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Antimatter comes to Brazil

Photo of some of the delegates at the 50th anniversary meeting of the Brazil Physics Society in Natal, Brazil, 5 September 2016

Great minds – some of the delegates at the 50th anniversary meeting of the Brazil Physics Society.

By Matin Durrani in Natal, Brazil

There can’t be many physics experiments to have been visited by members of not one, but two different rock bands. But then there’s something fundamentally captivating about the work of the ALPHA collaboration at the CERN particle-physics lab near Geneva, which is studying the properties of antimatter.

As Jeffrey Hangst from Aarhus University in Denmark revealed in his plenary talk at the 50th anniversary meeting of the Brazilian Physics Society (SBF) yesterday, the ALPHA collaboration has not only played host to a visit from legendary 1970s rockers David Crosby and Graham Nash, but in July also welcomed members of British alternative “space rock” outfit Muse while they were on a visit to CERN.

Quite why so many people find ALPHA’s attempts to trap and study antimatter so fascinating is not clear. As Hangst hinted to delegates at the SBF meeting, perhaps it’s Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons. Perhaps the idea of matter–antimatter asymmetry – that equal amounts of both were made in the Big Bang but there’s now hardly any antimatter around – is so captivatingly simple to grasp and explain. Or perhaps it’s just that the idea of making antimatter in the lab sounds cool.

I wonder if Hangst himself deserves some of the credit. As spokesperson of the 40-strong ALPHA collaboration, he showed at the SBF meeting here in Natal that he’s a master at explaining the team’s research. His plenary lecture on the first full day of the meeting was fantastic, full of gossipy anecdotes, experimental insights and intriguing details.

Hangst talked, for example, of having won various grants from the Carlsberg Foundation, which supports basic research. To honour that fact, he revealed that he’d made sure that the magnet in which the ALPHA team stores antihydrogen has the same aspect ratio as a can of Carlsberg beer. “Alpha and Carlsberg – probably the best antihydrogen experiment in the world,” Hangst joked, flashing up a photo of him, Crosby and Nash each raising a bottle of Carlsberg to the camera. (He said the photo had helped him to bag a further juicy €2m grant from the foundation.)

Hangst also claimed that former CERN boss Rolf-Dieter Heuer was “not happy” when ALPHA was awarded the Physics World Breakthrough of the Year award in 2010 for storing antihydrogen for the first time. It was the first year after the Large Hadron Collider had fired up and the implication was that CERN would have preferred it if we’d honoured their more mainstream experiments. (The discovery of the Higgs boson did go on to bag our 2012 award.)

But there was plenty of science in the talk to please SBF delegates too. The team’s ALPHA2 experiment is now going beyond just trapping antihydrogen, but using  lasers to spectroscopically study its internal structure as well. The ALPHA collaboration – which includes researchers from the Universidade Federal de Rio de Janeiro here in Brazil – will in addition look at whether antimatter behaves differently to matter under the force of gravity.

As Hangst concluded, making, storing and studying antimatter has been a lifetime’s work but one that he’s relished. It was a risky effort and, had he not succeeded, Hangst might have ended up on the street following his other passion – playing the guitar. As he’s quite the showman, I reckon that even if he had ended up a busker, Hangst would have made a success of that endeavour too.

For more on Hangst’s work, listen to this Physics World podcast by my colleague Tushna Commissariat after her visit to the ALPHA collaboration last year.

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  1. M. Asghar

    The matter and anti-matter are two sides of the same story out of the Dirac’s relativistic equation. Apart from the electric charge, both have to behave in an identical manner whatever the environment – such as gravity. The absence of “anti-matter” in the universe have to be due to a major phenomenon in its time-dependant evolution.

  2. antonio Carlos motta

    the asymmetry between the Matter -antimatter makes not exist..because the antimatter makes not exist in the universe,same in the early universe would not exist equal amounts of Matter and antimatter.But and the antiparticles? how see exist asymmetry between the particles and antiparticles,herde appear the direct violation of CP,that implies in the neutrinos and antineutrinos does not exist into somenspwcetime.The antiparticles are originated by the transformations of energy into mass and vice-versa ,that are not conserved due at the relativístic motions where the spacetime is non uniform near the speed of light.then antiparticles are generated in the quantum vaccum fluctions andina some poonts appear the holes that are concentred energy bundleled.the antiparticles are symmetry for the spacetime.then the junction of space and time into the spacetime continuos are generated by the PT symmetry breaking that originates the Constancy and limit for the speed of light that define the metrics that are the differents curvatures of spacetime. Hangst created antimatter artificial.this is possible,but not in the nature

  3. Antônio Carlos motta

    the antimatter make not exist in the universe,as say ,existed equal amounts of Matter -Antimatter in the early universe.the antiparticles are asymmetries of transformations of mass into energy and vice-versa for relativistics speeds,then the antiparticles are symmetries of the spacetime,that appear due the violation of cp,then the space and time are variables:the time dilatation and contraction of space.the PT symmetry breaking originates the Constancy and limit for the speed of light,with differents metrics for the curvatures of spacetimes.then there are others spacetime continuos,being that spacetime are non linear,same for STR,and the connection of quantum entanglements makes emerge the smooth spacetime curvatures,then the violation of PT lead for the junction of space and time into spacetime continuos that implies in the existence of the dirac’s equations with the antiparticles.How see the stronger asymmetries(in case neutrinos and antineutrinos with there differents tapes of flavours,with different energy spectrum)generate the 4dimensional spacetime curves,with chirality,with break of the rotacional invariance,But restored in the fifth dimension spacetime,as know the 4dimemsional carrying differents famílias of smooth structures,But at all

  4. Antônio Carlos motta

    do not believe that the antimatter Goes disappering the with time -dependente evolution.i think that there is ‘holes” in the Matter in the transformations of mass into energy and vice-versa with the relativistics speeds.then the Matter,space and time are asymmetrics.


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