Here we show that self-propulsion in quantum vacuum may be achieved by rotating or aggregating magneto-electric nano-particles. The back-action follows from changes in momentum of electro-magnetic zero-point fluctuations, generated in magneto-electric materials. This effect may provide new tools for investigation of the quantum nature of our world. It might also serve in the future as a “quantum wheel” to correct satellite orientation in space.
Mechanical action of quantum vacuum on magneto-electric objects may be observable and have a significant value. Rotation or self-assembly of the nano-particles is enough to generate a back-action from zero electro-magnetic fluctuations. The amount of momentum that can be extracted from quantum vacuum by this effect, may have in the future practical implications, depending on advances in magneto-electric materials.
Despite some initial claims of negligible or even zero momentum transfer, recent theoretical studies concur that material objects may acquire momentum from quantum vacuum. This can be explained qualitatively by considering quantum vacuum as a random fluctuating electromagnetic field (so called zero fluctuations) composed of propagating modes. Each mode possesses both energy and momentum, causing Lamb splitting of spectral levels, Casimir attraction of objects in an empty space and other mechanical interactions from nano to astrophysical scales. The total momentum vanishes if the counter-propagating modes cancel mutually. It occurs in all materials except magneto-electrics, which lack both space and time symmetries.
Self-propulsion requires mechanical back-action from an external medium such as ground, water, air or even a quantum liquid. This can be provided by wheels or propellor-like devices. Mechanical interaction with electro-magnetic radiation can also serve as a mean for moving matter on macro- and nano-scales. It seems that self-propulsion in vacuum, however, can be achieved only by a rocket-like disposal of mass, at least in foreseeable future.
In this article we demonstrate that aggregating or rotating magneto-electric particles change the momentum of quantum vacuum and, as a consequence they acquire the resulting difference. It follows from momentum conservation: any change in momentum of zero fluctuations is compensated by a corresponding change in the momentum of a material object or electromagnetic field. These new occurrences of the vacuum momentum transfer do not require external means, such as previously proposed modification of the magneto-electric constant by applying external electric and magnetic fields or suppressing the quantum vacuum modes by cavity-imposed boundary condition