MIT Discovery Could Provide New Clues About Antimatter In The Universe

Physicists at MIT and other institutions around the country have successfully measured the tiny impact a neutron has in a radioactive molecule. The researchers say you can imagine a dust particle in a storm cloud to get an idea of how small a neutron is compared to the size of the molecule it's inside. To measure the impact a neutron has on a radioactive molecule, the team developed a new technique able to produce and study short-lived radioactive molecules with neutron numbers that can be precisely controlled.

The team handpicked several isotopes of the same molecule, each with one additional neutron compared to the next. Each molecule's energy was measured, and the team was able to detect very small and nearly imperceptible changes in the nuclear size due to the effect of a single neutron. The team says that being able to see such small nuclear effects suggests that they have a chance to search radioactive molecules for even more subtle effects caused by dark matter, for instance.

The technique might also allow them to study the effects of new sources of symmetry violations related to some of the mysteries in the modern universe. Researcher Ronald Fernando Garcia Ruiz, an assistant professor of physics at MIT, says that if the laws of physics are as symmetrical as believed, the Big Bang should have created matter and antimatter in equal proportion. However, most of what scientists see is matter with only about one part per million of antimatter. Those amounts mean there is a violation of the most fundamental symmetries of physics that scientists can't explain with what we currently know.

He says that scientists now have a chance to measure symmetry violations using heavy radioactive molecules that have an extreme sensitivity to nuclear phenomena. That could provide answers to one of the biggest mysteries surrounding how the universe was created.