All men might have gone through a feeling of ‘nothingness’, atleast once in their lives. “Oh! There’s nothing interesting in it”, “What are you doing now?” “Nothing much!”, “I’m totally bored! Nothing to do” are some sentences we often say ourselves or hear others say. What’s common to all these? Nothing but, ‘nothing’.
The term used to denote ‘nothingness’ in science is vacuum. Put in simple, yet scientifically correct terms, ‘Vacuum is a state with no particles’. So, perfect vacuum means complete absence of particles. It is usually difficult to attain physically. Physically feasible, partial vacuum finds many applications in our everyday lives.
Incandescent bulbs used it to protect the filament from corrosive chemical reactions like oxidation. But, later nitrogen and inert gases replaced vacuum, to obtain better results. Now, they are on the verge of extinction due to their lower efficiency causing serious environmental side effects. Semiconductor industry employs high vacuum to manufacture various electronic components. A familiar, domestic gadget using vacuum pump is – of course, vacuum cleaner. Before the advent of semiconductor technology, vacuum tubes were used in place of transistors etc. The heart of CRT computer monitors and televisions, is a vacuum tube.
Vacuum in varying qualities is employed in various walks of life. Apart from the everyday use in some equipments etc, vacuum is a hot academic subject. Vacuum is the topic of study for many scientists around the world.
Even though we all are familiar with it (not physically, but conceptually) we find it a bit strange that many renowned scientists of the yester year were dead against the concept of vacuum. They argued it as impossible, citing various reasons. But, as time flew, like most scientific phenomenon, vacuum too emerged from the shroud of mystery. Thus the hypothetical ‘aether’ medium was discarded. Aether was considered to be present everywhere in the universe, and was suggested as a medium for light propagation in space.
The medieval era was a dark age as far as science in Europe was concerned. Religion triumphed over science. Every observation, physical phenomenon had a religious explanation. This greatly hindered scientific growth. The fate of Galileo and Bruno are just two examples. Vacuum too was disregarded by the religious authorities, accusing it of being heretic. They believed that the absence of everything implied the absence of God.
The outer space is where high quality vacuum i s present. So, space travellers usually have to wear special suits, to avoid the fatal consequences. Exposure to vacuum can result in death within minutes. The reduction in pressure may cause gas bubbles to form inside the body, that will result in serious harm. This phenomenon called ebullism is prevented by the specially designed space suits, which make space travels possible.
This is what vacuum is, scientifically. But, vacuum is something more. We may use it as a metaphor, to represent a void. An irretrievable loss is often considered a vacuum. The absence of anything makes vacuum something special. This was the reason, it was considered as a foolish hypothesis. “How can nothing be something?” They asked. But vacuum proved to be something, that’s more than nothing.
The deep space, where stars are born knows vacuum more than we do. Vacuum connects these stars to form this universe. Vacuum fills this universe, and sometimes our lives. But the universe expands itself into this vacuum. We too must move on, expand our lives when we feel a vacuum inside us. Because, there’s something in nothing.