Scientists at CERN, the European lab for particle physics, announced on Sunday that they captured antihydrogen atoms for 16 minutes before annihilation, which is the all-time record. The latest breakthrough will in turn allows scientists to compare matter and antimatter, which remains one of the biggest mysteries of science. "We've trapped antihydrogen atoms for as long as 1,000 seconds, which is forever" in the world of high-energy particle physics, said Joel Fajans, a University of California,
Berkeley professor of physics who is a faculty scientist at California's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a member of the ALPHA (Antihydrogen Laser Physics Apparatus) experiment at CERN. Antimatter is essentially the opposite of matter, with the same mass but an opposite charge. It is difficult to keep the antimatter around because when a piece of matter and antimatter meet, they annihilate each other and release their energy. So scientists used superconducting magnets to trap them. The researchers, from the ALPHA antimatter experiment at CERN reported last year the first trapping of antihydrogen, the simplest antimatter atom. But the antihydrogen had at that time been confined for 170 milliseconds, now the interval has been extended by a factor of more than 5,000. The ALPHA researchers used an octupole magnet, produced by the current flowing in eight wires, to create a magnetic field that was strongest near the walls of the trap, falling to a minimum at the centre, causing the atoms to collect there. To trap just 38 atoms, the group had to run the experiment 335 times. The latest experiment has now managed to capture 112 antiatoms in this new trap for times ranging from one-fifth of a second to 1,000 seconds, or 16 minutes and 40 seconds. The production of antimatter is a costly as only a few antiprotons are produced in reactions in particle accelerators, besides the higher demand for the other uses of particle accelerators. The term antimatter was coined by Arthur Schuster in 1898. In his two letters to Nature, Schuster hypothesized antiatoms, whole antimatter solar systems and discussed the possibility of matter and antimatter annihilating each other. The modern theory of antimatter began in 1928, with a paper by physicist Paul Dirac.