Physicists at Imperial College London (ICL) are uncovering a way to convert light to matter.
This technological breakthrough relies on fusion research that could be used on existing facilities by converting photons into positrons and electrons.
Steven Rose, professor for ICL, and his assistant, Oliver Pike, are building upon theories first introduced in 1905.
Breit and Wheeler stated in their theory over 80 years ago that “two photons could crash together and produce matter (a positron and an electron).”
Rose pointed out: “The reason this is very hard to see in the lab is that you need to throw an awful lot of photons together – because the probability of any two of them interconverting is very low.”
Rose’s team have created a “’photon-photon collider’, which would convert light directly into matter using technology that is already available … [to] recreate a process that was important in the first 100 seconds of the universe and that is also seen in gamma ray bursts, which are the biggest explosions in the universe and one of physics’ greatest unsolved mysteries.”
This collider will allow scientists to first use “an extremely powerful high-intensity laser to speed up electrons to just below the speed of light. They would then fire these electrons into a slab of gold to create a beam of photons a billion times more energetic than visible light.”
In the second phase of the experiment, a gold can called a hohlraum would be bombarded by “a high-energy laser” directed at the “inner surface of the hohlraum to create a thermal radiation field, generating light similar to the light emitted by stars.”
In the next stage of the experiment, a directed photon beam shot through a can could cause “the photons from the two sources to collide and form electrons and positrons. It would then be possible to detect the formation of the electrons and positrons when they exited the can.”
Portions of this theory and its current application in these experiments have come from Dirac’s 1930s theory; as well as Einstein’s 1905 theory on photoelectric effects.
Rose explained: “Despite all physicists accepting the theory to be true, when Breit and Wheeler first proposed the theory, they said that they never expected it be shown in the laboratory. Today, nearly 80 years later, we prove them wrong. What was so surprising to us was the discovery of how we can create matter directly from light using the technology that we have today in the UK. As we are theorists we are now talking to others who can use our ideas to undertake this landmark experiment.”