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‘Supernova in a bottle’ will help create matter from light

In 1934, two physicists came up with a theory that described how to create matter from pure light. But they dismissed the…

Every day stuff for supernovae. Santitep Mongkolsin/Shutterstock

In 1934, two physicists came up with a theory that described how to create matter from pure light. But they dismissed the idea of ever observing such a phenomenon in the laboratory because of the difficulties involved setting up such an experiment.

Now, Oliver Pike of Imperial College London and his colleagues have found a way to achieve this dream, 80 years after US physicists Gregory Breit and John Wheeler explained the theory. This group hopes to use high-energy lasers aimed at a specially designed gold vessel to convert photons into matter-antimatter particle pairs, recreating what happens in some exceptional stellar explosions.

Pike, who led the research published in the journal Nature Photonics, said, “The idea is that light goes in and matter comes out.” To be sure, the matter created won’t be every day-objects; instead the process will produce sub-atomic particles.

“To start with, the matter will consist of electrons and its antimatter equivalent positrons,” Pike said. “But with higher energy input in the lasers, we should be able to create heavier particles.”

Pike concedes this won’t be the first time light has been converted into matter. In 1997, US researchers at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Centre (SLAC) were able to do so, albeit in a different way.

The SLAC experiment used electrons to first create high-energy light particles, which then underwent multiple collisions to produce electrons and positrons, all within same chamber. This is called the multi-photon Breit-Wheeler process, named after the two physicists who came up with the theory in 1934.

“The key difference in the SLAC experiment and the one we propose is that our process will be more straightforward,” Pike said. In the new proposal, the laser beam will still be generated using free electrons, but it will be separated from the electrons.

Why create light using matter and then convert it back? Apart from showing that the Breit-Wheeler process can happen without the multiple photons the SLAC experiment needed, Pike thinks their process provides a clean way of doing particle physics experiments.

Current particle-physics experiments involve smashing sub-atomic particles at great speeds and sorting through the mess of new particles that are created in the explosion. This is how the Higgs boson was found in the Large Hadron Collider.

The new experimental design will be similar. Rather than involving a complicated mix of particles and photons, the laser beam will be sent into a small gold hohlraum (German for “empty room”). There, individual photons can interact with the radiation field that’s generated when the hohlraum is excited by a laser, creating the electron-positron pairs.

“While physicists have excellent methods to sift through such data, our process has the advantage that it will be easier to analyse,” Pike said. “Light will go in from one end of the hohlraum and particles created will come out from the other end.”

Pike and colleagues are now working to secure time on high-energy laser beams to carry out the experiment. The two likely candidates are Aldermaston, Berkshire in the UK or Rochester, New York in the US.

Andrei Seryi at the University of Oxford found the work interesting, but warned it is still too far away from being used in particle-physics experiments. “Theoretically, however, it would be great if we are able to create particles from only light.”

“With such high energy lasers, we may not need to build big particle colliders, such as the Large Hadron Collider, which is a 22km underground tunnel,” Seryi said.

Even if we do manage to create a photon collider, we would only be catching up with the natural world, where a specific type of supernova, called “pair instability,” involves the creation of proton-antiproton pairs. If Pike is able to achieve this phenomenon, he will essentially be creating a supernova in a bottle.

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31 Comments sorted by

  1. Vern Wall

    Retired engineer

    Your first clue that something is wrong is that nature does these things by accident: they are easier to accomplish than to avoid.

    Your second clue that something is wrong is that scientists start from assumptions and they never consider whether their initial assumptions are right or wrong. They assume that stars are powered by fusion, but if you point out that the outside of our sun is hotter than the inside, they will shout insults at you until you go away.

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    1. ben Sammons

      retired

      In reply to Vern Wall

      The problem with scientist is that they are more concerned with proving that creation game into existance from nothing for no reasons, ignoring the law of causelty, thereby proving there is no creative God..

      If they would read the book of Genesis they would understand that the whole creation process is explained step by step. The first step was the Word spoke by God, Gen,1:3. This was the sound that created light. The light was then was used, by His Word, to create all Quantum particles which…

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    2. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to Gary Hooper

      Perhaps The Conversation needs a subject called Theocracy and Society?
      And part of Ben was there at the "Beginning" because an unbroken string of living cells has been transferred from generation to generation to the present day Ben.
      Don't be scared Ben, it is only science.
      But the article surely points more to energy equals the change of mass multiplied by the speed of light squared, (as originally observed in the radioactive decay of certain elements).
      Now that is a lot of words according to "Ben's Law".
      An unaccountable number beyond the scope of the article?

