Particle collision thought to replicate Big Bang forces, may help explain how things exist

By the logic of science, things simply shouldn't exist. The best scientific minds of several generations have reasoned that shortly after the Big Bang created the universe, matter and antimatter should have wiped each other out.

So that explains the global chain reaction of excited e-mails among physicists last month, after scientists at the "opened the box" -- their jargon for taking a peek at newly crunched data -- and raised hopes of some day solving the riddle of existence.

"It's like looking back to the instant where everything began," said Joseph Lykken, a at the sprawling research facility near Batavia, Ill.

Simply put, the Fermi team sent protons and antiprotons around its underground Tevatron accelerator ring into a head-on collision, which produced slightly more tiny fragments called "muons" than tiny fragments called "antimuons."

It was a laboratory victory of matter over antimatter, and a minuscule replication of what scientists believe must have happened shortly after the Big Bang, though exactly how matter won out has long confounded them.

Previous tests slamming such infinitesimal particles together -- a proton is one one-hundred-thousandth the size of an atom -- have produced similar results. But they never have risen above a statistical shadow of doubt for physicists working with computer calculations about particles and interactions they can't see.

By contrast, the latest discovery by Fermilab's DZero team seems statistically solid. If it makes it past critical peer review, it will lead to a re-evaluation of existing theories and, possibly, a deeper understanding of physics and why things exist. It certainly will inspire a barrage of additional supercollider tests, as other labs try to verify the discovery or shoot it down.

Either way, it could be one incremental step toward the holy grail of atomic physics: the long-sought discovery of the elusive "," a theoretical particle assumed to be the fundamental building block of all matter.

"It'll be written about in physics books a hundred years from now," said Zoltan Ligeti, a physicist at the California Institute of Technology who was not involved in the Fermilab experiment.

For decades, Fermilab was the world's pre-eminent center for subatomic particle research. But increasingly, the expectation was that the next big breakthrough in physics would come from a new and more powerful European accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider outside Geneva, which has begun overshadowing Fermi and draining its talent.

So scientists at the older facility just west of Chicago have expressed a quiet satisfaction with the home team victory, which could help its efforts to remain relevant and fund-worthy.

In a Web site posting, Fermilab Director Pier Oddone said "I am delighted to see yet another exciting result from the Tevatron." An official from the U.S. Department of Energy, which funds Fermilab, echoed that pride, saying the "result underlines the importance and scientific potential of the Tevatron program."

The question of existence is something that humans have wondered about ever since there were humans to wonder: "Why is there something rather than nothing?" as the 17th century philosopher Gottfried Leibniz put it.

Clearly, things do exist -- evidenced by the facility near Batavia, where bison graze above a subterranean, four-mile-circumference accelerator, or the tidy homes in nearby suburbs where Fermilab staff members live. But, theoretically, they shouldn't.

One of physics' foundation stones is the concept of a symmetrical universe. Everything has its mirror opposite, like humans' left and right hands. As schoolchildren learn, Newton said every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

"A good example is the Big Bang," Lykken said, putting his colleagues' discovery into context. "The universe began as a perfectly symmetrical object, a ball of energy."

The problem lies in what happened next. That energy condensed into matter but also into its opposite, antimatter. The two being mutually destructive, they should have canceled each other out. Instead, Lykken noted, matter joined together in ever larger concentrations -- nuclei, atoms, stars, galaxies.

Fermilab had that kind of question in mind 27 years ago when it built the Tevatron to imitate Big Bang-like collisions in miniature. The tentative breakthrough came last month when some of the Dzero team's 500 scientists looked at the latest of eight years' worth of results from collisions, monitored in a Buck Rogers-looking apparatus in a warehouse-type building atop one of the rings.

In the game of physics, the ball now passes from researchers to theoreticians like Lykken to figure out how the new data jibe with scientists' overall understanding of the universe, a collection of theories known as the Standard Model. His office at Fermilab is dominated by an enormous old-fashioned blackboard covered with mathematical expressions and graphs, each a trial-fit interpretation of experimental data, and perhaps such a chalk scrawl will someday explain how matter prevailed.

The discovery someday could have practical spinoffs, but it also could have immediate implications, among them in the clamorous intersection of politics and religion. Lykken hypothesized that proponents of "intelligent design" could seize upon the new findings to further support their argument that the laws of nature are so fine-tuned, they must be the handiwork of a creator.

