Not only is it big but its energy is estimated to exceed nuclear energy densities, so even a small piece of it is worth its weight in gold. What is it? Many people are not sure what "zero point energy" (ZPE) is. Most agree that virtual particle fluctuation contributes to it and van der Waals forces don’t explain everything. Does it offer a source of unlimited, free energy for homes, cars, and space travel?
Depending on who we talk to, ZPE can do everything and ZPE can do nothing useful.
This article is intended to give a
review of the latest developments (as well as an introduction to the
topic for those who are non-specialists).
During the early years of quantum mechanics, Paul Dirac theorized that the vacuum was actually filled with particles in negative energy states (Proc. R. Soc. London A, 126, 360, 1930) thus giving rise to the concept of the "physical vacuum" which is not empty at all. Quantum mechanics also predicted that invisible particles could become materialized for a short time and that these virtual particle appearances should exert a force that is measurable.
Hendrik B.G. Casimir (Phys. Rev. 73, 360, 1948) not only predicted the presence of such a force but also explained why van der Waals forces dropped off unexpectedly at long range separation between atoms, predicting that force F=K/d4 where K=phc/480.
Though the Casimir effect subsequently was verified using non-conductive plates, there was always a scientific need for a verification of the Casimir force using conductive plates based on Casimir’s 1948 paper. For the first time, Dr. Lamoreaux, now at the Los Alamos Labs, performed the experiment with less than one micrometer (micron) spacing between gold-plated parallel plates attached to a torsion pendulum (Phys Rev. Ltrs., 78, 1, 97).
retrospect, he found it to one of the most intellectually satisfying
experiments that he ever performed since the results matched the
theory so closely (within 5%).
The Casimir force is also very powerful at small distances. Besides being independent of temperature, it is inversely proportional to the fourth power of the distance between the plates!
Therefore, as the plates are brought closer, the virtual particles outside the plates increasingly overpower the decreasing quantity of virtual particles appearing between the plates with an exponentially increasing force.
(Also notable is the fact that its frequency dependence is a third power and the force can be altered with dielectrics or resonate with narrow-band mirrors - see Phys. Left. A 225, 1997, 188-194.)
Lamoreaux’s results come as no surprise to anyone familiar with quantum electrodynamics (QED), but they serve as a material confirmation of an unusual theoretical prediction that QED predicts the all-pervading vacuum continuously spawns particles and waves that spontaneously pop in and out of existence.
Their time of existence is strictly limited by the uncertainty principle but they create some havoc while they bounce around during their brief lifespan. The churning quantum foam extends throughout the universe even filling the empty space within the atoms.
A diagram showing "The Shape of Nothing" (The New York
Times 1/21/97) is pictured to be not only subatomic but subelementary particle in size. Physical theories predict that on an
infinitesimally small scale, far, far smaller than the diameter of
atomic nucleus, quantum fluctuations produce a foam of erupting and
collapsing, virtual particles, visualized as a topographic
distortion of the fabric of space time.
This has recently been used with the relativistic stress-energy tensor to analyze the quantum electromagnetic field inside any given volume. With a "relatively" simple calculation it has been shown that as the electron density increases due to gravitational compression, there is an energy creation.
The New Scientist (July 1987, "Why Atoms Don’t Collapse") gives an impressive endorsement of the importance of ZPE:
The electrons are slightly shifted upwards in their atomic orbits. (The implications of the Lamb shift were never fully explained when I took quantum mechanics except that the professor was forced to mention God as he tried to explain the "all-pervading electromagnetic field" which caused the problem.)
Physicist Margaret Hawton describes the Lamb shift as
"a kind of one
atom Casimir Effect" (Phys. Rev. A 8/94) and predicts that the
vacuum fluctuations of ZPE need only occur in the vicinity of atoms
or atomic particles; which seems to agree with Dr. Koltick’s
findings cited above.
This may lead everyone to believe that though it is random, it can no longer be called "spontaneous emission" but instead should properly be labeled "stimulated emission" much like laser light is stimulated emission, even though there is a random quality to it.
Textbooks on quantum theory already agree with this new interpretation:
Boyer, a well-published and highly respected physicist, describes all of the features to be expected from ZPE including the frequency spectrum, even in a moving reference frame, as well as the energy and force. Boyer traces the historical "creation of the vacuum" as proceeding in stages in parallel with the historical development of ideas about the vacuum.
To paraphrase, he says that in the 17th century, it was thought that a totally empty volume of space could be created by simply removing all matter and, in particular, all gases. That was our first concept of the vacuum. Just get rid of all the gas. Late in the 19th century, it became apparent that the region still contained thermal radiation. But it seemed that the radiation might be eliminated by cooling.
So the second concept of getting a real vacuum is to cool it down to zero temperature. Just go all the way to absolute zero. Then we’ve got a real vacuum. Right?
