Does this mean we get to fly?
August 19, 2007 2:06 AM   Subscribe

Physicists have 'solved' mystery of levitation Professor Ulf Leonhardt and Dr Thomas Philbin, from the University of St Andrews in Scotland, have worked out a way of reversing ... 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.
posted by MythMaker (30 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Malor at 2:27 AM on August 19, 2007

Far out.
posted by slater at 2:29 AM on August 19, 2007

Man, I can't wait to read the article their going to publish on this so I can decide whether to believe any of it or not. I know next to nothing about physics. It's be totally rad if they could reverse a force.

From what I read, though, the effect weakens a lot with distance. Would that imply any sized object (even big) could only be made to hover a short distance? Very low friction would be cool.

The wikipedia article says there's been no experimental evidence to point towards the force's reversibility. I take it from reading the article that Leonhart and Philbin's method of reversing the field has not gone tested? Anyone want to explain this stuff to a layman?
posted by Mister Cheese at 2:38 AM on August 19, 2007

I like the way that the Telegraph puts a completely irrelevant photo next to the article (hover over it to see the caption).
posted by Kiwi at 2:41 AM on August 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

Also, in principle at least, quantum tunneling could be used to allow you to walk through walls *eyeroll*.

Here's a far better article, with somewhat less misleading bullshit.
posted by Freaky at 2:54 AM on August 19, 2007

Awww man. I was hoping for fully realized levitation. *scraps his plans for hover boots.*
posted by Mister Cheese at 3:01 AM on August 19, 2007

Reading Freaky's link, I am struck by how often I hear about a new technology that could be totally awesome if my layman's understanding of sciences I am not familiar with were how the world actually works. I inevitably find that the technology is either untested or many years from being fully viable when I dig in to articles that have more rigorous standards of science reporting.

I guess technology research goes too slowly for my science fiction and RTS bred mind. Dammit if I didn't hope for DNA based computers, fusion power, or even whole organ fabrication by the time I graduated from college. Things go so slooow when you've at best only got a century to live
posted by Mister Cheese at 3:13 AM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Reverse Casimir Force Slippers > Wool Socks + Oiled Hardwood Floor.
posted by velacroix at 4:39 AM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Basic rundown of the proposed technology, as I understand it (which isn't saying much):

Vacuum is actually full of energy in the form of virtual particles, which you can conceptualise somewhat like a wavy sea. Both just "average out" to sea level/vacuum.

The Casimir effect occurs when the distance between two objects is smaller than the maximum wavelength; those waves don't get to form between them, so the waves on the outside tend to push the objects together. This is actually seen in shipping; put two ships side by side and they'll be pushed together because there's less "room" for that wave energy between them.

This proposal suggests using a metamaterial to reverse the effect; somewhat like saying "if we make the ships a certain fancy shape, they'll repel each other when they get very close instead".

Suggesting this may be useful for macroscale "levitation" as most people would think of it would be like saying "if we make the ships a fancy shape, and *really* big, they would repel each other enough that they'd remain trillions of miles apart, even if we pushed them together incredibly hard".

IANAP, and I Am Rather Tired, but I think that's about the crux of it. Maybe macroscale low friction devices might be feasible, but I think you'd be better off hoping for anti-grav to power your flying saucer.
posted by Freaky at 5:23 AM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Where's hoverboardsdon't..?

Also, I heard from one St Andrews professor of a colleague in the maths department who got separated from his tour of a Buddhist monastery and who spotted a monk levitating in the lotus in a courtyard. He got hauled away, and (according to his trig) the guy was about 6 ft off the ground. Belief is optional for the reader, of course.
posted by imperium at 5:30 AM on August 19, 2007

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.
After the fanciful speculation wains, you know we're only going to get Geckos Away! spray-on gecko barrier.
posted by pracowity at 5:41 AM on August 19, 2007 [3 favorites]

Looks like they actually have a pre-print available.

I'd say "cool your jets", as it were.
posted by AppleSeed at 7:09 AM on August 19, 2007

Why do all these psuedoscience articles always come out of england? First it was deadly WiFi hubs, now this.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 7:32 AM on August 19, 2007

Other scientists having "broken the speed of light," if we take the Telegraph at face value, it won't be long before we have invisible levitating vehicles traveling beyond the speed of light (presumably powered by cold fusion).
posted by beagle at 7:49 AM on August 19, 2007

Damn beagle you beat me to it. Now I must get in my FTL hovercraft and zip away to the next planet with my amazing breakthroughs.
posted by nax at 8:15 AM on August 19, 2007

... 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.

Yes, did you know that quantum mechanics has nearly 14 million more internets than special relativity?
posted by synaesthetichaze at 8:23 AM on August 19, 2007

The telegraph: UK equivalent of the new scientist or even worse.
posted by delmoi at 9:27 AM on August 19, 2007

Uh delmoi, you do realise that "New Scientist" is a British publication? (Admittedly, not one to be particularly proud of.)
posted by Luddite at 9:43 AM on August 19, 2007

Fucking telegraph science writers sould be squeezed togetehr real tight and see if they repel each other.

They repel me.
posted by lalochezia at 9:45 AM on August 19, 2007

frictionless micro-machines?
posted by greatgefilte at 10:04 AM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Where is my goddam flying car then?
posted by flabdablet at 10:29 AM on August 19, 2007

Reading through their article makes me feel that our prospect for personal hover devices are not very good. But metamaterial lenses sound really interesting. I'm going to do some reading.
posted by Mister Cheese at 10:41 AM on August 19, 2007

I'm probably wrong, but the article seems to be mixing up the Casmir effect and the Van der Waals force. Geckos use the latter, not the former, to walk on the wall.
posted by TravellingDen at 10:55 AM on August 19, 2007

Rather naughtily misleading picture: it gives the impression of depicting the discovery in the article, when it's actually some make of Levitron.
posted by raygirvan at 11:15 AM on August 19, 2007

posted by ZachsMind at 11:16 AM on August 19, 2007

Batter up!
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 11:50 AM on August 19, 2007

What is "the mystery of levitation"?
posted by signal at 3:57 PM on August 19, 2007

travellingden: the casimir and van der waals forces are both cases of the same phenomenon; namely dipole interactions arising from random fluctuations. casimir's original paper described the force as a long-range version of the van der waals interaction, but retarded (and therefore weakened) due to the distance over which it acts. fundamentally they're the same thing though.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 5:13 PM on August 19, 2007

Big whoop, the Dharma Initiative did this years ago.
posted by mikeybidness at 12:51 AM on August 20, 2007

yeah, what do they mean with the "solved the mystery of levitation" thing? like how the monks were doing it or something? I don't get it.

the actual science article makes it sound not that much more exciting than what happens when you have opposing magnets - or really, if we want a hoverboard, why not just the force of air? wiki says zemekis was just joking when he said we have the technology to make hoverboards but parental groups wouldn't allow it, but I wonder if there's some truth to it. we just need a force counteracting gravity.
posted by mdn at 12:59 PM on August 21, 2007

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