Antimatter team wins the NSERC John C Polanyi Award

February 3, 2014

A Canadian team of researchers have won the NSERC John C Polanyi Award for their work in creating, capturing and characterizing the antihydrogen atom. The team includes PHAS physicists Dr. Walter Hardy, Dr. Takamasa Momose (associate from chemistry), along with Nathan Evetts, Andrea Gutierrez,  Mario Michan and Sarah Seif El Nasr. Dr. Fujiwara of TRIUMF, UBC Green College, and of the University of Calgary (also the spokesperson for the ALPHA-Canada team) and Dr. Michael Hayden of Simon Fraser University on the team are both alumni of UBC Physics & Astronomy.

The award "honours an individual or team whose Canadian-based research has led to a recent outstanding advance in the natural sciences or engineering" and recognizes the "seamless collaboration among the multidisciplinary team, their mastery of multiple technologies, and their tight integration with the international collaboration" based at the CERN laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland.

Dr. Fujiwara talks about the importance of research on antimatter:

The ALPHA Collaboration developed an experimental program that helps explain how the universe was able to form after the Big Bang. An initial breakthrough came in 2010, when the team captured antihydrogen (the antimatter partner to normal hydrogen) for the first time. In 2011, the team was able to hold antihydrogen in a sophisticated ‘magnetic bottle’ for over 16 minutes -- 5,000 times longer than before. In the latest experiment, published in 2012 in the journal Nature, the collaboration (led by the Canadian team) measured the response of trapped antihydrogen to microwaves for the first time, opening the door to comparing the response to the extremely well-known response of normal hydrogen. Any discrepancy between the two would yield invaluable information for why the universe is dominated by normal matter, while the antimatter has all but disappeared.

The experiment was a multidisciplinary tour de force, combining more than a dozen plasma, atomic, condensed-matter, particle, detector, and accelerator physicists and students from the University of British Columbia (UBC), Simon Fraser University (SFU), the University of Calgary, York University and the TRIUMF subatomic physics research lab in Vancouver.

"We're thankful to NSERC, NRC, our home universities and TRIUMF, as well as our scientific colleagues around the globe for their risk-taking and support," says Makoto Fujiwara, a TRIUMF member and the Canadian team's spokesperson. "ALPHA truly exemplifies the spirit of international cooperation." 

The ALPHA experiment will soon be back online after a lengthy shutdown of the CERN facility. The team has been hard at work making a series of improvements to the experimental apparatus. These enhancements will enable the collaboration to make much more detailed measurements of the atomic structure of antihydrogen, opening up a precision frontier into the anti-world.

"Being a part of Alpha Canada, a part of the ALPHA Collaboration at CERN, has been an amazing experience. The first microwave experiments on antihydrogen are for sure just a beginning - the exciting stuff is yet to come!" said Dr. Hardy.

Support for ALPHA-Canada and its research came from the National Science and Engineering Research Council, TRIUMF, the Alberta Ingenuity Fund, the Killam Trust, and Le Fonds québécois de la recherche sur la nature et les technologies.

Story based on the TRIUMF releaseSee TRIUMF coverage on the story.

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