Airdate: Feb 16, 2001
Scientist: Persis Drell
Particle Physics: Antimatter
In the particle accelerator at Cornell University, they're simulating the creation of the universe on a very small scale.
ambience: Particle accelerator
We're at a research facility in Cornell University where they're about to simulate - on a small scale - the creation of the universe. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
"A particle accelerator is a machine that takes fundamental particles -- at Cornell we take electrons -- and it accelerates them up to high energies, and uses them to do experiments."
According to physicist Persis Drell, these experiments, are helping scientists to understand the makeup of our universe on the smallest scale thus far known to man. This includes matter in the form of subatomic particles, and antimatter.
"Every particle in the universe has an antiparticle, and probably the most significant property is that when you bring the two together they annihilate and make pure energy. "
This annihilation may have taken place on a grand scale when the big bang created our universe some 15 billion years ago. Scientists believe that equal amounts of matter and antimatter were produced in the big bang, but the antimatter decayed --only a very small amount of it remains today.
"When we shake hands with another person, we don't worry that we're going to annihilate into an explosion that's going to wipe out the Northeastern United States, because we know everybody on earth, all the objects on our earth -- are made of matter. As far out in our galaxy and in the universe as we can see everything around us is made of matter. How did we get to this situation of having a matter-dominated universe now, when the initial condition, the big bang, made equal amounts of matter and antimatter?"
And it's that question that keeps particle physicists awake at night. Pulse of the Planet is presented by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.