Saturday, July 16, 2011

Antimatter Enthusiasts, Rejoice!

One of the topics I promised I would blog about is Chemistry.  After all, I am a chemist.  But after 40 posts, I haven’t blogged much about anything related to Chemistry, so promised myself I would stay up tonight until I wrote something that sounded at least vaguely scientific. Beware.  It's late and I've had some wine, so if the wording seems confused, at least I have a built-in excuse.

A month ago, I ran across an announcement that a research team at CERN, the European particle physics lab, had managed to produce and store antihydrogen (the antimatter equivalent of hydrogen) for over 16 minutes. Woo hoo! As antimatter is an integral part of many science fiction stories, I thought I’d mention it here.

Antimatter particles are old hat these days. Positrons, the antimatter equivalent of electrons, are used every day in hospitals during PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scans. Antiprotons are a bit more rare; mostly found in large particle accelerators like the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) at CERN, where protons and antiprotons are whipped around very large racetracks at nearly the speed of light and then smashed into one other to see what happens. Pretty cool, eh?

Hydrogen consists of an electron orbiting a proton, so antihydrogen has a positron orbiting an antiproton. Antihydrogen has been made before, but it disintegrates immediately upon contact with matter so it ain't easy to work with. The big news is that these scientists have come up with a device for holding antihydrogen in a stable form for much longer periods of time.  Sixteen minutes may not seen all that long, but in the antimatter world, it's an eternity.

It’s only a matter of time before we’ll be able to buy this stuff at Costco.

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