From a scientific perspective, he postulated there could be an infinite number of universes, some vastly different and others quite similar, though not exactly.

"I can imagine a universe exactly like ours," Lykken said. "Except that the Cubs win a World Series."

In the course of their normal work, theoreticians and researchers freely exchange ideas in a regular rhythm of intellectual interaction -- except when a big breakthrough like the recent one is at hand.

"For about 10 days we kept quiet about it, not talking to other physicists, even those here at Fermi," said Stefan Soldner-Rembold, a member of the research group.

Once their data and logic had been double-checked, the research team invited colleagues to a Friday evening wine-and-cheese party, a tell-tale method of tipping off colleagues.

Lykken was away at a scientific conference, half-listening to a panel presentation while checking e-mail on a laptop computer when his invitation arrived on his screen. The title of the presentation at the Fermi bash began with two exciting words -- "evidence for ... "

As a group, physicists don't indulge in frequent displays of emotion. But Lykken wasn't the only Fermi scientist elated by what was found when "the box" was opened on May 5. Soldner-Rembold said he got goose bumps.

"I said, 'Wow!' " recalled Dmitri Denisov, a physicist present at the opening.

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Scientists find evidence for significant matter-antimatter asymmetry

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User comments

Jun 02, 2010

Clearly things exist?

Why do these people get paid a ton of money to do this again?

Jun 02, 2010
WHy did he have to ruin it by mentioning intelligent design?

Jun 02, 2010
Even more amazing than the Higgs is that AOL still exists

Jun 03, 2010
Maybe there's something I didn't get but exactly how does the fact there is matter in the universe imply there should be a multiverse?

Jun 03, 2010
"an infinite number of universes" to be a "scientific perspective". ... how does the fact there is matter in the universe imply there should be a multiverse
You're both right, no apparent logical connection exist here. But the article pretends, the observation of different behavior of antiparticles, i.e. not the existence of matter itself is what implies the existence of multiverse.

In fact, string theory, which implies the multiverse concept cannot predict the above result. The explanation of enhanced asymmetry of the dimuon events would require to introduce a new quartic interaction term in the effective Lagrangian describing the oscillation of B-mesons and B-bar-mesons proportional to L = #.(b+g0s) (b+g0s)+ Hermitean conjugate term in Dirac matrices, which would change the meson strangeness by factor of two.

Jun 03, 2010
The whole argument is based on the assumption that there should have been equal amounts of matter and antimatter produced after the big bang. How can you predict the residue of an explosion when you don't know what caused the explosion or even what the explosive was?

The big bang could have been caused by a matter-antimatter explosion of 2 different masses. That would explain the big bang as well as the universe being composed of matter.

Jun 03, 2010
@ Gene_H
If I understand correctly, what you're saying is that because antiparticles behave in ways which weren't predicted (not symmetric) physicists think they're should be multiple universes. Isn't that like saying "the theory isn't wrong, reality is."?

Jun 03, 2010
Doesn't the whole question just come down to flipping a coin?

If the universe started as a ball of energy which then had to condense into either matter or anti-matter particles, then there had to be some probability as to which you would get at any instance of condensation. Therefore, even if the concept of symmetry meant there was a 99.99999999% probability that you'd get equal numbers of each type, there is a likelihood that at some point you'd get one more particle of the first type than of the second.

From then on, you'd have a higher likelihood of the other type getting annihilated because there would be more opposites with which to collide, and you'd have a cascade effect producing a preponderance of the first type. Given enough energy and condensation events in a dense enough space, and you'd get a big overabundance of the type of particle that happened to win that first toin coss.

Why does the theory have to pick the winner, rather than simply saying one type must win?

Jun 03, 2010
to Bloodoflamb:

If the theory can explain what happens when you have a bunch of particles interacting, or a bunch of anti-particles interacting, or some mix of the two, then how does it not explain why the universe behaves the way that it does? That is, given some initial conditions, won't it describe the likely outcome?

The question you are really asking, in contrast, is "how did we get those initial conditions?" or "how did the universe come to be?"

I think it is paradoxical to ask physics, which is a set of rules to explain behavior within the universe as we know it, to also explain how the rules themselves were created out of whatever came before the universe, which we don't and cannot know.

