Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Quick quiz, flying carpet – real or imagined?

Quick quiz, flying carpet – real or imagined? If you guessed imagined you would be incorrect.

If you know your science history you might think that this is a continuation of the famous frog levitation via the use of a rather large magnet. Think again. This is achieved using a manipulation of the Casimir Force combined with some familiar Meta-Materials.

Consider the invisibility cloak that has been developed (actually both the cloaking & the anti-cloaking device).The meta-materials utilized in gaining these abilities provide the same characteristics as are necessary for the next area that to conquer – the magic carpet. Scientists are reviewing how to exploit the energy produced by the quantum fluctuations of empty space, and with the use of meta-materials they have found  it is possible to “trick” electromagnetic waves into moving directions they ordinarily would not. By convincing the electro-magnetic waves to move in new directions it becomes possible to levitate small objects. Two colleagues at St Andrew’s University in the UK, Ulf Leonhardt & Thomas Philbin, found this extremely interesting and decided it was worth a closer look.

For their first entry into wizardry they suggested inserting a meta-material in-between two Casimir plates. When two Casimir plates are brought into close proximity the result is that the vacuum between them becomes filled with quantum fluctuations of the electromagnetic field. Therefore, Leonhardt & Philbin believe that inserting a section of this meta-material will disrupt the quantum fluctuations of the electromagnetic field. Meta-materials have a negative refractive index and so the elctromagnetic light waves will blend in a different way thatwill force the upper Casimir plate to levitate. TA-DA, flying carpet.

However, Umar Mohideen at the California University is having great results manipulating the Casimir force. By increasing the reflectivity on one of the plates allowing it to reflect virtual particles efficiently, his team is attempting to achieve a modification and reversal of the Casimir force.

But wait, there’s more! Federico Capasso of Harvard University, an expert on the Casimir effect, has yet another way to harness the repulsive Casimir effect. The Casimir effect between any two substances – in this case it has been setup between a 42.7 micrometer wide gold coated polystyrene sphere and a silicon dioxide plate and the two substances have been immersed in ethanol. While the Casimir force between two substances is positive, the relative strengths of attraction are different. Combining these materials will result in the gold sphere levitating. Cool right?

It seems we are now entering into a realm of the fantastical as we become capable of the things of fiction. Invisibility cloaks, magic carpets, next thing someone will slay a dragon and save the princess!

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