(Roughly) Daily

“To create something from nothing is one of the greatest feelings”*…

Something from nothing? Not exactly. As Charlie Wood explains, it’s even weirder…

For their latest magic trick, physicists have done the quantum equivalent of conjuring energy out of thin air. It’s a feat that seems to fly in the face of physical law and common sense.

“You can’t extract energy directly from the vacuum because there’s nothing there to give,” said William Unruh, a theoretical physicist at the University of British Columbia, describing the standard way of thinking.

But 15 years ago, Masahiro Hotta, a theoretical physicist at Tohoku University in Japan, proposed that perhaps the vacuum could, in fact, be coaxed into giving something up.

At first, many researchers ignored this work, suspicious that pulling energy from the vacuum was implausible, at best. Those who took a closer look, however, realized that Hotta was suggesting a subtly different quantum stunt. The energy wasn’t free; it had to be unlocked using knowledge purchased with energy in a far-off location. From this perspective, Hotta’s procedure looked less like creation and more like teleportation of energy from one place to another — a strange but less offensive idea.

“That was a real surprise,” said Unruh, who has collaborated with Hotta but has not been involved in energy teleportation research. “It’s a really neat result that he discovered.”

Now in the past year, researchers have teleported energy across microscopic distances in two separate quantum devices, vindicating Hotta’s theory. The research leaves little room for doubt that energy teleportation is a genuine quantum phenomenon.

“This really does test it,” said Seth Lloyd, a quantum physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who was not involved in the research. “You are actually teleporting. You are extracting energy.”…

Physicists Use Quantum Mechanics to Pull Energy out of Nothing,” from @walkingthedot in @QuantaMagazine.

Vaguely related (and fascinating): “The particle physics of you.”

* Prince


As we demolish distance, we might send insightful birthday greetings to Brain Cox; he was born on this date in 1968. A physicist and former musician (he was keyboardist for Dare and D:Ream), he is a professor of particle physics in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manchester, and a fellow at CERN (where he works on the ATLAS experiment, studying the forward proton detectors for the Large Hadron Collider there).

But Cox is most widely known as the host/presenter of science programs, perhaps especially the BBC’s Wonders of the Universe series, and for popular science books, such as Why Does E=mc²? and The Quantum Universe— which (he avers) were inspired by Carl Sagan and for which Cox has earned recognition as the natural successor to David Attenborough and Patrick Moore.

Science is too important not to be a part of a popular culture.


%d bloggers like this: