Friday, July 29, 2011

Modern Alchemy

It is utterly unsurprising that an anti-proton has precisely the same mass as a proton, to 1.3 parts per billion. The only case where a possible deviation has ever been hinted at experimentally is in the top-antitop quark pair and since some of the experiments that have looked at the relative masses of thoses have seen no statistically significant difference and the difference that has been seen is slight where it has been hinted at, the difference observed by one experimental group in the last year is very likely a statistical or experimental error. The fact that the matter and antimatter counterparts of every particle that makes up a proton has the same mass was confirmed decades ago.

What is amazing is the way that the latest experiment was done. Scientists created "anti-protonic helium."

Antimatter is extraordinarily difficult to handle . . . because upon coming into contact with ordinary matter (even the air molecules in a room), it immediately annihilates, converting into energy and new particles. . . . antiprotons produced in high-energy collisions are collected and stored in a vacuum pipe arranged in a 190-m-long racetrack shape. The antiprotons are gradually slowed down, before being transported . . . into a helium target to create and study antiprotonic helium atoms.

Normal helium atoms consist of a nucleus with two electrons orbiting around it. In antiprotonic helium, one of these electrons is replaced by an antiproton, which finds itself in an excited orbit some 100 picometres (10^-10 m) from the nucleus. Scientists fire a laser beam onto the atom, and carefully tune its frequency until the antiproton makes a quantum jump from one orbit to another. By comparing this frequency with theoretical calculations, the mass of the antiproton can be determined relative to the electron.

You won't find this element in the periodic table. Indeed, it may never have arisen in nature. But, it was possible and was created. Indeed, since the calculations regarding the forces that govern a negatively charged particle in orbit around an atomic nucleus are know with much greater precision than other mathematical constants, it may ultimately be easier to measure an antiproton's mass than a proton's mass.

Hat Tip to Maju.


Maju said...

Thanks for nothing, I was not aware of the implications of my comment/link. All I knew was that somehow the LHC seemed to confirm supersymmetry.

However a tangential issue: doesn't SUSY, in its CPT variant, propose that antimatter should flow backwards in time? If so, how can we observe and manipulate it at all?

Or... does the fact that antimatter follows the "normal" rules of time, imply that CPT is wrong?

Maju said...

Opsa: "thanks for nothing" meant "thanks not deserved" or something like that. My poor English... :)