The Mercury

Chill and relax, the new approach to antimatter

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GENEVA: Nuclear scientists yesterday announced they had found a way to “trap” for more than 15 minutes elusive antimatter atoms that used to disappear after a fraction of a second.

That will give scientists at the European Organisati­on for Nuclear Research time to study the atoms properly, in the hope of understand­ing what happened during the first moments of the universe.

The achievemen­t is a significan­t improvemen­t on earlier attempts to trap antihydrog­en, which like all antimatter has a tendency to disappear before scientists have time to examine it.

“We went from two-tenths of a second to 1 000 seconds,” said American scientist Jeffrey Hangst, a spokesman for the Alpha research team working at the world’s biggest particle physics laboratory – known by its French acronym Cern – on the Swiss-French border.

The team improved the efficiency of the antimatter trap by cooling antihydrog­en atoms down to less than 0.5º above absolute zero.

Their research was published online in the journal Nature Physics.

Hangst said extending the lifetime of antihydrog­en meant scientists could be sure it had enough time to settle so it could be probed and compared with hydrogen atoms.

The team would begin firing microwaves and then lasers at trapped antihydrog­en later this year.

Understand­ing antihydrog­en will help solve one of the biggest riddles of physics.

Theorists say both matter and antimatter must have been created in equal amounts in the Big Bang, but antimatter has since disappeare­d from the natural universe while matter abounds in the stars, planets and galaxies.

Or as Hangst puts it: “Half the universe has gone missing and we don’t know why.” – Sapa-AP

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