Accelerating antimatter research
An EU-funded project is probing antimatter, one of nature's great mysteries. In doing so, it is advancing technical developments in this research area, contributing to Europe's fundamental scientific knowledge and helping us understand the origins of the universe.
© Tryfonov #119258340, 2019 source: stock.adobe.com
Experiments to determine the nature of antimatter are at the cutting edge of science. They are, however, very difficult to realise and have been limited by the performance of the only existing facility in the world, the antiproton decelerator at CERN, Switzerland.
The EU-funded AVA project is enabling new antimatter experiments, probing some of the fundamental laws of nature and providing answers about how the universe evolved from the Big Bang to its present state. It is hoped that the training and research network will pave the way for entirely new studies not previously possible. The network takes advantage of the brand new Extra Low Energy Antimatter ring (ELENA) at CERN and also paves the way for future precision experiments to be conducted at the Facility of Antiproton and Ion Research (FAIR) in Germany.
Antimatter is created in minute amounts and is immediately annihilated on contact with matter, releasing energy. Antimatter experiments at CERN involve firing protons positively charged particles found in the centre of atoms at high speeds on to a solid target to create their antimatter equivalent, antiprotons.
Studying antimatter is intended to recreate, for an instant, what happened at the time of the Big Bang. For precision experiments, it is essential that these antiprotons are slowed down to very low energy or even rest so that they can be combined with positrons to form antihydrogen. Reducing the energy of the antiprotons, a process often referred to as beam deceleration or cooling, is one of the major aims of the AVA project.
The universities, industry and research centres behind AVA have pioneered a number of training initiatives in particle accelerator science. They have now combined their expertise to focus on a new academic area where only limited targeted training has been provided around the world.
The AVA project is working on three areas: optimising the cooling and transport of antiproton beams to improve the efficiency of antimatter experiments; developing monitors and detectors that can gather detailed information about low-energy antiproton beams to optimise experiments to better understand these particles; and developing novel experiments into low-energy antimatter to carry out measurements never done before.
AVA has received funding through the EUs Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions programme.