Back in 1934, a team of physicists came up with an idea for how one might create matter from light. Put simply, just slam two photons into each other to get an electron and a positron, a.k.a. matter. And now, some 80 years later, a team of physicists have a plan to carry out the experiment in real life.
In a paper just published in Nature Photonics, Professor Steve Rose and his pals from the Department of Physics at Imperial College London devised a two-step process to turn light into matter. In the first step, the experiment uses a laser to speed up electrons to a little less than the speed of light, before firing them at a slab of gold to create a beam of photons. Next, the scientists would blast the inside of a gold can with a high-powered laser to create a thermal radiation field and light that’s similar to the light produced by stars. Combining the photon stream from the first step with the field from the second should send photons slamming into each other and yield electrons and positrons.
It’s just a theory for now, but it’s also a theory many physicists agree should work. “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,” Rose said in a release. “As we are theorists we are now talking to others who can use our ideas to undertake this landmark experiment.” Oliver Pike who led the research said, “The race to carry out and complete the experiment is on!” And once achieved, it could lead to important new insights into how the universe — specifically, gigantic gamma ray burst explosions — operates.