University of Calgary

University of Calgary

March 07, 2012 13:00 ET

University of Calgary: Antimatter zapped!

Historic Canadian-led experiment brings scientists one-step closer to understanding the universe

CALGARY, ALBERTA--(Marketwire - March 7, 2012) - First it was caught; then it was stored; now it has been examined at a level not ever seen before. "It" is the elusive antihydrogen atom.

Researchers at CERN, in an international effort led by a Canadian team, have used microwaves to manipulate antihydrogen atoms. In doing so, they've provided the world with its first glimpse of an "anti-atomic fingerprint." Their work is published today in the prestigious journal Nature, their third different Nature publication in a little more than a year.

"Our team was able to peek behind the curtain where no one has looked before by witnessing the first-ever microwave interactions with an anti-atom," says co-author Rob Thompson, a physicist at the University of Calgary and a member of the ALPHA collaboration. "This is an exciting breakthrough. Catching this glimpse of antihydrogen atoms will help our efforts to unravel some of the mysteries of our universe."

Antimatter is a staple of science fiction, but it also stands out as one of the biggest mysteries of science fact. Fundamental theories predict perfect symmetry between matter and antimatter, but the glaring absence of antimatter in our universe suggests there might be a difference. Enter microwave spectroscopy, one of the most sensitive techniques for probing the structure of atoms.

The present measurement involved confining anti-atoms in a magnetic trap and irradiating them with microwaves. Precise tuning of the microwave frequency and magnetic field enabled researchers to hit an internal resonance, kicking atoms out of the trap and revealing information about their properties.

Lead author Mike Hayden from Simon Fraser University and Walter Hardy from the University of British Columbia designed the apparatus for this latest experiment, working closely with PhD candidates Mohammad Ashkezari of SFU and Tim Friesen from the University of Calgary. Meanwhile, researchers from the Vancouver-based TRIUMF laboratory and York University teased faint signals from a sophisticated detector system, pinpointing matter-antimatter annihilation events.

The University of Calgary's Tim Friesen, a doctoral candidate, played an important role in shaping the experiment. He developed and implemented some of the tools implemented within the trapping volume of the ALPHA apparatus.

"Without Tim's development of in-situ diagnostics for ALPHA this measurement could not have been carried out," says Thompson.

ALPHA has undertaken an extensive upgrade to improve its current technological capabilities, aiming to enable the creation of an ever-clearer picture of the inner structure of antimatter atoms. Some of the technology being created is currently being fabricated at the University of Calgary.

"Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, and we understand its structure extremely well," says ALPHA collaboration spokesperson Jeffrey Hangst of Aarhus University in Denmark. "Now we can finally begin to coax the truth out of antihydrogen. Are they different? Today, we can confidently say 'time will tell.'"

About ALPHA-Canada: ALPHA is a collaboration of about 40 physicists from 15 institutions in Canada, Brazil, Denmark, Israel, Sweden, UK and the USA. ALPHA-Canada currently consists of nine senior scientists, one postdoctoral fellow, and five graduate students from five Canadian institutions. ALPHA-Canada constitutes about one third of the entire ALPHA collaboration. Fifteen out of 43 ALPHA co-authors in the reported work are with ALPHA-Canada: Andrea Gutierrez, Walter Hardy (Univ. of British Columbia), Tim Friesen, Robert Thompson (Univ. of Calgary), Mohammad Ashkezari, Michael Hayden (Simon Fraser Univ.), Chanpreet Amole, Andrea Capra, Scott Menary (York Univ.), Makoto Fujiwara, David Gill, Leonid Kurchaninov, Konstantin Olchanski, Art Olin, Simone Stracka (TRIUMF). See

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