Artist’s impression of a virtual particle

Nothing in something: Vacuum energy

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Can nothing, an absolute vacuum, be an energy carrier? We will leave it to philosophers whether an absolute vacuum can be considered such and focus on the astronomical, cosmological, and scientific aspects.

Something in nothing?

Vacuum energy is a concept in quantum physics that describes the energy in space, also known as the vacuum. It is considered a fundamental property of the universe. It is thought to arise due to the uncertainty principle, which states that particles can exist temporarily and annihilate one another, creating energy. The concept of vacuum energy was first introduced by Hendrik Casimir and Dirk Polder in 1948, who suggested that the energy present in a vacuum could be detected through the Casimir effect.

A fundamental property of the universe is a characteristic or attribute believed to be inherent to the fabric of the cosmos and cannot be reduced to simpler components. These properties are thought to exist independently of any particular object or system and provide a basis for understanding the behavior of matter and energy. Examples of fundamental properties include the speed of light, the gravitational constant, and the four fundamental forces of nature: gravity, electromagnetism, strong nuclear force, and weak nuclear force. Understanding these properties is critical for developing models and theories that explain the universe’s workings.

The Casimir effect, named after Hendrik Casimir, is an experiment that demonstrates the presence of vacuum energy. The experiment involves placing two uncharged metal plates nearby, creating a space between them. The plates are so close that only specific wavelengths of light can exist in this region. As a result, more wavelengths of light exist outside the plates than inside, leading to a net force pushing the plates together. This force is due to the energy of the virtual particles created and destroyed in the vacuum.

Despite the experimental evidence for the Casimir effect, there has yet to be a consensus on whether vacuum energy exists. The concept of vacuum energy is controversial because it is difficult to measure directly, and its effects are typically only observed at microscopic scales. Additionally, the theoretical predictions for the amount of vacuum energy present in the universe are many orders of magnitude larger than what is observed. This dissimilarity is known as the cosmological constant problem and is a considerable challenge in modern physics.

Our understanding of vacuum energy has evolved significantly over the past century. In the early days of quantum mechanics, vacuum energy was seen as a relatively minor effect primarily of theoretical interest. However, as our ability to measure small-scale phenomena improved, it became clear that vacuum energy plays a much more significant role in the behavior of energy and matter at the quantum level.

Today, vacuum energy is considered a fundamental universe aspect. Its effects are seen in various phenomena, from the Casimir effect to the behavior of subatomic particles.

Can me measure it?

Despite the challenges associated with measuring it, researchers continue to investigate the properties of vacuum energy and its potential applications. One potential application of vacuum energy is in the field of cosmology. The amount of vacuum energy in the universe has significant implications for the universe’s fate. If the amount of vacuum energy is large enough, it could cause the universe to undergo a period of prompt elaboration, known as inflation. However, the universe may eventually collapse if the vacuum energy is too small.

Another potential application of vacuum energy is in the development of new technologies. Some researchers have proposed that vacuum energy could be harnessed to create a new energy source known as zero-point energy. However, this idea remains largely speculative, and no clear evidence supports it.

Vacuum energy is a concept in quantum physics that describes the energy in space. It was first introduced by Hendrik Casimir and Dirk Polder in 1948 and has since become a fundamental aspect of our understanding of the universe. While there is no clear consensus on whether vacuum energy exists, its effects are seen in many phenomena.


There are undoubtedly famous astronomers who have expressed skepticism about its existence. One such astronomer is the late Sir Fred Hoyle, a prominent figure in the field of cosmology and known for his contrarian views. Hoyle was critical of the Big Bang theory and proposed an alternative theory of continuous creation, which suggested that matter is constantly being created in the universe.

Hoyle was also skeptical of the concept of vacuum energy, which he believed was a mathematical artifact rather than a physical reality. He argued that the vacuum was not a physical entity but rather a theoretical construct to describe the absence of matter and energy. In his view, the zero-point energy of the vacuum was not a manifestation of an underlying physical phenomenon but rather a consequence of the mathematical formalism used to describe quantum field theory.

Another famous astronomer who has expressed skepticism about vacuum energy is the American physicist and Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg. Weinberg has been critical of the idea of dark energy, which is believed to be driving the universe’s accelerated expansion, and has argued that the vacuum energy associated with it is not well understood. He has pointed out that the predictions of quantum field theory for the vacuum energy are many orders of magnitude larger than the observed value of dark energy, which suggests that there may be some fundamental problem with our understanding of the vacuum.

It should be noted, however, that skepticism about vacuum energy is not universal among astronomers and cosmologists. Many researchers accept the existence of vacuum energy as a fundamental property of the universe, and the concept plays an essential role in modern cosmology and particle physics theories.


In recent times, there have been numerous researchers who have championed the concept of vacuum energy. One of the most prominent figures in this regard is Stephen Hawking, the renowned theoretical physicist, and cosmologist who contributed significantly to our understanding of the universe. Hawking proposed that the universe contains infinite virtual particles that constantly pop in and out of existence, responsible for the vacuum energy.

Another prominent researcher who has worked on vacuum energy is Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist, and cosmologist who has made significant contributions to our understanding of dark energy and the early universe. Krauss has argued that vacuum energy is a crucial component of the universe, and it plays a crucial role in the large-scale structure of the cosmos.

Other researchers who have proposed the existence of vacuum energy include Sean Carroll, a theoretical physicist who has written extensively on the nature of the universe, and John Archibald Wheeler, a theoretical physicist who made meaningful contributions to our acquaintance of black holes and the nature of space-time.

Wrapping up

It has significant implications for the behavior of matter and energy at the quantum level. Although it remains a challenging topic for researchers, vacuum energy has the potential to play a significant role in the development of new technologies and our understanding of the universe as a whole.

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"Nothing in something: Vacuum energy" in Space Expert, 2023
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