Nano-dumbbell used to test vacuum friction

Credit: Tongcang Li/Purdue University

Researchers at Purdue University fabricated a tiny, nanoscale rotor from silica, and then levitated it in a vacuum, blasting it with circularly polarised light from a laser to set it spinning. The size of the dumbbell is 170 x 320 nanometers (you could lay 200 of these dumbbells end to end across a human hair) and the rate of spin achieved is an incredible 60 billion rotations per minute.

Whilst this is all very impressive, what really caught my eye is that the device is being used to research the nature of friction in a vacuum. Of course there are no actual particles in a vacuum to slow the spinner down – the friction effect which the researchers are measuring is exerted by virtual particles which pop into and out of existence in a vacuum!

Research Paper

Live Science article

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