Researchers Lower the Force of Nothingness to, Well, Nothing

Scientists overcome quantum mechanics weirdness to pave the way for nanotechnology

The Grooved Plate

The comb-like structure helps dampen the Casimir Effect.Yiliang Bao and Jie Zoue/University of Florida

In the strange, subatomic world of quantum mechanics, even complete nothingness exerts a force. According to a principle known as the Casimir Effect, two plates separated by an incredibly small space will experience a force pushing them together. While the Casimir effect isn't powerful enough to affect daily life, it has complicated efforts to build effective nanotechnology.

Fortunately for the future of nanotechnology, University of Florida physicists have found a way to dampen the Casimir Effect. By using grooved plates that resemble corduroy, rather than the flat plates known to induce the Casimir Effect, the researchers were able to staunch the compression of the plates by 30 to 40 percent.

The Casimir Effect results from the spontaneous creation and destruction of subatomic particles. On the quantum scale, particles continually pop in and out of existence, and the difference in density between the dense cloud of particles on the outside the plates and the fairly sparse cloud of particles fluctuating within the void between the plates pushes the plates closer. Shifting the shape of the plates, however, reduces the area, this lessening the Casimir force.

Of course, many hurdles still remain before any mechanical nanotechnology becomes practical. However, preventing the Casimir Effect from sticking components of nanotechnology together clears a significant obstacle to the creation of everything from very small computer parts to microscopic machines.