Scientists to turn light into matter by 2015

"Although the theory is conceptually simple," explained lead researcher Oliver Pike, "it has been very difficult to verify experimentally."
By Brooks Hays  |  May 19, 2014 at 12:36 PM
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LONDON, May 19 (UPI) -- The creators of Star Trek were certainly stretching the realm of possibility -- employing their creative license -- when they first featured teleportation on the show. But they may not have been defying the laws of physics, at least not entirely.

Several theoretical physicists at the Imperial College of London are claiming to have figured out a way to convert light into matter. The scientists say they will be able to complete the feat within a year.

The theory is not new. More than 80 years ago, two physicists, Gregory Breit and John Wheeler, surmised that by smashing together two particles of light, or photons, they could create an electron and a positron -- the subatomic particles that form all matter.

But the scientists never believed their theory would by physically demonstrable.

"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," explained physicist Steve Rose. "Today, nearly 80 years later, we prove them wrong."

"What was so surprising to us," Rose added, "was the discovery of how we can create matter directly from light using the technology that we have today in the U.K. As we are theorists we are now talking to others who can use our ideas to undertake this landmark experiment."

Now Rose and his colleagues are planning to take the theory to the lab and turn light into matter. They plan to do so using a photon-photon collider.

First, scientists will blast a high-energy laser at a gold can. Bounced off the back of the gold can, the laser beam will be reflected and magnified, creating a thermal radiation field -- emitting photon-rich light similar to that produced by stars.

Scientists would then direct a second photon beam -- a laser speeding up electrons just below the speed of light -- at the radiation field, and look for the formation of the electrons and positrons as photons collided.

"Although the theory is conceptually simple," explained lead researcher Oliver Pike, "it has been very difficult to verify experimentally."

Rose, Pike and others don't see this as a first step in developing teleportation technology. They hope the experiment will offer new insight into what those first 100 seconds of the universe were like, the Big Bang -- the biggest explosion of photons the universe has ever witnessed.

Rose and Pike's plan to demonstrate the Breit-Wheeler Theory is detailed in the latest issue of the journal Nature photonics.

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