Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Physicists build bigger 'bottles' of antimatter to unlock nature's secrets

Date:
February 20, 2011
Source:
University of California - San Diego
Summary:
Once regarded as the stuff of science fiction, antimatter -- the mirror image of the ordinary matter in our observable universe -- is now the focus of laboratory studies around the world. While physicists routinely produce antimatter with radioisotopes and particle colliders, cooling these antiparticles and containing them for any length of time is another story. One scientists is constructing what he hopes will be the world's largest antimatter container.

UCSD physicists James Danielson, Clifford Surko and Craig Schallhorn (left to right) inspect the apparatus they are using to develop the world's largest trap for low-energy positrons, which is expected to hold a trillion or more antiparticles.
Credit: Kim McDonald, UCSD

Once regarded as the stuff of science fiction, antimatter -- the mirror image of the ordinary matter in our observable universe -- is now the focus of laboratory studies around the world.

While physicists routinely produce antimatter with radioisotopes and particle colliders, cooling these antiparticles and containing them for any length of time is another story. Once antimatter comes into contact with ordinary matter it "annihilates" -- or disappears in a flash of gamma radiation.

Clifford Surko, a professor of physics at UC San Diego who is constructing what he hopes will be the world's largest antimatter container, said physicists have recently developed new methods to make special states of antimatter in which they can create large clouds of antiparticles, compress them and make specially tailored beams for a variety of uses.

He described the progress made in this area, including his own efforts, at the annual meeting in Washington, DC, of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His talk, "Taming Dirac's Particle," led off the session entitled "Through the Looking Glass: Recent Adventures in Antimatter," at 1:30 pm on February 18.

Surko said that since "positrons" -- the anti-electrons predicted by English physicist Paul Dirac some 80 years ago -- disappear in a burst of gamma rays whenever they come in contact with ordinary matter, accumulating and storing these antimatter particles is no small feat. But over the past few years, he added, researchers have developed new techniques to store billions of positrons for hours or more and cool them to low temperatures in order to slow their movements so they can be studied.

Surko said physicists are now able to slow positrons from radioactive sources to low energy and accumulate and store them for days in specially designed "bottles" that have magnetic and electric fields as walls rather than matter. They have also developed methods to cool them to temperatures as low as that of liquid helium and to compress them to high densities.

"One can then carefully push them out of the bottle in a thin stream, a beam, much like squeezing a tube of toothpaste," said Surko, adding that there are a variety of uses for such positrons.

A familiar positron technique that does not use this new technology is the PET scan, also known as Positron Emission Tomography, which is now used routinely to study human metabolic processes and help design new drugs.

In the new methods being developed by physicists, beams of positrons will be used in other ways. "These beams provide new ways to study how antiparticles interact or react with ordinary matter," said Surko. "They are very useful, for example, in understanding the properties of material surfaces."

Surko and his collaborators at UC San Diego are studying how positrons bind to ordinary matter, such as atoms and molecules. "While these complexes only last a billionth of a second or so," he said, "the 'stickiness' of the positron is an important facet of the chemistry of matter and antimatter."

Surko and his colleagues are building the world's largest trap for low-energy positrons in his laboratory at UC San Diego, capable of storing more than a trillion antimatter particles at one time.

"We are now working to accumulate trillions of positrons or more in a novel 'multi-cell' trap -- an array of magnetic bottles akin to a hotel with many rooms, with each room containing tens of billions of antiparticles," he said.

"These developments are enabling many new studies of nature. Examples include the formation and study of antihydrogen, the antimatter counterpart of hydrogen; the investigation of electron-positron plasmas, similar to those believed to be present at the magnetic poles of neutron stars, using a device now being developed at Columbia University; and the creation of much larger bursts of positrons which could eventually enable the creation of an annihilation gamma ray laser."

"An exciting long-term goal of the work is the creation of portable traps for antimatter," added Surko. "This would increase greatly the ability to use and exploit antiparticles in our matter world in situations where radioisotope- or accelerator-based positron sources are inconvenient to arrange."

Professor Surko's work is funded by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California - San Diego. The original article was written by Kim McDonald. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of California - San Diego. "Physicists build bigger 'bottles' of antimatter to unlock nature's secrets." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 February 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110218142438.htm>.
University of California - San Diego. (2011, February 20). Physicists build bigger 'bottles' of antimatter to unlock nature's secrets. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 27, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110218142438.htm
University of California - San Diego. "Physicists build bigger 'bottles' of antimatter to unlock nature's secrets." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110218142438.htm (accessed August 27, 2014).

Share This




More Matter & Energy News

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Australian Airlines Relax Phone Ban Too

Australian Airlines Relax Phone Ban Too

Reuters - Business Video Online (Aug. 26, 2014) Qantas and Virgin say passengers can use their smartphones and tablets throughout flights after a regulator relaxed a ban on electronic devices during take-off and landing. As Hayley Platt reports the move comes as the two domestic rivals are expected to post annual net losses later this week. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Hurricane Marie Brings Big Waves to California Coast

Hurricane Marie Brings Big Waves to California Coast

Reuters - US Online Video (Aug. 26, 2014) Huge waves generated by Hurricane Marie hit the Southern California coast. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Chinese Researchers Might Be Creating Supersonic Submarine

Chinese Researchers Might Be Creating Supersonic Submarine

Newsy (Aug. 26, 2014) Chinese researchers have expanded on Cold War-era tech and are closer to building a submarine that could reach the speed of sound. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Breakingviews: India Coal Strained by Supreme Court Ruling

Breakingviews: India Coal Strained by Supreme Court Ruling

Reuters - Business Video Online (Aug. 26, 2014) An acute coal shortage is likely to be aggravated as India's supreme court declared government coal allocations illegal, says Breakingviews' Peter Thal Larsen. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins