Antimatter Matters at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition

Scientists from Swansea University are presenting their research into the nature of antimatter at this year’s Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition which opens to the public officially today (4 July 2016).

The physicists from the College of Science will be at an exhibition entitled Antimatters Matters which looks at science’s biggest questions - why we live in a Universe made of matter, rather than a Universe with no matter at all?

The behaviour of antimatter, a rare oppositely charged counterpart to normal matter, is thought to be key to understanding this question – but the nature of antimatter is a mystery. Scientists use data from the ALPHA and LHCb experiment at CERN to study antiparticles and antiatoms in order to learn more about it.

Inside the ALPHA apparatus

About ALPHA and LHC

At CERN’s Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator, matter and antimatter versions of fundamental particles are produced when the accelerator beams smash into each other. The LHCb experiment records the traces these particles leave behind as they fly outwards from the beam collisions with exquisite precision, enabling scientists to identify the particles and deduce whether they are matter or antimatter.

At larger scales, antimatter is studied in CERN’s antiproton decelerator complex, when antiprotons are joined with antielectrons to form antihydrogen atoms. The ALPHA experiment holds these antiatoms in suspension so that their structure and behaviour can be studied. Both experiments are currently recording data that will enable scientists to carefully build up an understanding of why antimatter appears to behave the way it does.

Scientists from Swansea University are involved in the ALPHA experiment. Swansea has constructed the anti-electron (positron) accumulator and is responsible for other major parts of the experiment and is leading efforts to illuminate the antiatoms with light such that their inner workings can be probed. At the exhibit we will show how we trap and manipulate antiprotons and electrons, and how to look at (anti)atoms, also when there’s only a single one.

Dr Niels Madsen

Professor Niels Madsen of Swansea University who works on the ALPHA experiment said: “Antimatter might sound like science fiction, but it is one of the biggest mysteries in physics today. We’re going to show just why it matters so much – from how it disappeared in the early universe, to how we study it at the frontiers of research, but also how it has everyday uses in medical imaging. It’s particularly exciting as this is the first time such a comprehensive variety of antimatter research is presented together.”

Visitors to the Exhibition will also be able to see how fundamental particles and antiparticles are identified with the LHCb experiment, talk to researchers to discover what this science is like, try the experimental techniques used to hold and study anti-atoms with the ALPHA experiment, and move, image and locate antimatter within a PET scanner system.

The Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition is weeklong free festival of cutting edge science from across the UK, featuring 22 exhibits which give a glimpse into the future of science and tech. Visitors can meet the scientists who are on hand at their exhibits, take part in activities and live demonstrations and attend talks.