The apparent discovery of the Higgs boson was hailed as a historic milestone, but for particle physicists it mainly marks the beginning of a new search. Rival teams at CERN in Switzerland are trying to decipher the secrets of antimatter. If they succeed, the laws of physics will have to be rewritten.
Sheep are grazing to the left of the gate to the anti-world. On the right-hand side, a pair of rust-brown steel bottles is waiting to be picked up. A sign warns: “Caution. Radiation!” Another sign prohibits the use of bicycles.
A yellow steel door leads into the interior of the so-called AD building on the grounds of the CERN research center near Geneva, Switzerland. The machine that was built here is called the anti-proton decelerator. The rhythmic hissing and thumping sounds of vacuum pumps and cryo-aggregates combine with the dull droning of the air-conditioning system. This is where scientists are making a material that is highly mysterious because it probably doesn’t exist anywhere else in the universe: anti-atoms.About 4 meters (13 feet) off the ground, a catwalk leads through a bizarre landscape of cables, tubes and concrete. This vantage point offers a glimpse into laboratory rooms in which scientists climb around among magnets, electronic equipment, helium tanks and beamlines. Their goal is to explore the realm of antimatter.
Separated from each other by small gates, four teams are competing to unlock the secrets of nature. Their facility is a factory of sorts for so-called anti-particles. Here, the scientists guide, cool, slow down and centrifuge the artificially generated particles. In the process, they learn which forms of manipulation are possible with this material from a mysterious alternative world. One of them calls it “particle gymnastics.”