Large Hadron Collider Creates Matter From Light

Particle Physics Concept

Scientists on an experiment at the Large Hadron Collider see massive W particles emerging from collisions with electromagnetic fields. How can this happen?

The Large Hadron Collider plays with Albert Einstein’s famous equation, E = mc², to transform matter into energy and then back into different forms of matter. But on rare occasions, it can skip the first step and collide pure energy—in the form of electromagnetic waves.

Last year, the ATLAS experiment at the LHC observed two photons, particles of light, ricocheting off one another and producing two new photons. This year, they’ve taken that research a step further and discovered photons merging and transforming into something even more interesting: W bosons, particles that carry the weak force, which governs nuclear decay.

This research doesn’t just illustrate the central concept governing processes inside the LHC: that energy and matter are two sides of the same coin. It also confirms that at high enough energies, forces that seem separate in our everyday lives—electromagnetism and the weak force—are united.

Matter From Light

Credit: Illustration by Sandbox Studio, Chicago

From massless to massive

If you try to replicate this photon-colliding experiment at home by crossing the beams of two laser pointers, you won’t be able to create new, massive particles. Instead, you’ll see the two beams combine to form an even brighter beam of light.

“If you go back and look at Maxwell’s equations for classical electromagnetism, you’ll see that two colliding waves sum up to a bigger wave,” says Simone Pagan Griso, a researcher at the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “We only see these two phenomena recently observed by ATLAS when we put together Maxwell’s equations with special relativity and quantum mechanics in the so-called theory of quantum electrodynamics.”

ATLAS Event Display Higgs Boson Decay to Two Muons

A 2018 ATLAS event display consistent with the production of a pair of W bosons from two photons, and the subsequent decay of the W bosons into a muon and an electron (visible in the detector) and neutrinos (not detected). Credit: CERN

Inside CERN’s accelerator complex, protons are accelerated close to the speed of light. Their normally rounded forms squish along the direction of motion as special relativity supersedes the classical laws of motion for processes taking place at the LHC. The two incoming protons see each other as compressed pancakes accompanied by an equally squeezed electromagnetic field (protons are charged, and all charged particles have an electromagnetic field). The energy of the LHC combined with the length contraction boosts the strength of the protons’ electromagnetic fields by a factor of 7500.

When two protons graze each other, their squished electromagnetic fields intersect. These fields skip the classical “amplify” etiquette that applies at low energies and instead follow the rules outlined by quantum electrodynamics. Through these new laws, the two fields can merge and become the “E” in E=mc².

“If you read the equation E=mc² from right to left, you’ll see that a small amount of mass produces a huge amount of energy because of the c² constant, which is the speed of light squared,” says Alessandro Tricoli, a researcher at Brookhaven National Laboratory—the US headquarters for the ATLAS experiment, which receives funding from DOE’s Office of Science. “But if you look at the formula the other way around, you’ll see that you need to start with a huge amount of energy to produce even a tiny amount of mass.”

The LHC is one of the few places on Earth that can produce and collide energetic photons, and it’s the only place where scientists have seen two energetic photons merging and transforming into massive W bosons.

A unification of forces

The generation of W bosons from high-energy photons exemplifies the discovery that won Sheldon Glashow, Abdus Salam and Steven Weinberg the 1979 Nobel Prize in physics: At high energies, electromagnetism and the weak force are one in the same.

Electricity and magnetism often feel like separate forces. One normally does not worry about getting shocked while handling a refrigerator magnet. And light bulbs, even while lit up with electricity, don’t stick to the refrigerator door. So why do electrical stations sport signs warning about their high magnetic fields?

“A magnet is one manifestation of electromagnetism, and electricity is another,” Tricoli says. “But it’s all electromagnetic waves, and we see this unification in our everyday technologies, such as cell phones that communicate through electromagnetic waves.”

At extremely high energies, electromagnetism combines with yet another fundamental force: the weak force. The weak force governs nuclear reactions, including the fusion of hydrogen into helium that powers the sun and the decay of radioactive atoms.

