Particle Physics

09
May

Antimatter 101

Antimatter sounds like science fiction, and it has certainly powered its fair share of imaginary space ships and interplanetary blasters. But antimatter itself is fact, not fantasy. Antimatter is the opposite of matter: Bring the two of them into contact and they annihilate each other, generating energy according to Einstein’s famous equation E = mc2. For every kind of matter particle we know about, there is an antimatter “opposite.” Physicists have observed antimatter versions of electrons, protons and neutrons. We’ve even made a few antimatter atoms, including anti-hydrogen and anti-helium. In fact, the only thing stopping us from making an entire anti-universe—with an anti-you, anti-me, anti-everything—is that it’s very hard to make enough antimatter. And that’s a mystery too. Scientists think that, when the universe was young, antimatter and matter were made in equal quantities, yet in the universe we see only matter. Why is that? Nobody knows the answer, but it is one of the most pressing questions of modern physics.

Go Deeper
Editor’s picks for further reading

BigThink: The Search for Antimatter
In this video, Michio Kaku answers questions about antimatter.

CERN: Antimatter: Mirror of the Universe
Everything you want to know about antimatter.

Fermilab: What Is Antimatter?
In this video, Fermilab scientist Don Lincoln describes antimatter and its properties.

NOVA scienceNOW: Antimatter Engines
In this video, Neil deGrasse Tyson answers questions about antimatter propulsion.

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Don Lincoln

    Don Lincoln is a senior experimental particle physicist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and an adjunct professor at the University of Notre Dame. He splits his research time between Fermilab and the CERN laboratory, just outside Geneva, Switzerland. He has coauthored more than 500 scientific papers on subjects from microscopic black holes and extra dimensions to the elusive Higgs boson. When Don isn’t doing physics research, he spends his time sharing the fantastic world of science with anyone who will listen. He has given public lectures on three continents and has authored many magazine articles, YouTube videos and columns in the online periodical Fermilab Today. His most recent book "The Large Hadron Collider: The Extraordinary Story of the Higgs Boson and Other Stuff That Will Blow Your Mind" tells the tale of the Large Hadron Collider, the physics and the technology required to make it all work, and the human stories behind the hunt for the Higgs boson.