One of the greatest unsolved mysteries of our universe is why normal matter—the stuff that makes up stars, planets, and our bodies—is so much more abundant than antimatter, an exotic material made of antiparticles that hold the opposite charge of regular particles.
Now, scientists have announced that they have manipulated antimatter for the very first time using a specialized laser, a major breakthrough that could shed light on this open question, among many others.
The novel technique successfully slowed antihydrogen particles down by cooling them to temperatures near absolute zero, an innovation that “has far-reaching implications for antimatter studies,” according to a paper published on Wednesday in Nature. The ability to analyze and manipulate antimatter will allow scientists to test fundamental hypotheses about the makeup of reality, for example if antimatter particles are really identical to matter except for their charge.
The milestone was achieved by the Antihydrogen Laser Physics Apparatus (ALPHA) project, an international collaboration based at European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva. For team members like Makoto Fujiwara, a researcher at the University of British Columbia’s TRIUMF laboratory and the spokesperson for ALPHA-Canada, the new study is the culmination of decades of imagination and grit.