a) We need a Nobel Prize in Mad Science
b) We need to award it to these guys before they detonate half the planet.
The unstable heart of their design is a material called Positronium, which couldn't sound more like a science-fiction invention if Doctor Who was explaining it to a female sidekick. Possibly the most awesome idea ever put forward by mankind, it's an atom made of half matter and half antimatter. Antimatter being "The stuff that explodes if it touches matter". In fact the resulting detonation isn't called an "explosion", it's called "annihilation" - and that's by scientists, the sort of people who can describe a collapsing star as "an interesting phenomenon". To put it into perspective: a nuclear reaction releases about 0.1 % of the energy contained in matter - an antimatter annihilation releases 100%.
An electron and it's evil anti-twin, a positron, can orbit around each other in a lovely co-operative state of affairs that lasts for a whole ten-millionth of a second before they notice each other, do the tiniest double-take in history, then annihilate in a blast of gamma-rays. Not content with a self-destructing atom, David Cassidy and Allen Mills coaxed a couple of positronium atoms together to form a molecule in the fastest and most dangerous piece of matchmaking in history. So now you know why Arnold Schwarzzeneger got into politics - it wasn't through any career aspirations, but because he'd been rendered obsolete by the production of a material whose sole purpose is to blow things up in a spectacular fashion.
Having found a way to produce one of the most mind-blisteringly crazy cool substances in the universe, they now want to build a laser out of it - in proof that some people could look at a cheer-leading pyramid of naked Angelina Jolies and go "Yeah, I suppose that's pretty cool, but it'd be better if they were kung fu fighting". Even better, they have a theory for how this conflation of awesome science could be achieved.
Regular lasers operate between two energy levels, usually in something pedestrian like a special crystal - when an electron falls from the higher level to the lower, it releases a photon. The trick is that this photon can trigger other electrons in the upper level to fall and release similar photons in a process called 'stimulated emission' leading to an avalanche of coherent light - a laser. In the normal scheme of things there will be more electrons in the lower level than the higher, so to get a good laser going you have to produce a 'population inversion' - more electrons in the higher level than the lower.
Cassidy and Mills have redefined the concept of awesome by proposing a laser whose two levels are "Goddamn half-antimatter positronium" and "KABOOM", with a chain of atomic annihilations producing gamma-ray photons - giving rise to a goddamn gamma ray laser a million times more powerful than anything our primitive mortal science has yet seen. Note that while scientific correspondents are encouraged not to swear, when a sentence contains the phrases "antimatter", "laser" AND "gamma rays" then the "Goddamn!"s are spontaneously generated.
Science is a wonderland of awesome, but it's genuinely hard to imagine how anyone will top this without inventing a Higgs Boson producing Moon Collider or something. But that's what we love about it - what you can't imagine today, someone has worked out how to do tomorrow.
Posted by Luke McKinney.
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