Antimatter atoms have been trapped long enough, about one-tenth of a second, for them to be studied.

Scientists at CERN said on Wednesday they had trapped dozens of hydrogen antimatter atoms, a technical feat that boosts research into one of the great puzzles of particle physics.

Under a theory expounded in 1931 by the eccentric British physicist Paul Dirac, when energy transforms into matter, it produces a particle and its mirror image — called an anti-particle — which holds the opposite electrical charge.

When particles and anti-particles collide, they annihilate each other in a small flash of energy. Until now, experiments have produced anti-atoms, namely of hydrogen, but only in a free state. That means they instantly collide with ordinary matter and get annihilated, making it impossible to measure them or study their structure.

In a paper published on Wednesday by the British journal Nature, a team at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva explain a method of snaring these so-called anti-hydrogen atoms.

Experiments conducted in its ALPHA laboratory found a way of using strong, complex magnetic fields and a vacuum to capture and hold the mirror-image particles apart from ordinary matter. Thousands of anti-hydrogen atoms have been made in the lab, but in the most successful experiment so far, 38 have been trapped long enough — one-tenth of a second — for them to be studied. — AFP