Well, since then, both theory and
experiment have shown that there is a non-thermal radiation in the
vacuum and that it persists even if the temperature could be lowered
to absolute zero. Therefore, it was simply called the "zero point"
radiation. Further proof is evident, as Dr. Forward points out in
his tutorial below, when physicists have cooled helium to within microdegrees of absolute zero and still it remains a liquid! Only
ZPE can account for the source of energy is keeping helium from
This is because the intense electric field gradient causes a more prodigious decay of the vacuum when the binding energy equals or exceeds the rest mass of the electron. Furthermore, if superheavy atoms are created with Z=173, the binding energy then exceeds twice the rest mass of the electron and pair production ensues with matter and anti-matter appearing out of the vacuum.
The electron is driven into the nucleus and spontaneous positrons (anti-electrons) are produced constituting a true source of free energy.
Such a physics discovery vindicates the provocative name of Infinite
Energy magazine which has provided a forum for cutting edge energy
In retrospect, this paradox helped physicists
decipher a free energy source much as I hope the runaway solution of
the Lorentz-Dirac equation will do someday.
Basically, quantum mechanics just simply deals with compartmentalizing energy and compartmentalizing matter. So really what we’re talking about, is "quantization of matter and energy". That’s all we need to presume in order to derive the existence of zero point energy!
What Dr. Robert Forward does in his
very interesting Phillips Laboratory Report entitled, "Mass
Modification Experiment Definition Study" (#PLTR 96-3004), is to
help us understand the simple harmonic oscillator basis of ZPE:
In this case we’re using it as the spring constant of the electron cloud, which is the electron cloud is acting as a spring in a crude terminology to react to the mass of the nucleus of the atom. And, of course, there is a little bit of give and take here.
We have both
attractive and repulsive forces that are at play, and the natural
frequency of vibration is going to be quantized only if we’re
looking at the material part of it. So, as we derive this in the
quantum mechanical viewpoint as physicists say, "the formality",
(the formal approach to translating into quantum mechanics), we get
the Einsteinian equation, E=hf. This relates energy to frequency in
terms of Planck’s constant (h)
As Dr. Forward mentions in his derivation, when equations of quantum
mechanics are used to determine the average energy (with a bracket
on both sides of the E) of the vibrations of the atoms, the answer
is E = n(T) + hf/2. Therefore, when T goes to zero, then the number
of phonons or photons that are being created also goes to zero.
Physicists have been grappling with this for years because there appears to be an infinite amount of energy available if f is allowed to increase without limit. Ever since Casimir predicted it and various other scientists have verified it, this simple equation is really all that is underlying the theory of the zero point field and zero point fluctuation.
What’s funny about it is that the one-half is there, which is a little bit deceiving. However, we have to keep in mind, as Dr. Forward points out too, that the real equation is E = hf (Rigorously, quantum field theory performs an infinite sum over eigenvalues of zero point field modes to obtain the vacuum energy - see "Absence of a zero-point ambiguity", Phys. Left. B, 358, 1995, 56). So, we’re dealing with an amount of energy on the average that is available to only half the quanta.
Another phrase called
"partons" is used by Puthoff to indicate the smallest quanta of
vibration oscillators: Planck oscillators that are available in a
vacuum or in matter. Therefore, instead of half photons or half
particles existing everywhere, we’re looking at only half of the
possible photons or particles really being materialized at any one
Two teams of astronomers have confirmed that distant galaxies are accelerating apart. Furthermore, 2/3 of all astronomers now acknowledge the data as valid. Thus the cosmological constant envisioned by Einstein is being reconsidered and an antigravity force being postulated. Physicists have also interpreted the force as "the evanescent particles that flicker in and out of existence in ‘empty’ space that gives space its springiness, shoving it apart."
Scientific American seems to agree ("Cosmological Antigravity", January, 1999, p. 53):
The cosmological constant
represents energy inherent in space itself and coincidentally is
almost exactly equal to the average density of ordinary matter in
the universe (1 gm/cc), at this particular time in its evolution.
Thus the cosmological
effects may be easier to explain than the popular journals are
indicating at this time.
Therefore, for the first time, Dr. Koltick (Phys. Rev. Ltrs. 1/20/97) performed an experiment designed to penetrate the virtual particle cloud surrounding the electron with a particle accelerator at energies of 58 gigaelectronvolts without creating other particles.
From his data, the newly obtained value of the fine
structure constant is 1/128.5 instead of the smaller 1/137 that is
traditionally observed for a fully screened electron. The fine
structure constant equals the electron charge squared divided by
Planck’s constant and the speed of light.
Dr. Forward describes this "parking ramp" style corkscrew or spring as a ZPE battery that will tap electrical energy from the vacuum and allow charge to be stored.
