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Scale Models Can "Compute" Casimir Forces 136

KentuckyFC writes "Place two conducting parallel plates a few nanometres apart and the well-known but difficult-to-measure Casimir force will push them together. The force depends crucially on the shape of the plates but nobody is exactly sure how. That's because calculations with anything other than flat plates are fiendishly difficult and measurements are even harder. Now a group at MIT has come up with an ingenious new way to investigate Casimir forces. What the team has noticed is a mathematical analogy between the Casimir force acting on microscopic bodies in a vacuum and the electromagnetic behavior of macroscopic bodies floating in a conducting fluid. Their idea is to build a centimeter-scale metal model of the system they want to investigate, place it in salt water, and bombard it with microwaves and see what happens. The team says the experiment does not measure the force on the scale model but instead a quantity that is mathematically related to the force. So the experiment is not a simulator but actually an analog computer that calculates the force (abstract). What's exciting is that the method should for the first time give researchers a way of testing nano-machines designed to exploit the Casimir force."

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