Billions of anti-matter particles were recently let loose at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Using a short-pulse laser, a team of researchers figured out how to produce anti-electrons or positrons faster and in greater density than ever before in the laboratory.
While positrons were the only form of anti-matter produced in the experiment, not all anti-matter particles are positrons. Every particle has its own corresponding, oppositely charged anti-particle (check out last month's post on anti-matter).
The researchers struck gold; literally. By shooting a laser through a gold sample the size of the head of a push pin, approximately 100 billion positron particles were generated, shooting out of the sample in a cone-shaped plasma "jet".
Accelerated and ionized or charged by the laser, electrons plough through the gold sample, hitting gold nuclei along the way. The electron-gold nuclei interactions serve as a catalyst to create positrons, kind of like how fertilizer assists in the growth of plants. The laser is able to produce large quantities of positrons by concentrating the energy given off by electrons in space and time.
This new ability to create enormous amounts of positrons in the lab is significant-it could one day lead to discoveries explaining why more matter than anti-matter survived the Big Bang at the nascent of the universe. That is, answer the question of why we are made of matter and not anti-matter!