The Alchemy of Vacuum

Thomas W. Ebbesen

USIAS & ISIS, University of Strasbourg, France

Light-matter interactions are not only fundamental for the existence of life, such as we know it, but play a key role in our culture, in the exchange of information and in many tools from surgery to the making of cars. What is perhaps more surprising, is that light-matter interactions occur even in total darkness. This is because vacuum, the three-dimensional space in which we exist, is not a void but is full of quantum fluctuations, including electromagnetic fluctuations which affect for instance the forces between molecules. When such light-interactions become strong enough, a new regime arises characterized by the formation of hybrid light-matter states. This is the so-called strong coupling regime which leads to fundamental changes in material properties. After introducing some of the basic concepts of quantum electrodynamics, examples of modified material properties such as conductivity, energy transport and chemical reactivity will be presented.  

Published: Wed 10 Apr 2019.