Are mad scientists about to destroy the world?

Anthie Karavaggis 13 November 2011

Cambridge scientists have welcomed plans to build a billion pound laser powerful enough to tear apart the ‘fabric’ of a vacuum.

The project aims to create conditions at the focal point of the laser beam that will be so extreme that they do not even exist at the centre of the sun.

Professor John Collier, a scientific leader for the Electric Light Infrastructure (ELI) project and director of the Central Laser Facility at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Didcot, Oxfordshire, says that the laser will be ‘200 times more powerful than the most powerful lasers that currently exist… at this kind of intensity we start to get into unexplored territory as it is an area of physics that we have never been before.”

The aim of the project is to pull apart the matter and antimatter pairs that are thought to make up a vacuum. These ‘ghost particles’, as they are referred to, after being spontaneously created using energy from space-time are normally annihilated immediately. However, the laser is supposed to pull them apart to keep them in existence long enough for the tiny electrical changes they produce to be detected.

The laser would therefore help with the understanding of dark matter, the ‘missing’ mass that is supposed to pervade the whole universe, as well as helping to determine whether extra dimensions really exist. Scientists working on the ELI also say that it will help bring new laser-based treatments for cancer and medical diagnostics.

Dr Christopher Lester of the University of Cambridge’s Faculty of Physics told The Cambridge Student, ‘the expansion of the energy frontier is where we frequently learn something new about nature’.

Anthie Karavaggis