CERN Accelerating science

This website is no longer maintained. Its content may be obsolete. Please visit for current CERN information.

Home | Sitemap | Contact us
this site all CERN
ASACUSA's radio-frequency quadrupole decelerator

ASACUSA – Atomic Spectroscopy And Collisions Using Slow Antiprotons

Hybrid atoms straddle the antiworld

ASACUSA aims to learn more about fundamental differences in the behaviour of matter and antimatter. However, instead of directly comparing atoms with their corresponding antiatoms (for example, as in the ATRAP and ALPHA experiments), ASACUSA’s physicists are creating hybrid atoms such as ‘antiprotonic helium’.

Helium has the second simplest atomic structure after hydrogen. It contains two electrons orbiting a central nucleus. An ‘antiprotonic helium’ atom is made by replacing one of these electrons with an antiproton (the antimatter equivalent of a proton). The process of creating these hybrid atoms is easier than making antihydrogen atoms (the antimatter version of hydrogen), and they can also be kept for longer.

The ASACUSA team uses the Antimatter Decelerator at CERN to send a beam of antiprotons into cold helium gas. Most of the antiprotons quickly annihilate with ordinary matter in the surroundings, but a tiny proportion combines with the helium to form hybrid atoms that contain both matter and antimatter. Using laser beams to excite the atoms, ASACUSA can measure the mass of the antiproton to an unprecedented level of accuracy for comparison with the proton.

Related links