Precocious young physicist Aisha Mustafa just patented a new system that could propel spacecrafts to the final frontier without using a drop of fuel.
In short her system taps one of the odder facets of quantum theory, which posits that space isn't really a vacuum. It's really filled with particles and anti-particles that exist for infinitesimally small periods of time before destroying each other. Mustafa thinks she can harness them to create propulsion, resulting in space craft that need little-to-no fuel to manoeuvre around in space. Fast Company reports:
Mustafa invented a way of tapping this quantum effect via what's known as the dynamic Casimir effect. This uses a "moving mirror" cavity, where two very reflective very flat plates are held close together, and then moved slightly to interact with the quantum particle sea. It's horribly technical, but the end result is that Mustafa's use of shaped silicon plates similar to those used in solar power cells results in a net force being delivered. A force, of course, means a push or a pull and in space this equates to a drive or engine.
Propulsion in space is incredibly easy to achieve because there aren't any particles to get in the way, but until now we've been completely reliant on engines to do the work. Engines create propulsion by burning chemical fuels -- these fuels are heavy and expensive, making some of the crazy exploration we'd like to do impossible. Mustafa's system could let the laws physics do the heavy-lifting instead.
Of course, Mustafa needs to work on the design much more and figure out how to get funding for the ambitious adventure. We hope some organisation with deep pockets steps up because the science is remarkable. [OnIslam.net via Fast Company]