Fr.: effet Casimir
A small attractive force that appears between two close parallel uncharged plates in a vacuum. It is due to quantum vacuum fluctuations of the electromagnetic field. According to the quantum theory, the vacuum contains → virtual particles which are in a continuous state of fluctuation. Because the distance between the plates is very small, not every possible wavelength can exist in the space between the two plates, quite in contrast to the surrounding vacuum. The energy density decreases as the plates are moved closer, creating a negative pressure which pulls the plates together. The first successfully measurement of the effect was by Steve Lamoreaux in 1997. A more recent experiment in 2002 used a polystyrene sphere 200 μm in diameter coated in gold or aluminium. This was brought to within 0.1 μm of a flat disk coated with the same metals. The resulting attraction between them was monitored by the deviation of a laser beam. The Casimir force was measured to within 1% of the expected theoretical value.
After the Dutch physicist Hendrik Casimir (1909-2000), who predicted the phenomenon in 1948; → effect.