The Casimir force is the attraction between optical boundaries arising from the quantum zero-point energy of the vacuum and since its prediction in 1948 has remained the simplest way of detecting experimentally the energy density of empty space. It only becomes measurable in the sub-micron range and, for flat boundaries, increases with the inverse fourth power of their separation. This project proposes to discover ways to use the Casimir effect to provide a contactless transmission of force in nanoscale machines. The consortium from three countries (UK, France and Sweden) will combine nanolithography, cryogenic STM and modelling by quantum field theory to study the Casimir force in flexibly shaped optical cavities. The measurements will be pushed to hi gher precision than before in conditions of ultra-high vacuum and low temperature and to smaller separations down to tens of nanometres. The aim is to understand the effect of the geometry and the optical properties of the cavity material on the force so that it can be optimised to produce the maximum 'lateral' Casimir force that will enable a modulated boundary to drag another through empty space without physical contact. The suitability of the lateral force as a transmission mechanism will be investig ated and the final goal is to demonstrate contactless transmission in a simple nano-machine. The project will also provide data that will impose limits on parameters in current theories of new forces involving exotic quanta.
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