Purdue University Graduate School
Optomechanics_with_quantum_vacuum_fluctuations_ZhujingXu.pdf (11.28 MB)


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posted on 2022-07-26, 03:47 authored by Zhujing XuZhujing Xu

One of the fundamental predictions of quantum mechanics is the occurrence of random fluctuations which can induce a measurable force between neutral objects, known as the Casimir effect. Casimir effect has attracted a lot of interest in both theoretical and practical work since the first prediction in 1948 because it is the most accessible evidence of quantum electromagnetic fluctuations in vacuum. Besides, it has prospective applications for nanotechnology and for studying fundamental physical theories beyond the standard model. In this dissertation, we report the experimental and theoretical progress towards realizing Casimir-based devices and long sought-after vacuum friction. 

First, we propose and experimentally realize the first Casimir diode system that can regulate energy transfer along one direction through quantum vacuum fluctuations. This is the first experimental demonstration of non-reciprocal energy transfer by Casimir effects. We develop a dual-cantilever vacuum system which can be used to measure the Casimir force at separations from 50 nm to 1000 nm.  Parametric coupling scheme is applied to the system to couple two cantilevers with different resonant frequencies by Casimir interaction. By controlling the system near the exceptional point, we are able to break the time reversal symmetry and observe the non-reciprocal energy transfer. 

The description of the Casimir diode system is followed by an experimental demonstration of the Casimir transistor system where we achieve the first measurement of Casimir interaction between three macroscopic objects. Three cantilevers can be coupled through quantum vacuum fluctuations by the parametric coupling scheme. Moreover, we have realized the first three-terminal Casimir transistor system that can switch and amplify quantum vacuum mediated energy transfer. These two Casimir-based devices will have potential applications in sensing and information processing.  

Subsequently, the first observation of Casimir mediated non-contact friction is demonstrated experimentally. When two parallel surfaces are moving with a relative velocity, they will experience quantum vacuum friction force which tries to slow down the relative motion because of quantum vacuum fluctuations. The quantum vacuum friction comes from the exchange of virtual photons between two moving bodies.  We have designed a novel method to detect the Casimir force mediated non-contact friction force between two harmonic oscillators. The non-contact friction comes from the interaction of virtual photons and phonons. We have experimentally detected the effect of non-contact friction and successfully measured the friction force at different velocities. 

In the latter part of this thesis, two theoretical proposals about detecting the Casimir torque and rotational quantum vacuum friction torque by a levitated optomechanical system are discussed. The optically levitated nanoparticle system is a good candidate for precision measurements because it can achieve an ultrahigh mechanical quality factor due to the well isolation from the thermal environment. The calculation of the Casimir torque on a levitated nanorod near a birefringent plate is demonstrated. The calculation of the rotational quantum vacuum friction torque on a rotating nanosphere near a plate is also presented. By comparing these small torques to the sensitivity of our levitation system, we show that it is feasible to detect the Casimir torque and the rotational quantum vacuum friction torque under realistic conditions in the near future. 


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Physics and Astronomy

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Tongcang Li

Additional Committee Member 2

Francis Robicheaux

Additional Committee Member 3

Yong Chen

Additional Committee Member 4

Zubin Jacob