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    3. ben Sammons

      retired

      In reply to James Hill

      Science does scare me with their wild use of assumprtions. Note the assumed supersymmetrys threat of non-provable existance, and the effect its non-existance has on quatum physics. I'm perfectly happy with the creation as described in the book Genisis and the book of John 1:1-5. I have no fears. God is my Father.

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    4. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to ben Sammons

      Take it a bit easier on your brothers and sisters in science then, Ben, who are following the Lord's guidance that ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free?
      Science being another word for knowledge?
      Is there an argument that scientists are not following Christ and are not his father's children too?

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    5. Vern Wall

      Retired engineer

      In reply to James Hill

      Science is anything that can be measured. Spirit is anything that can not be measured. Science is powered by logic and evidence. Spirit is powered by believing and wisdom. No connection. Stop conflating spiritual things with science.

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    6. ben Sammons

      retired

      In reply to James Hill

      I have no arguments concerning the spiritual beliefs of scientist, but I doubt their so called declarations of knowledge when, by their wild assumptions, they run after their conclusions like blind hounds after a rabbit trusting scent, and their assumptions formed from blind sight. The rabbit seems to always elude them as they stumble into the objects of their false assumptions. Scientist that follow Christ are always shouted over by the psudo-scientist that believe that by some freak accident life began from lifless material by no cause, and will die in failure while the truth is in the Word of God. Scientist are childeren of God, but they deny their father.

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    7. Vern Wall

      Retired engineer

      In reply to ben Sammons

      My bible says people become sons of God by accepting His son as the savior. Your conclusion seems to contradict that. Whatever your beliefs, you need to study your bible more carefully.

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    8. ben Sammons

      retired

      In reply to Vern Wall

      Science is supposed to be about truthfully explaining the how, when, and where of existance Science has failed in their pursuit of the truth of those things, by tweaking the numbers, by assumption while Spiritual knowledge never lies or changes. True wisdom only comes from the Spirit, and belief is its fruit, and the rules of the Spirit never change while scientist continue to make rules of proof and ignore them in order to establish a lie, such as Darwin's established lies about the beginning of life and its evolution. Spiritual things and science are always conflated, Look at creation.

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    9. ben Sammons

      retired

      In reply to Vern Wall

      My Bible is the same as yours, and that's the reason I claim to be a son of God, an adopted brother of Jesus Christ, God's word. I don't understand why my conclusion that science is Antichrist contradicts God's hand in creation. Show me.

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    10. Vern Wall

      Retired engineer

      In reply to ben Sammons

      Your theology is as goofy as your philosophy. You need to study more. Stop repeating what you have heard the bible says and learn what it actually says. Read a chapter of Proverbs every day. Proverbs has 31 chapters so you can keep your place by just looking at a calendar. There is no religion or nothing in Proverbs and you don't have to believe anything. Just read every day. When you are comfortable with that, then read the bible from Romans to 2 Thessalonians over and over until you start to remember what it says. That is the part that applies to Christians. Keep reading until you start to notice it says some things that are different from what you have been told it says. Keep reading until you figure out that the bible is more reliable than those people who told you different things. Here is a book to help you to understand the bible. It's a free download and you can get a hard copy at any bible book store.
      http://philologos.org/__eb-htetb/ "How To Enjoy The Bible"

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    11. ben Sammons

      retired

      In reply to Vern Wall

      I suspect that you have trouble understanding the Bible, and that is the reason that you so blind to what I've said. I suggest you read Romans and learn, especially Romans8:23-36 and then maybe you can undestand my theology. People who believe the garbage that scientist bombards our times with, like evolution, and fail to see the realtiy of God and his omnipotency in creation are Antichrist. Do you belief that evolution is a scientific proven fact, or that God is not omnipotent? If so I suggest you re-valuate your theology

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    12. Vern Wall

      Retired engineer

      In reply to ben Sammons

      I have no trouble understanding the bible because I have read what it says, ignoring what people tell me it says. That is what you need to do.

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    13. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to Vern Wall

      Stop asserting that to know the truth, which is the basis of science, will set you free?
      There is a conflation with your definition of spirit, Vern, which you seem to wish to deny.
      Stop denying?

