lizard abuse would be horrific.

Perhaps fortunately, hopes of hovering mid-air geckoes or even comically slippery skating ones are dashed as soon as one looks at the scientists' own webpage, rather than the university press office one.

The boffins do their best to jazz things up with a few gratuitous Incredibles stills, but the bad news is all too plain. Geckoes can stick to ceilings - even glass ones, apparently, of the type metaphorically encountered by upward-bound female biz execs - due to the Van der Waals force between temporary dipoles in molecules. The Casimir stickiness, seemingly, is caused "roughly speaking" by "difference in the pressure of the quantum vacuum."

Of course any fool knows about the quantum vacuum between all the atoms and molecules and stuff which make up the world around us. As the Scottish-based boffins say:

"Empty space is not empty, but is filled with the quantum vacuum ... The energy of the quantum vacuum, the 'zero-point energy,' is infinite according to our present theories. Clearly, this [is not true] - it would make the electromagnetic field infinitely massive, because [of] E=mc2. The empty electromagnetic field would collapse under the weight of its own gravity [and the entire universe would implode] ... Nevertheless, the zero-point energy results in perfectly finite and experimentally confirmed facts, for example the Casimir force."

Eight steps to building an HP BladeSystem

More from The Register

next story
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Eccentric billionaire Musk gets his PRIVATE SPACEPORT
In the Lone Star State, perhaps appropriately enough
MARS NEEDS OCEANS to support life - and so do exoplanets
Just being in the Goldilocks zone doesn't mean there'll be anyone to eat the porridge
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Diary note: Pluto's close-up is a year from … now!
New Horizons is less than a year from the dwarf planet
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
prev story

Whitepapers

Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.