Quantum Vacuum Engineering: The Long Road from Epicurean "Hooked Atoms" to Nanodevices Actuated by Absolutely Empty Space

Dr. Fabrizio Pinto
Interstellar Technologies Corporation

One of the earliest scientific teachings school pupils receive is that positive charges attract negative charges and that neutral bodies attract nothing. Yet, little mention is made in introductory science classes of the fact that neutral particles can and do actually attract neutral particles. The names of those who first noticed what we today refer to as cohesion are likely forever lost. We do know, however, that some of the brightest and earliest minds in the history of philosophical enquiry speculated about the ultimate cause of such mysterious forces. We shall follow those observations throughout the appearance of modern science to Newton's own mention of this mysterious problem. This will lead us to our modern understanding of the origin of dispersion forces, such as van der Waals and Casimir forces, ultimately based on quantum-electrodynamical theory. We shall experience genius, frustration, mistakes, and even myth making by scientists, and we shall admire the climbing abilities of the gecko lizard from an entirely new perspective. We will also briefly look at possible experimentation to actually detect the equivalent mass of interatomic energy in curved space-time. These are uniquely stimulating issues at the interface of physics of the quantum vacuum, nano-electro-mechanical (NEMS) system engineering, finance, and society, with a robust mix of controversy.  Among the current cutting edge questions, we will explore the still demanding challenge of even computing dispersion forces, as well as the potentially disruptive global market place implications of engineering such forces in magnitude and even in sign, and what this means in nanodevice actuation, sensing, robotics, and energy conversion and storage, both in outer space and on the ground.