Electron-positron pair production

Electron-positron pair production

A process in which an electron and a positron are simultaneously created in the vicinity of a nucleus or subatomic particle. Electron-positron pair production is an example of the materialization of energy predicted by special relativity and is accurately described by quantum electrodynamics. Pair production usually refers to external pair production, in which the positron (positively charged antielectron) and electron are created from a high-energy gamma ray as it passes through matter. Electron-positron pairs are also produced from internal pair conversions in nuclei, decays of unstable subatomic particles, and collisions between charged particles. See Quantum electrodynamics

In external conversion, the energy of an incoming gamma ray (a high-energy electromagnetic photon) is directly converted into the mass of the electron-positron pair. The photon energy h&ngr; (where h is Planck's constant and &ngr; is the photon frequency) must therefore exceed twice the rest mass of the electron 2m0c2, equal to 1.022 MeV (m0 is the electron mass, c the velocity of light). In order to conserve both energy and momentum in this process, the pair must be created near a nucleus, which recoils to balance the momentum of the incoming photon with the momenta of the created electron and positron. Because the nucleus is so much heavier than the electron, it carries away almost no energy from the pair, and the energy of the photon in excess of 2m0c2 is shared unequally as kinetic energy by the positron and electron. Individually, the electron and positron each exhibit a distribution of kinetic energies ranging from zero to the maximum available energy, Emax = h&ngr; - 2m0c2, correlated with one another so that their sum is equal to Emax. Similarly, the positron and electron are emitted over a broad range of angles, although they exhibit a tendency to move in the same direction, which reflects the momentum of the incoming photon. For incident photon energies above 5 MeV, external pair production is the dominant mechanism by which gamma rays are absorbed in matter. See Gamma rays, Photon

Internal pair creation differs from external conversion in that the positron and electron are created directly from energy liberated by the deexcitation of an excited nucleus (produced, for example, in radioactive decay or nuclear collisions) to a state of lower energy, if the transition energy exceeds the pair mass threshold of 2m0c2. Internal pair creation usually occurs only 10-3 times as often as deexcitation by gamma-ray emission, although the exact pair creation probability, as well as the angular correlation between the emitted positron and electron, depends on the nuclear charge and upon the energy and multipolarity of the nuclear transition. See Radioactivity

Many unstable subatomic particles, such as the neutral Z boson and J/psi meson, decay into a positron-electron pair alone or with other particles. Since the decaying parent particle is massive, momentum is conserved without the presence of an additional nucleus as is required in external conversion. Decay into a single pair alone creates a positron and electron with equal and opposite momenta.

References in periodicals archive ?
For an electron-positron pair production or annihilation amplitude we give a similar definition of locality.
Recalling that any sufficiently strong positive potential acting on the vacuum state enables electron-positron pair production to take place in free space (see any relativistic discussion of the Klein Paradox, e.
5), with the result that the Compton radius is no longer associated with electron-positron pair production, being outside the onset radius.

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