A vacuum is a space absolutely devoid of matter, at least according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. But if you talk to a physicist you may get a different answer. According to quantum physics, even vacuums are not completely empty. Constant fluctuations in energy can spontaneously create mass not just out of thin air, but out of absolutely nothing at all.
“It’s like a boiling sea of appearing and disappearing particle pairs,” said James Koga, a theoretical physicist from the National Institutes for Quantum and Radiological Science and Technology in Kyoto, Japan. The pairs, made up of one particle and one antiparticle, exist for only moments. Koga is investigating the subtle effects caused by these fluctuations.This peculiar nature of vacuum, sometimes referred to as “quantum vacuum,” is not just theoretical speculation. It has real, measurable effects on our physical reality. Although these effects are usually far too small to impact even the most sensitive instruments of today, scientists think the picture will change for the miniaturized technologies of tomorrow.”In the macroscopic world, we don’t care about these forces at all. You wouldn’t care about it when you are driving a car for instance. It’s totally negligible,” said Alejandro Manjavacas, a physicist specializing in photonics at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. “But in the context of nanotechnology or nanophotonics—at a super small scale, these effects will start playing a role.”