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Zero-Point Energy?

  1. Nov 1, 2007 #1
    First, my apologies if this topic is in the wrong section but since I don't know anything about physics and I sometimes wiki stuff, I have some sort of very amateur knowledge on that subject. Anyway, Stargate SC-1 and Atlantis are the TV shows which got me interested in all the technotalk, and I've been eally intrigued with the 'ZPM'.

    Basically, I'm all sci-fi, but I always feel compelled to make my stories as realistic as possible, thus my presence in these forums. So my question is: How does the ZPM work? Wikipedia description says: it extracts zero-point energy through artificially-created subspaces...

    So I didn't quite understand what zero-point energy is. It's described as ground-state, lowest possible energy... it's very confusing. And does zero-point have a relation to Quantum Foam? (btw, is Quantum Foam related to the ZPM?)

    Please, can anyone clear that up for me? All the technotalk is enough to scramble up my brain, and please, do not use any equations or jargons!

    This inquiry frm my part is because I'm looking to see if a power-source concerning subspace or something similar can be theoretically viable.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 22, 2007 #2
    I think it's much simpler than advertised. The key in my mind is that "empty space" is an oxymoron. Space is created and defined by it's contents. The absence of anything is nothing, not space. If there is distance, there is "stuff". The occupants of what we observe as "empty space" therefore, must simply be of a nature we aren't yet familiar with. The fact that we aren't familiar with them doesn't mean they don't have an impact on things we are familiar with. I think this is where a lot of the mental gymnastics of quantum physics come from. We are trying to explain behavior induced by particles and mechanisms whose existance we haven't even acknowledged. It's like trying to explain the motion of clouds while being completely ignorant of the existance of air.

    Here's a bit of musing on the topic I recently posted on my http://thepunditmaster.blogspot.com" [Broken]
    Zero Point Energy - An Explanation?
    Okay, this one's for all the geeks out there (I'm a part-time geek myself),

    It's been commonly accepted, in fact, as law, that one cannot get more energy out of a reaction than has been put into it. In other words it is not possible to break a water molecule (hydrogen and oxygen) apart and then burn the hydrogen (re-combining it with oxygen) and extract more energy than it took to break apart the water molecule.

    However, there are many who claim to have done just that. John Kanzius' recent discovery that one can burn seawater by exposing it to certain radio frequencies may be the latest demonstration, although official results are still pending. Assuming at least one of these cases is verified (granted a big assumption), the law has been broken. Or has it?

    Some believe that these systems are taking advantage of "zero point energy" that is, the lowest state of energy a system can have. The energy of "empty space". One theory is that "empty space" isn't really empty at all, but that the particles that comprise it are of a nature we don't yet understand. Thus they've been dubbed "virtual particles". These particles resonate at a wavelength too low to be of any consequence unless particles come within about 10 nanometers of each other. At this point the "virtual particle pressure" between the two particles becomes significant enough to impact the system.

    Another possibly related theory used to explain other observations is quantum physics is that nuetral particles in very close proximity, become polarized for a time.

    The two ideas might blend well in explaining where all this excess energy might be coming from. As for the polarization, electrons travel in a probablity field rather than at a specific point along an orbit at any given time. Perhaps in very close proximity, the probable location of an electron at any given time is more refined, meaning it's more likely to be on one side of the nucleus than on the other. This would cause one side of the molecule to be positively charged with respect to a very close object during part of the orbit of the electron(s). When particles are forced even closer together or pushed farther apart, the rythm of the polarization becomes out of the ordinary. The system could become unbalanced. Molecules could break down.

    Perhaps the catalysts and radio frequencies used in these experiments and inventions are forcing molecular particles into close enough proximity that the zero point energy makes the molecules unstable and easier to break apart.

    This begs the question: If we extract zero point energy in one part of a system, shouldn't the zero point field simultaneously extract energy from somewhere else? As far as we know, the law is still in effect. What might the consequences be of extracting zero point energy in very large scales? Could we cause some kind of zero point turbulence? Zero point waves? Would matter disintegrate if exposed to a sudden drop in zero point pressure? Or could it have just the opposite effect? Would we be "burning space" thus forcing virtual particles to condense into matter, or forcing particles closer together by shrinking the zero point field? In this hypothetical universe, there can be no truly empty space. Therefore if you remove virtual particles, you reduce the volume of space, unless/until they are replaced.

    Here's an even cooler possibility: What if you could travel at ridiculously fast speeds through space by using a zero point engine? In the process of extracting zero point energy from the space in front of you, you actually reduce the volume of space in front of you. You'd be both traversing and eliminating space at the same time. More bang for your buck. Of course you'd want to replace the zero point energy behind you. I'll leave that to the engineers.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  4. Dec 22, 2007 #3


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    Don't know if this was appearent to you from the above post, Spellbound, but yes, it does have to do with quantum foam. You could say that the energy in the vacuum is the energy of virtual particle pairs winking in and out of existance, or the formation and anihilation of VPPs is caused by the vacuum energy (cause and effect always seem to get a bit hazy at that point). But if you look up "Casimir Effect," that would give you some good reading to look at.
  5. Dec 22, 2007 #4


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    Never mind searching; http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9401E6D7133BF932A15752C0A961958260" [Broken] to an article that goes a bit more in-depth than Wiki.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  6. Dec 23, 2007 #5
    Thanx for the explanations. It all becomes clearer now :)
  7. Dec 23, 2007 #6


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    Since the OP is "satisfied" with the explanation, I'm locking this thread. We run the risk (if we haven't already from what I've read) of going into over-speculative discussion with a topic like this, and this is against our https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=5374".

    Please note for future references to those who are new here - you should use only peer-reviewed or reputable references to back your physics argument, not some personal webpage or blog (opinions are a different matter).

    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 23, 2017
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