media release

SFU physicist wins national award

February 03, 2014
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Contact:
Michael Hayden, SFU Physics, 604.762.4704 (cell), mhayden@sfu.ca
(Note: Michael is in Ottawa today to receive the award.)

Dixon Tam, SFU media relations, 778.782.8742, dixont@sfu.ca

Photos: http://i.sfu.ca/npWvbk

Simon Fraser University physicist Michael Hayden is part of a Canadian team of researchers being presented with a National Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) award for their breakthrough work involving the antihydrogen atom.

The ALPHA-Canada team is receiving the NSERC John C. Polanyi Award, which recognizes outstanding advancements in the natural sciences or engineering, for its work in creating, capturing, and characterizing the antihydrogen atom.

“The award is being given to a team of professors and research scientists from Canadian institutions, who are part of a larger international team called the ALPHA Collaboration,” explains Hayden. “Our accomplishment was to synthesize very cold antimatter atoms, trap them in a magnetic bottle, and then actually begin to study their internal structure using microwave radiation.

“The atoms we produced were antihydrogen atoms; the antimatter counterpart of the ordinary hydrogen atom. The challenge, and the reason that we had to use a magnetic bottle, is that antimatter and matter annihilate one another if they are allowed to come into contact. This makes the study of antimatter atoms challenging.”

Hayden’s role in this project, based at the CERN laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland, involves leading the microwave spectroscopy effort, through which information about the internal structure of the trapped atoms is obtained.

The ALPHA Collaboration has developed a game-changing experimental program that could improve our understanding of the fundamental laws of nature, and might even help explain how the early universe evolved. Their initial breakthrough came in 2010 when they captured antihydrogen for the first time. By 2011, they were able to hold these antihydrogen atoms in a sophisticated magnetic bottle for more than 16 minutes.

Then, in 2012, they published a study in the journal Nature, led by the Canadian team, in which the response of antihydrogen atoms to microwave radiation was observed for the first time. This opens the door to comparisons with the extremely well-known response of normal hydrogen.

Any discrepancy between the two would require a serious rethinking of scientific theories, and might even help to explain why antimatter seems to have all but disappeared from universe.

“Antimatter research holds a fascination for many people. For some, it conjures up images of Star Trek, while others are reminded of Dan Brown novels. Whatever the cause, I’ve found that our research has opened the door to a surprising number of conversations,” says Hayden, a Vancouver resident.

“These conversations might start out with an element of the ‘wow-gee-whiz’ factor inspired by Hollywood, but they quickly develop into discussions of real science, and about our understanding of the universe. As a scientist, and as an educator, I find these opportunities very rewarding.”

The award is shared by Hayden, Walter Hardy (University of British Columbia), Scott Menary (York University), Robert Thompson (University of Calgary), and Makoto Fujiwara, David Gill and Art Olin (TRIUMF).

Simon Fraser University is consistently ranked among Canada's top comprehensive universities and is one of the top 50 universities in the world under 50 years old. With campuses in Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey, B.C., SFU engages actively with the community in its research and teaching, delivers almost 150 programs to more than 30,000 students, and has more than 125,000 alumni in 130 countries.

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Simon Fraser University: Engaging Students. Engaging Research. Engaging Communities

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