What is zero-point energy?


Quick Answer

Zero-point energy is the lowest energy that any quantum mechanical physical system can possibly have. Otto Stern and Albert Einstein developed the concept in Germany in 1913.

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Full Answer

The uncertainty principle means that all physical systems have a zero point energy greater than zero. This is true even if an object is at a temperature of absolute zero. Helium-4, as an example, remains in its liquid state even when its temperature is lowered to absolute zero when under atmospheric pressure. This is because of the zero-point energy of the motions within its atoms. Only when pressure is increased to 25 atmospheres does helium freeze.

The zero-point energy of all fields in space, such as the electromagnetic field and the Higgs field in the Standard Model, is known as vacuum energy. Vacuum energy is one possible explanation for the cosmological constant within the field of cosmology. Zero-point field is another related term that means the lowest possible energy in a particular field.

The concept of zero-point energy is not controversial among scientists. The utilization of this energy, however, is very controversial. Numerous people have claimed to create devices that are capable of extracting zero-point energy that is usable, but none of those claims have been confirmed by the scientific community at large. In fact, most scientists consider claims of these power generation systems to be pseudoscience and dismiss them by default.

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