Science Discovers Method Of Turning Light Into Matter

Science Discovers Method Of Turning Light Into Matter

Physicists from London's Imperial College may have stumbled across a way of testing the Breit-Wheeler process, which could lead to a very basic Star Trek replicator.

So far, humanity has done a pretty good job of creating most of the technologies seen in Star Trek, to the point that even hyperdrives aren't necessarily far-fetched. Still, if any one advancement seemed out of reach, it was the 24th Century replicators that created solid matter from thin air. According to scientists from Imperial College's Blackett Physics Laboratory however, we may be closer to that reality than we ever realized. While working on an unrelated problem involving fusion energy, three physicists stumbled across an experimental process of turning light into matter that appears to be well within the limits of our current technology.

The concept of turning light into matter is nothing new. First proposed as the Breit-Wheeler process, it's considered theoretically possible for light to turn directly into matter, although its creators didn't believe it could be verified in a lab. In 1997, scientists discovered a roundabout solution by generating continuous particle collisions within a chamber, but it wasn't the 1-1 light-to-matter process Breit and Wheeler described. This new experiment, on the other hand, suggests a far more direct route: Firing powerful lasers at a gold vessel to turn photons into electrons and positrons.

"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," said Imperial College's Professor Steve Rose. "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."

All this is very exciting, but we shouldn't start lining up for our replicators just yet. Even if the matter created from this process wasn't less than microscopic, the apparatus needed to complete the experiment hasn't been created yet. An appropriate photon collider still needs to be developed, although lead researcher Oliver Pike says that's an easy issue to resolve. "We were able to develop the idea for the collider very quickly," Pike explained, "but the experimental design we propose can be carried out with relative ease and with existing technology."

If the theory behind this experiment proves true, it should have huge implications for theoretical and applied sciences. The process occurring within this "photon-photon" collider would recreate events from the first 100 seconds of our universe, not to mention the effects of gamma ray bursts on a small scale. On the practical side, the ability to create matter from light has several applications, even if it isn't possible to design a literal Star Trek replicator.

But if we do get to that point? At the very least, it would blow the concept of 3D printing right out of the water.

Source: Nature Photonics

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We may never have a "energy to matter" converter like in trek, but I think we may see a day where there is a machine which functions by putting a lump of mass, maybe rock or a block of dirt, and it will convert it to something else. No idea if that's even possible, but a guy can dream.

And hell, even just a hyper advanced 3D printer would be something with massive possibilities in the future, especially for space exploration.

Wait, I thought this was commonplace.

I study AS Physics, and photon pair production was part of the syllabus, so it was only now observed?

Well...in any case, yay future!

Akichi Daikashima:
Wait, I thought this was commonplace.

I study AS Physics, and photon pair production was part of the syllabus, so it was only now observed?

Well...in any case, yay future!

I think it's less observing the phenomenon and more that there's now an experimental procedure that can (theoretically) be used to replicate it in a lab.

I cannot even begin to math this... like, how, HOW EVEN!? IS THIS ACTUALLY MAGIC!?

Fanghawk:
While working on an unrelated problem involving fusion energy

As you do.

Did anyone else read

. An appropriate photo collider still needs to be developed

And immediately picture a bunch of guys in a large metalic chamber smashing Polaroid pictures together?

Ot: I don't quite even so far as to might understand what?

I love the simplicity of the proposed procedure; just smash some shit together really quickly.

And yet when you dive into the subject matter there's a plethora of scientific mumbojumbo. But in the end, it's just a matter of smashing shit together. God I love science.

It's possible I don't understand the science, but light is just energy right? And energy and matter are related by Einsteins famous equation right (E=Mc^2)? So wouldn't creating even a tiny amount of matter take an enormous amount of energy? I saw a diagram once that fully converting a pea sized sphere of uranium would generate the same amount of energy as burning 100 tons of wood. So creating that pea sized sphere of uranium from energy should take the same amount of energy.

Could you also create antimatter? With all the theoretical applications for that stuff that might give interesting results.

Fdzzaigl:
Could you also create antimatter? With all the theoretical applications for that stuff that might give interesting results.

Yes. Note how the article mentions that the procedure generates both electrons and positrons.

Positrons are the anti-matter equivalent of electrons.

Eric the Orange:
It's possible I don't understand the science, but light is just energy right? And energy and matter are related by Einsteins famous equation right (E=Mc^2)? So wouldn't creating even a tiny amount of matter take an enormous amount of energy? I saw a diagram once that fully converting a pea sized sphere of uranium would generate the same amount of energy as burning 100 tins of wood. So creating that pea sized sphere of uranium from energy should take the same amount of energy.

