Antimatter is a reality: Commission welcomes CERN's breakthrough in antihydrogen production

September 23, 2002

Brussels, 19 September 2002

EU Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin today congratulated Geneva-based CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) for producing a substantial amount of antimatter: 50,000 atoms of antihydrogen.

"CERN's successful experiment will help us better understand the basics of the universe", said Commissioner Busquin. "Up until now, we knew that antimatter existed, but we had not achieved sufficient critical mass to study it. Now we have solid scientific evidence to look into the very foundations of nature, and to explore scenarios bordering science fiction, such as parallel universes, antimatter energy production and antimatter-propelled spacecraft engines."

Matter, and therefore everything we see around us, is made out of three different types of particles: electrons, protons and neutrons. In 1920 physicist Paul Dirac discovered the electron had a "twin" particle, identical to it but with an opposite electric charge: the positron. In fact all particles have associated antiparticles (proton and antiproton, electron and positron).

When energy transforms into matter, it produces particles and their mirror image, "antiparticles", at the same time. To create them, it takes energy, and when they are brought back together ("annihilation", because they disappear into a flash of energy), this energy is released.

Antiparticles can be generated by colliding subatomic particles. Before being delivered to various physics experiments, they must be isolated, collected and stored. CERN has succeeded into providing high energy antiparticles, thereby creating antimatter, with the first "self-contained antiproton factory", the Antiproton Decelerator.

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DN: IP/02/1342 Date: 19/09/2002

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