Something out of Nothing: Dynamic Casimir Effect Observed

As many of my students are aware, I have a rather strange (for a medievalist) side interest in quantum mechanics. I dig me some Schrodinger’s Cat:

(If you want a shorter and more amusing version, check out this scene from Big Bang Theory.)

Anyhow, I bring this up to illustrate why I think it’s so awesome that I just read the news that scientists have confirmed the Dynamic Casimir Effect, which was first predicted by G. Moore in 1970.

Among the many oddities of our working models of quantum mechanics is the postulation that a vacuum is not really a vacuum: that “empty space” is actually filled with quantum particles that are popping into and out of existence so fast that they cannot be directly observed. They are thus called virtual particles. Anyway, back in 1970 Moore theorized a way to directly observe these particles, though the experiment was not one that could be performed.

Until now. 40 years later, building on Moore’s theory, scientists have experimentally proven this quantum oddity to be reality (just like that alive-and-dead cat). In the nothingness of a vacuum they watched the somethingness of a photon appear.

Extraordinary.

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