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Casimir Forces and Quantum Electrodynamical Torques: Physics and Nanomechanics

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4 Author(s)
Capasso, F. ; Sch. of Eng. & Appl. Sci., Harvard Univ., Cambridge, MA ; Munday, J.N. ; Iannuzzi, D. ; Chan, H.B.

This paper discusses recent developments on quantum electrodynamical (QED) phenomena, such as the Casimir effect, and their use in nanomechanics and nanotechnology in general. Casimir forces and torques arise from quantum fluctuations of vacuum or, more generally, from the zero-point energy of materials and their dependence on the boundary conditions of the electromagnetic fields. Because the latter can be tailored, this raises the interesting possibility of designing QED forces for specific applications. After a concise review of the field in an historical perspective, high precision measurements of the Casimir force using microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) technology and applications of the latter to nonlinear oscillators are presented, along with a discussion of its use in nanoscale position sensors. Then, experiments that have demonstrated the role of the skin-depth effect in reducing the Casimir force are presented. The dielectric response of materials enters in a nonintuitive way in the modification of the Casimir-Lifshitz force between dielectrics through the dielectric function at imaginary frequencies epsiv(ixi). The latter is illustrated in a dramatic way by experiments on materials that can be switched between a reflective and a transparent state (hydrogen switchable mirrors). Repulsive Casimir forces between solids separated by a fluid with epsiv(ixi) intermediate between those of the solids over a large frequency range is discussed, including ongoing experiments aimed at its observation. Such repulsive forces can be used to achieve quantum floatation in a virtually frictionless environment, a phenomenon that could be exploited in innovative applications to nanomechanics. The last part of the paper deals with the elusive QED torque between birefringent materials and efforts to observe it. We conclude by highlighting future important directions

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Selected Topics in Quantum Electronics, IEEE Journal of  (Volume:13 ,  Issue: 2 )