Source:
Billions of particles of anti-matter created in laboratory

LIVERMORE, Calif. - Take a gold sample the size of the head of a push pin, shoot a laser through it, and suddenly more than 100 billion particles of anti-matter appear.

The anti-matter, also known as positrons, shoots out of the target in a cone-shaped plasma "jet."

This new ability to create a large number of positrons in a small laboratory opens the door to several fresh avenues of anti-matter research, including an understanding of the physics underlying various astrophysical phenomena such as black holes and gamma ray bursts.

Anti-matter research also could reveal why more matter than anti-matter survived the Big Bang at the start of the universe.

"We've detected far more anti-matter than anyone else has ever measured in a laser experiment," said Hui Chen, a Livermore researcher who led the experiment. "We've demonstrated the creation of a significant number of positrons using a short-pulse laser." Chen and her colleagues used a short, ultra-intense laser to irradiate a millimeter-thick gold target. [...]

"By creating this much anti-matter, we can study in more detail whether anti-matter really is just like matter, and perhaps gain more clues as to why the universe we see has more matter than anti-matter," said Peter Beiersdorfer, a lead Livermore physicist working with Chen. [...]

Laser production of anti-matter isn't entirely new either. Livermore researchers detected anti-matter about 10 years ago in experiments on the since-decommissioned Nova "petawatt" laser - about 100 particles. But with a better target and a more sensitive detector, this year's experiments directly detected more than 1 million particles. From that sample, the scientists infer that around 100 billion positron particles were produced in total.

Until they annihilate, positrons (anti-electrons) behave much like electrons (just with an opposite charge), and that's how Chen and her colleagues detected them. They took a normal electron detector (a spectrometer) and equipped it to detect particles with opposite polarity as well.

"We've entered a new era," Beiersdorfer said. "Now, that we've looked for it, it's almost like it hit us right on the head. We envision a center for antimatter research, using lasers as cheaper anti-matter factories." (Source)