What's the matter with antimatter?
This illustration shows what might happen when matter and antimatter annihilate each other.
May 2nd, 2013
04:13 AM ET

What's the matter with antimatter?

By Ben Brumfield, CNN

Nuclear scientists in Switzerland recently dropped some antimatter. The world didn't blow up, but there were some tiny explosions.

Scientists are hoping the experiment will teach them more about how the universe developed after the Big Bang.

Physicists with ALPHA Collaboration research group are trying to figure out how antimatter interacts with gravity, and if it produces "antigravity," says the group's founder, Jeffrey Hangst.

Their experiment mirrors the way Sir Isaac Newton came up with the law of gravity in the late 17th century.

Legend has it that an apple fell off a tree and hit the English nobleman on the head.

Newton got to thinking how gravity made the apple speed up as it fell.


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Filed under: Discoveries • News • On Earth • Particle physics
Scientists: ‘God particle’ proof closer than ever
Traces of particle collisions are illustrated in this graphic from the European Organization for Nuclear Research.
December 13th, 2011
01:37 PM ET

Scientists: ‘God particle’ proof closer than ever

Scientists said Tuesday that they’re a little bit closer to answering one of the biggest questions of particle physics: Does the so-called God particle exist?

Gathering in Geneva, Switzerland, experts from around the world revealed results of their search for the particle – known officially as the Higgs boson - using the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest atom smasher.

The Higgs boson, which has been theorized but never glimpsed, plays a fundamental role in the workings of our universe. One expert called it the “missing piece of the jigsaw.”

Related: Why is the 'God particle' so important?

Scientists at Tuesday's event said they had made strides in their search for the Higgs boson but did not have strong enough conclusions to claim a discovery.

“The first important results are that we have been able to restrict the most likely mass region over the last months to a very narrow range,” Fabiola Gianotti said Tuesday at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN. “In this mass region, we see some excessive events.  It’s too early to tell if this excess is due to a fluctuation in the background or something more interesting.”

The collider fires together protons, which are positively charged particles that make up all atoms that can interact in many different ways. Scientists are looking very closely for a "Higgs bump," which is "literally a bump in a graph which will pop up and say, 'that's it!' " said physicist Martin Archer of the Imperial College of London.

Related: Higgs coming into focus

"It is too early to draw a definite conclusion. More studies and more data are needed. We have built solid foundations for the exciting months to come," Gianotti added. “We are discussing something, which is the last chapter we hope for a story which lasts since 47 years.”

Two groups of scientists worked independently on different parts of the hydrogen collider to watch and analyze the particle collisions.

Scientists say Higgs boson particles won’t be discovered by actually observing the particles themselves. They will be discovered by observing how other particles react to them.

"As of today, what we see is consistent either with a background fluctuation or with the presence of the boson,” said Guido Tonelli, another scientist who participated in the research. “Refined analyses and additional data delivered in 2012 by this magnificent machine will definitely give an answer.”

The Standard Model is the theory physicists use to describe the behavior of fundamental particles and the forces that act between them. It describes the ordinary matter from which we, and everything visible in the universe, are made and does it extremely well. Nevertheless, the Standard Model does not describe the 96% of the universe that is invisible: so-called Dark Matter. One of the main goals of the collider's research program is to go beyond the Standard Model, and the Higgs boson could be the key, CERN scientists explained.

“The very good news that we know from today that in the next year, it’s very likely we might get an answer that we could consider solid,” Tonelli said.

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‘God particle’ coming into focus
A simulation for finding the Higgs boson.
December 12th, 2011
12:46 PM ET

‘God particle’ coming into focus

Gossip isn’t just for teenage girls – scientists spread rumors, too. Physicists are giddy about an announcement that will come from the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) on Tuesday at 8 a.m. EST, although the details remain tantalizingly secret.

The word on the street is that scientists will unveil the first hints of the Higgs boson, also called the "God particle" in popular culture. This unimaginably small particle has never been detected, but would explain several unsolved mysteries about the universe – for instance, why building blocks of our world have mass.


'Check out the world's lightest material'
HRL Laboratories announced it has created the world's lightest solid substance, seen here sitting atop a dandelion.
November 23rd, 2011
08:00 AM ET

'Check out the world's lightest material'

It was a simple e-mail. But with just a few words, it capsulized the exact moment of an exciting scientific discovery.

"Check out the world's lightest material: 0.85 mg/cc!!" scientist Toby Schaedler wrote to his teammates at HRL Laboratories in Malibu, California. "It is holding up fine even after I squeezed it a little."

Six months later, HRL is announcing its discovery for the first time in a study published in November's Science magazine. When Light Years talked to physicist Bill Carter and project manager Leslie Momoda, the giddiness of inventing the lightest solid substance hadn't yet worn off. They were, well, practically floating on air.


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Filed under: Discoveries • News • Particle physics
Is it a new particle, or just a fluke?
April 8th, 2011
04:29 PM ET

Is it a new particle, or just a fluke?

In the search for answers to some of the most mysterious and fundamental questions about the the universe, Europe's $10 billion particle-smashing Large Hadron Collider has been hogging the spotlight in recent years.

Suddenly, this week, physics enthusiasts' eyes turned to Tevatron, a much smaller and less powerful particle accelerator in Batavia, Illinois, that is scheduled to be shut down for good after September. And, depending on what happens with the budget crisis on Capitol Hill, it could be even sooner.

At Tevatron, part of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab), scientists said they may have found evidence of a particle never observed before. That would mean a brand new building-block of matter would be added to what physicists know about the universe.


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Filed under: On Earth • Particle physics


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