wikipedia | The causes of the Casimir effect are described by quantum field theory, which states that all of the various fundamental fields, such as the electromagnetic field, must be quantized at each and every point in space. In a simplified view, a "field" in physics may be envisioned as if space were filled with interconnected vibrating balls and springs, and the strength of the field can be visualized as the displacement of a ball from its rest position. Vibrations in this field propagate and are governed by the appropriate wave equation for the particular field in question. The second quantization of quantum field theory requires that each such ball-spring combination be quantized, that is, that the strength of the field be quantized at each point in space. At the most basic level, the field at each point in space is a simple harmonic oscillator, and its quantization places a quantum harmonic oscillator at each point. Excitations of the field correspond to the elementary particles of particle physics. However, even the vacuum has a vastly complex structure, so all calculations of quantum field theory must be made in relation to this model of the vacuum.

The vacuum has, implicitly, all of the properties that a particle may have: spin,^{[18]} or polarization in the case of light, energy,
and so on. On average, most of these properties cancel out: the vacuum
is, after all, "empty" in this sense. One important exception is the vacuum energy or the vacuum expectation value
of the energy. The quantization of a simple harmonic oscillator states
that the lowest possible energy or zero-point energy that such an
oscillator may have is

Summing over all possible oscillators at all points in space gives an infinite quantity. Since only *differences* in energy are physically measurable (with the notable exception of gravitation, which remains beyond the scope of quantum field theory),
this infinity may be considered a feature of the mathematics rather
than of the physics. This argument is the underpinning of the theory of renormalization. Dealing with infinite quantities in this way was a cause of widespread unease among quantum field theorists before the development in the 1970s of the renormalization group, a mathematical formalism for scale transformations that provides a natural basis for the process.

When the scope of the physics is widened to include gravity, the
interpretation of this formally infinite quantity remains problematic.
There is currently no compelling explanation as to why it should not result in a cosmological constant that is many orders of magnitude larger than observed.^{[19]} However, since we do not yet have any fully coherent quantum theory of gravity,
there is likewise no compelling reason as to why it should instead
actually result in the value of the cosmological constant that we
observe.^{[20]}

The Casimir effect for fermions can be understood as the spectral asymmetry of the fermion operator (−1)^{F}, where it is known as the Witten index.

### Relativistic van der Waals force

Alternatively, a 2005 paper by Robert Jaffe
of MIT states that "Casimir effects can be formulated and Casimir
forces can be computed without reference to zero-point energies. They
are relativistic, quantum forces between charges and currents. The
Casimir force (per unit area) between parallel plates vanishes as alpha,
the fine structure constant, goes to zero, and the standard result,
which appears to be independent of alpha, corresponds to the alpha
approaching infinity limit", and that "The Casimir force is simply the
(relativistic, retarded) van der Waals force between the metal plates."^{[16]}
Casimir and Polder's original paper used this method to derive the
Casimir–Polder force. In 1978, Schwinger, DeRadd, and Milton published a
similar derivation for the Casimir effect between two parallel plates.^{[21]} More recently, Nikolic proved from first principles of quantum electrodynamics that Casimir force does not originate from vacuum energy of electromagnetic field,^{[22]} and explained in simple terms why the fundamental microscopic origin of Casimir force lies in van der Waals forces.^{[23]}

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