How did physicists extract energy from nothing?

Creating energy out of thin air sounds strange, but it has been done. The next step, which is more or less like magic, is to extract energy from nothing by quantum methods. After the project proposal “Quantum Energy Teleport” In 2008, this idea was largely dismissed by scientists. It has now been shown by two independent experiments that energy transfer is not so far-fetched.

“William Henry”, a theoretical physicist at the University of British Columbia, says about this: “You cannot directly extract energy from the vacuum; Because there is nothing to mine.” But quantum physics has repeatedly shown us that we should not rely too much on common sense or so-called classical thinking.

fifteen years agoMasahiro Hota“, a theoretical physicist at Japan’s Tohoku University, suggested that we might be able to extract something from it by stimulating the vacuum. At first, many researchers suspected that extracting energy from a vacuum would be impossible at best. However, those who looked closely realized that Huta had proposed a different and creative quantum idea.

Energy is not and is not free. We have to generate energy again using knowledge bought with energy. From this point of view, the hota procedure was less like creating magic and more like transferring energy from one place to another. “It (the discovery) was a real miracle that Hota achieved,” says William Henry, who later collaborated with Hota.

Last year, researchers transferred energy across microscopic distances in two separate quantum devices at a distance, confirming Hutta’s theory. This research leaves little room for doubt that the transfer of energy at a distance is a “quantum phenomenon”.

Seth Lloyd, a quantum physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who was not involved in the research, said: “This research really tests it (Hotta’s theory). You are actually teleporting and extracting energy.”

Quantum validity

The first person to doubt quantum energy transfer was Hota himself. In 2008, he looked for a way to measure the strength of a quantum mechanical entanglement called entanglement, in which two or more objects share a single quantum state that causes them to behave in similar ways even when they are far apart. .

One of the characteristics of entanglement is that it must be created in an instant. This means that you cannot change the behavior of one particle independently of another.

While studying black holes, Hota suspected that a strange event in quantum theory that “negative energy” so-called, can be the key to measuring entanglement. Black holes shrink by emitting entangled radiation within themselves, a process that can be seen as a black hole gobbling up negative energy.

Hota noted that negative energy and entanglement seem to be closely related. To prove his claim, he attempted to show that negative energy—such as entanglement—could not be created by independent actions in specific locations.

To his surprise, Hota discovered that a simple sequence of events could actually force a quantum vacuum to gravitate toward the negative, losing energy it didn’t seem to have. “At first I thought I was making a mistake, so I recalculated and tried to make more sense of it,” he added. But I couldn’t find any flaws in my calculations.”

Mental test

The problem starts with the extraordinary nature of the quantum vacuum, a strange kind of nothingness that comes dangerously close to being something. The uncertainty principle prohibits quantum systems from being in a completely stationary state with exactly zero energy. As a result, even the void is bound to move with the fluctuations of the quantum fields that fill it. These infinite oscillations saturate any field with a minimum amount of energy known as “zero point energy”. A system with minimum energy is in the ground state and cannot go lower.

The ceaseless oscillations of a vacuum cannot be used to power a machine in continuous motion; Because fluctuations in a given location are completely random. For example, imagine connecting an imaginary quantum battery to a vacuum cleaner, half of the battery’s oscillations charge the device and the other half discharge it.

In fact, quantum fields are entangled; That is, fluctuations in one point correspond to fluctuations in another point. In 2008, Huta published a paper explaining how two physicists, Alice and Bob, might use these dependencies to extract energy from the ground state surrounding Bob. The plan is something like this.

Bob needs energy; He wants to charge the imaginary quantum battery, but all he has access to is empty space. Fortunately, his friend Alice has a well-equipped physics laboratory in a distant place. Alice measures the field in her lab, injects energy into the field from there, and studies its fluctuations. This experiment takes the overall field out of the ground state, but as far as Bob can tell, the vacuum remains in the minimum energy state, oscillating randomly.

But Alice texts Bob the findings about the vacuum around her and tells Bob when to plug in his battery. After Bob reads her message, he can use the new knowledge to prepare an experiment to extract the amount of energy specified by Alice from the void.

“This information allows Bob to time the oscillations if he wants to,” says Eduardo Martin Martinez, a theoretical physicist at the University of Waterloo and the Perimeter Institute who is working on one of the new experiments. “Because of the abstract nature of quantum fields, the concept of timing is more metaphorical than literal,” he added.

“You can do amazing things with quantum mechanics.”

William Henry, University of British Columbia

Bob cannot extract more energy than Alice has input; Therefore, the law of conservation of energy is preserved, and of course, Bob does not have the knowledge to extract energy without Alice’s SMS because nothing travels faster than light in a vacuum. Therefore, this idea does not violate any physical principle.

