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Zero-Point Energy

Updated on November 30, 2016

Zero-Point Energy is the kinetic energy remaining in a substance at the temperature of absolute zero; that is, at 0° K or -460° F. In many elementary science textbooks it is stated that the absolute zero of temperature would be characterized by complete absence of motion and energy. Although this temperature has not been, and may never be, attained, quantum mechanics, in particular the Schrodinger equation, has shown these statements in regard to the absence of motion and energy to be incorrect. Consider a simple harmonic oscillator, the behavior of which is approximated by a vibrating atom in an isolated molecule or in a solid.

The existence of the zero-point energy has been experimentally confirmed by analyses of molecular spectra and by the thermal behavior of gases at low temperatures. The vibrating atoms in a crystalline solid would have considerable energy in this lowest allowed state of vibration, and the zero-point energy accounts for the strange behavior of liquid helium at temperatures near absolute zero. The concept of zero-point energy satisfies the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, which forbids a particle ever to be completely at rest at a precisely known point.


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