A team of physicists is claiming to have coaxed sparks from the vacuum of empty space. If verified, the finding would be one of the most unusual experimental proofs of quantum mechanics in recent years and “a significant milestone”, says John Pendry, a theoretical physicist at Imperial College London who was not involved in the study.
Researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the University of Maryland have created the first nontrivial “atom circuit,” a donut-shaped loop of ultracold gas atoms circulating in a current analogous to a ring of electrons in a superconducting wire. The circuit is “nontrivial” because it includes a circuit element—an adjustable barrier that controls the flow of atom current to specific allowed values. The newly published work was done at the Joint Quantum Institute, a NIST/UM collaboration.