Money (and Energy) for Nothing

By Stephen Cass | August 25, 2008 12:30 pm

Zero Point ModuleOn the TV series Stargate Atlantis, the current installment from the Stargate franchise, a device small enough to be held in your hands provides the energy for an entire city. Called a Zero Point Module, the device glows with golden light and produces an almost unlimited supply of clean energy. But it seems that the ZPM is an unrealistic little gizmo because it somehow creates energy from… well, nothing, and therefore, the thing belongs in a prop room shelved somewhere between the Flux Capacitor and the One Ring. But what if it was real?

The ZPM is based on the idea of Zero Point Energy. To understand this energy, picture a pendulum swinging beneath a grandfather clock. It will eventually be robbed of its energy by air resistance and come to a stop, but in the world of quantum mechanics, a pendulum never fully stops – infinitely small oscillations will continue for eternity because that last teensy-weensy little bit of energy can never be removed. Even weirder, quantum physics tells us that ‘empty’ space is host to fields that are similarly eternally oscillating . In other words, even a vacuum has energy, and this is called Zero Point Energy.

People have been crafting devices in an attempt to tap into this energy since the first experimental evidence demonstrating its existence came about in 1957. One current leader in the field, astrophysicist Bernard Haish, got money several years ago from assorted government agencies like NASA and the Department of Defense to build one. Working with Garret Moddel of the University of Colorado at Boulder, Haish devised and patented a 2-square inch device is made of two parallel metal plates, held just a few nanometers apart, with a vacuum between them. When a gas is passed through the vacuum, any energy that’s made will be detected with a broadband photon detector. But powering futuristic cities will have to wait – the project is currently on hold for lack of further funding.

Karen Rowan

Image: Wikipedia


Comments (8)

  1. “Who is John Galt?” :-))

  2. TimH

    Indeed, BillieO. Here’s to the hope that discovery AND subsequent dissemination of such technology is capable of happening.

  3. Dear Mr. Cass,

    I apologize for an energy-related post that is slightly off-topic. No hard feelings if you wish to delete it. I thought I would pass along a few items that may be of interest to you.

    You’re probably aware of the British site , which promotes the accurate portrayal of science in literature and other entertainment. There is a lot of interesting stuff there, among which is some discussion of how hard it is to get portrayals of science into print in the fiction realm.

    This leads to my second item, an essay I wrote for LabLit awhile back on the above topic. It’s at . To summarize: I’ve worked at nuclear power plants for over twenty years. Watching commentators discuss our energy future, its obvious most have no clear picture of how our energy present really works — and surveying what’s in print, I can see why. So I wrote a book that describes large-scale electricity production in general, and specifically the people, politics and technology of nuclear power in the US. For popular consumption I also made it a thriller, with all the mayhem and intrigue one would expect. By the end, the reader has a pretty complete picture of the subject – which is far different than what most imagine (both good and bad). Unfortunately, I had difficulty getting “Rad Decision: A Novel of Nuclear Power” past the screen of literary agents — as described in my essay. Science isn’t of much interest in the fiction biz.

    Steward Brand has said “I’d like to see Rad Decision widely read”.

    I also have references from a Pulitzer winner and a National Science Medal recipient.

    I’ve put Rad Decision out there on the net for free at
    , and finally there is a paperback version available at online retailers, from which I receive no royalites. Reader reviews at the homepage have been very positive, both for the book’s entertainment value and it’s technical underpinnings. One said: “This book shows you can have an-edge-of-your-seat read without rewriting the laws of physics.”

    I hope you’ll take a few minutes to look at the above references, and/or pass the information about Rad Decision along to someone interested in energy issues. Before we start treating big future energy machines as if they’re practically built, why not see how today’s behemoths are doing?


    James Aach

    My Favorite SF Novels: Darwin’s Radio and Childhood’s End
    SF Films: Gattaca and The Andromeda Strain (the original)

  4. Sadly, TimH, I do not believe that it will happen in our lifetime considering our capabilities and motivations at the present time….

  5. Over unity means they will never stop, always building energy, or sustaining the same energy level forever. M

  6. I would make contact with nearby educational facilities inside your region that train automotive mechanics. I instruct car mechanics at a career university and we really do not work on new or used vehicles in the public. This can be on account of liability issues as well as how very long we would desire to include the used car to attempt this category of revive.

  7. joe m

    Has any one ever considered what would happen if you took a particle accelerator and accelerated 2 protons on a crash course at near light speed into the midst of a cross section of lasers focused by a lense. The shear amount of energy that will be unleashed there could power new york for a century

  8. Matt K

    …I knew it. Now that Canada’s withdrawing from all wars-except the Arab Spring-maybe we can start development on this… build it quickly, scientists.

    Have you noticed that most of the stuff we have today rivals Lantean tech? With the exception of the spacecraft and Astria Porta, of course.


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