Scientists take 'significant step' in search for antimatter

Hunt for critical, yet long elusive, anti-particle may be picking up speed, say CERN researchers

Scientists at the CERN, or European Organization for Nuclear Research, center in Switzerland say say they've made a "significant step" in the hunt for antimatter.

The team is now using a beam of antihydrogen atoms in their search for information about the elusive material.

"Primordial antimatter has so far never been observed in the universe, and its absence remains a major scientific enigma," wrote CERN spokesman Cian O'Luanaigh in a post yesterday on the Organization's website. "The spectra of hydrogen and antihydrogen are predicted to be identical, so any tiny difference between them would immediately open a window to new physics, and could help in solving the antimatter mystery."

Scientists are eager to get information about elusive anti-particles, one of the biggest mysteries surrounding the creation of the universe.

Scientists say that at the time of the creation of the universe, there was an equal number of particles and anti-particles -- matter and antimatter. These particles had opposite electric charges

It's believed that when matter and anti-matter collided, they turned back into energy. Now scientists are asking: If there is still matter in the world, what happened to those matter-busting collisions? Shouldn't an equal number of both kinds of matter have cancelled each other out, leaving nothing behind?

Everything we see in the universe -- from dogs to rocks, airplanes and stars -- are made of matter. Scientists say there is very little antimatter around.

Something tipped the balance, leaving scientists to ponder what occurred to leave the universe with matter but not antimatter?

Last spring, CERN physicists stated that they believe matter and antimatter simply might decay differently.

CERN reported that when scientists there smashed protons together inside the Large Hadron Collider, the world's largest particle collider, they were able to create conditions similar to the time soon after the Big Bang. That means they saw some anti-matter particles.

CERN noted that they discovered a subatomic particle, dubbed BOs, which decays unevenly into matter and antimatter. The antimatter part decays faster than the matter.

Now, CERN is reporting that they've been able produce what they call "significant amounts" of antihydrogen by mixing antielectrons and low-energy antiprotons produced.

"Our results are very promising for high-precision studies of antihydrogen atoms...," wrote O'Luanaigh. "Its measurement in antihydrogen will allow the most sensitive test of matter/antimatter symmetry."

CERN's hunt for antimatter will resume this coming summer when they plan to increase the intensity and kinetic energy of the antihydrogen beams.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is

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