The study, published in Nature Physics and co-written by researchers at the Soft Matter Lab of the Department of Physics at the University of Gothenburg, demonstrate that tunable repulsive critical Casimir forces can be used to counteract stiction, i.e., the tendency of tiny parts of micro- and nanoelectromechanical devices to stick together, which is caused by the Casimir-Lifshitz interaction.
Tunable critical Casimir forces counteract Casimir-Lifshitz attraction
Falko Schmidt, Agnese Callegari, Abdallah Daddi-Moussa-Ider, Battulga Munkhbat, Ruggero Verre, Timur Shegai, Mikael Käll, Hartmut Löwen, Andrea Gambassi and Giovanni Volpe
Nature Physics 19, 271-278 (2023)
Casimir forces in quantum electrodynamics emerge between microscopic metallic objects because of the confinement of the vacuum electromagnetic fluctuations occurring even at zero temperature. Their generalization at finite temperature and in material media are referred to as Casimir-Lifshitz forces. These forces are typically attractive, leading to the widespread problem of stiction between the metallic parts of micro- and nanodevices. Recently, repulsive Casimir forces have been experimentally realized but their reliance on specialized materials prevents their dynamic control and thus limits their further applicability. Here, we experimentally demonstrate that repulsive critical Casimir forces, which emerge in a critical binary liquid mixture upon approaching the critical temperature, can be used to actively control microscopic and nanoscopic objects with nanometer precision. We demonstrate this by using critical Casimir forces to prevent the stiction caused by the Casimir-Lifshitz forces. We study a microscopic gold flake above a flat gold-coated substrate immersed in a critical mixture. Far from the critical temperature, stiction occurs because of dominant Casimir-Lifshitz forces. Upon approaching the critical temperature, however, we observe the emergence of repulsive critical Casimir forces that are sufficiently strong to counteract stiction. This experimental demonstration can accelerate the development of micro- and nanodevices by preventing stiction as well as providing active control and precise tunability of the forces acting between their constituent parts.
Theoretical and numerical study of the interplay of Casimir-Lifshitz and critical Casimir force for a metallic flake suspended on a metal-coated substrate Agnese Callegari
729. WE-Heraeus Stiftung Seminar on Fluctuation-induced Forces
14 February 2022, 14:50 CET
Casimir-Lifshitz forces arise between uncharged metallic objects because of the confinement of the electromagnetic fluctuations. Typically, these forces are attractive, and they are the main cause of stiction between microscopic metallic parts of micro- and nanodevices. Critical Casimir forces emerge between objects suspended in a critical binary liquid mixture upon approaching the critical temperature, can be made either attractive or repulsive by choosing the appropriate boundary conditions, and dynamically tuned via the temperature.
Experiments show that repulsive critical Casimir forces can be used to prevent stiction due to Casimir-Lifshitz forces. In a recent work, a microscopic metallic flake was suspended in a liquid solution above a metal-coated substrate . By suspending the flake in a binary critical mixture and tuning the temperature we can control the flake’s hovering height above the substrate and, in the case of repulsive critical Casimir forces, prevent stiction.
Here, we present the model for the system of the metallic flake suspended above a metal-coated substrate in a binary critical mixture and show that repulsive critical Casimir forces can effectively counteract Casimir-Lifshitz forces and can be used to control dynamically the height of the flake above the surface. This provides a validation of the experimental results and a base to explore and design the behavior of similar systems in view of micro- and nanotechnological applications.
 F. Schmidt, A. Callegari, A. Daddi-Moussa-Ider, B. Munkhbat, R. Verre, T. Shegai, M. Käll, H. Löwen, A. Gambassi and G. Volpe, to be submitted (2022)