The spring tends to be compressed from the Casimir force but the like charge from the electrons stored will cause a repulsion force to balance the spring separation distance. It tends to compress upon dissipation and usage but expand physically with charge storage.
It is similar to the multilayer mirror in the article, "The Casimir force for passive mirrors" (Phys. Left. A, 225, 1997, 188) or the "Casimir forces between beads on strings and membranes" (Phys. Left. B, 347, 1995, 56) where virtual particle exchange between the beads is analyzed. It seems that any closely spaced matter in the submicron range will invoke the Casimir force.
The last article
could be useful for ZPE experimentalists since the Casimir force
equations provided for the N "beads" allow for them to be stuck on a
membrane or freely placed, with a variable D for the spatial
dimension of interest.
This article describes the process of squeezing energy states
in quantized electromagnetic fields to distribute the uncertainty
over position and momentum at will. In fact, a future job market may
be opening for the quantum mechanic or the vacuum engineer with such
precision in ZPE emerging.
The cutoff frequency (perhaps considering hf=mc2) is called the Planck frequency which is around 1043 Hertz. This opposes what we see as far as Moray King (in the book, Tapping the Zero Point Energy) and Dr. Forward saying that there is an infinite amount of energy available.
In a later section we will see that Dr. Puthoff s
theory derives gravity, inertia, heat, and also electricity directly
from ZPE considerations. In Dr. Forward’s paper, he suggests using
micro-fabricated sandwiches of ultrafine metal dielectric layers. He
also points out that ZPE seems to have a definite potential as an
Awaiting experimental verification is
that inertia and gravity are also proof of ZPE.
The First ZPE Patent
Dr. Frank Mead, from Edwards AFB, has designed receivers to be spherical collectors of zero point radiation with hemisphere reflectors of beat frequencies. He states that:
Proposing to convert zero point electromagnetic radiation to electrical energy, Dr. Mead grapples with the high frequencies that may extend up to around 1040 Hertz.
(To gain a perspective, gigahertz radar is only 1010 Hz or so. Visible light is about 1014 Hertz and gamma rays reach into the 20th power, where the wavelength smaller than an atom)
With slightly different sized receivers, the system produces a beat frequency. A difference frequency is produced with the rest of the circuitry amplifying that lower "step down frequency".
For example, if 1 part in a million accuracy was achieved in making the microspheres, then the subtraction of two 1020 Hz signals would yield a 1014 Hz beat frequency.
However, I have recommended to Dr. Mead a real step down frequency involving "frequency division" which would mean less accuracy is required in the machining of the hardware and a bigger difference in the frequency output. The important part of his design is that the physical apparatus itself, whether a conductor or dielectric, is responding to the frequencies that it resonates with ZPE.
Similar to the passive mirror article cited above, Mead realizes that the physical design of the conductor will determine resonant characteristics. If using large spheres, then it would resonate with very long, low energy frequencies. However, he points out, if this is miniaturized (nanolithography, down to submicron levels), then as the frequency cubed (f3) dependence goes up very fast, the energy density is much higher.
The implications are that not only can it be made as a solid state device, but the smaller you make it, the better it is.
In fact, Mead has confided that he is interested in
working with single particles like protons or neutrons that may be
slightly different by parts per trillion for example. This raises
the question of what type of antenna would be appropriate for such
an atomic resonator. So there’s a lot of potential for this
invention, and I think we’re going to see other follow-up patents.
And of course The New York Times simply calls it "quantum foam".
important part about it, from Dr. Robert Forward’s excellent paper,
is that "the quantum mechanical zero point oscillations are real."
"The Chemical Effects of Ultrasound" (Sci.
Amer., 2/89) explains how the bubbles 100 microns in diameter can
implode violently creating temperatures of 5,500 degrees Celsius, or
about the temperature of the sun’s surface!
Apparently, the presence of argon dissolved in the water is a crucial ingredient for the visible/ultraviolet light to glow brightly. Critical to the understanding of the nature of this light spectrum however, is whether it matches the known spectra of ionized gases.
Dr. Claudia Eberlein in her
pioneering paper "Sonoluminescence and QED" (Phys.
Rev. Left., 76, 3, 842, 10/96) describes her conclusion that only
the ZPE spectrum matches the light emission spectrum of
sonoluminescence, which therefore must be a ZPE phenomena.
What I find memorable is
Morgan Freeman who acts as the banker’s representative, a veritable
archetype of J. P. Morgan resurrected. When he talks about the
concept of free energy, he says, "that’s a noble concept, but it
would cause the collapse of the world’s economies..." This reminds
us of how the utilities have a vested interest in energy
However, some cold fusion scientists who use "high pressure" cold fusion say that they have achieved that requirement.
