Scientists believe they have discovered the key to building a Star Trek-style replicator: Lasers, big ones. The Extreme Light Infrastructure, the most powerful laser ever, which is currently under construction in Europe, could apparently “produce” ultra-tiny particles in a vacuum, essentially transforming energy into matter. From there, it’s a relatively short distance to transforming energy into lunch.

This makes perfect sense if you remember your quantum physics. Don’t think of a vacuum as an empty space but as a region host to particles that exist for maybe a thousand of a billionth of a second before smashing into antiparticles and being obliterated. If we have a laser powerful enough, like the ELI, we can keep them from destroying one another and manipulate the particles into something that has mass, Earl Grey perhaps.

This theory is rooted in Einstein’s most famous equation, E=mc2. If mass is just one more form of energy, it should — and here’s that word again — theoretically be possible to convert the two.

Assuming all this plays out the way researchers hope it does, it’s just a matter of years until every home has a replicator taking up shelf space next to the microwave. Hopefully by then we’ll have a little of the federation’s enlightenment. Right now, we can’t be trusted to not 3D print guns.

Photos via YouTube