Physicists Probe Antimatter For Clues To How It All Began : The Two-Way Physicists don't know why there's more matter than antimatter in our universe. New research smashed together atoms of pure gold to look for clues.
NPR logo

Physicists Probe Antimatter For Clues To How It All Began

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/454594496/454692344" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Physicists Probe Antimatter For Clues To How It All Began

Physicists Probe Antimatter For Clues To How It All Began

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/454594496/454692344" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Today, researchers announced new results of a study of antimatter.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STAR TREK")

LEONARD NIMOY: (As Mr. Spock) To parallel universes - one matter, the other, antimatter.

SIEGEL: "Star Trek's" Mr. Spock there, of course. He wasn't involved in today's findings. Here's NPR's Geoff Brumfiel on the scientists who were and what they found.

GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: Here's how real-life expert Joel Fajans describes antimatter.

JOEL FAJANS: Antimatter is a mirror universe of particles.

BRUMFIEL: Sounds just like Star Trek - right? - and it is. Regular matter is made of atoms. Your radio, your cell phone, your body - all matter. Antimatter is the sinister backwards version. And what happens when they get together? Take it away, Spock.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STAR TREK")

NIMOY: (As Mr. Spock) When two identical particles of matter and antimatter meet...

WILLIAM SHATNER: (As Captain Kirk) If they meet...

NIMOY: (As Mr. Spock) Annihilation, Jim - total, complete, absolute annihilation.

BRUMFIEL: Fajans, a respected researcher at the University of California at Berkeley will tell you exactly the same thing.

FAJANS: It blows up - what we call annihilates. It explodes and becomes pure energy.

BRUMFIEL: Antimatter is totally sci-fi, but it's also totally real and really mysterious. Think about it. There's no antimatter radios or antimatter people that we know of. So where is it?

FAJANS: We actually don't understand why antimatter is just as rare as it actually is. Going back to the Big Bang, the Big Bang should have produced just as much matter as antimatter, but it didn't.

BRUMFIEL: To try and solve the mystery, researchers make small amounts of antimatter in the lab. This time, they've done it on Long Island inside a giant particle accelerator called the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider. Scientists mashed together atoms of pure gold to make particles of antimatter. Aihong Tang led the experiment. He says making antimatter from gold isn't as pricey as it sounds.

AIHONG TANG: The actual amount of gold is actually tiny. It doesn't - worth much.

BRUMFIEL: And the payoff could be huge. In the journal Nature, Tang's group describes forces between the antimatter counterparts of protons. A proton is the positively charged particle found at the center of atoms. The antimatter version is negatively charged and called - you guessed it - an antiproton. See; physics isn't so hard. Anyway, the point is, the force between two antiprotons is just like the force between two regular protons.

TANG: Our experiment confirmed that they indeed behave just like ordinary matter.

BRUMFIEL: And here's why that matters. Discovering a difference between matter and antimatter would probably explain why one is common and the other is rare. This experiment let's scientists rule out one possibility. They'll move on to something else in the name of science and, Joel Fajans says, because it makes them sound cool.

FAJANS: Not so many people get to work on things that "Star Trek" talks about.

BRUMFIEL: Geoff Brumfiel, NPR News.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.