Two theoretical physicists from the Department of Physics at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire have proposed a method for creating something out of nothing. Specifically, Hui Wang and Miles Blencowe argue that it is possible to produce photons, the particles that light is made of, from the void. His idea is described in an article published in
‘Nature Communications Physics’.
As is known, in Quantum mechanics absolute emptiness does not exist, but contains electromagnetic waves and one ‘quantum foam’ of particles that continually appear and disappear from our reality in just a few tiny fractions of a second. The vacuum, some physicists believe, is a ‘physical object’ that can be charged and discharged with energy.
“In an everyday sense,” explains Miles Blencowe, “our findings seem to suggest, surprisingly, the ability to produce light from a vacuum.
In essence, we’ve produced something out of nothing, and the idea of being able to do that is great. “
In classical physics, a vacuum is viewed as the absence of matter, light, and energy. But in quantum physics, the vacuum is not so empty, it is filled with photons that fluctuate in and out of existence. However, this light is practically impossible to measure. And that, a viable way to create and detect photons in a vacuum, is precisely what the researchers wanted to achieve.
In the experiment proposed by Wang and Blencowe, a synthetic diamond The size of a postage stamp containing the nitrogen-based light detectors is suspended in a super-cooled metal box that creates a vacuum. The membrane, which acts like a tethered springboard, accelerates at an enormous rate.
In Hui Wang’s words, “The motion of the diamond produces the photons. In essence, all you need to do is shake something violently enough to produce entangled photons.”
This is the first study to explore the use of multiple photon detectors (the diamond flaws) to amplify acceleration and increase detection sensitivity. The oscillation of the diamond also allows the experiment to take place in a controllable space at intense speeds of acceleration.
“The photons detected by the diamond are produced in pairs, continues Hui-. This production of paired and entangled photons is proof that photons are created in a vacuum and not from another source.”
However, the light thus detected exists in the microwave frequency, so it is not visible to the human eye. But Blencowe and Wang hope that the work contributes to the understanding of physical forces in the same way that other theoretical investigations have done. In particular, the work may help shed experimental light on Hawking’s prediction of black hole radiation.
According to the great British scientist, in effect, some particles would manage to ‘escape’ from the edges of a black hole according to a process known in his honor as Hawking radiation.
In the early 1970s, and while Hawking was describing how light could escape the gravitational pull of a black hole, Canadian physicist William Unruh proposed that a fast enough accelerated photodetector could ‘see’ that light in a vacuum. And now the two Dartmouth scientists have gone one step further by detailing a way to produce and detect that previously unobservable light.
“Part of the responsibility and the joy of being theorists like us is to spread ideas – concludes Blencowe -. We are trying to demonstrate that it is feasible to do this experiment, to prove something that until now has been extraordinarily difficult”.