Chapter 8

Prodding the Cosmic Fabric

8.1 Zero-Point Energy of Space

In Chapter 4 the tools of nanotechnology were described and their ability to build tiny structures varying in size from single atoms up to the edge of the nanoworld (100 nm) was demonstrated. It has been discovered recently that these same tools can address a much more fundamental question that takes us back to the discussion in Chapter 1, regarding the nature of “the void.” Remember that the concept of the atom as a building block of matter, proposed by Leucippus and Democritus 2500 years ago, requires as part of the package, a “void” in which the atoms move. In fact it was probably the philosophical problems associated with having a void that killed off the ancient atomic theory, which is a tragic lost opportunity, because the modern version did not reemerge until the work of John Dalton 2300 years later.

Although atoms are now a familiar part of the scientific landscape, the true nature of the void remains somewhat mysterious. In classical physics the void is assumed to be a simple absence of all matter and all energy—pure space that has been emptied of everything detectable. This idea of pure space, as an undetectable container of all things we can detect did not just cause the ancient Greeks problems. More recently, Newton struggled with the same concept and in the end simply defined it:

I do not define time, space, place, and motion, as they are well known to all. Absolute space by its own nature, without ...

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