In 1934, scientists Gregory Breit and John Wheeler theorized that turning light into matter was as simple as crashing two photons of light into each other to create an electron and a positron. This calculation was analyzed over and over, but the thing is, no one expected to prove it, at least in a lab. Even Breit and Wheeler thought it impossible. Scientists at Imperial College London now believe it’s possible to turn actual light into matter results with a new kind of collider.
This new collider would be a photon-photon collider, which would use a high-energy laser on electrons, speeding them up as fast as they can go at just below the speed of light. These super-fast electrons would be aimed at a gold plate, which turns them into a beam of highly active photons. Meanwhile, another high-intensity laser would fire into a gold chamber, creating a thermal radiation field. The photon beam streams into the chamber, which gets the photons smashing against each other, forming electrons and positrons. And voila, you have light becoming matter.
Like many scientific discoveries, this one came while researching something else: fusion energy. The gold chamber, called a hohlraum, was a tool used in the team’s research. But once they thought about it, they also realized they’d found the secret to applying it to the Breit-Wheeler theory.
So why is it important to turn light into matter? Well, it’s something that happened about 100 seconds after the Universe was born and still happens during gamma ray bursts, which are huge explosions in distant galaxies that we still have no explanation for. Solving the mystery of why and how gamma ray bursts occur gives us a better understanding of the physics that governs our Universe.
Via Imperial College