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This thesis investigates the Casimir effect between plates made of normal and superconducting metals over a broad range of temperatures, as well as the Casimir-Polder interaction of an atom to such a surface. Numerical and asymptotical calculations have been the main tools in order to do so. The optical properties of the surfaces are described by dielectric functions or optical conductivities, which are reviewed for common models and have been analyzed with special weight on distributional properties and causality. The calculation of the Casimir energy between two normally conducting plates (cavity) is reviewed and previous work on the contribution to the Casimir energy due to the surface plasmons, present in all metallic cavities, has been generalized to finite temperatures for the first time. In the field of superconductivity, a new analytical continuation of the BCS conductivity to to purely imaginary frequencies has been obtained both inside and outside the extremely dirty limit of vanishing mean free path. The Casimir free energy calculated from this description was shown to coincide well with the values obtained from the two fluid model of superconductivity in certain regimes of the material parameters. The Casimir entropy in a superconducting cavity fulfills the third law of thermodynamics and features a characteristic discontinuity at the phase transition temperature. These effects were equally encountered in the Casimir-Polder interaction of an atom with a superconducting wall. The magnetic dipole coupling of an atom to a metal was shown to be highly sensible to dissipation and especially to the surface currents. This leads to a strong quenching of the magnetic Casimir-Polder energy at finite temperature. Violations of the third law of thermodynamics are encountered in special models, similar to phenomena in the Casimir-effect between two plates, that are debated controversely. None of these effects occurs in the analog electric dipole interaction. The results of this work suggest to reestablish the well-known plasma model as the low temperature limit of a superconductor as in London theory rather than use it for the description of normal metals. Superconductors offer the opportunity to control the dissipation of surface currents to a great extent. This could be used to access experimentally the low frequency optical response of metals, which is strongly connected to the thermal Casimir-effect. Here, differently from corresponding microwave experiments, energy and momentum are independent quantities. A measurement of the total Casimir-Polder interaction of atoms with superconductors seems to be in reach in today’s microchip-based atom-traps and the contribution due to magnetic coupling might be accessed by spectroscopic techniques

Thermal and quantum fluctuations of the electromagnetic near ﬁeld of atoms and macroscopic bodies play a key role in quantum electrodynamics (QED), as in the Lamb shift. They lead, e.g., to atomic level shifts, dispersion interactions (Van der Waals-Casimir-Polder interactions), and state broadening (Purcell effect) because the ﬁeld is subject to boundary conditions. Such effects can be observed with high precision on the mesoscopic scale which can be accessed in micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) and solid-state-based magnetic microtraps for cold atoms (‘atom chips’). A quantum ﬁeld theory of atoms (molecules) and photons is adapted to nonequilibrium situations. Atoms and photons are described as fully quantized while macroscopic bodies can be included in terms of classical reflection amplitudes, similar to the scattering approach of cavity QED. The formalism is applied to the study of nonequilibrium two-body potentials. We then investigate the impact of the material properties of metals on the electromagnetic surface noise, with applications to atomic trapping in atom-chip setups and quantum computing, and on the magnetic dipole contribution to the Van der Waals-Casimir-Polder potential in and out of thermal equilibrium. In both cases, the particular properties of superconductors are of high interest. Surface-mode contributions, which dominate the near-field fluctuations, are discussed in the context of the (partial) dynamic atomic dressing after a rapid change of a system parameter and in the Casimir interaction between two conducting plates, where nonequilibrium conﬁgurations can give rise to repulsion.

We calculate magnetic field fluctuations above a conductor with a nonlocal response (spatial dispersion) and consider a large range of distances. The cross-over from ballistic to diffusive charge transport leads to a reduced noise spectrum at distances below the electronic mean free path, as compared to a local description. We also find that the mean free path provides a lower limit to the correlation (coherence) length of the near field fluctuations. The short-distance behaviour is common to a wide range of materials, including semiconductors and superconductors. Our discussion is aimed at atom chip experiments where spin-flip transitions give access to material properties with mesoscopic spatial resolution. The results also hint at fundamental limits to the coherent operation of miniaturised atom traps and matter-wave interferometers.

We present an efficient expression for the analytic continuation to arbitrary complex frequencies of the complex optical and ac conductivity of a homogeneous superconductor with an arbitrary mean free path. Knowledge of this quantity is fundamental in the calculation of thermodynamic potentials and dispersion energies involving type-I superconducting bodies. When considered for imaginary frequencies, our formula evaluates faster than previous schemes involving Kramers-Kronig transforms. A number of applications illustrate its efficiency: a simplified low-frequency expansion of the conductivity, the electromagnetic bulk self-energy due to longitudinal plasma oscillations, and the Casimir free energy of a superconducting cavity.

We investigate the role of surface plasmons in the electromagnetic Casimir effect at finite temperature, including situations out of global thermal equilibrium. The free energy is calculated analytically and expanded for different regimes of distances and temperatures. Similar to the zero-temperature case, the interaction changes from attraction to repulsion with distance. Thermal effects are shown to be negligible for small plate separations and at room temperature but become dominant and repulsive at large values of these parameters. In configurations out of global thermal equilibrium, we show that the selective excitation of surface plasmons can create a repulsive Casimir force between metal plates.