Scientists Will Drive Antimatter Around in a Truck for an Experiment

Wednesday, 21 February 2018 - 7:21PM
Technology
Weird Science
Wednesday, 21 February 2018 - 7:21PM
Scientists Will Drive Antimatter Around in a Truck for an Experiment
< >
Julien Marius Ordan/CERN
If the original Back to the Future has taught us anything, it's that all scientific experiments are better when they're on wheels.

As the movie also highlights, though, sometimes featuring incredible volatile, dangerous substances as part of mobile science experiments doesn't always work out very well. Clearly scientists at CERN are cut from the same cloth as Doc Brown, as they've developed a new technology that allows them to seal up explosive antimatter into a contained space so that they can transport it by truck to a nearby research facility for experimentation.

The challenge has always been one of geographical inconvenience. CERN is busy working on a bunch of different experiments, one of which involves creating antimatter, which breaks down rapidly when not kept in very specific conditions. Meanwhile, a project known as ISOLDE in a nearby scientific facility is working with equally volatile nuclei from radioactive atomic particles.



Both experiments are extremely dangerous, and their various particles don't last very long when removed from a laboratory setting. In spite of this, all scientists involved really want to see what happens when all of these different ingredients are smashed together.

In order for this to happen, either the antimatter of the radioactive nuclei need to move. Ultimately, CERN scientists have come up with PUMA, the "anti-Proton Unstable Matter Annihilation program", which has involved essentially shrink-wrapping antimatter so that it can be safely transported to another location without breaking down or going boom.

The sealed antimatter is then loaded into the back of a truck, and driven down the road to ISOLDE for experimentation that hopefully won't end too explosively itself. According to Charles Horowitz, a theoretical nuclear physicist at Indiana University, Bloomington:

Opening quote
"It's almost science fiction to be driving around antimatter in a truck. It's a wonderful idea."
Closing quote


PUMA's system has been labelled as "Antimatter To Go", and genuinely works by vacuum sealing the particles - they're trapped within a vacuum in order to keep them still while traveling, thanks to magnetic and electric fields that hold them in place.

The benefit to getting antimatter together with radioactive isotopes is that the nuclei used in the ISOLDE experiment are brimming with spare protons. Antimatter, on the other hand, will grab at spare protons or neutrons in order to address the imbalance that's caused by its existence in the first place. The hope is that by exposing antimatter to radioactive nuclei, scientists will specifically be able to study what happens when antimatter only has access to protons.

There's a lot of ifs and maybes involved with this project at present - nobody can be completely sure how antimatter and nuclear isotopes will react when exposed to each other. This experiment is only possible in the first case thanks to the development of the PUMA method of vacuum sealing antimatter, and this achievement alone is worth merit.

Hopefully in future, antimatter will be able to be transported to other experiment test sites around the world for further analysis and examination.
Science
Science News
Technology
Weird Science
No