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UK breakthrough in turning light into matter

UK breakthrough in turning light into matter

Monday 14 July 2014

Physicists have uncovered a surprisingly straightforward strategy for turning light into matter, which would prove an 80-year-old theory hitherto held to be impossible.

Read on… In 1934 scientists Breit and Wheeler put forward a hypothesis that turning light into matter by colliding two photons together to form an electron and a positron – thereby turning light into matter in the simplest way ever formulated. However, as with many brilliantly simple scientific postulations, the theory was thought to be perfect but the reality unachievable, and over the intervening years scientists have tried to produce the predicted outcome in laboratories all over the world.

It comes as somewhat of a surprise then to be told that an experimental design giving simple physical proof has been discovered by accident in just one day in a small office somewhere in the bowels of Imperial College London’s Blackett Physics Laboratory.

Three physicists investigating unrelated problems in the dynamics of fusion realised that what they were working on had considerable implications for the 80-year-old theory, and eventually a breakthrough was achieved with the assistance of a visiting theoretical physicist from the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics. Professor Steve Rose from the Department of Physics at Imperial College London said: "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. 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."

Perhaps the most exciting discovery is that the collider required to prove the experiment can be produced with relative ease using existing technology, and various interested parties have been invited to discuss making the experimental design a reality. There are at least three facilities with the necessary equipment to test out the new proposal, including the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston. As lead researcher Oliver Pike, who is currently completing his PhD in plasma physics, said: “The race to carry out and complete the experiment is on!


  1. BBC
    Science Enviro.
  2. Imperial College News
    Latest News.
  3. Nature Photonics
    Latest News.


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