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Physicists create tabletop antimatter ‘gun’

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Posted June 26, 2013
a. Top-view of the experimental setup. Plastic and Tefon shielding was inserted to reduce the noise due to low energy divergent particles and x-rays. b. Typical positron signal as recorded by the Image Plate. The region labelled with gamma noise is predominantly exposed by the gamma-rays escaping the solid target. c. Typical signal of the electron beam as recorded on the LANEX screen, without a solid target and d. extracted spectrum. Credit: arxiv.org/abs/1304.5379

a. Top-view of the experimental setup. Plastic and Tefon shielding was inserted to reduce the noise due to low energy divergent particles and x-rays. b. Typical positron signal as recorded by the Image Plate. The region labelled with gamma noise is predominantly exposed by the gamma-rays escaping the solid target. c. Typical signal of the electron beam as recorded on the LANEX screen, without a solid target and d. extracted spectrum. Credit: arxiv.org/abs/1304.5379

An international team of physicists working at the University of Michigan has succeeded in building a tabletop antimatter “gun” capable of spewing short bursts of positrons. In their paper published in the journal Physical Review Letters, the team describes how they created the gun, what it’s capable of doing, and to what use it may be put.

Positrons are anti-particles, the opposite twin of electrons. Besides being created in physics labs, they are also found in jets emitted by black holes and pulsars. To date, the creation of positrons for study has involved very big and expensive machines. One of those is the particle accelerator at CERN. Another is a device built by scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory that created positrons by firing a hugely powerful laser at a tiny disc made of gold. Other recent work by researchers at the University of Texas has involved building a desktop sized accelerator. This new effort builds on that work—this team has built a device not more than a meter long that is capable of generating short bursts of both electrons and positrons, very similar they report, to what is emitted by black holes and pulsars.

To achieve this feat, the team fired a petawatt laser at a sample of inert helium gas. Doing so caused the creation of a stream of electrons moving at very high speed. Those electrons were directed at a very thin sheet of metal foil which caused them to smash into individual metal atoms. Those collisions resulted in a stream of electron and positron emissions—the two were then separated using magnets.

Read more at: Phys.org

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