Just as photons carry the electromagnetic force, the W and Z bosons carry the weak force. The reason photons can collide and produce W bosons in the LHC is that at the highest energies, those forces combine to make the electroweak force.

“Both photons and W bosons are force carriers, and they both carry the electroweak force,” Griso says. “This phenomenon is really happening because nature is quantum mechanical.”

41 Comments on "Large Hadron Collider Creates Matter From Light"

  1. Scientists trying to understand everything, from this article wat we are refusing to acknowledge is that matter does not contain energy but is energy, and the weak force? As for electromagnetism it always exists with electricity, every scientist does know where there is an electricity there’s a electromagnetic field.

    • Where in the article is there any indication that matter contains energy or refusal to acknowledge that matter is energy?

    • See my post. The tether is the tangent that holds these particles. A small oversight explained away by imaginary division of a non existent concept zero.

  2. Tan is a product of vectors cos and sin. Tangent does not go to infinity it is the missing link to this phenomena. The tangent no matter what the distance is the shortest distance and also a subatomic tether that holds the binary quanta represented by sin and cos. The waves are the measurement of there rotation. We have settled for a 2d solution to a 3 dimensional force. Trig/calculus have defined tangent as a force that intersects at one point then travels into eternity. It is 100% certain that this is in fact opposite and the key to quantum and wave theory.

  3. Protons don’t have “rounded” form
    We don’t know what form they have
    There’s nothing about “pancakes” neither in QM, Special relativity or QED

    • Does it matter what shape the form has, a sphere is the most obvious natural formation of a thing in the universe, so what the difference what shape the form is, but my money is it is rounded, like suns, moons, planets, blackholes, atoms, solar systems, galaxies and the circular outward path all these forms travel.

  4. Good and interesting article. However photon and proton were used interchangeably which made it confusing. I believe a proton is many times more massive than a photon.

  5. Was this an, “attractive force” ? Gravity, magnetism, static electricity and some allege, dark matter are attractive forces. I wanted you to remember those old base station cb transmitter radios that operated at 27 mhz, if you keyed the microphone to an operating radio some places odd 1960s star trek space sounds ( dont forget the 1950s cbs electron gun. creepy logo eye would appear on the screen if you quickly turned off and on the tv ) from the radio speaker and sometimes on known cosmic radio signals like 91 mhz fm or 160 mhz vhf or old tv channel 78 uhf , they where all cosmic radio signals from space, odd the national weather station was set at 162 mhz years ago ) ok so my point if people where playing with electronics and in the process overlooked the amount of dust particles those machines attracted , of did thy generate the dust from their photos ? Im not very tidy but i noticed the dust on other peoples electronics at the time and though if might be more than static electricity, but the decay of radio generation waves from the cb radio heat.

  6. The author is using photon and proton interchangeably like another comment said. I believe it should be photon.

  7. Please fix the typos regarding photon and proton.

  8. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” “God said let there be light and there was light”.
    As Paul Harvey used to say, “Now you know the rest of the story.”

  9. … So! Could gravity be something else, not an force like others, more like a curvature of Higgs field. That thing needs to have its: properties, shape, relationships etc.
    Could it also have its resonant frequency, too.
    Or …

  10. … So, you get a mass from Higgs field, but in the way you get it is gravity…

  11. Ernest John Stockham | September 7, 2020 at 8:14 am | Reply

    Magnitism is everywhere, if as we suspect and alot of evidence is siting the birth of the universe through a black-hole, might explain how so much magnitism is spread out over the universe and why the recent collision of 2nutron stars and the fact gravitational waves move faster then light 😉 unlike light gravity doesn’t have to take directions from magnitism. Would this also suggest that magnitism is what gives our universe and all in it direction from the spin of a photon to a migrating bird, maybe even able to solve why the universe has speed U over time at first propelled by inflation and now in the grip of our universal pole, we may all have different paths but are all heading in one direction no matter what state

  12. Yes, Eureka moment. Kudos on a well written and informative article. Please consider fixing the confusion with photons and protons. Other than that well done! The answer is One.

