Project Antimatter: First-ever Gravity Test with Anti-atoms

by Alban Kellerbauer, physicist @ MPIK

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    1. Alban Kellerbauer, physicist @ MPIK Creator on May 22, 2015

      Just a few more weeks! We'll launch on June 15, and are really busy in preparing the web site, press kit, an improved video, and arranging logistics. We'll update everybody 2 weeks prior to launch (on June 1).

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      Mike Kuzman on May 21, 2015

      Hurry up and take my money!

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About


A (almost DIY) cooler for antimatter

We want to build a set-up to cool antiprotons; really cold antiprotons are needed for our experiment (aegis.web.cern.ch) to test gravity with antimatter (does antimatter fall up or down?). It's tricky, because antimatter and matter annihilate upon contact (that's what you can see in the project picture: an antiproton annihilating inside the AEgIS photographic detector). But not if we use negatively charged matter. Our idea (and we're only just now publishing it) is to use really new types of lasers (quantum cascade lasers) to cool one particular type of negative molecules (which is a completely new idea) to a hair above absolute zero (which has never been done) in a new type of particle trap (which has never been investigated) using permanent magnets (something almost nobody does) and gold-plated rings to manipulate the molecules. Oh, and we need an excellent vacuum.

What we want to do is built this set-up and show that our idea works. This is a stand-alone table-top proof-of-principle set-up which will allow us to do all the research needed to later implement the idea with antiprotons. Here's a sketch of the device:

Sketch of the device with rings (pink), magnets (green), laser (blue) and vacuum system (black). The brown double circles represent the negative molecules that will be laser-cooled to 1/10th of a degree above absolute zero.
Sketch of the device with rings (pink), magnets (green), laser (blue) and vacuum system (black). The brown double circles represent the negative molecules that will be laser-cooled to 1/10th of a degree above absolute zero.

If we can pull this off - and the team consisting of a postdoc from atom cooling, three graduate students from laser, molecular and atomic physics, and myself, an expert on antimatter, is ideally placed to do so - we'll have figured out how to cool any negative particle, ion or molecule (by putting them in contact with our laser-cooled molecule), we'll manage to make really cold antihydrogen atoms to see if they drop like normal matter, and we'll perhaps even help out with quantum computing, where molecules, and particularly cold molecules, might come to play a central role. 

We have a lot of equipment we can use, but need some stuff that's either not available, or that needs to be custom built, and for which we need funding. The budget for the project covers the rings (electrodes) and their gold plating, the permanent magnets (we need the strongest that we can get our hands on), the vacuum chamber, the dedicated pump, and the laser diodes (we need two different ones). All this comes to 35,000 $.

This is where you come in: the project is very interdisciplinary, and thus hard to get conventional funding for; it's fun; it's challenging; it might open new doors. We hope such a high stakes experiment will tickle your curiosity and that you'll follow our work and progress over the coming year.

Risks and challenges

We're trying several things that have never been done and go well beyond the state of the art. We've simulated the physics, but actually getting everything up and running is going to take time, patience and enthusiastic and competent collaborators. On those fronts, we're fine, but the technical challenges are not trivial and we're trying to do this on a shoestring. The permanent magnets might have the wrong strength, cooling might take too long, the electrode rings might be the wrong size. But we are determined to follow through on this, and we've already built far more complex equipment, such as the AEgIS experiment. In other words: no guarantees, but then, would it be research otherwise?

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    Your name will be mentioned as supporter (if you wish) on our web site. Regular project updates.

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    As above plus A4 laser print of an antiproton annihilating in a photographic plate (our own data from 2014), signed by the project team.

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    As above plus a limited edition print of a copperplate etching (designed by an artist) of the annihilation event.

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    As above plus your name engraved on one of the electrode rings used in the actual experiment.

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    As above plus personal guided tour of of the research center at which the experiment is being done by the project leader.

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