Scientists reverse the Casimir force to make things levitate.

This news item is short on details about the experiment, but if it pans out it could be quite significant as it appears to manipulate one of the forces that holds atoms together:

Professor Ulf Leonhardt and Dr Thomas Philbin, from the University of St Andrews in Scotland, have worked out a way of reversing this pheneomenon, known as the Casimir force, so that it repels instead of attracts.

Their discovery could ultimately lead to frictionless micro-machines with moving parts that levitate But they say that, in principle at least, the same effect could be used to levitate bigger objects too, even a person.

The Casimir force is a consequence of quantum mechanics, the theory that describes the world of atoms and subatomic particles that is not only the most successful theory of physics but also the most baffling.

The force is due to neither electrical charge or gravity, for example, but the fluctuations in all-pervasive energy fields in the intervening empty space between the objects and is one reason atoms stick together, also explaining a “dry glue” effect that enables a gecko to walk across a ceiling.

Now, using a special lens of a kind that has already been built, Prof Ulf Leonhardt and Dr Thomas Philbin report in the New Journal of Physics they can engineer the Casimir force to repel, rather than attact.

Initial applications are aimed at nanotechnology where the Casimir force causes no end of headaches, but they think it could in time be applied to larger objects including perhaps making a human levitate. Think of how cool you’d be zipping around on your official Harry Potter replica broomstick, but that’s still quite a ways off yet. Still, very cool stuff.