Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Antimatter: Manufactured by CERN

"Antimatter atom trapped for first time, say scientists"
Science & Environment, BBC News (November 17, 2010)

"Antimatter atoms have been trapped for the first time, scientists say.

"Researchers at Cern, home of the Large Hadron Collider, have held 38 antihydrogen atoms in place, each for a fraction of a second.

"Antihydrogen has been produced before but it was instantly destroyed when it encountered normal matter.

"The team, reporting in Nature, says the ability to study such antimatter atoms will allow previously impossible tests of fundamental tenets of physics.

"The current 'standard model' of physics holds that each particle - protons, electrons, neutrons and a zoo of more exotic particles - has its mirror image antiparticle...."

Just one problem: We're full of our sort of matter around here - but there's no antimatter to be seen. Apart from little bits and pieces, often formed by our high-energy physics experiments.

What the CERN scientists seem to have done is make antimatter a whole lot easier to study - by making a (tiny) sample and holding it for a (short) time. If they can do that again - maybe with more hydrogen atoms, held for a little longer - we'll be learning more about how the universe works.

And, as more antimatter is produced - and the usual suspects get wind of it - we'll have more lawsuits to keep those terrible people at CERN from destroying the world.

There's quite a lot more in the BBC article, including detail about how much of what was formed, and how long it lasted:

"...Producing antimatter particles like positrons and antiprotons has become commonplace in the laboratory, but assembling the particles into antimatter atoms is far more tricky.

"That was first accomplished by two groups in 2002. But handling the 'antihydrogen' - bound atoms made up of an antiproton and a positron - is trickier still because it must not come into contact with anything else.

"While trapping of charged normal atoms can be done with electric or magnetic fields, trapping antihydrogen atoms in this 'hands-off' way requires a very particular type of field.

" 'Atoms are neutral - they have no net charge - but they have a little magnetic character,' explained Jeff Hangst of Aarhus University in Denmark, one of the collaborators on the Alpha antihydrogen trapping project.

" 'You can think of them as small compass needles, so they can be deflected using magnetic fields. We build a strong "magnetic bottle" around where we produce the antihydrogen and, if they're not moving too quickly, they are trapped,' he told BBC News.

"Such sculpted magnetic fields that make up the magnetic bottle are not particularly strong, so the trick was to make antihydrogen atoms that didn't have much energy - that is, they were slow-moving.

"The team proved that among their 10 million antiprotons and 700 million positrons, 38 stable atoms of antihydrogen were formed, lasting about two tenths of a second each...."

Two tenths of a second may not sound like much: but as a duration for keeping 38 atoms of antihydrogen around - that's impressive.

New = Scary?

The Lemming was born during the Truman administration, so I remember when television was 'newfangled technology,' vacuum tubes were the ultimate electronic device, and antimatter was something you heard about in Star Trek.

The Lemming is very glad to live in an era when new technologies are revealing new facets of reality - which often as not result in new technologies that pop more new facets into focus.

Not everybody's quite so comfortable with the process:For me, it's like I said back in January: "My problem, generally, is finding enough data, fast enough." (January 27, 2010)

"Exciting" for one person can be "scary" for another. Remember when some of humanity's more nervous sorts feared that the Large Hadron Collider was going to suck the universe into a black hole? And that's another topic.

Related posts:A discussion of why the Lemming's skivvies aren't in a knot over 'them heathen scientists:'

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