April 1, 2008 -- The sight of small blonde girls watching television is guaranteed to strike fear into the heart of anyone who has watched the movie Poltergeist.
We're right to be terrified, say physicists. Children generate poltergeist activity by channelling energy into the quantum mechanical vacuum.
Pierro Brovetto, whose last known address was the Instituto Fisica Superiore, in Cagliari, Italy and his colleague Vera Maxia wanted to explain the origin of poltergeist phenomena, characterised by objects flying around the room "of their own accord".
The researchers note that poltergeist encounters have been reported around the world and across different cultures, but tend to have one thing in common.
"Poltergeist disturbances often occur in the neighbourhood of a pubescent child or a young woman," the authors note in their paper.
So Brovetto and Maxia have come up with a mechanism to explain just how these women and children create such havoc. Like so many problems that arise in adolescence, puberty gets the blame.
"Puberty is a modification of the child body which involves various organs, chiefly the brain," they state.
Brovetto and Maxia hypothesise that the changes in the brain that occur at puberty involve fluctuations in electron activity that, in rare cases, can create disturbances up to a few metres around the outside of the brain.
These disturbances would be similar in character to the quantum mechanical fluctuations that physicists believe occur in the vacuum, in which "virtual" particle and antiparticle pairs pop up for a fleeting moment, before they annihilate each other and disappear again.
Brovetto and Maxia believe that the extra fluctuations triggered by the pubescent brain would substantially enhance the presence of the virtual particles surrounding the person. This could slowly increase the pressure of air around them, moving objects and even sending them hurtling across the room.
The poltergeist paper will appear in the journal Neuroquantology.
We contacted Brian Josephson, a Nobel laureate physicist who is on the editorial board of Neuroquantology.
"This looks distinctly flaky to me," Josephson commented.