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article imageAntimatter successfully captured and stored

By Paul Wallis     Nov 17, 2010 in Science
In what may be one of the most important historical scientific achievements in physics, scientists from CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research near Geneva, Switzerland have successfully isolated anti-hydrogen atoms.
While it has been occasionally possible to create a free antimatter in various forms, generally the antimatter has immediately self-destructed when coming into contact with normal matter. The CERN scientists used magnetic fields to isolate the anti-hydrogen.
This permits the proper study of antimatter in detail for the first time. CERN previously created large amounts of anti-hydrogen several years ago, but was unable to store it. The problem has been that antimatter immediately converts to energy and other breakdown products in contact with normal matter, annihilating its natural structure.
The use of magnetic fields for storage permits proper isolation and controlled management of antimatter. This methodology has been in the theoretical "too hard basket" for a long time, and itself represents a significant scientific achievement.
The method uses eight magnetic poles to contain the anti-hydrogen and keep it from contact with matter. No less than 335 experimental trials were conducted, mixing antiprotons with positrons. When the antimatter trap was released, 38 anti-hydrogen atoms were identified. This testing was a further quality control to confirm the success of the antimatter trap positively identify the anti-hydrogen, and to repeat previous results as required by best scientific practice.
Collecting positrons and antiprotons to achieve this result wasn't easy either, involving "cooling down" the positrons to half of their normal voltage. This may be the everyday physics of Star Trek and broad-based theory, but at this stage of history, it is difficult science to put into practice at any level.
It also created a problem for researchers in that the antiprotons also represented a potential distortion of their findings, if it was them getting annihilated by contact with normal matter and not the anti-hydrogen. Hence the need to meticulously check to ensure that it was in fact anti-hydrogen being created and stored.
This is a true scientific first in relation to a gigantic field of physics, which has previously been almost completely immune from effective study and research. Antimatter has been the holy grail of physics and energy studies for decades.
It looks like part of the future has just arrived.
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