Antimatter

Talking to my geologists’ father about physics I have become fascinated by antimatter that is by the existence of a substance that destroys everything it touches. Quite literally anti-matter is the opposite of matter, particles with reversed electrical charge, but with the same mass. The counterpart of a proton is called the antiproton and the electron’s counterpart is called a positron.

The mixing of matter with anti-matter would lead to the annihilation of both – disappearing in a burst of energy. The asymmetry of matter and antimatter in the visible universe is one of the greatest unsolved problems in physics. Particle physicists believe that equal amounts of matter and antimatter were created at the beginning of the universe, at the time of the big bang. The fact that there is just matter today, at least in this part of the universe, prompts the question of “what happened to the antimatter”?

Antimatter doesn’t really exist in our universe, but is produced in small quantities at CERN and is currently used in medicine, in PET scans for locating cancer and monitoring brain activity. In 1928 the British physicist Paul Dirac formulated a theory for the motion of electrons in electronic and magnetic fields and predicted that electrons must have an “antiparticle”. Four years later, in 1932, Carl Anderson observed the first known example of antimatter experimentally – the positron.

Antimatter fascinates, and it is difficult to imagine the immediate annihilation that takes place from a meeting between matter and antimatter. This totalizing devastating effect has inspired many science fiction writers and has recently been used in the plot of Angels & Demons, where antimatter is stolen from a secret CERN laboratory in order to make weapons out of it. Read more about antimatter on http://angelsanddemons.cern.ch

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