A team of physicists claims to have pulled energy out of a vacuum, Quanta reports — a trick that required them to teleport it from a different location using quantum tech.
The work builds on previous research by Tohoku University theoretical physicist Masahiro Hotta, who back in 2008 claimed to have found a way to produce negative energy, a seemingly counterintuitive aspect of quantum theory, inside a quantum vacuum.
In simple terms, instead of extracting something from nothing, the energy was "borrowed" from somewhere else, taking advantage of the idea of quantum entanglement, the fact that two subatomic particles can change their state in line with the other, even when the two are separated by a distance.
The research proved controversial. After all, "you can’t extract energy directly from the vacuum because there’s nothing there to give," as the University of British Columbia theoretical physicist William Unruh told Quanta.
But now, over a decade later, Hotta's former students are picking up where the theoretical physicist left off, working on new ways to extract energy from a vacuum, effectively creating negative energy — or at least, that's the implication.
As detailed in a preprint published earlier this year, Hotta's former student and quantum computation researcher at Stony Brook University Kazuki Ikeda and his team used IBM's quantum computing platform to verify that in his experiment, he was able to coax a quantum vacuum to drop below its ground-state energy, or its lowest energy state possible, otherwise known as zero-point energy.
The work comes less than a year after Eduardo Martín-Martínez, a theoretical physicist at the University of Waterloo, and his colleagues similarly claimed they'd been able to extract energy out of a vacuum and release it elsewhere inside a quantum system.
As Hotta told Quanta, though, he isn't entirely satisfied with these results, arguing that they were simply quantum simulations, in which the systems' ground states were being preprogrammed and differed from the natural quantum fields we find across the universe.
Experts, however, argue there could be some tangible benefits to being able to reliably teleport energy across space. For instance, we could make quantum computers more stable, and generally further our understanding of the role energy plays in the quantum world.
But there's still plenty of work to be done until we're anywhere near that point — we've only begun to explore the often baffling and counterintuitive world of quantum physics.
READ MORE: Physicists Use Quantum Mechanics to Pull Energy out of Nothing [Quanta]
More on quantum physics: Traveling Faster Than Light Would Mean Experiencing Multiple Timelines Simultaneously