The five greatest mysteries of antimatter

"No!" Vittoria said from above, breathless. "We must evacuate right now! You cannot take the antimatter out of here! If you bring it up, everyone outside will die!"

Angels and Demons, Dan Brown, Pocket Books

IT WAS not so long ago that we were hearing how CERN's Large Hadron Collider would produce planet-destroying black holes. Now a movie based on Dan Brown's blockbuster, due to hit the big screen next month, provides us with another supposed danger emanating from the particle physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland: antimatter, the seed of a weapon of unsurpassed destructive power.

While Brown's take on antimatter is fictional, the stuff itself certainly isn't. We see its signature in cosmic rays, and it is routinely made in high-energy collisions inside particle smashers the world over. In hospitals, radioactive molecules that emit antimatter particles are used for imaging in the technique known as positron emission tomography.

Brown was right about one thing, though: if you want to find out more about antimatter, CERN is the place to go. In this special feature, we explain how experiments at the laboratory are helping to answer some of our more pressing questions about this most elusive of substances.
1.Where is all the antimatter?

Galaxies, like Abell 1689, should not exist at all according to the standard model of physics (Image: NASA / N Benitez (JHU) / T Broadhurst (Racah Institute of Physics/The Hebrew University) / H Ford (JHU) / M Clampin (STScI) / G  Hartig (STScI) / G Illingworth (UCO/Lick Observatory) / the ACS Science Team and ESA) Standard theory predicts that the big bang should have created as much antimatter as matter – so why does the universe seem to be made entirely of matter?

How do you make antimatter?

The ATHENA experiment at CERN. Antiprotons enter from the AD (left) and are captured in a trap inside the superconducting magnet (left). The positron accumulator (right) provides the positrons for producing antihydrogen (Image: Laurent Guiraud / CERN) Researchers at CERN are trying to make antimatter in useful quantities. But it's hard to pin down a substance that vanishes as soon as it touches anything

Does antimatter fall up?

Gravity works the same way on all normal matter, but might antimatter respond differently? (Image: Martin Lee / Rex Features) Gravity works the same way on all matter – but what about antimatter? If it behaves differently, it could overturn our understanding of physics

Can we make an anti-world?

Making anti-atoms is incredibly time-consuming; making complex ones could take a billion years (Image: Steve Nagy / Design Pics Inc. / Rex Features) Physicists are finding it difficult to tame antihydrogen, the simplest possible anti-atom. Is there any hope of making more complex anti-atoms?
5.Could antimatter be used to make the ultimate bomb?

Even if physicists could make enough antimatter to build a viable bomb, the cost would be astronomical (Image: Stocktrek Images / Getty) The idea that humanity might one day harness antimatter for destructive purposes has a ghastly fascination

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