Of course, machines that use the energy of the zero point of the vacuum are the main basis of science-fiction stories. This issue caused Hota’s opinions not to be taken seriously. But he continued to develop his idea and promote it in seminars, encouraged by Onry, who was famous for discovering the strange behavior of the vacuum.

Huta also looked for a way to test his theory. He contacted Go Yusa, an experimenter specializing in condensed matter at Tohoku University. The two designed and proposed an experiment in a semiconductor system with an entangled ground state similar to an electromagnetic field.

But their research was delayed many times due to different events. After funding the experiment, an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 devastated the east coast of Japan, including Tohoku University. Their laboratory equipment was severely damaged by the earthquake and the experiments were stopped for some time. Hota and Yusa started again from scratch.

forward to the world

Over time, Hota’s ideas spread around the world, and at Onry’s suggestion, he spoke at a 2013 conference in Banff, Canada. This is an attention speech Martin Martinez attracted Martin Martins says about this: “Huta’s mind works differently from others. He is a person who has a lot of unusual ideas that are very creative.”

A self-professed “space and time engineer” jokingly, Martin Martinez has long dreamed of finding physically permissible ways to create wormholes, warp travel, and time machines. Each of these strange phenomena is consistent with the equations of general relativity and the possibility of their occurrence is not impossible. But they are still limited by the so-called energy limiting conditions. A handful of limitations that famous physicists Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking ignored to prevent the theory from showing its wild side.

The most important achievement of Hawking and Penrose was that they found that negative energy density is not allowed. But Martin Martinez, while listening to Huta’s speech, noticed that below the ground state level, it was like a place with negative energy. The concept was interesting to a fan of Star Wars technology and led Martin to look into Hota’s work.

Martin soon realized that the transfer of energy at a distance could help solve the problem that some of his colleagues, including Raymond LaFlamme, Waterloo, and Nily Rodríguez Briones, were facing in the quantum information debate. Martin’s colleagues had a simpler goal; Taking qubits (the building blocks of quantum computers) and cooling them down as much as possible. Cold qubits are better qubits. But the group had reached a limit of theory beyond which it seemed impossible to remove heat from qubits; As Bob was faced with a vacuum from which it seemed impossible to extract energy.

Raymond Laflamme, Copyright: Institute for Quantum Computing/University of Waterloo

This group repeated the experiment many times and made numerous measurements; So that they were able to reconstruct the quantum properties of three atoms during the process. In the end, they calculated the energy of Bob’s carbon atom, which was reduced on average; In this way, it can be concluded that the energy of the atom was extracted and released in the environment. This happened despite the fact that Bob’s atom always starts in its ground state.

The energy transfer process took no more than 37 milliseconds, although it usually takes more than twenty times longer for energy to move from one side of the molecule to the other; That is, almost a full second. The energy expended by Alice allowed Bob to unlock the inaccessible energy.

“It was beautiful to see that with the current technology we could see the energy being activated.”

Nylee Rodriguez Briones, University of California

Nily Rodríguez Bruins thinks these systems could be used to study heat, energy and entanglement in quantum systems.

The basics of theory

The second tests were performed ten months later. A few days before Christmas, Kazuki Ikeda, a quantum computing researcher at Stony Brook University, was watching a YouTube video about wireless energy transfer when he wondered if something similar could be done using quantum mechanics. He then remembered Hota’s work; When Hota was an undergraduate at Tohoku University, he was one of his professors and discovered that he could implement the quantum energy transfer protocol on IBM’s quantum computing platform.


A few days later, he wrote a program based on the same idea and ran it remotely, and the experiments confirmed that Bob’s qubit went below its ground state energy. On January 7, he submitted his results to the journal.

Almost fifteen years after Hota first justified the transmission of energy at a distance, two simple experiments less than a year apart proved that it was indeed possible. “The articles match the experience very well,” says Lloyd. I’m very surprised no one did it sooner.”

Sci-fi dreams

Of course, Hota was still not fully satisfied and considered the experiments only important as a first step. He considers experiments to be quantum simulations; This means that entangled behavior is programmed in the ground state, either through radio pulses or through quantum operations on IBM devices. He is trying to extract zero-point energy from a system whose ground state is naturally entangled in the same way as the fundamental quantum fields that permeate the universe.

So Hota and Yusa are conducting their original experiment and hope to demonstrate quantum energy transfer in a silicon surface that has intrinsically entangled ground-state edge currents in the coming years; A system that behaves like an electromagnetic field.

“That’s what real physics is, science fiction is something else.”

Hota, Tohoku University

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