The award for the Physics World 2010 Breakthrough of the Year goes to two international teams of physicists at CERN, who have created new ways of controlling antiatoms of hydrogen.
Just weeks later, the ASACUSA group at CERN announced that it had made a major breakthrough towards creating a beam of antihydrogen that is suitable for spectroscopic studies. Our congratulations to both teams.
Also awarded are nine runners (see below) – with second place going to the first direct detection of the spectrum of an exoplanet and third place to the observation of quantum behaviour in an object big enough to be seen with the naked eye.
1st place: Antihydrogen success
The antihydrogen breakthroughs scooped our first prize because it ought now be possible to carry out the first detailed studies of the energy levels in antihydrogen. Any slight differences in the levels compared to ordinary hydrogen could shed light on one of the biggest mysteries in physics – why there is so much more matter than antimatter in the universe.
One challenge facing the ALPHA team is accumulating enough antihydrogen to make accurate measurements – however, Hangst said that the team has already trapped “a lot” more than the 38 reported in November. Hangst says that the most difficult part of the five-year ALPHA project has been “learning how to make antihydrogen cold enough to trap”, because it is extremely difficult to make spectroscopic studies on beams.
In December, however, the ASACUSA team announced its ability to create a focused beam of antihydrogen that the researchers believe is suitable for making spectroscopic measurements at microwave energies. This should allow them to look at the hyperfine structure of antihydrogen energy levels and compare them to hydrogen – which could provide evidence of CPT violation.