Solution to mystery of anti-matter comes closer

Share this article
Have your say

A WINDOW has been opened into the secret world of the anti-matter atom that might help solve one of the universe’s greatest mysteries.

An international team of researchers used microwaves to manipulate atoms of “anti- hydrogen” for the first time, making them “jump”.

Anti-matter is like a mirror image of ordinary matter, so electrical charges of its constituent particles are reversed.

When anti-matter and ordinary matter meet they annihilate each other in a powerful explosion as mass converts to energy.

A staple of science fiction, anti-matter is the driving force of the Starship Enterprise in the Star Trek TV series.

In reality, only tiny amounts of the material have been made and stored and much about its nature is still unknown.

The new research from the European particle physics laboratory at Cern in Geneva, Switzerland involved a technique called “microwave spectroscopy”.

A collaboration of international scientists confined atoms of anti-hydrogen in a magnetic trap and bombarded them with microwaves. Precise tuning led to atoms being kicked out of the trap, revealing information about their properties.

The study is reported in the journal Nature.

Lead author Dr Mike Hayden, from Simon Fraser University in Canada, said: “For decades, scientists have wanted to study the intrinsic properties of anti- matter atoms in the hope of finding clues that might help answer fundamental questions about our universe.

“In the middle of the last century, physicists were developing and using microwave techniques to study ordinary atoms like hydrogen. Now, 60 or 70 years down the road we have just witnessed the first-ever microwave interactions with an anti-atom.”

Fundamental theories predict the universe should contain equal amounts of matter and anti-matter, but anti-matter is glaringly absent.