9 July 2008, JellyBean @ 3:53 am

LevitationLevitation is one of the grails of science and magic. For magic it is the ‘wow’ factor but for science it has some interesting potential applications.

Recent reports have indicated that scientists have now discovered the secret of levitation, albeit on the micro level. Physicists say that they can now create “incredible levitation effects” by manipulating the Casimir force. This is the force which normally causes objects to stick together by quantum force.

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According to Professor Ulf Leonhardt and Dr. Thomas Philbin from Saint Andrews University, this phenomenon can improve everything from car airbags to computer chips.

Casimir force was first discovered in 1948 and first measured in 1997. According to the article, the application of this force is demonstrated by a gecko’s ability to stick to a surface with just one toe.

The scientists now claim that they can reverse the Casimir force to cause objects to repel each other in a vacuum.

“The Casimir force is the ultimate cause of friction in the nano world, in particular in some micro-electromechanical systems,” said Leonhardt, writing in the August issue of New Journal of Physics.”Micro or nano machines could run smoother and with less or no friction at all if one can manipulate the force. 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.”

Professor Leonhardt emphasised this is currently only possible for nano devices, but said the principle could be used to levitate people — although this was a long way into the future.

“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,” he said in the article. “For now, human levitation remains the subject of cartoons, fairytales and tales of the paranormal.”

Professor Leonhardt also leads a group which is looking into invisibility by causing light to bend around an object.

One can only wonder about the application of this technology in the development of aircraft and space craft. Is this one step closer to humans developing their own flying saucers?

The Telegraph: Physicists have ‘solved’ mystery of levitation
NewScientist: Three ways to levitate a magic carpet
Yahoo News: Scientists reveal secret of levitation

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