The idea was first proposed about 80 years ago, but now thanks to a team of British researchers, scientists are now racing to do just that. The crafty Brits have envisioned a was to collide two photons–particles of high energy light–so they will transform into two particles with mass. This was actually proven in the past using an old method known as the Breit-Wheeler pair production, but they had to introduce particles that already had mass into the process, which is considered less that “pure” among scientists.
Three physicists at Imperial College London’s Blackett Physics Laboratory say that they’ve devised a way to create a collider that includes only the photons. Though this is still in the realm of theory now, they foresee the possibility of producing the effect using existing technology, as published today in Nature Photonics.
Says Professor Steve Rose, “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 a laboratory. Today, nearly 80 years later, we prove them wrong.” Professor Rose and his PhD student, Oliver Pike, believe that because scientist are practically racing to build the collider, this theory could be physically proven within the year.
The proposed photon-photon collider works in two steps. First, speed up electrons to just below the speed of light using a high-intensity laser and direct them into a slab of gold to create a beam of photons a billion times more energetic than visible light. Next, using a little gold can called a hohlraum, fire a high-energy laser at the inner surface to create a thermal radiation field, generating light similar to the light emitted by stars. Then they would direct the first photon beam through the center of the can so the two different sources of photons would collide, forming electrons and positrons…in other words, tiny particles of actual matter.
Although electrons will still be employed using the new method, all of them would remain outside the vacuum as “moral support”, lending their energy but not their physical substance to the endeavor. In this way, matter is created in an environment totally devoid of it. The researchers say that firing the electroms into a slab of gold should shoot the photons in the direction of the radiation chamber because the gold would filter out the electrons and leave only photon particles with a magnetic field–electrons are magnetic and photons are not.
Want to see how they accelerate the particles to begin with? Here’s a closer look
Here’s another recently suggested use for lasers you can read about here on the Inquisitr. I honestly can’t decide which one is more intriguing. Perhaps I’ll leave it to the readers to decide.