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Ultrafast science

The masters of antimatter

21 Apr 2015

Fantastical and yet very real, the bizarre and exciting world of antimatter research is at a tipping point. Thanks to huge advances in the field over the past decade, scientists are now at the point where they can stably create and trap antimatter atoms for long periods of time. This will finally allow them to probe the cataclysmic stuff in the hope of deciphering exactly what makes antimatter tick just that little bit differently to regular matter

Physics World reporter Tushna Commissariat recently visited the ALPHA antimatter experiment at CERN and caught up with its spokesperson Jeffrey Hangst. In this podcast, they talk about the perfect recipe for making antihydrogen, they discuss dealing with the fact and fiction that surrounds the field, and reveal the everyday realties of being an antimatter architect.

Housed within CERN’s Antimatter Factory, which includes the Antiproton Decelerator (AD) (the source that provides low-energy antiprotons), ALPHA and the other antimatter experiments – ACE, AEGIS, ATRAP and ASACUSA – all study the many puzzling facets of antimatter. From its interaction with regular matter to the biological effects of antiprotons to how it falls under gravity, the various experimental teams hope that all will be revealed about antimatter’s true nature in the coming years.

In particular, the ALPHA experiment – which won the Physics World Breakthrough of the Year in 2010 for trapping 38 antihydrogen atoms for about one-fifth of a second – is gearing up to scrutinize the stuff, as it will begin an experimental run this summer with the newly updated ALPHA2 device, which uses lasers to spectroscopically study the internal structure of the antihydrogen atom.

In addition to finding out how exactly one makes and holds a few thousand atoms of the most volatile stuff in the universe, listen to this podcast to find out why Hangst thinks he has the coolest job in the world and what it is like to visit the one place in the universe where, as far as we know, antimatter is actively being produced.

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