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    14. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to ben Sammons

      And I will assert, again, Ben, that by following Christ's admonition that by knowing the truth, freedom will result and that seekers after knowledge, such as scientists are doing nothing which could justify your baleful, and negative judgements of them.
      Scientists are a soft target, being, generally apolitical, and almost completely dedicated to their quest for truth and freedom.
      While they are so pre-occupied it is very easy for them to be smeared by those intent on passing judgement, or should…

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    15. Vern Wall

      Retired engineer

      In reply to James Hill

      Science is not self supporting, and the first rule of every scientist is "Don't discover anything that embarrasses your patron." Scientists have never pursued truth and freedom. They pursue certainty. A scientist would rather be wrong than uncertain. In modern times, a panel of so called peers declares what is certain, called consensus, and anything contrary to consensus is considered wacko. I direct your attention to the forum provided for people to discuss pictures released by NASA: http://asterisk.apod.com/viewtopic.php?f=28&t=26696 Notice that discussion of alternative theories, the definition of science, is prohibited.

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    16. ben Sammons

      retired

      In reply to James Hill

      My baleful and negative judgements against scientist are for the same reasons that I make baleful and negative judgements against liberals in our soiciety. My defense against the attack on the antichrist's influences on society presented by scientist and liberals is an attack against my personal pursuit of happiness, and that of each Christian.

      I don't care if they wish to be-little Christ, and as far as attacking the anti-Christians, their relations and belief in the Son of God is a matter for…

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    17. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to ben Sammons

      Well, good luck, ben, on your quest for truth and freedom, you may find many others, including scientists, on that narrow path.

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    18. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to Vern Wall

      Vern, you may have worked deeply on developing your opinion on the matter of science, but how realistic can your blanket views of scientists be?
      Certainly there is a weight of numbers against your views, and it certainly cannot be discounted, that like all organisations, the so called leaders of science can become lazy and autocratic and dependent upon dogma.
      Still, despite your protestations, consider the former federal Minister for Science Barry Jones' view that scientists are wimps when it comes…

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    19. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to ben Sammons

      LOL, if you don't want society to loose it's religion, you should stop encouraging people to read the bible

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    20. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Vern Wall

      Spirit is powered by believing and wisdom?

      Here's some wisdom for yah, Belief should be aportioned to evidence and anything that can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence

      "Spirit is powered by believing and wisdom" - prove it

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    21. Vern Wall

      Retired engineer

      In reply to Michael Shand

      It is a waste of breath to talk to someone when you can't agree on what the words mean.

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    22. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Vern Wall

      Just Demonstrate that the spirit is powered by wisdom and I'll believe and agree with your definition

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    23. Vern Wall

      Retired engineer

      In reply to Michael Shand

      If you don't believe a concept then by definition it does not make sense. The fact is believing is seeing. Everybody who looks at the stars sees the same blobs of light. If you believe in gravity then you can see evidence of gravity at work. If you don't believe then you can not see the evidence and nobody can persuade you that it is there. (This is significant because gravity is not the only theory about how the universe works. Another group says electric charge is the main factor in how the universe behaves. Both sides of this argument consider the other side to be deluded. And these are *scientists*.)

      Wisdom is when you combine what you know with what you believe to make a plan of action.

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    24. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Vern Wall

      Just Demonstrate that the spirit is powered by the will, that's all

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  2. Mensur Omerbashich (HM King of Bosnia)

    Titular King of Bosnia and All of Illyria at Bosnian Royal Family, PO Box 1, Sarajevo Bosnia

    Ha! And just as we thought we're out of the (black) mini-hole at LHC that "was going to swallow the Earth", here comes another bone for Genesis freaks to try. A genuine Aladdin bottle -- fully loaded too, all with genie bonus.

    It's not nice to treat People like that.

    It's so cool to treat people with that.

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    1. godfred sabbih

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Mensur Omerbashich (HM King of Bosnia)

      Truth is truth as long as one believes its true but all truth must have a reference which I believe is the unadulterated word of God.

      Every good thing as well as science can be turned evil by those who practice or use them.

      The reason for science is to understand and later believe the results as long as they seem undeniable. Scientists will believe God not because you say so but when there is enough reason to, so they search.

      My advice to all scientist is that you better believe that there is a higher power until you fall asleep never to wake. In death there is no science, just you and your judgement.

      The real question is that what will happen when you die? There is no science to disprove the existence of the after life even if one tries to disprove the existence of God

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    2. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to godfred sabbih

      Whats with all the God talk surronding an article about Supernova?

      Seriously I think more discussion about god has taken place here than on any other article I have read

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    3. ben Sammons

      retired

      In reply to godfred sabbih

      A belief in a god is natural to mankind. Renowned atheist Sam Harris admitted that the truth of the concept of God is inherent in men as a predisposition. He wrote "Similarly, several experiments suggest that children are predisposed to assume design and intention behind natural events - leaving many psychologist and anthropologist to believe that children, left entirely to their own devices, would invent some conception of God." The reseach that Sam Harris refers to is an article by Paul Bloom…

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