Jun 162009
Authors: Jessica Cline

If when leaving the movie theaters after watching the new scientific mystery-thriller “Angels and Demons” you wonder if anti-matter or “The God Particle” is real, the answer is “Yes.”

Anti-matter, or the microscopic opposite of matter, is quite real and one of the many subjects of experimentation in the CSU Physics Department – but it’s exaggerated in the movies, one professor said.

In the movie, the largest amount of antimatter was created and then stolen by the ancient scientific group known as the Illuminati, enemies of the Catholic Church. Under the circumstances, if not recovered within 24 hours, the antimatter would cause a catastrophic explosion greater than that of an atomic bomb, destroying Vatican City.

Although it exists, we cannot use antimatter as weapons as shown in the movie. Several research facilities have produced the antimatter world-wide, but in very small amounts, not near enough to make weapons.

“For us to produce one gram of antimatter it would take millions of billions of dollars and a billion years,” said CSU Physics Professor Miguel Mustafa.

The CSU physics department studies matter and antimatter along with other elements, concentrating on their properties, how and why they exist, and what their purpose in the universe is.

“There are many reasons we want to study antimatter and one of them is figuring out why we exist,” Mustafa said.

All of the projects and experiments the Physics Department is conducting can answer questions like why and how we exist and how the universe and the Earth were made.

Mustafa and his colleagues are studying ultra high cosmic energy waves, the rarest and most energetic particles in the universe. They are currently using the Pierre Auger Conservatory in Argentina, the largest ever built and approximately the size of Rhode Island, to study these rays.

Ultra high cosmic energy rays produce very high amounts of energy. Scientists are aiming to understand their nature and how they work so as to harness them as an energy source.

Another group of professors in the department is working with nanomagnetism, which focuses on understanding the energy behind and uses of microscopic magnets.

Nanomagnets are used in things such as computer hard discs and other storage and data treatment devises.

“We are setting up to measure dynamic processes in magnetic materials with micro and nano-scale dimensions, a size regime where the properties are much different from those of bulk materials,” Professor Kristen Buchanan said.

“These systems are important for magnetic storage technologies (hard drives), medical applications, and for future, energy-efficient spintronics devices,” she said, explaining the goal is to craft more efficient hard drives and memory devices.

The Physics Department is also working with high precision spectroscopy of excited states of atoms and molecules, the process behind atomic weapons. They are using lasers to view atoms in excited states, when an atom leaps to a new energy level, and learn about their physical properties.

These experiments will lead to increased knowledge of the properties of actinides so that we can use them. Actinide chemistry is important for developing nuclear energy systems, atomic weapons and environmental remediation technologies.

“By measuring some of their properties with Rydberg spectroscopy we hope to contribute to progress in the larger field of actinide chemistry,” Professor Steve Lundeen said. “We’re making good progress on this goal.”

Staff writer Jessica Cline can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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