A physics student from Egypt's Sohag University, Aisha Mustafa, 19, has patented a new type of propulsion system based on quantum theory that she says could propel space probes and artificial satellites without using any fuel.
According Gizmodo, Aisha's new system exploits the quirky laws of quantum physics which state that in spite of appearances, space really is not vacuum but that it is a seething cauldron of fundamental particle interactions involving creation and destruction of "virtual particles."
Mustafa believes it is possible to use vacuum energy fields to create propulsion and build spacecraft propulsion systems that need little or no fuel to travel in space. According to Fast Company, Mustafa is betting on exploiting quantum effects involved in dynamic Casimir effect and the Casimiri-Polder force. She uses two silicon metallic plates in a vacuum, "like capacitors placed a few micrometers apart." The plates interact with the virtual photons in the quantum field and generate a net force that is either an attraction or a repulsion depending on their arrangement.
According to OnIslam.net, the invention is similar to a hypothetical concept of jet propulsion termed “Differential Sail," proposed by NASA’s Marc G. Millis.
Fast Company reports that Aisha's university was so impressed with her new invention that it assisted her with a patent application. OnIslam.net reports that Mustafa's supervisor, Dr. Ahmed Fikry, who heads the physics department in Sohag University, said “I expect this invention to be highly beneficial in several fields and areas of industries."
The President of Sohag University, Dr. Nabil Nour Eldin Abdellah, said the university facilitates "science clubs" for creative students. He said: “Once we knew about her (Mustafa’s) invention, we encouraged her and provided her with the budget needed through the Science Club for innovative students in the university. This is the case with any other creative student."
According to OnIslam.net, with the retirement of NASA's space shuttle program, the field of space vehicles propulsion is expanding and and growing in importance with ongoing search for new methods of space travel that are faster, safer, cheaper and easier. A rich variety of new ideas in propulsive systems are being proposed some of which are beyond current technological capabilities to implement.
Gizmodo reports that Mustafa intends to further study and develop the design so that it may be tested out.
In a popular Egyptian morning program "Sabah El kheir Ya Masr"(Good Morning Egypt), Mustafa expressed her appreciation to her faculty and university staff for providing materials, resources and support. She, however, lamented that there is no funding for a department of space science in her university and in Egyptian universities in general. She said this prevents development and research in the field of space technology. She said: “Departments of astronomy and physics are only available. Although they are related to space sciences but unfortunately they aren’t into the specific field of my invention and they can’t practically test or implement it.”