Friday, 15 May 2009

Mystery of the antimatter: science & cinema mix

Science & cinema join forces in Angels and Demons on general release, which tells the story of a plot to blow up the Vatican using “antimatter” stolen from Cern, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research. While it is currently impossible to build such a bomb, antimatter is a hot research topic.

Irish scientists are deeply involved in the production and analysis of antimatter at Cern, near Geneva. NUI Maynooth PhD graduate Dr Paul Bowe leads the group producing antimatter on Cern’s Alpha experiment. One of his team members is an Irish PhD student, Eoin Butler. Meanwhile, University College Dublin’s Dr Ronan McNulty, who leads the only experimental particle physics research group in the Republic, is involved in Cern’s LHCb antimatter experiment. It is one of the major experiments attached to the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the 27km-long atom smasher that can also produce antimatter particles.

Antimatter is easy to understand but very difficult to handle, says Dr Bowe. Our universe apparently consists of nothing but “ordinary” matter, the stuff that we, the things around us, the planets and the stars, are made of. The atoms in matter have a positively charged nucleus surrounded by negatively charged electrons. Antimatter is the reverse of this. Its atoms have a negatively charged nucleus, called an “antiproton” and positively charged electrons called “positrons”. Read Dick Ahlstrom's full article here