The European Commission has approved the construction of three gigantic new research lasers, with the option for a fourth that would, for an instant, be several hundred times more powerful than the entirety of the power generated by our civilization. The hope is that this will be enough energy to actually conjure virtual particles out of nothingness.
At peak power, the fourth laser in Europe’s Extreme Light Infrastructure project (or ELI) will combine ten beams into a single pulse measuring 200 petawatts. 200 petawatts is significantly more power that our entire race generates at any given moment, and in fact more total power than Earth receives from the sun.
Needless to say, this is not the type of laser that you just turn on and wave around for your cat to chase. The only way that this massive amount of power is able to be harnessed is if the amount of time that it’s being used for is insanely small. The 200 petawatt pulses will only last 1.5 x 10^-14 second, which is about the same amount of time that it takes for light to travel from one side of a human hair to the other, if you shave the hair down by 90%.
The point of all this is to try to explore some of the weirdness of quantum mechanics, which suggests that space is actually a giant party of random particles that are popping in and out of existence too fast for us to see. The hope is that a laser this powerful might actually be able to tear apart the vacuum of space-time itself, revealing the matter and antimatter underneath.
The fourth ELI laser is scheduled to start ripping up the fabric of the universe in 2017, and no, nothing could possibly go wrong, why do you ask?