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  • MEMS Levitation Theorized
Aug 2007
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland, Aug. 7, 2007 -- Physicists in Scotland said they have discovered a new way of levitating tiny objects that could impact the design of future nanomachines.

They have created "incredible levitation effects" by engineering the force of nature which normally causes objects to stick together by quantum force, theoretical physicists at the University of St. Andrews said. By reversing this phenomenon, known as Casimir force, they hope to solve the problem of tiny objects sticking together in existing novel nanomachines.

Professor Ulf Leonhardt and Thomas Philbin of the university's School of Physics & Astronomy believe that they can manipulate the Casimir force of quantum physics to cause an object to repel rather than attract another in a vacuum. Leonhardt previously theorized that an invisibility cloak could be created, a feat demonstrated last year by researchers at Duke University. (See: Cloak of Partial Invisibility Created

Casimir force (discovered in 1948 and first measured in 1997) can be demonstrated in a gecko's ability to stick to a surface with just one toe. However, it can cause practical problems in nanotechnology, and ways of preventing tiny objects from sticking to each other is the source of much interest.

"The Casimir force is the ultimate cause of friction in the nanoworld, in particular in some microelectromechanical systems (MEMS)," Leonhardt said. "Such systems already play an important role -- for example tiny mechanical devices which trigger a car airbag to inflate or those which power tiny `lab on chip' devices used for drugs testing or chemical analysis. Micro- or nanomachines could run smoother and with less or no friction at all if one can manipulate the force."

The pair have worked out how to turn the normally `sticky' quantum force of empty space from attraction to repulsion using a specially developed lens placed between two objects.

"In order to reduce friction in the nanoworld, turning nature's stickiness into repulsion could be the ultimate remedy. Instead of sticking together, parts of micromachinery would levitate," said Leonhardt.

But don't sew your cape just yet -- while the scientists said it is possible in principle for humans to levitate, it will be a long time before the technology to accomplish such feats is developed.

"At the moment, in practice it is only going to be possible for micro-objects with the current technology, since this quantum force is small and acts only at short ranges. For now, human levitation remains the subject of cartoons, fairytales and tales of the paranormal," Leonhardt said.

The research will be published in the August edition of the New Journal of Physics.

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A transparent optical component consisting of one or more pieces of optical glass with surfaces so curved (usually spherical) that they serve to converge or diverge the transmitted rays from an object, thus forming a real or virtual image of that object.
The use of atoms, molecules and molecular-scale structures to enhance existing technology and develop new materials and devices. The goal of this technology is to manipulate atomic and molecular particles to create devices that are thousands of times smaller and faster than those of the current microtechnologies.
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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