We’re one step closer to having replicators in our homes. Okay, maybe a slight exaggeration, but physicists are on the verge of transforming light into matter. The process involves high-powered laser beams, a slab of gold, super high-speed electrons, and eventually a stream of photons. The whole apparatus can be thought of as a photon collider. Photons are essentially tiny “packets” of light, and it is hoped that a collision of two of these packets of light will produce a pair of subatomic particles — an electron and its anti-matter counterpart, the positron — particles that are far too tiny to be visible to the naked eye.
Physicists already know that the reverse process — a negatively-charged electron colliding with its positively-charged counterpart, the positron — causes the particles to wipe each other out and produce a burst of light, so the opposite reaction should, in principle, work. The process is governed by Einstein’s famous equation, E = mc2, from his Special Theory of Relativity, which says that energy (light) and matter are essentially the same thing. In fact, during the very, very early history of our universe — the first few fractions of a second — the universe was so hot and dense that energy was converting to matter and back again to energy very rapidly, until the universe cooled down enough for energy to finally “freeze out” into matter. The physics governing this is very simple, but it turns out to be rather difficult to create the conditions in a laboratory for this to happen. Thus, the excitement over this latest experiment to create matter from light.
It’s pretty exciting to think I may see Star Trek-like replicators in my lifetime. First thing I’m ordering when I get one? Tea, Earl Grey, hot.