Is it really possible to turn light into a tangible matter? In the past, two physicists suggested it can be but making it a reality is next to impossible. Fast forward to 2014, experts now claim that this theory would cease to be a mere calculation as they have already found out a practical way to prove it works.
As per Gregory Breit and John Wheeler who came up with the theory in 1934, two particles of light called photons must be collided to transform light into matter. The process would then create one electron and one positron, an electron's antimatter counterpart.
As simple as it may seem, the proposal was deemed to be "theoretically sound" but the two physicists cautioned that they have yet to prove it, perhaps could not at all since it has never been tested in a laboratory. When tested, it could demand high-energy particles to be included in the formula. Breit and Wheeler did not even expect anyone putting it into test.
That it until 80 years later, when three scientists at the Imperial College London, while having some cups of coffee one afternoon at the Imperial's Blackett Physics Laboratory, discovered a relatively simple way to physically prove a theory that awaited decades before it was finally demonstrated, all in just one sitting.
In a groundbreaking study published in Nature Photonics, the Breit-Wheeler theory is carried out via a "photon-photon collider," a fresh kind of high-energy physics experiment. Using a technology that is now made available, the experiment is anticipated to unlock two of physics' greatest unsolved mysteries: the first 100 seconds of the universe and the composition of gamma ray bursts.
"We were able to develop the idea for the collider very quickly, but the experimental design we propose can be carried out with relative ease and with existing technology," said lead author of the study Oliver Pike, who is also currently completing his doctorate degree in plasma physics.
The whole process only requires two steps. One, the speed electrons are pushed to just below the speed of light with the use of a high-intensity laser. The electrons would then be fired into a gold slab to beckon photons that are billion times more frenzied than normal light.
Afterwards, a high-energy laser is blasted inside the cavity of a hohlraum or a tiny gold can to produce a "thermal radiation field" that equals those emitted by stars. The photon beams produced from the two different methods are then smashed together to conceive electrons and positrons.
"Within a few hours of looking for applications of hohlraums outside their traditional role in fusion energy research, we were astonished to find they provided the perfect conditions for creating a photon collider," Pike said.