TechRepublic has a rather bold article who’s complete title is Paging Zefram Cochrane: Humans have figured out how to make a warp bubble
It’s written with Star Trek fans in mind.
A team of scientists working with DARPA, including warp drive pioneer Dr. Harold G “Sonny” White, may have just taken us one step closer to that reality with their announcement that they’ve discovered a space-warping bubble, the fundamental thing needed for the faster-than-light travel of the Star Trek universe.
However, it does ground the article to physics and current understandings.
This is a pretty complicated notion that involves a ton of math, but at its most basic level, a warp bubble is a bit of space that’s contracted in the front and expanded in the back. This shape in theory pushes the bubble, and its contents, forward at speeds surpassing the speed of light without ever violating the laws of physics: You’re not technically traveling faster than light, you’re surfing a bubble of condensed space.
Warp bubbles were long the domain of science fiction, until theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre came along and theorized his Alcubierre warp drive in 1994, which maintained general relativity while allowing for faster-than-light travel. The key upon which it rested, was an energy-density field that was configurable into a vacuum bubble that would make anything inside it have negative mass.
And brings us to the present.
Fast forward to 2021, and Dr. White, whose 2012 paper was written while he worked at NASA as Advanced Propulsion Theme Lead, is doing research funded by DARPA on objects called Casimir cavities. These cavities are formed of two parallel plates with a pillar running between them. These things are small — mere microns in size — and they do something really interesting: Create a negative vacuum between the plates when exposed to a regular vacuum.
“You would anticipate zero pressure outside and zero pressure in the cavity, but what we find when we measure is negative pressure in between the plates,” Dr. White said.
“What we’re trying to do is explore the quantum vacuum at a fundamental level,” Dr. White said. “We think there’s a bit more to these vacuums than we currently know. Some of the unknown characteristics could be used to create some really useful technologies.” Hence DARPA’s interest.