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Phys Rev Lett. 2008 Jun 27;100(25):253201. Epub 2008 Jun 26.

Thermal Casimir versus Casimir-Polder forces: equilibrium and nonequilibrium forces.

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Quantum Optics and Laser Science, Blackett Laboratory, Imperial College London, Prince Consort Road, London SW7 2AZ, United Kingdom.


We critically discuss whether and under what conditions Lifshitz theory may be used to describe thermal Casimir-Polder forces on atoms or molecules. An exact treatment of the atom-field coupling reveals that for a ground-state atom (molecule), terms associated with virtual-photon absorption lead to a deviation from the traditional Lifshitz result; they are identified as a signature of nonequilibrium dynamics. Even the equilibrium force on a thermalized atom (molecule) may be overestimated when using the ground-state polarizability instead of its thermal counterpart.

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