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  The Herman Trend Alert

June 4, 2014

Transforming Light into Matter

Rarely do we venture into such high technology topics, but this one seemed important enough to warrant our coverage. We wanted to explain this fascinating technology. Though today it is difficult to see how this discovery will translate into making lives better, it does represent a truly important finding.

Eighty years ago, in 1934, two brilliant US scientists, Gregory Breit and John Wheeler, theorized that it should be possible to create matter from light. Although at the time, the prospect seemed impossible, recently three physicists at Imperial College's Blackett Physics Laboratory discovered a relatively simple way to physically prove their theory.

Breit and Wheeler suggested that it should be possible to turn light into matter by smashing together two photons, particles of light, to create an electron and a positron. This process is the simplest method of turning light into matter ever predicted. Though the calculation was found to be theoretically sound, the two researchers said that they never expected anybody to actually demonstrate their projection. It had never been observed in the laboratory and past experiments to test it had required the addition of massive high-energy particles.

Published in the journal "Nature Photonics", the new research demonstrates for the first time how Breit and Wheeler's theory could be proven in practice. This "photon-photon collider" would convert light directly into matter using technology that is already available; it represents a new type of high-energy physics experiment. This experiment would recreate a process that is thought to be important in the first 100 seconds of the universe. This same process is also seen in gamma ray bursts, the biggest explosions in the universe---and one of physics' greatest unsolved mysteries.

Demonstrating the Breit-Wheeler theory will be the final jigsaw piece of the physics puzzle, describing the simplest ways in which light and matter interact. To give you an idea of the importance of this discovery, the other pieces of this puzzle have been associated with Nobel Prize-winning research. As science advances, discoveries will build on each other, and we will see an increasing number of breakthroughs like this one. What is now science fiction may soon be our new reality.


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