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Scientists Discover How to Create Matter from Pure Light: Science Fiction Turns into Fact

First Posted: May 19, 2014 07:22 AM EDT

Creating matter from light? It sounds like something out of science fiction, right? Well scientists have managed to take something that seems improbable and devise an experiment to make it possible. Creating matter from light with todays high-tech methods would physically prove a theory first devised by scientists Breit and Wheeler in 1934.

Breit and Wheeler suggested that it should, in theory, be possible to turn light into matter by smashing together only two particles of light, called photons, in order to create an electron and a positron. Yet this has never physically been demonstrated.

In order to take theory into practice, the researchers devised a method that could potentially turn light into matter. They created the idea of a "photon-photon collider," which would convert light directly into matter using technology that is already available. The experiment itself would actually recreate a process that was important in the first 100 seconds of the beginning of the universe.

The experiment itself involves two key steps. First, the researchers would use an extremely powerful, high-intensity laser in order to speed up electrons to just below the speed of light. Then, they would fire these electrons into a slab of gold. This would create a beam of photons about a billion times more energetic than visible light. After that, the researchers would fire a high-energy laser at the inner surface of a tiny gold can called a hohlraum in order to create a thermal radiation field and generate light similar to the light emitted by stars. Then, they would need to direct the photon beam from the first stage of the experiment through the center of the can, causing the photons from the two sources to collide and form matter.

"Despite all physicists accepting the theory to be true, when Breit and Wheeler first proposed the theory, they said that they never expected it to be shown in the laboratory," said Steve Rose, one of the researchers, in a news release. "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."

While this is only theory, it could certainly be taken into practice. Researchers are now looking for ways to create this experiment and prove this theory to, in fact, be true.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Photonics.

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