Vacuum Fluctuations: Recent Paper and Experiments

                                                                                         Robert D. Klauber

                                                                                         December 19, 2017


There are two experiments and one theoretical paper related to vacuum fluctuations (ZPE specifically) that were not covered in Chap. 10 of Student Friendly Quantum Field Theory. One experiment (actually a cosmological observation) was done in 2012, and I was unaware of it when I wrote the book (2013, 1st edition). The other experiment and the theoretical article have only been made public in the past couple of years. I review them in chronological order below and supply links to the original articles.


Three Photons Propagating for Billions of Years (2012)

This study of photons received on Earth that propagated together over billions of light-years implies spacetime is not “foamy” at the Planck scale, where vacuum fluctuations should be paramount, and thus lends support to the notion that such fluctuations do not exist.

Popular accounts include "Cosmic race ends in a tie" by R. Cowen, Nature. (10 January 2012), and “Spacetime: A smoother brew than we knew” (January 2013)

The original scientific paper by R. J. Nemiroff, R. Connolly,J. Holmes, and A. B. Kostinski1 is “Bounds on Spectral Dispersion from Fermi-detected Gamma Ray Bursts” Physical Review Letters. 108 (23): 231103 (2012). 18 Apr 2012.


Usual Analysis of Casimir Plate Effect May be Faulty (2016)

The author of this article notes that typical analyses of the Casimir effect use a Hamiltonian that has implicit dependence on matter fields and illegitimately treat it as if the dependence were explicit. He contends the true origin of the Casimir force is the van der Waals force.

See H. Nikoli, “Proof that Casimir forces do not originate from vacuum energy”, Phys. Lett. B 761 (2016) 197-202.


Vacuum Fluctuations Experiment (2017)

An experimental group at the University of Konstanz claimed the first direct detection of ZPE fluctuations in a laboratory experiment. Their technical article is quite difficult for a non-specialist in nonlinear optics to understand, so I have written a pedagogic introduction to their work at . Note that in that article I question whether ZPE fluctuations have really been detected.

A popular account “Traffic Jam in Empty Space” can be found at  Another account of an earlier, similar experiment by the same researchers titled “Physicists observe weird quantum fluctuations of empty space  maybe” is at .

The technical article itself is, “Subcycle quantum electrodynamics”, C. Riek, P. Sulzer, M. Seeger, A.S. Moskalenko, G. Burkard, D.V. Seletskiy, and A. Leitenstorfer. Nature 541, pp. 376-379 (19 Jan 2017) .