Create a Vacuum Day

Create a Vacuum Day is celebrated on February 4th of each year.  In everyday usage, vacuum is a volume of space that is essentially empty of matter, such that its gaseous pressure is much less than atmospheric pressure.  The word comes from the Latin term for “empty”. A perfect vacuum would be one with no particles in it at all, which is impossible to achieve in practice. Physicists often discuss ideal test results that would occur in a perfect vacuum, which they simply call “vacuum” or “free space”, and use the term partial vacuum to refer to real vacuum. The Latin term in vacuo is also used to describe an object as being in what would otherwise be a vacuum.

The quality of a vacuum refers to how closely it approaches a perfect vacuum. Other things equal, lower gas pressure means higher-quality vacuum. For example, a typical vacuum cleaner produces enough suction to reduce air pressure by around 20%.  Much higher-quality vacuums are possible. Ultra-high vacuum chambers, common in physics and engineering, operate below one trillionth (10−12) of atmospheric pressure, and can reach ≈100 particles/cm3.  Outer space is an even higher-quality vacuum, with the equivalent of just a few hydrogen atoms per cubic meter on average.  However, even if every single atom and particle could be removed from a volume, it would still not be “empty” due to vacuum fluctuations, dark energy, and other phenomena in quantum physics.

Vacuum has been a frequent topic of philosophical debate since ancient Greek times, but was not studied empirically until the 17th century. Evangelista Torricelli produced the first laboratory vacuum in 1643, and other experimental techniques were developed as a result of his theories of atmospheric pressure. A torricellian vacuum is created by filling a tall glass container closed at one end with mercury and then inverting the container into a bowl to contain the mercury.

Vacuum became a valuable industrial tool in the 20th century with the introduction of incandescent light bulbs and vacuum tubes, and a wide array of vacuum technology has since become available. The recent development of human spaceflight has raised interest in the impact of vacuum on human health, and on life forms in general.