In fact, the January 1997 issue of IEEE Spectrum cites UCLA physicist Robert Hiller’s calculation that the black body equivalent of the sonoluminescence radiation corresponds to a temperature of 100,000 degrees Kelvin.
The Yam article from Scientific American (12/97) continues the work of the late Noble prize winner Julian Schwinger and states,
Scientists at UCLA have recently measured the length of time that sonoluminescence flashes persist. Barber and Putterman discovered that they only exist for 50 picoseconds or shorter, which is too brief for the light to be produced by some atomic process (IEEE Spectrum 1/97).
processes, in comparison, emit light for at least several tenths of
a nanosecond which leads many to appreciate Eberlein’s proposal that
ZPE is the source of the radiation.
What he has achieved, which is now causing shock waves even at NASA, is that gravity has now been theoretically proven to relate directly to ZPE. Thus, a very fascinating new theoretical imagery is presented.
For example, Dr. Puthoff, in his paper, "Gravity as a Zero Point Fluctuation Force", (Phys. Rev. 3/89) points out that gravitational mass and its associated gravitational effects are shown to derive in a self-consistent way from electromagnetic zero point induced particle motion (in other words, ZPE).
"Zitterbewegung" or particle jittering may also be the result of that zero point fluctuations. Puthoff believes that it constitutes an already unified field. He refers to the Gravitation text by Meisner, Thorne and Wheeler, often used in graduate courses on general relativity. There are basically six approaches to gravitation that are outlined in that book.
The one that Dr. Puthoff emphasizes is specifically the one that Sakharov developed. In the paper, "Gravity as a zero-point-fluctuation force" (Phys. Rev. A 39,5,1993), he points out that Dr. Sakharov regards gravitation as not a fundamental interaction at all, but an induced effect that’s brought about by changes in the vacuum when matter is present.
The fascinating part about this is that the mass is shown to correspond to the kinetic energy, the zero point induced internal particle jittering, while the force of gravity is a long range effect.
Low frequency, long range forces are
now associated with van der Waal’s forces. (Van der Waal’s forces
are seen in colloids and various other liquids weakly interacting.)
In Puthoffs theory, gravity is related directly to zero point
fields, by the low frequency end of the zero point radiation
The Hutchison effect is used to explain an object (conducting or non-conducting) which repels gravity under the influence of high voltage AC-modulated DC fields, with the object continually and uniformly increasing its acceleration.
Scientists have never seen that happen before except in the third order Lorentz-Dirac equation treating radiation reaction which may help explain the Hutchison effect. Forces in nature tends to create a constant acceleration. (due to F=ma) The third order effect predicted by the equation of motion in Puthoff's paper is directly related to zero point energy and also yields an insight into the Hutchison effect.
It is also worth noting that the "Free Energy: The Race to Zero Point" video shows the
evaluation of the Hutchison effect by the U. S. military, who
promptly classified the report.
In this example, the electric field, magnetic field, and the force are all perpendicular to each other.
The Lorentz Force now has been proven by Puthoff in
his derivation in Physical Review A (49, 2, 94), to be directly
responsible to what he calls the "electromagnetic resistance arising
from the known spectral distortion of the zero point field in an
He chose the distant stars as the reference frame. This has been interpreted, not only by Einstein, but others since then to actually explain the principle of inertia, since the distant stars can be regarded as a relatively stable reference frame in the universe from our perspective.
demonstrates a causal and quantifiable basis for Mach’s principle
and explains that the magnetic component of the Lorentz force arises
in ZPE and matter interactions.
It appears to be related to the known distortion of the zero point spectrum in an accelerated reference frame. We therefore have an understanding as to why force and acceleration should be related, or even for that matter, what is mass. Puthoff explains that the resistance to acceleration defines the inertia of matter and it appears to be an electromagnetic resistance.
To summarize: the inertia effect is a
distortion at high frequencies whereas, the gravity effect has been
shown to be low frequency effect, according to the Puthoff theory.
cites Puthoff and is supported by a NASA contract.
Perhaps there are ways to prevent that interaction. Maybe there are some ways that we can actually turn on a dime, accelerate really quickly and also take off on a space drive.
This is what Arthur C. Clarke believes constitutes a space drive in his new book, 3001, The Final Odyssey. He specifically cites Dr. Puthoffs theory with the idea that it is written in the 3001 era, looking back 1000 years as to what was most breakthrough news in making the space drive possible.
Arthur C. Clarke pointed out years ago that
"the earth is the cradle of civilization but mankind cannot live in
the cradle forever!"
He admits that,
goes on to dryly summarize the Casimir effect and Puthoff's research
with a demand for proof of principle.
Dr. Millis states,
Further on he concludes,
Perhaps we can start a new trend by
blaming everything on ZPE (pronounced "zippy")! For an interesting
theoretical physics paper on zero point energy, download from