Jan 8, 2009 | 6
Of all the puzzling physical effects predicted and explained by quantum mechanics, one of the most counterintuitive is that fluctuations in a vacuum can exert forces on objects—almost as if those objects are getting something from nothing. Even in empty space, there are flutterings of energy, and sometimes those tiny ripples act in demonstrable ways. One example is known as the Casimir effect, predicted to exist in 1948 by the late Dutch physicist Hendrik Casimir, in which quantum fluctuations create an attractive force between two surfaces in a vacuum.
A group of researchers report in the online edition of Nature that they demonstrated for the first time the repulsive version of this quantum effect. Their results show that by judiciously choosing two materials (silica and gold) immersed in a fluid (bromobenzene), quantum fluctuations can be seen to drive the materials apart. This repulsive version of the Casimir effect had long been predicted but never observed.
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