Feeds

Boffins flick Quantum vacuum switch from suck to blow

Goldenballs will power gecko hoverships, raygun gloves

Intelligent flash storage arrays

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."

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
You can crunch it all you like, but the answer is NOT always in the data
Hear that, 'data journalists'? Our analytics prof holds forth
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
America's super-secret X-37B plane returns to Earth after nearly TWO YEARS aloft
674 days in space for US Air Force's mystery orbital vehicle
NASA eyeballs SOLAR HEAT BOMBS, MINI-TORNADOES and NANOFLARES on Sun
Astro boffins probe fiery star's hidden depths
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.