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Raymond Chiao remembers the day, during his childhood in Shanghai, when his brother built a crystal radio set and invited him to try it. "When I put the earphones on, I heard voices," he says. "That experience had something to do with my going into physics." Chiao has since become well known for his work in quantum optics at the University of California at Berkeley. Now he is preparing an experiment that, if it works (a not insubstantial if), would be the biggest invention since radio.
Chiao argues that a superconductor could transform radio waves, light or any other form of electromagnetic radiation into gravitational radiation, and vice versa, with near perfect efficiency. Such a feat sounds as amazing as transmuting lead into gold--and about as plausible. "It is fair to say that if Ray observes something with this experiment, he will win the Nobel Prize," says superconductivity expert John M. Goodkind of the University of California at San Diego. "It is probably also fair to say that the chances of his observing something may be close to zero."
This article was originally published with the title A Philosopher's Stone.