Rogue Pentagon boffinry overlords have decided to weigh into a hot new crazy-science field: That of the mysterious Casimir Force, the tendency of nanoscopic, barely perceptible spacetime ripples - lapping at the edges of the "quantum vacuum" in which all matter exists - to push things together.
Casimir stickiness, at present, is so imperceptible and tiny that it can be detected only by the use of special microdetection apparatus featuring solid golden balls. Nonetheless it genuinely exists. Indeed some boffins have previously speculated that one might - by the use of a cunningly crafted sheet of nanofabbed "left-handed metamaterial" - reverse the effect, fashioning a Casimir repellor platform and so causing objects to levitate on "literally, nothing". This would be achieved using the fabled, perhaps infinite, potentially universe-imploding "zero point energy" which has been widely speculated upon.
But the possibly goldenballs-powered hover ship - or even the more realistic unbelievably-thin-bacofoil frictionless ice-rink solution - has remained in the realm of theoretical conceit thus far, for lack of backing.
Now, however, that has changed. Legendary US bonkers-boffinry bureau DARPA* has decided to fund research into manipulating or reversing the Casimir effect. It's possible to theorise that the DARPA chieftains' interest has been piqued by the implicit possibilities for levitating bakeware, which would be so useful for the agency's known nutritional requirements.
However it has come about, DARPA has issued a request for proposals (pdf), in which it is said:
The goal of this program is to develop new methods to control and manipulate attractive and repulsive forces at surfaces based on engineering of the Casimir Force. One could leverage this ability to control phenomena such as adhesion in nanodevices, drag on vehicles and many other interactions of interest...
Curiously, DARPA seem not to rate the proven goldenballs route toward generating and measuring Casimir effects. Rather, they suggest:
Possible approaches ... could include the development of composite materials, engineered nanostructures, mixed-phase materials, or active elements.
Having developed the necessary nano-wrangled metamaterial tools with which to handle and shape the strange currents of the quantum vacuum and the zero point, it will be time to start serious work.
DARPA will explore the launch of a follow-on program to utilize these capabilities in one or more specific devices of practical importance.
Sadly it appears that the levitating sky-galleon or nothingness-repellor drive spaceship will not be an early application of the new technology, which seems fairly certain to work only at the nano scale to begin with. More plausibly, we might expect to see improvements in so-called Micro Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS) - nanobotic devices, to you and me.
Such machinery is expected to offer a host of benefits, not least the ability to seize control of living creatures from within, allowing soulless mechanoid intelligences to wear their hapless, cored victims like fleshy cloaks.
And that's just one of the ways in which this sort of research could make our lives better, before we even get to the sky-blackening aerial battleship fleets or hovering dessert choices of tomorrow. Truly a day for rejoicing. ®
* The Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency