Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Hasn't Everything Been Annihilated Yet? Pear-Shaped Atomic Nuclei Could Hold Answer

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Hasn't Everything Been Annihilated Yet? Pear-Shaped Atomic Nuclei Could Hold Answer

Article excerpt

The Standard Model of particle physics is a thing of beauty. Developed over by generations of the world's smartest minds, it can predict, with astonishing precision, accuracy, and simplicity, the behavior and interactions of almost every known form of matter and energy.

It does, however, fall short in a few key areas. For instance, according to the Standard Model, we shouldn't exist right now.

That's because, according to the Standard Model, for every bit of matter that popped into existence with the Big Bang, there should have been a corresponding bit of antimatter, which is just like regular matter except that it has an opposite electric charge and quantum spin.

Matter and antimatter don't mix well. When the two touch, they annihilate each other in a flash of radiation and other subatomic particles. According to the Standard Model, that's what should have happened an instant after the Big Bang, leaving behind a universe that would best be described as very boring.

It seems that this didn't happen. So instead, physicists suspect that at the dawn of the universe there was just a hair more matter than antimatter. Perhaps, for every billion antimatter atoms, there were a billion and one matter atoms. So after the two annihilated each other, there was some matter left behind, which now takes the form all the stars, planets, shopping malls, and you, among other things.

Nobody knows why the matter atoms outnumbered the antimatter atoms at the beginning of the universe. Physicists call this imbalance Charge Parity violation, and it's a big problem for the Standard Model.

But now a team of physicists might have an explanation. Using particle accelerators at CERN, Europe's nuclear physics lab near Geneva, Switzerland, the scientists fired a beam of high-energy protons at a chunk of uranium carbide. Smashing protons into uranium at high speed is a terrific way to make all sorts of exotic isotopes. …

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