Scientists Know How to Turn Light into Matter
20 May 2014
A universally recognized theory on how to transform light into matter, first conceived by scientists Gregory Breit and John A. Wheeler in 1934, can now be finally proven in practice, according to new research by Imperial College London.
The 80-year old theory is that matter can be made from light by smashing together two photons to create an electron and a positron. Breit and Wheeler's calculations were proven to be sound but they themselves didn't expect that anyone would ever be able to physically demonstrate their theory. Now, scientists have found a way to test it in practice using technology that is already available.
The proposed experiment would use an extremely powerful high-intensity laser to accelerate electrons to just below the speed of light. Then scientists would fire them at a slab of gold to produce a beam of photons that is a billion times more energetic than visible light.
In the next phase of the experiment, scientists would fire another high-energy laser into a golden can, called a hohlraum ("empty room" in German), to create a thermal radiation field. Finally, the beam from the first stage would be directed at the center of the can, which would cause photons from the two sources to collide. Once they do, they would start forming electrons and positrons that scientists are able to detect after they exit the can.
According to lead researcher Oliver Pike, the scientists were surprised how quickly they came up with this experimental design. He and his colleagues were astonished to find that hohlraums provide perfect conditions for creating a photon-photon collider.