Scientists Create Light Out Of Nothingness. Your Turn, Lazy God.

I’m going to be upfront with you. My caffeine-soaked, ADHD-riddled brain can’t take the time to truly comprehend the mechanics of this post. Especially at the time of day that I’m writing this. All I know is that the headline is fucking awesome, and gives me a geek boner. Light. From nothing.

I Heart Chaos:

A team of physicists have done something that’s straight out of Genesis in the Bible– creating light out of apparently nothing. The point of the experiment was to tease energy out of the apparent nothingness of a vacuum to show that even in what seems to be an absolute vacuum, there’s still a teeming quantum world, full of stuff.

The researchers, based at the Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden, will present their findings early next week at a workshop in Padua, Italy. They have already posted a paper on the popular pre-print server, but have declined to talk to reporters because the work has not yet been peer-reviewed. High-profile journals, including Nature, discourage researchers from talking to the press until their findings are ready for publication.  

Nevertheless, scientists not directly connected with the group say that the result is impressive. “It is a major development,” says Federico Capasso, an experimental physicist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who has worked on similar quantum effects.  

At the heart of the experiment is one of the weirdest, and most important, tenets of quantum mechanics: the principle that empty space is anything but. Quantum theory predicts that a vacuum is actually a writhing foam of particles flitting in and out of existence.

For decades, theorists have predicted that a similar effect can be produced in a single mirror that is moving very quickly. According to theory, a mirror can absorb energy from virtual photons onto its surface and then re-emit that energy as real photons. The effect only works when the mirror is moving through a vacuum at nearly the speed of light – which is almost impossible for everyday mechanical devices.  

Per Delsing, a physicist at the Chalmers University of Technology, and his colleagues circumvented this problem using a piece of quantum electronics known as a superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID), which is extraordinarily sensitive to magnetic fields.  

The team fashioned a superconducting circuit in which the SQUID effectively acted as a mirror. Passing a magnetic field through the SQUID moved the mirror slightly, and switching the direction of magnetic field several billion times per second caused it to ‘wiggle’ at around 5% the speed of light, a speed great enough to see the effect.  

The result was a shower of microwave photons shaken loose from the vacuum, the team claims. The group’s analysis shows that the frequency of the photons was roughly half the frequency at which they wiggled the mirror – as was predicted by quantum theory.

You had me at “a vacuum is actually a writhing foam of particles flitting in and out of existence”.