A new study has demonstrated the long-predicted process of generating matter directly from light.
Using the STAR detector at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, physicists have obtained convincing evidence for two physical phenomena predicted more than 80 years ago: the formation of the matter directly from light and the fact that magnetism can bend polarized photons in a vacuum. The results of the study were published in the journal Physical Review Letters, reports Eurekalert.
The gist of the discovery is that pairs of electrons and positrons — particles of matter and antimatter — can be created directly by the collision of very energetic photons, which are quantum “packets” of light.
This conversion of energetic light into the matter is a direct consequence of Einstein’s famous equation E=mc2, which states that energy and matter, or mass, are interchangeable.
Nuclear reactions in the sun and in nuclear power plants regularly convert matter into energy. Now scientists have converted light energy back into the matter directly in one step.
The second result shows that the path of light passing through a magnetic field in a vacuum bends differently depending on how that light is polarized. This polarization-dependent deflection, known as birefringence, occurs when light passes through certain materials.
Both results were due to the RHIC STAR detector’s ability to measure the angular distribution of particles produced by sliding collisions of gold ions traveling at nearly the speed of light.
In 1934, when physicists Gregory Breit and John Wheeler first described the hypothetical possibility of light particles colliding to form pairs of electrons and their antimatter counterparts, known as positrons, no such possibilities existed.