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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/K028774/1
Title: Production and manipulation of Rydberg positronium for a matter-antimatter gravitational free fall measurement
Principal Investigator: Cassidy, Professor D
Other Investigators:
Barker, Professor PF Hogan, Professor SD
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Physics and Astronomy
Organisation: UCL
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 16 September 2013 Ends: 15 September 2017 Value (£): 693,517
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Atoms & Ions Cold Atomic Species
Light-Matter Interactions
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
No relevance to Underpinning Sectors
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
26 Feb 2013 EPSRC Physical Sciences Physics - February 2013 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
The idea that the universe originated in a primordial cosmic explosion known as the Big Bang is now well established. According to our present understanding, the expansion and cooling that followed the release of energy from this initial singularity should have resulted in the production of equal quantities of matter and antimatter. However, the observed predominance of matter in the universe today contradicts this hypothesis, and is the primary motivation for much of the current research on antimatter. This imbalance may result from a fundamental asymmetry between the properties of matter and antimatter that has not yet been understood, or it may arise from differing gravitational interactions. Despite the great advances made in particle physics and cosmology since antimatter was first discovered in the 1930's, this problem is still unexplained.

There are many different ways in which the properties of antimatter are being studied. For example, several experimental programmes are underway at CERN to create antihydrogen atoms (that is, the bound state between an antiproton and a positron). Precision laser spectroscopy of these antiatoms will permit tests of CPT conservation, the theory that leads us to expect that there is an exact symmetry between matter and antimatter. Other experiments seek to observe the interaction between antimatter and the gravitational field of the Earth. Because gravity is so much weaker than the electromagnetic force, such measurements must be carried out using neutral particles, otherwise experiments tend to become dominated by extremely small stray electric fields (it only takes an electric field of ~ 10-10 V/m to cancel out the force of gravity on an electron or positron).

The experiments that we propose to carry out are directed toward the search for a possible difference between the gravitational interaction of matter and antimatter. We will do this by creating a beam of positronium atoms. In their ground states, these atoms will self-annihilate in less than a micro-second, since they are composed of a particle and its antiparticle. However, to observe the small effect of gravity on Ps we will excite them with lasers and microwave radiation to Rydberg states. This can increase the lifetime to many milliseconds, which will be sufficiently long-lived to permit the observation of the gravitational deflection of a positronium beam. A complimentary experiment is planned at CERN, in which the effects of gravity on antihydrogen atoms will be studied. However, the potential significance of this work on antimatter to our understanding of the universe means that it is essential to perform measurements of a variety of systems in different ways. It is of interest to study Ps as well as antihydrogen since Ps is composed only of leptons. Any measurement involving antimatter and gravity will be of great significance as none has ever been performed before. If, as many expect, matter and antimatter turn out to be identical gravitationally, this will still limit some theoretical possibilities and be a significant result. However, if even a small difference is observed the importance of such a measurement will be very profound indeed.

Moreover, as we will develop to the capability to produce high quality beams of Ps atoms, we will be in a position to conduct many other kinds of experiment. One example is to study the properties of Ps itself with lasers. Since Ps is made from only leptons it is (almost) entirely described by the theory of quantum electrodynamics (QED). Precision measurements are therefore a good test of this theory. Currently there is a small disagreement between QED predictions and the measured value of the Ps hyperfine interval. This discrepancy only amounts to ~ 10 parts per million but usually QED measurements agree extremely accurately with theory. It is important to resolve problems like this in case they are hiding any new physics.

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