E=mc² Comes Alive: Simulating Matter Creation From Laser Light

by Klaus Müller
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Photon-Photon Collisions

The Osaka University researchers have conducted simulations to illustrate the possibility of creating matter from laser light, a significant development in the realm of quantum physics. This advancement has the potential to provide insights into the composition of the universe and uncover new principles in physics.

The team, led by scientists from Osaka University and UC, San Diego, employed simulations to showcase the experimental generation of matter from light, a concept deeply rooted in quantum physics. While astronomical objects like pulsars achieve this phenomenon, replicating it in a laboratory setting has remained elusive. However, accomplishing such matter generation from light would open the door to extensive testing of fundamental quantum physics theories and our understanding of the universe’s fundamental structure.

Their study, recently published in Physical Review Letters, details the simulation of conditions where photon-photon collisions occur using lasers. The simplicity of the experimental setup, coupled with its compatibility with currently available laser intensities, positions it as a promising candidate for practical implementation in the near future.

Photon-photon collisions, theorized to be a fundamental mechanism for matter creation in the universe, originate from Einstein’s famous equation, E=mc². Researchers have previously indirectly generated matter from light by accelerating metal ions, such as gold, at extremely high speeds, resulting in the production of matter and antimatter as they interacted. However, achieving experimental matter generation using laser light alone has been challenging due to the exceptionally high-power lasers required. Therefore, the researchers embarked on simulating this process to pave the way for experimental breakthroughs.

Their simulations reveal that, when exposed to the intense electromagnetic fields of lasers, dense plasma can self-organize into a photon-photon collider. This collider contains a high concentration of gamma rays, surpassing the density of electrons in the plasma by tenfold and possessing energy levels a million times greater than the laser’s photons.

Within the photon-photon collider, collisions between photons produce electron-positron pairs, with the positrons subsequently accelerated by a plasma electric field generated by the laser. This leads to the generation of a positron beam, a significant achievement in itself.

Professor Arefiev, a co-author from UCSD, highlights that this simulation represents the first instance of positron acceleration through the linear Breit-Wheeler process under relativistic conditions, emphasizing its experimental feasibility.

Dr. Vyacheslav Lukin, a program director at the US National Science Foundation, which supported the research, underscores the potential of this work to explore the mysteries of the universe within a laboratory setting, especially in high-power laser facilities.

While this research may not yet bring us closer to the fictional matter-energy conversion technology of Star Trek, it holds the promise of experimentally validating our understanding of the universe’s composition and potentially uncovering previously unknown facets of physics.

Reference: “Positron Generation and Acceleration in a Self-Organized Photon Collider Enabled by an Ultraintense Laser Pulse” by K. Sugimoto, Y. He, N. Iwata, I-L. Yeh, K. Tangtartharakul, A. Arefiev, and Y. Sentoku, 9 August 2023, Physical Review Letters. DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.131.065102

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Photon-Photon Collisions

What is the main achievement of the Osaka University researchers in this study?

The main achievement of the Osaka University researchers is the simulation of conditions that enable photon-photon collisions using lasers, potentially paving the way for generating matter from light in laboratory settings.

Why is generating matter from light significant in the realm of quantum physics?

Generating matter from light is significant because it aligns with one of the striking predictions of quantum physics. It offers the potential to test fundamental theories about the composition of the universe and the principles of quantum physics.

How do photon-photon collisions relate to Einstein’s equation E=mc²?

Photon-photon collisions are theorized to be a fundamental means by which matter is generated, and this concept is rooted in Einstein’s equation E=mc², where energy (E) can be converted into matter (m).

What challenges have hindered experimental matter generation from laser light in laboratories?

The primary challenge has been the requirement for extremely high-power lasers. Achieving the necessary laser intensity for matter generation has been a significant obstacle in laboratory experiments.

How did the researchers overcome these challenges in their study?

The researchers used simulations to demonstrate that dense plasma can self-organize into a photon-photon collider when exposed to intense laser electromagnetic fields. This collider contains a high concentration of gamma rays, enabling photon-photon collisions and matter generation.

What is the practical significance of this research for future experiments?

The simplicity of the experimental setup and its compatibility with existing laser intensities make it a promising candidate for future experimental implementation. This research opens doors for further exploration of the mysteries of the universe within laboratory settings.

Can this research lead to real-world applications beyond fundamental physics?

While not directly related to practical applications, this research may help experimentally validate our understanding of the universe’s composition and potentially lead to new discoveries in physics. However, it does not currently have direct real-world applications beyond fundamental scientific research.

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