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vacuum fluctuation

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A spontaneous, short-lived fluctuation in the energy level of a vacuum, as described by quantum field theory. Although these variations are violations of the law of conservation of energy, they are tolerated in quantum mechanics by virtue of the uncertainty principle. Such fluctuations are associated with virtual particles.
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The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

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