Researchers balance Casimir effects, make tiny hoverboard

Researchers balance Casimir effects, make tiny hoverboard

Enlarge (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Empty space isn’t actually empty. Even if you somehow managed to suck every single atom out of it, the Universe is filled with various fields that dictate the behavior of particles and forces. These fields even create pairs of “virtual particles” that pop into existence briefly before annihilating each other.

This counterintuitive view of the nature of the Universe is an outgrowth of quantum field theory, but it was difficult to figure out any obvious consequences. That changed in 1948, when Dutch physicist Hendrik Casimir figured out a specific situation where the contents of empty space matter. Now called the Casimir effect, it creates a tiny force when two conductive metal plates are placed in close proximity.

In a new paper published in today’s edition of Science, researchers show that the Casimir effect can also be repulsive and use the balance between attractive and

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Following Schrödinger’s cat to its death and giving it a reprieve

Following Schrödinger’s cat to its death and giving it a reprieve

Enlarge / Two-state cat. (credit: RBerteig on Flickr)

One thing I dislike about quantum mechanics is that it encourages journalists to overuse words like “mysterious” and “spooky.” Given that we can model quantum systems to an accuracy that would make a god cry, where is the mystery?

I personally blame Schrödinger and his eponymous cat. That thought experiment, combined with an ever-increasing body of experimental results, shows just how subtle quantum mechanics is. Rather than admitting a lack of understanding, some journalists seem to use Schrödinger’s cat as a get-out-of-explaining-for-free card.

No doubt the words “mysterious” and “spooky” are going to turn up again regarding an experiment that, according to its press release, shows how to predict when Schrödinger’s cat is about to die. The experiment is really only tangentially related to Schrödinger’s cat; instead, it shows how no matter how well you understand quantum mechanics, there is always

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