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Scientists at Chalmers have succeeded in creating light from vacuum -- observing an effect first predicted over 40 years ago. In an innovative experiment, the scientists have managed to capture some of the photons that are constantly appearing and disappearing in the vacuum.
The experiment is based on one of the most counterintuitive, yet, one of the most important principles in quantum mechanics: that vacuum is by no means empty nothingness.
In fact, the vacuum is full of various particles that are continuously fluctuating in and out of existence. They appear, exist for a brief moment and then disappear again. Since their existence is so fleeting, they are usually referred to as virtual particles.
Chalmers scientist, Christopher Wilson and his co-workers have succeeded in getting photons to leave their virtual state and become real photons, i.e. measurable light.
The scientists find the photons that appear in pairs in the experiment interesting to study in closer detail. They can perhaps be of use in the research field of quantum information, which includes the development of quantum computers.
However, the main value of the experiment is that it increases our understanding of basic physical concepts, such as vacuum fluctuations -- the constant appearance and disappearance of virtual particles in vacuum. It is believed that vacuum fluctuations may have a connection with "dark energy" which drives the accelerated expansion of the universe. The discovery of this acceleration was recognised this year with the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Physics.
In a universe where something can come from nothing... is it really safe to say that we "know" anything for certain?
The reality long clung to by past metaphysical thinkers often included the concept that there was no such thing as a vacuum; there was no space that wasn't somehow imbued with an ethereal substance.
What happens during the experiment is that the "mirror" transfers some of its kinetic energy to virtual photons, which helps them to materialise.
Here we observe the dynamical Casimir effect in a superconducting circuit consisting of a coplanar transmission line with a tunable electrical length.
What happens during the experiment is that the "mirror" transfers some of its kinetic energy to virtual photons, which helps them to materialise. According to quantum mechanics, there are many different types of virtual particles in vacuum, as mentioned earlier. Göran Johansson, Associate Professor of Theoretical Physics, explains that the reason why photons appear in the experiment is that they lack mass.
"Relatively little energy is therefore required in order to excite them out of their virtual state. In principle, one could also create other particles from vacuum, such as electrons or protons, but that would require a lot more energy."
"The result was that photons appeared in pairs from the vacuum, which we were able to measure in the form of microwave radiation," says Per Delsing. "We were also able to establish that the radiation had precisely the same properties that quantum theory says it should have when photons appear in pairs in this way."
The experiment is based on one of the most counterintuitive, yet, one of the most important principles in quantum mechanics: that vacuum is by no means empty nothingness. In fact, the vacuum is full of various particles that are continuously fluctuating in and out of existence.