Jun 03, 2010
What if the big bang created 2 universes, one of matter and the other antimatter, and we are simply somewhere within the matter universe which is so vast we can't see far enough to get a visual of the antimatter universe? All of the matter may have gone to one side and the antimatter to the other. If someone can explain why this theory is impossible I'd appreciate the insight (it makes sense to me yet I never hear it as a possible explanation for the lack of antimatter).

Jun 03, 2010
where do all these dumb people come from? shouldnt you people be posting stupid comments on youtube

Jun 03, 2010
I don't like this article. It is mixing up science with philosophy, religion, and anti-science (aka ID) without any hint at their frontiers. No mentioning of the fundamental principle of falsifiability but falsely claiming "an infinite number of universes" to be a "scientific perspective".
This article may have its place in the Chicago Tribune but not on PhysOrg. It's not enlightening, it's confusing the minds of non-scientists.

Did you even read the article? He states ID proponents are likely to seize on this research to further their agenda not that it had anything to do with it. And he said "It certainly will inspire a barrage of additional supercollider tests, as other labs try to verify the discovery or shoot it down." that sounds to me like falsifiability. Your a tard

Jun 03, 2010
The article is unfortunately confusing in the end. It's about the asymmetry in the matter and anti-matter. This "gradient" is thought to be caused by quantum probability (TOE needed), but the cause is not yet understood at this time. It might be some imposed by the parent universe, or M-brane collision, pick your favorite. Just to remind you guys. If there were more anti-matter in the beginning we would call it matter anyway today. So it had to be this way, or we wouldn't be here.

Jun 05, 2010
Doesn't the whole question just come down to flipping a coin?

If the universe started as a ball of energy which then had to condense into either matter or anti-matter particles, then there had to be some probability as to which you would get at any instance of condensation. Therefore, even if the concept of symmetry meant there was a 99.99999999% probability that you'd get equal numbers of each type, there is a likelihood that at some point you'd get one more particle of the first type than of the second.

But wouldn't you have the same probability that you WOULDN'T get one more particle of the first type than the second. Statistically the occurence of one over the other isn't weighted one way or the other; specifically there is no memory of how many times one event has occured vis-a-vis another. The fact that there are fewer particles in the mix later on makes no difference as there, again, is no memory of previous particle events.

Or no?

Jun 06, 2010
to MorituriMax:

I think my use of “the first type” and “the second type” was poor phrasing. I did not mean “matter” as the first type, or “anti-matter” as the second. I meant “one or the other, and I don't care which.”

I took as given under symmetry that the odds are zillions to one in favor of always getting equal numbers of particles and anti-particles. Let's call that heads. What happens to that probability if you have, in effect, an infinite number of events over an infinite amount of time? Eventually wouldn't something come up tails, i.e., asymmetric?

At that time, you would have more particles or anti-particles (whichever one won the toss), not fewer, as there were none of either at the beginning. That doesn't change the probability of getting tails. It changes the game to Reversi/Othello, so you might get a cascade from that first instance of tails that overturns the results of some later coin-flips.

Jun 07, 2010
Ok, so where did you think Dark Energy and Dark Matter came from? If you start with a system that only has so much energy you will always end up with a system that has the same amount of energy, exepting interactions with external systems of course, but a closed system cannot gain or loose energy.

Jun 07, 2010
Bloodoflamb, I see how the random walk describes a system where conditions are the same before and after the coin-flip. In the case of the early universe, though, conditions were not same. First, there was nothing (no matter or anti-matter), then there was something.

So, your n-th coin-toss finally produces something that does not immediately lead to mutual annihilation of all the particles that exist. You now have a system in which there is something, which means it is possible for the results of your next
coin-toss to encounter and interact with something. Before, the chance of interaction was exactly zero because there was nothing anywhere.

That changes the odds, not of the coin-toss itself, but that whatever is left over after the next coin-toss will be like the results of the n-th coin-toss. It would be as if the gambler in your Wikipedia link suddenly had cards that always trump the house's hand, or always had one more dollar in the hole.

Jun 07, 2010
PhyGeek, I'll ask a question to your question, at least the dark energy part of it.

My amateur understanding is that we have to posit a huge value for inflation in the early universe, which had a very small radius, while we need a very small number for dark energy in the current universe, which has a very large radius. If the universe has a non-zero rotation, couldn't both inflation and dark energy be reduced to inertia, with conservation of angular momentum explaining the difference in apparent values?

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