Vacuum force researcher retracts paper that failed to name collaborators

Science doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Even vacuum science.

The International Journal of Modern Physics A has retracted a 2011 paper by a physicist who failed to acknowledge the contributions — instrumental, it seems — of his collaborators.

The paper, “Measurement of the Casimir Interaction Between a au Sphere and au Gratings” [au in this case being the atomic symbol for gold, not the French article], was published last summer by Ricardo Decca as part of a conference proceedings. According to the notice:

This article was published as a part of the conference proceedings for the Eighth Alexander Friedmann International Seminar on Gravitation and Cosmology and Satellite Symposium on the Casimir Effect, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 30 May-3 June 2011. In the article I described results of the force obtained in the Casimir regime between a Au coated sphere and a Au grating. The making of the grating required extensive development from my collaborators. The article was published without the proper authorship from the research groups involved. Against this background I thus retract my article and apologize for the damage I have caused.

We spoke with Decca, of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, who told us that the neglected co-authors include Daniel Lopez, a nanotechnology researcher at Argonne National Laboratory who has been working on the gold gratings. (As it happens, the two men received their PhD degrees a year apart from the same school in Argentina, Instituto Balseiro; we’re guessing their collaboration isn’t the product of universal dice throwing.)

Decca told us that the omission of his co-investigators was an oversight.

I didn’t even let them know [about the paper] because it was a conference.

Decca said two of his collaborators saw the article when it appeared and complained. For some reason, although the journal received the retraction statement from Decca in February, the notice did not appear until Mid-April.

Decca said he and his colleagues plan to publish the work as a group.

The Casimir effect is one of those things that may make little sense to those of us without advanced degrees in physics: it’s the force that exists in the heart of a vacuum. The force in theory can be both attractive and repellant, but manipulating it in any meaningful way has proven challenging. However, that didn’t keep the military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, from making a $10 million bet on a two-year program to encourage scientists to come up with ways of harnessing the Casimir effect, with the eye toward making technologies that could, for example, permit levitation and other amazing abilities.

That pilot project expired last December. We emailed DARPA to see what, if anything, came out of the effort but haven’t heard back yet.

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