Physicists Are Performing The Impossible Experiment To Turn Light Into Matter


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It was theoretically considered possible to turn light into matter. After 84 years of this theory, some researchers think that they are able to do it and will be performing an experiment soon. The process is called the Breit-Wheeler process and it deals with the famous equation E=mc^2. The process was described in 1934 by a duo of physicists, Gregory Breit and John A. Wheeler. In their paper, they proposed that if two photons are smashed together, the collision will result in a positron and an electron. These are basically the matter, which is created out of light.

Creating the matter is not an easy thing to do. Breit and Wheeler thought that it will be impossible to do it saying that it will be “hopeless to try and observe the pair formation in laboratory experiments.” But scientists these days are a little bit more optimistic. However, the experimental set-ups require the addition of massive high-energy particles and it has never been observed in a laboratory.

In 2014, researchers from Imperial College London formulated the experiment which removed the need to have high-energy particles. Now they are all set to perform the experiment. Steven Rose, senior researcher, and professor of physics said, “This would be a pure demonstration of Einstein’s famous equation that relates energy and mass: E=mc2, which tells us how much energy is produced when the matter is turned to energy. What we are doing is the same but backward: turning photon energy into mass, i.e. m=E/c2.”

The experimental set-up called a photon-photon collider is a new kind of physics experiment. It involves two extremely high-power laser beams. One is 1000 times the energy of photons which produce visible light and the other is 1,000,000 million times powerful than the energy of visible light photons. These lasers will be used to create the photons which will be smashed together. Inside the target chamber, electrons are fired at a slab of gold to produce a beam of high-energy photons.

A second high-energy laser is fired into a tiny gold tube called a hohlraum which creates a thermal radiation field. The photon beam is then directed through the hohlraum and photons collide. If the experiment works, the team will be able to detect charged positrons from the collisions. They will have to check the data thoroughly to make sure that the positrons are not originated from the background processes. The experiment will not just be amazing for its own sake if this works but might also help us understand the laws of the universe a little bit better.

A researcher Stuart Mangles said, “When Gregory Breit and John Wheeler first proposed the mechanism in 1934, they used the then-new theory of the interaction between light and matter known as quantum electrodynamics. Whereas every other fundamental prediction of QED has since been demonstrated experimentally, the ‘two-photon Breit-Wheeler process’ has never been seen. He added, “If we can demonstrate it now, we would be recreating 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.” 

The experiment might not really work, however, science is all about smashing things together to create a glorious mess. If it doesn’t work, processes will be improved to make it work the next time. The results of the experiment will indeed be really amazing to look at.

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