Understanding Zero Point Energy
For the first time in history, a lot of media attention is being paid to the sea of energy that pervades all of space. It just happens to be the biggest sea of energy that is known to exist and we’re floating inside it. (Credit due to The Sea of Energy by T. Henry Moray for the idea.) Not only is it big but its energy is estimated to exceed nuclear energy densities, so even a small piece of it is worth its weight in gold.
What is it? Many people are not sure what "zero point energy" (ZPE) is. Most agree that virtual particle fluctuation contributes to it and van der Waals forces don’t explain everything. Does it offer a source of unlimited, free energy for homes, cars, and space travel? Depending on who we talk to, ZPE can do everything and ZPE can do nothing useful. How can the energy be converted to a usable form? What are the basic explanations of ZPE and the new discoveries, which have rocked the U.S. Patent Office, Physical Review Letters, Science, Scientific American, and the New York Times? Why is ZPE implicated in the latest confirmation of cosmological antigravity? Can the Casimir effect be a source of energy? This article is intended to give a review of the latest developments (as well as an introduction to the topic for those who are non-specialists).
The Casimir Effect
Zero point energy has been called "the ultimate quantum free lunch" (Science, Vol. 275, 1/10/97). During the early years of quantum mechanics, Paul Dirac theorized that the vacuum was actually filled with particles in negative energy states (Proc. R. Soc. London A, 126, 360, 1930) thus giving rise to the concept of the "physical vacuum" which is not empty at all. Quantum mechanics also predicted that invisible particles could become materialized for a short time and that these virtual particle appearances should exert a force that is measurable. Hendrik B. G. Casimir (Phys. Rev. 73, 360, 1948) not only predicted the presence of such a force but also explained why van der Waals forces dropped off unexpectedly at long range separation between atoms, predicting that force F=K/d4 where K=p hc/480.
Though the Casimir effect subsequently was verified using non-conductive plates, there was always a scientific need for a verification of the Casimir force using conductive plates based on Casimir's 1948 paper. For the first time, Dr. Lamoreaux, now at the Los Alamos Labs, performed the experiment with less than one micrometer (micron) spacing between gold-plated parallel plates attached to a torsion pendulum (Phys. Rev. Ltrs., 78, 1, 97). In retrospect, he found it to one of the most intellectually satisfying experiments that he ever performed since the results matched the theory so closely (within 5%).
The Casimir effect has been posited as a force produced solely by activity in the vacuum. The Casimir force is also very powerful at small distances. Besides being independent of temperature, it is inversely proportional to the fourth power of the distance between the plates! Therefore, as the plates are brought closer, the virtual particles outside the plates increasingly overpower the decreasing quantity of virtual particles appearing between the plates with an exponentially increasing force. (Also notable is the fact that its frequency dependence is a third power and the force can be altered with dielectrics or resonate with narrow-band mirrors—see Phys. Lett. A 225, 1997, 188-194.)
Lamoreaux's results come as no surprise to anyone familiar with quantum electrodynamics (QED), but they serve as a material confirmation of an unusual theoretical prediction that QED predicts the all-pervading vacuum continuously spawns particles and waves that spontaneously pop in and out of existence. Their time of existence is strictly limited by the uncertainty principle but they create some havoc while they bounce around during their brief lifespan. The churning quantum foam extends throughout the universe even filling the empty space within the atoms.
A diagram showing "The Shape of Nothing" (The New York Times 1/21/97) is pictured to be not only subatomic but subelementary particle in size. Physical theories predict that on an infinitesimally small scale, far, far smaller than the diameter of atomic nucleus, quantum fluctuations produce a foam of erupting and collapsing, virtual particles, visualized as a topographic distortion of the fabric of space time...
far more at http://users.erols.com/iri/ZPEpaper.html and
© 1999 Thomas Valone, M.A., P.E.Integrity Research Institute, 1220 L Street NW, Suite 100, Washington, DC 20005, 800-295-7674
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