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Canadian-built laser cools antimatter to near absolute zero

Saturday, April 3rd 2021, 6:09 pm - The feat will help unlock the mysteries of elusive antimatter, opening new avenues of science.

When you hear about a laser that cools things down to almost as cold as it's possible to get in our universe, it wouldn't be illogical to presume some Batman villain is up to no good again.

But there is, indeed, such a laser on this Earth, specifically at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research), the Switzerland-based nuclear particle physics laboratory. And, as it happens, it's Canadian-made.

Specifically, the researchers at CERN-based ALPHA (Antihydrogen Laser Physics Apparatus) used their laser to cool a sample of antimatter down to near absolute zero. Antimatter is similar to matter, but has an opposite charge, making it very hard to exist in our universe, let alone be manipulated and studied.

Absolute zero, meanwhile, is the theoretical lowest possible temperature that can be reached, at which all molecular motion ceases, hypothesized to be −273.15°C. It has never been reached, but coming near it opens up several avenues of research for scientists studying the extremely rare antimatter particles.

Cold Canadian laser maximilien brice ubc Researcher Makoto Fujiwara stands in front of ALPHA Experiment apparatus at CERN. Photo: Maximilien Brice/UBC.

“With this technique, we can address long-standing mysteries like: ‘How does antimatter respond to gravity? Can antimatter help us understand symmetries in physics?’ These answers may fundamentally alter our understanding of our Universe," UBC researcher Dr. Takamasa Momose, a member of ALPHA’s Canadian team who led the development of the laser, said in a release from the university.

The results of the experiment were published in the journal Nature, and involved researchers from TRIUMF, UBC, Simon Fraser University, the University of Calgary, York University, the University of Victoria, and BCIT.

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