Kinda sorta. Converting matter to pure energy would (assuming we knew how) yield ludicrous amounts of energy, that much is true, and converting that energy back into the same matter would indeed take the same amount of energy.

That said, unless I'm very much misunderstanding what this experiment is about, that doesn't really apply. This experiment isn't so much as converting energy into matter as it converting a photon into a positron/electron pair. I am reasonably certain that a single photon has nowhere near the energy required to generate that much matter, so there are very likely different phenomena at play here.

All right, so they can make positrons and electrons. As I understand it, you need protons and neutrons before you even get onto the periodic table. If they can get those too, I'll start getting excited. Until I remember than nuclear fusion is another problem we still need to solve in order to get anything other than hydrogen.

Oh well, hopefully I'm just woefully behind on my science knowledge.

When they manage to create a machine that can make actual objects out of light, I hope the first thing they make with it is a sword.

A Light Saber! :D

Virtual reality goggles, flying drones delivering pizza, sonic screwdrivers, hexagonal solarpanel roads, 2 types of medigel and now creating matter out of light?
This is an exciting time to be alive, even without bringing up Mars One.

Ninmecu:
Did anyone else read

. An appropriate photo collider still needs to be developed

And immediately picture a bunch of guys in a large metalic chamber smashing Polaroid pictures together?

Well, I am now! Thanks.

Eric the Orange:
So wouldn't creating even a tiny amount of matter take an enormous amount of energy?

Yes and no. The total amount of energy isn't so bad; it's just an electron and a positron, which amounts to a very, very tiny amount of matter. The problem is this energy has to be condensed into gamma rays - extremely high energy photons - and that's very challenging.

Still, I'm a little surprised it hasn't been done by just starting from the other side. We can receive positrons easily enough from radioactive decay, and positron/electron annihilations produce gamma rays relatively well suited to reversing the process.

Agayek:

That said, unless I'm very much misunderstanding what this experiment is about, that doesn't really apply. This experiment isn't so much as converting energy into matter as it converting a photon into a positron/electron pair. I am reasonably certain that a single photon has nowhere near the energy required to generate that much matter, so there are very likely different phenomena at play here.

You just need very high energy photons (gamma rays). It doesn't take unreasonable amounts of energy because they're only creating electron/positron pairs which are much lighter than protons and neutrons.

So, how long until we develop the technology to convert light into cookies?

Fanghawk:

Ninmecu:
Did anyone else read

. An appropriate photo collider still needs to be developed

And immediately picture a bunch of guys in a large metalic chamber smashing Polaroid pictures together?

Well, I am now! Thanks.

I'm picturing about 20 scientists with theoretical physics degrees and 20 Trekkies just smashing them together in a room going "WE MUST MAKE IT A REALITY! WE MUST MAKE IT A REALITY!"

Create stuff from energy? Erm... Unless I'm mistaken, would that not remove mineral scarcity (if they had a mass producible method)? Which would piss a LOT of people who like making money right off initially. So I'd expect any progress to either get buried or someone to buy the inevitable patent and burry it.

Eric the Orange:
It's possible I don't understand the science, but light is just energy right? And energy and matter are related by Einsteins famous equation right (E=Mc^2)? So wouldn't creating even a tiny amount of matter take an enormous amount of energy? I saw a diagram once that fully converting a pea sized sphere of uranium would generate the same amount of energy as burning 100 tons of wood. So creating that pea sized sphere of uranium from energy should take the same amount of energy.

You have to keep the scale in mind. An electron's mass is to the -31 power. The energy in E=mc^2 for a pair of particles of that mass is still something like 10^-12 joules, which is somewhere about the energy of a photon of visible light.

That being said, I don't know if that's entirely related to this. I don't know the theory here. I just wanted to point out that even the speed of light squared can't touch the scale of how small electrons are.

Mad Sun:
So, how long until we develop the technology to convert light into cookies?

we've already got it

image

http://orteil.dashnet.org/cookieclicker/
http://cookieclicker.wikia.com/wiki/Prism

....Witchcraft.

No seriously that is some wacky ass science. I love it.
Keep on trucking you mad geniuses I will never be half as talented.

Why is everyone so surprised?

Let's just hope it works when they actually try it.

aegix drakan:
When they manage to create a machine that can make actual objects out of light, I hope the first thing they make with it is a sword.

