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1. Exploring the nature of the quantum vacuum - Measuring the Casimir Force: The physical nature of empty space as predicted by modern quantum field theories, the quantum vacuum, remains mysterious, replete with paradoxes. Even though by definition this space is empty of matter, it possesses infinite energy density as it is populated by quantum fluctuations (virtual particles). Inexplicably, such a large energy does not produce any observable gravitational effects (recent astrophysical research claims a link to the cosmological constant). The main distinction between the energy of quantum vacuum and other types of energy is that it is unobservable in the non-perturbed state. Also this energy cannot be registered and harnessed by physical devices to produce work. In all physical processes we measure only the difference of the energy under consideration and the energy of vacuum. So to observe vacuum we should disturb it and measure the produced effect. A unique way to do this is provided by the Casimir effect. H.B. G. Casimir predicted that two neutral parallel metal plates will change the properties of the quantum electromagnetic vacuum, and this would result in an attractive force between them. Another of the most startling aspects of the Casimir force is its shape dependence. It can be repulsive or attractive depending on the geometry of the boundary. The Casimir effect finds application in many branches of physics such as Quantum Field Theory, Gravitation and Cosmology, Condensed Matter Physics, Atomic Physics, and Mathematical Physics. Furthermore, the Casimir force can be used to set stringent limits on hypothetical forces and the existence of extra dimensions such as those predicted by modern unification theories. With proposed improvements our Casimir force measurements will rival those of accelerator based experiments for setting these limits at some distances. Due to the broad implications of the work, our experiments have been reported in the general media such as in The New York Times, The Times of London, Scientific American, Physikalische Blatter, Physical Review Focus etc.
The Casimir Effect in Biology: The Role of Molecular Quantum Electrodynamics in Linear Aggregations of Red Blood Cells
Despite the fact that red blood cells carry negative charges, under certain conditions they form cylindrical stacks, or "rouleaux". It is shown here that a form of the Casimir effect, generalizing the more well-known van der Waals forces, can provide the necessary attractive force to balance the electrostatic repulsion. Erythrocytes in plasma are modelled as negatively charged dielectric disks in an ionic solution, allowing predictions to be made about the conditions under which rouleaux will form. The results show qualitative agreement with observations which suggest that the basic idea is worth further pursuit. In addition to revealing a mechanism which may be widespread in biology at the cellular level, it also suggest new experiments and further applications to other biological systems, colloid chemistry and nanotechnology.