In theory the discovery could be used to levitate a person
Levitation has been elevated from being pure science fiction to science fact, according to a study reported today by physicists.
In earlier work the same team of theoretical physicists showed that invisibility cloaks are feasible.
Now, in another report that sounds like it comes out of the pages of a Harry Potter book, the University of St Andrews team has created an ‘incredible levitation effects’ by engineering the force of nature which normally causes objects to stick together.
Professor Ulf Leonhardt and Dr Thomas Philbin, from the University of St Andrews in Scotland, have worked out a way of reversing this pheneomenon, known as the Casimir force, so that it repels instead of attracts.
Their discovery could ultimately lead to frictionless micro-machines with moving parts that levitate. But they say that, in principle at least, the same effect could be used to levitate bigger objects too, even a person.
The Casimir force is a consequence of quantum mechanics, the theory that describes the world of atoms and subatomic particles that is not only the most successful theory of physics but also the most baffling.
The force is due to neither electrical charge or gravity, for example, but the fluctuations in all-pervasive energy fields in the intervening empty space between the objects and is one reason atoms stick together, also explaining a “dry glue” effect that enables a gecko to walk across a ceiling.