A Light Saber! :D

already got that: http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/167439-mit-and-harvard-create-new-lightsaber-like-state-of-matter-photonic-molecules

its less lightsaber and more photonic-matter ala the holo-deck from star trek.

Shinkicker444:
Create stuff from energy? Erm... Unless I'm mistaken, would that not remove mineral scarcity (if they had a mass producible method)? Which would piss a LOT of people who like making money right off initially. So I'd expect any progress to either get buried or someone to buy the inevitable patent and burry it.

unlikely, it'd be more likely that industry will shift to energy production and storage.

and given last years discovery about the laws thermodynamics and how kelvin loops with the kind of logic found in videogames(5 - 20= 999984 as example).
i think we may have just thrown the laws of conservation of mass and energy out the window, at least when it comes to their creation.

Whats the news here?
The method has been "discovered" 80 years ago as the article states. and the experiments havent even begun construction of appratus so theres nothing new there either. so whats exactly new here?

Zontar:
We may never have a "energy to matter" converter like in trek, but I think we may see a day where there is a machine which functions by putting a lump of mass, maybe rock or a block of dirt, and it will convert it to something else. No idea if that's even possible, but a guy can dream.

If we learn how to break molecules apart and rearange atoms at will then this is very much possible. alas so far we are limited to chemistry aranging of atoms.

Eric the Orange:
I saw a diagram once that fully converting a pea sized sphere of uranium would generate the same amount of energy as burning 100 tons of wood. So creating that pea sized sphere of uranium from energy should take the same amount of energy.

your comparing Uranium to Wood. Creating Uranium would take that. But Uranium is one of the heaviest elements we know. Now creating a ton of wood would take 100 times less. and we have A LOT of wasted energy, what with all of the sunlight that gets wasted and mirrored back into space?

Shinkicker444:
Create stuff from energy? Erm... Unless I'm mistaken, would that not remove mineral scarcity (if they had a mass producible method)? Which would piss a LOT of people who like making money right off initially. So I'd expect any progress to either get buried or someone to buy the inevitable patent and burry it.

your avatar is perfect for this post. Excellent.

Shinkicker444:
Create stuff from energy? Erm... Unless I'm mistaken, would that not remove mineral scarcity (if they had a mass producible method)? Which would piss a LOT of people who like making money right off initially. So I'd expect any progress to either get buried or someone to buy the inevitable patent and burry it.

The amount of matter that will be created from this process will be absolutely miniscule. To create even a single gram of matter will take a horrendous amount of energy, way way way more than it will take to simply mine it out of the ground, or recycle it.

Imagine a 3D printer that uses lasers to create matter. My pants shrink just thinking about it. Will probably never be viable, at least not in our lifetime, but the fact that it's not impossible is awesome.

SO if I have understood this correctly... It's like making a reverse fire?

Man, Green Lantern is gonna go all hipster on us now...

I guess it makes sense. Making a proton and an electron from a waveform had to start somewhere or we wouldn't have hydrogen for stars, which wouldn't make the other elements, which wouldn't make us. Who'd have thought that going back to building a star for power we'd find what made the star in the first place? I guess it also means that with enough technology providing you get a 1-1 reaction you could prevent the heat death of the universe, which would be by far the most awesome thing humans could do.

... the Breit-Wheeler process ... to turn photons into electrons and positrons.

Unless you like your tea, Earl Grey, hot to taste like lightning (or anti-lightning), then this has very little resemblance to Star Trek-style matter replication.

But yes, as was mentioned by Akichi Daikashima, I too thought that particle-antiparticle interactions were already fairly well understood.

This... has absolutely nothing to do with replicators or even creating "matter", really. This is just the same photoelectric effect that good ol' Einstein got his Nobel Prize for in 1921, except they are colliding two high-energy proton beams to create the photon pair production effect instead of hitting a nucleus with a photon beam, which I suppose is still somewhat new and--

This new experiment, on the other hand, suggests a far more direct route: Firing powerful lasers at a gold vessel to turn photons into electrons and positrons.

...
What...? So... you say that this new experiment showed them that they should stop doing this new experiment and get back to doing the experiment the old way? Why the freaking fruity fudgeball-furniture is this in the news again?!

What's next?
"US army created the first shark-cannon! Experts say the new weapon shows great future promise! To quote the project leader: We just have to figure out how to replace the shark with explosive warheads and we are good to go!"

 

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