The Universe Isn’t Empty. It’s Filled With ‘Quantum Foam’

One of humankind’s greatest intellectual advantages has been the ability to embrace contradiction — to understand that something can be both itself and its opposite at the same time.

That comes in handy when talking about quantum physics. The subject ricochets between illustrations like Schrodinger’s cats (both alive and dead), and the infamously confusing Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which states you can’t simultaneously measure the location and movement of a subatomic particle.

If you look at the image above, you’ll see what looks like a night sky filled with exploding fireworks. In reality, it’s a subatomic image of the constant creation and destruction of matter and antimatter.

“Electrons and antimatter electrons, quarks and antimatter quarks — they are created from nothing and disappear back into nothingness,” Fermilab’s Dr. Don Lincoln explains in the video below. “Empty space is actually extremely busy.”

These are called “virtual particles,” which Lincoln likens to the appearing and disappearing bubbles on a foamy root beer. (Regular beer is probably too controversial an example.)

But there’s another name for this phenomenon as well: quantum foam.

That’s basically an attempt to offer a memorable image for a much trickier physics concept. Namely, that nothing is still something.


Watch the full video above from the excellent YouTube channel Fermilab to get a firmer grasp on why empty space might not be empty at all.

Andrew McLemore

An award-winning journalist and photographer, Andrew McLemore brings more than 14 years of experience to his position as Associate News Editor for Lola Digital Media. Andrew is also a musician, climber and traveler who currently lives in Medellin, Colombia. When he’s not writing, playing gigs or exploring the outdoors, he’s hanging out with his dog Campana.