November 26, 2022
Chicago 12, Melborne City, USA

An Antimatter Experiment Shows Surprises Near Absolute Zero


The project was designed to see if spectroscopy in helium baths was possible at all – evidence for future experiments that would use more external hybrid atoms.

But Sótér was curious about how hybrid atoms would react to different temperatures of helium. He persuaded the co-workers to spend the precious antidote repeating the measurements inside the increasingly cold helium bath.

“It was a random idea from my point of view,” said Soter, a professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich. “People weren’t sure it was worth destroying the antiproton.”

Where the spectral lines of most atoms would be completely extinct in an increasingly dense liquid, probably extending a million times, the Frankenstein atoms did the opposite. The spectral smoke was compressed as researchers lowered the helium bath to ice temperature. And under about 2.2 Kelvin, where helium becomes a non-frictional “superfluid”, they saw almost as sharp a line as they did in helium gas. Despite taking perhaps a jolt from the dense surroundings, the hybrid matter-antimatter atoms were working together impossible.

Not sure what to do with the test, Sotter and Hori sat on the results, wondering what could go wrong.

“We’ve been arguing for years,” Hori said. “It was not easy for me to understand why this happened.”

One last call

Over time, the researchers concluded that nothing was wrong. The tight spectral line shows that hybrid atoms in superfluid helium do not experience atomic collisions in the billiard-ball system that is common in a gas. The question was why. After consulting with various theorists, the researchers came up with two possible reasons.

The nature of a fluid environment is involved. The atomic spectrum suddenly hardens as the group cools the helium in an ultra-liquid state, a quantum mechanical phenomenon where individual atoms lose their identity in a way that allows them to flow together without rubbing against each other. Ultrasonicity generally prevents nuclear collisions, so researchers hope that foreign atoms will experience only light expansion or in some cases a limited amount of hardening. “Superfluid helium,” Lemeshko said, “is the softest thing you can do to sink atoms and molecules.”

But while superfluid helium has helped hybrid atoms become their most isolated soul, it alone cannot explain how well the atoms behaved. Another key to their compatibility, the researchers believe, was their unusual structure, which was created by their antimatter material.

In a normal atom, a tiny electron can travel far away from its host atom, especially when excited by a laser. In such loose lichens, electrons can easily collide with other atoms, disrupting the internal energy levels of its atoms (and leading to spectral expansion).

When Soter and his colleagues exchanged gypsy electrons for lumbering antiprotons, they drastically changed the dynamics of atoms. The massive antiproton is much larger than a homebody, close to the nucleus where outside electrons can shelter it. “The electron is like a force field,” Hori said, “like a shield.”


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