Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), recently announced the completion of their experiment to convert light into both matter and antimatter.
This successful venture further solidified Albert Einstein’s E=mc2 theory, that energy and mass are interchangeable, and the physical workings of two famous physicists in 1934, Gregory Breit and John A. Wheeler.
According to Breit and Wheeler's published paper, their speculative test could create a magnetic field by accelerating gold ion particles at exorbitant speeds to form electrons and positrons, essentially matter and antimatter. Though this experiment was held back due to the lack of financial means, it continued to inspire others in the field to delve deeper into this subject.
Zhangbu Xu, a physicist working on the project, states the difficulty they faced during the process and that even "Breit and Wheeler already realized this is almost impossible to do...Lasers didn’t even exist yet! But Breit and Wheeler proposed an alternative: accelerating heavy ions. And their alternative is exactly what we are doing at RHIC.”
The experiment had been previously attempted, to a lesser degree of success, in 1997 by the SLAC National Accelerator. The researchers did prove Einstein's ideas to be correct on a hypothetical level. However, when it came to executing the theory itself, the team fell short due to their multi-step process. RHIC recognized this failed attempt and refined the test to include only one step, thus causing less room for error and ultimately aiding in completing their experiment.
The RHIC, located at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, incorporates the knowledge provided by physicists throughout the globe to solve some of the earth's most complex physical equations. This is done predominately by uncovering the early beginnings of the world, and how its particles and matter came to be what they are currently today; a thriving planet that can sustain life.
The way that RHIC was able to accomplish this endeavor comes from the ability to create interactive photon fields.
Xu says that "the strength of the circular magnetic field can be equal to the strength of the perpendicular electric field...when the ions are moving close to the speed of light, there are a bunch of photons surrounding the gold nucleus, traveling with it like a cloud.” This interaction creates physical matter and its counterpart, antimatter. Though this may sound simple in theory, the process of actually making this hypothesis a reality is far easier said than done.
A Goldhaber Fellow at the Brookhaven Lab, Daniel Brandenburg, concluded these findings and the process used, stating that, “Our results provide clear evidence of direct, one-step creation of matter-antimatter pairs from collisions of light as originally predicted by Breit and Wheeler...Thanks to RHIC’s high-energy heavy-ion beam and the STAR detector’s large acceptance and precision measurements, we can analyze all the kinematic distributions with high statistics to determine that the experimental results are indeed consistent with real photon collisions.”
What is the outcome of these results? For starters, understanding how to convert light to matter and antimatter can aid in RHIC's continued experiments to understand the ways of the physical world.
Comprehending physics is a necessary tool that aids in future technological advancements and drives economic change. Perhaps some of the most notable positive outcomes of physics can be seen through the development of magnetism, electricity, phones, and even conductors.
Moreover, expanding a greater comprehension of physics can aid in society's progress and even help prevent the negative outcomes of climate change. In fact, in 1992, UNESCO-Physics Action Council stated that physics remains a highly important factor in finding solutions to the world's energy problems. This notion was also expressed in 2000 when the United Nations noted physics as a key component for a future with sustainable development.
Data obtained from the study of physics can aid in the growth of more efficient alternative energies, desalinization plants, and carbon capture. This can eventually result in a future with less waste, emissions, and extreme weather patterns threatening the livelihood of individuals throughout the globe.
With a continuous stream of positive uncovering, we can expect a future with more development, technological advancements, and a comprehension of the intricacies of the earth.