A team of physicists claims to have extracted energy from a vacuum, Quanta reports – a trick that required them to teleport it from another location using quantum technology.
The work builds on previous research by Tohoku University theoretical physicist Masahiro Hotta, who back in 2008 claimed to have found a way to produce negative energy, a seemingly counterintuitive aspect of quantum theory, inside a quantum vacuum.
Simply put, instead of extracting something from nothing, the energy was “borrowed” from somewhere else, exploiting the idea of quantum entanglement, the fact that two subatomic particles can change their state in line with the other, even when the two are separated by a distance.
Extraction of energy
The research proved controversial. After all, “you can’t extract energy directly from the vacuum because there’s nothing there to give,” as University of British Columbia theoretical physicist William Unruh said Quanta.
But now, over a decade later, Hotta’s former students are picking up where the theoretical physicist left off, working on new ways to extract energy from a vacuum, effectively creating negative energy—or at least, that’s the implication.
As described in a preprint published earlier this year, Hotta’s former student and quantum computing researcher at Stony Brook University Kazuki Ikeda and his team used IBM’s quantum computing platform to confirm that in his experiment he was able to coax a quantum vacuum to drop below its ground state energy, or its lowest possible energy state, otherwise known as zero-point energy.
The work comes less than a year after Eduardo Martín-Martínez, a theoretical physicist at the University of Waterloo, and his colleagues similarly claimed to have been able to extract energy from a vacuum and release it elsewhere in a quantum system .
As Hotta told Quanta, however, he is not entirely satisfied with these results, arguing that they were simply quantum simulations, where the systems’ ground states were pre-programmed and differed from the natural quantum fields we find throughout the universe.
However, experts argue that there may be some tangible benefits to being able to reliably teleport energy across space. For example, we can make quantum computers more stable, and generally advance our understanding of the role energy plays in the quantum world.
But there’s still a lot of work to do before we’re anywhere near that point—we’ve only just begun to explore the often confusing and counterintuitive world of quantum physics.
READ MORE: Physicists use quantum mechanics to extract energy out of nothing (Quanta)
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