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Antimatter detectives

The antimatter is missing – not from CERN, but from the Universe! At least that is what we can deduce so far from careful examination of the evidence. Matter and antimatter have the same mass, but opposite electric charge. For each basic particle of matter, there exists an antiparticle; for example, the negatively charged electron has a positively charged antiparticle called the positron. When a particle and its antiparticle come together, at the blink of an eye they both disappear in a flash as the annihilation process transforms their mass into energy.

The evidence spoke for itself

The ‘case file’ of antimatter was opened in 1928 by physicist Paul Dirac. He developed a theory that combined quantum mechanics and Einstein’s special relativity to provide a more full description of electron interactions. The basic equation he derived turned out to have two solutions, one for the electron and one that seemed to describe something with positive charge (in fact, it was the positron). Then in 1932 the evidence was found to prove these ideas correct, when the positron was discovered occurring naturally in cosmic rays.

For the past 50 years and more, laboratories like CERN have routinely produced antiparticles, and in 1995 CERN became the first laboratory to create anti-atoms artificially. But no one has ever produced antimatter without obtaining the corresponding matter particles also. The scenario must have been the same during the birth of the Universe, when equal amounts of matter and antimatter must have been produced in the Big Bang.

“Just one more thing…”

So if matter and antimatter annihilate, and we and everything else are made of matter, why do we still exist? This mystery arises because we find ourselves living in a Universe made exclusively of matter. Didn't matter and antimatter completely annihilate at the time of the Big Bang? Perhaps this antimatter still exists somewhere else? Otherwise where did it go and what happened to it in the first place?

Such questions have led to speculative theories, from a break in the rules to the existence of an entire anti-Universe somewhere else! The way to solve the baffling disappearance of antimatter, and to learn more about this substance in general, is by studying both particles and antiparticles to find and decipher the subtle clues. The mystery demands teams of ‘scientific Sherlock Holmeses’ to conduct thorough detective work, to uncover a logic that is ultimately “elementary”.