Why is there stuff and not nothing? Even the complete vacuum that is space is filled with particles that are constantly interacting with one another. This is a question that is truly puzzling in the world of physics. One of the most realistic theories is that our very existence is a complete anomaly and that it is the biggest mistake in the creation of the universe. How’s your day going so far? Good. Let’s talk about matter and antimatter and see what’s the matter.
The standard model is everything that makes up the universe so far and it is the closest thing we currently have to a theory of everything. First group is Quarks which are the fundamental particles of matter that are put together to make things like protons and neutrons (The components of the nucleus of atoms). The second group is Leptons and they don’t have strong interactions with other particles. They are further broken down into charged like electrons (spins around the nucleus of an atom) and not charged (neutrinos). You then have Gauge Bosons which are particles that carry the fundamental forces of nature like the strong force (binds particles like quarks together) and weak force (plays a role in radioactive decay). Finally is the Higgs boson, all on it’s lonesome, and it is responsible for all mass in the universe as it decays into different particles on the standard model. So that’s matter to a degree, now antimatter.
Antimatter is when the subatomic particles have properties that are the opposite of normal matter like the electrical charge is the opposite. When the universe was created, whether it be following the theory of the Big Bang or the Big Bounce, there should have been an even amount of both matter and antimatter. This combination of equal amounts of matter with opposing charges would have cancelled each other resulting in a puff of energy. That is not the case however as you are clearly sitting there reading this article. So what is it that happened? Well, we actually have no clue even though there are some theories.
Experiments like the ones performed at the Large Hadron Collider at the CERN labs aims to look at the imbalances associated with the decay of particular particles to try and identify why it is that we have this disparity. Some experiments with particles like heavy B mesons, have identified that they decay into an array of other particles unevenly in practice instead of the balance numbers establish in theory using the standard model. This identification is definitely a breakthrough for physics but the variation is not of a high enough level to justify the variance between matter and antimatter when the universe came into existence.
Not only is CERN looking at particle decay in the LHC but they’re also working with antimatter. In 2010, they were able to ‘trap’ antihydrogen (the counterpart of hydrogen) using magnets which allows them to test how it interacts with light at the end of last year. They’ve been able to produce antihydrogen for a couple of years now through the combination of positrons (from radioactive substances) and antiprotons (from the particle accelerator), and then cooled. This might provide us with some more hints into what happened to all of the antimatter during the creation of the universe but, unfortunately like most things, it’s going to take time. Good thing that doesn’t matter…