  13. Well, in SR, anything traveling close to the speed of light will look squished to a observer at rest, and even more so to anything traveling in the opposite direction. So pancake might not be a scientific term, but for the purpose of this article is accurate

    • I don’t think proton mention was a typo. The LHC accelerates protons, it has no way to accelerate photons. The photons travel with the electromagnetic field of the proton, and when they graze each other they are doing so via photons

  14. recent discoveries proves earth is flat,

  15. I don’t see any problem with the stated explanation. One mainly that it just confirmed my new steady state hypothesis, I like to call the Ying Yang☯️ theory

  16. lm explains the photon/proton issue well – the collider accelerates particles with Mass – protons. there is emission of photons which are (nearly?) massless and travel at C (normally). Smashing photons together or getting them really close to one another at high speed throws off interesting bits of mass/energy since they are not really different things. Having photons ‘merge’ into some interesting mass/energy bit due to what we can call a collision was concurrent with getting the protons up to near light speed and collision type proximity of one another.

  17. Man tries to hard to imitate nature, creation. The spark of light you use is dark matter. Dark cancel light in inverted space you create. Hole holes and hole. Now you have displacement of molecular light structures. Please find something better to do with your time and money and not create a anomaly you won’t understand because your arrogance of mind causes a rift in time and space. Confined mind in a inverted space of molecules. Stop your experiments with atoms. It’s unnatural and an abomination to creation itself. Nature does not needed to be created over itself.

  18. The wonders of Science

  19. So many “intelligent” comments, but grammar, spelling, syntax, context, completely atrocious!

  20. Always knew that one day we are going to convert sunlight to food. We are just one step away from that moment.

  21. Thank you. A boring conflict between intention and intension.

  22. I think it may be better explained if they had used E^2 = (mc^2)^2 + (pc)^2 instead as light is just momentum, no mass and the mc^2 is just rest mass, no momentum. As light is perpendicular to mass (aka unique), known as spin 0 and 1 (gravity is spin 2 and perpendicular to both light and mass, hence spacetime plane is spin 0 and 1 as x/y axis). E.g. for light alone, E = pc.

    What I would have liked to see explained is how that light combined and rotated into mass, were the two particles acting at right angles, were they in phase, or out of phase, not just they were high energy gamma rays is likely important here?

    I would love to know how two light waves rotated to make mass, and also how much influence this has on the nuclear fusion of the sun? I have seen electron capture, and proton, proton collision, but this is a first I have seen for light/light interaction?

    • Wish there was a delete option, I misread that and saw photon where it was proton. My main question now, is how do they know it was elecromagnetic interaction and not strong interaction between the protons.

      For electromagnetic radiation to make a W or Z boson, you need anti neutrinos as well as electrons, or neutrinos and positrons. How is this also seperate from Higgs boson creation – which would then decay to W or Z bosons.

  23. Could you add sources? Is there a white paper we can read to find out more?

  24. Who at BNL is the author?

  25. When matter is created is anti-matter also created? If not then why?

  26. Horrible article. LHC accelerate protons, not photons. You don’t need an accelerator to accelerate light close to speed of light… duh! Honestly, I didn’t even read this all, given this horribly state premises

  27. @Mattia. Yes, not only that but they also dragged the quantum thing in again. Everything must be quantum these days. This is just about regular forces of nature.

  28. Michael John Sarnowski | September 8, 2020 at 4:53 pm | Reply

    Please see for the strong force and Planck pressure.

  29. It’s much more interesting to study the strongest force in the universe: Love.

  30. Hey! Matter from light! That’s pretty neat, and could be handy.

    In theory, a scientist could make me a sandwich…

  31. Ok I’m pretty sure this all explains what happened to 2020

  32. No money should be given to these irresponsible so called scientific experiments what so ever!

  33. This is all possible thanks to all of us and all the suffering we did by forgetting who and what we are…

  34. … a matter from light, cool,
    next step is direct conversion of matter into energy and then use that energy without any loses… Is that even possible?

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