Philosophical Society of Washington

Minutes of the 2065th Meeting

Speaker: Alen Rothwarf, Drexel University
Topic: “A Model for a Real Æther”

President Joseph Coates, called the 2065th meeting to order at 8:19 p.m. on November 15, 1996. The Recording Secretary read the minutes of the 2064th meeting and they were approved. The President made an announcement calling for members to submit nominations for officer elections.

Mr. Coates introduced Mr. Alen Rothwarf of Drexel University to discuss “A Model for a Real Æther.”

When the wave nature of light was demonstrated, the “luminiferous æther” was postulated as the medium through which light waves propagated in the same way that sound waves propagate through air and other matter. Later when the electromagnetic nature of light was demonstrated, the existence of an æther became increasingly untenable. After the Michelson-Morley experiment, the hypothesis was abandoned because the principles of special relativity became easier to accept than the increasingly complex and sometimes contradictory properties that would be required for an æther to continue to satisfy experimental observations, such as negative energy, zero mass, and extreme tensile regidity. The concept of an æther as a medium which pervades all of space has now been out of fashion for nearly a century. However, it may be possible that an æther is not excluded on experimental or theoretical grounds.

One possible model for a real æther is a plasma of particles and anti-particles in a state lower in energy than the null-state. This would be a state comparable to the electron-hole ‘droplet’ or ‘exciton’ in semi-conductors. These particles and anti-particles would have been created in the “big bang” origin of the universe and it must be postulated that instead of annihilating, they condensed into the dense æther plasma releasing additional energy.

What properties would such an æther have? It would be dominated by electron-positron pairs at very high density. Fermi-Dirac statistics apply and the particles would have a density N0 which could be related to the maximum fermion velocity VF by the equation

VF = h/2pm ( 3 p2 N0 )1/3

and if VF can maximally be c0 the density of the electrons and positrons in the æther would be 6×10+29 cm-3. The æther must expand along with the universe at maximum velocity, c0 and if the number of particles and anti-particles in the æther is constant, the density must be dropping. It can be shown that the necessary decrease in density is nearly identical to that of the Einstein-DeSitter model for a universe dominated by radiation. The changing density of the æther would mean that the speed of light would change with time. Along with the speed of light, other physical constants must also change with time. The permeability of free space in Maxwell's equations is related to the velocity of light, as are the energy and wavelength so that the red-shifting of light from distant objects is predicted by this model.

Using this model other interesting hypotheses can be made. The quantum mechanical wave function might be postulated to be a disturbance in this æther, and since it is assumed to be a degenerate Fermion system there would be contraints on expected particle-wave duality experiment results. A particle moving toward a pair of slits might be assumed to create waves in the æther that pass through the slits and produce the observed interference phenomena. In a similar way, the photon might be postulated to be a region of polarized æther rotating in the direction of propagation with a specific angular velocity. The gravitational force might be transmitted by density changes in the æther in the same way as the warping of space time in general relativity. The gravitational and inertial mass of an object would be determined by local interactions with the æther, not as in Mach's principle with distant matter. E = m c2 should be a consequence of the structure æther.

There may be a way to test such a model? The LIGO Project under construction will attempt to observe gravitational waves in a 4 km vacuum chamber. It may be possible to test several predictions of this theory using such an instrument.

Mr. Rothwarf kindly answered numerous questions from the audience. Mr. Coates thanked the speaker on behalf of the Society, stated the parking policy, announced the speaker for the next meeting and adjourned the 2065th meeting at 9:45 p.m.


Respectfully submitted,
John S. Garavelli
Recording Secretary

←Previous Minutes - Abstract & Speaker Biography - Next Minutes→
Directory of Archived Meetings - Home