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Creating matter from light

Monday, May 26, 2014
Science and Society

To the masses, mass and matter are one and the same. But if one were to go to the heart of the matter, they are different. Matter is physical substance that occupies space and has rest mass. Mass is an intrinsic property of matter. Energy can also have mass. 


Anyone who has heard of the great scientist Albert Einstein knows of the relationship between mass and energy, as indicated in his famous equation: energy is equal to the product of mass and the square of the speed of light. Light energy is a stream of photons which have mass. It stands to reason, then, that if matter can be transformed to energy (as is the case in nuclear power plants) then energy should be able to be converted into matter.    


A week or so ago, physicists at Imperial College, London, claimed that they have, in principle, shown how to make matter from light using high-power lasers. They hope to carry out an experiment in a year’s time to accomplish the task. In 1934, two American theoretical physicists, Dr Gregory Breit and Dr John A Wheeler, indicated that it was possible to create matter from light, but were of the view that to demonstrate this experimentally might not be possible as the required experimental conditions would be quite difficult to achieve.


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