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The vacuum as the ultimate nothingness is an idea that quantum physicists have long proved wrong. Instead, they’ve shown that the vacuum is filled with virtual quantum particles leaping in and out of existence in a maelstrom of quantum activity.

Sometimes, these virtual particles can become real. For example, a powerful electric field can generate electron-positron pairs in a vacuum. And there are other ways of making something out of this nothingness.

A couple of months ago, the Russian physicist Maxim Chernodub showed how a powerful magnetic field can generate electrically charged ρ mesons that behave like a superconductor along the axis of the magnetic filed. And today, Igor Smolyaninov, at the University of Maryland, takes this idea a step further.

Readers of this blog will know Smolyaninov as one of the world’s leading thinkers about metamaterials, the strange artificial substances that can manipulate light in exotic ways. In recent years, he has shown how to use metamaterials to make everything from black holes to quantum foam.

Now Smolyaninov has turned his attention to the superconducting behaviour of the charged ρ mesons generated in a vacuum by a magnetic field. He points out that this superconducting state behaves exactly like a metamaterial, focusing light in exotic ways.

If this magnetic field varies in space in the right kind of way, it’s quite possible for this superconducting state to focus light like a superlens. Equally it could also trap light like a black hole.
Nobody has created a magnetic field powerful enough to observe this effect on Earth but such fields must have existed elsewhere. Both Smolyaninov and Chernodub say that in the early Universe, just fractions of a second after the Big Bang, the fields must have been powerful enough to generate these superconducting states.

That has interesting implications. The focusing and trapping effects of this cosmic metamaterial would have focused light in some areas and prevented it leaving others.”Therefore, the…behavior of early vacuum may have imprints in the large scale structure of the present-day Universe,” says Smolynaniov

That’s an effect that we ought to be able to see, if only we were able to detect light from the early Universe.

Hang on a minute…

Ref: arxiv.org/abs/1108.2203: Vacuum As A Hyperbolic Metamaterial

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