According to the quantum fluctuation concept, a particle and its corresponding antiparticle appear out of nothing only to annihilate and emit some energy in the form of electromagnetic waves.

Does this only happen in vacuum? From where do the particles get the energy to come into being in the first place? Does this effect involve only electrons and quarks (and thus positrons and antiquarks) or protons and neutrons too?

  • $\begingroup$ This might help. Note also that you'll never find free quarks. $\endgroup$
    – Kyle Kanos
    Dec 16, 2014 at 21:51
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Real particles do not appear out of nowhere. They only appear if there is enough energy available to create a real particle-antiparticle pair, and even then it usually requires a mediating field from a charged massive particle to make that process likely. Spontaneous $\gamma\gamma \to x\bar{x}$ has an exceedingly small cross section for currently available photon energies and fluxes. In short, the meaning of fluctuations in quantum field theory is usually very poorly explained to and understood by non-physicists. $\endgroup$
    – CuriousOne
    Dec 17, 2014 at 2:33
  • $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos: Why there are no free quarks? They are not virtual particles, are they? Then, what's the reason? You recommended a site, but I don't see there a motivation, I see sending to further and further sites. $\endgroup$
    – Sofia
    Dec 18, 2014 at 20:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Sofia: I think JohnRennie's answer is fine enough for explaining it, but perhaps the Wikipedia page on Color confinement might prove better? $\endgroup$
    – Kyle Kanos
    Dec 18, 2014 at 20:37
  • $\begingroup$ also this answer may help in understanding physics.stackexchange.com/questions/209327/… $\endgroup$
    – anna v
    Sep 29, 2015 at 18:30

1 Answer 1


The particle and antiparticle pair don't emerge from nothing, but rather the field (e.g. lepton field for electrons and positrons) that permeates the vacuum over all space. So pair creation an annihilation isn't tied to the vacuum but to the quantum field, and it happens everywhere - not just in an experimental vacuum. I.e it happens in the nucleus of an atom, which is far form being a vacuum in the sense you mean, and the cloud virtual pairs are responsible for the majority of the mass of the nucleus. You could have a virtual proton sure, or even a Boltzmann brain, but the suppression of the probability of finding a large particle is huge

Where they get the energy from - the zero-point energy of the quantum field, of which they are excitations of. They are energetic fluctuations of their corresponding particle field.


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