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For years the idea of Young's famed double slit experiment has been researched and tested by many physicists, from school students to acclaimed researchers, and it proves light exhibits wave-like behaviour (via diffraction and interference). However, the progression of this experiment was at the very forefront of new physics—Quantum Mechanics. This occurred due to the discovery of the wave-particle duality in which the same experiments were carried out with electrons, showing that they, too, act as a wave in such conditions; yet researchers have put an entirely new ‘spin’ on the idea.
Researchers from Italy and Switzerland have just concluded a very similar experiment, but with an inherent twist; instead of using 'traditional' matter electron, they have indeed used its antimatter equivalent—positrons. Positrons can be viewed as the equal and opposite particle to the electron, and they're a major part of the Standard Model of Quantum Mechanics. Whilst electrons have a relative charge of -1, positrons have the opposite, +1; and both particles have a spin of ½. What makes the positron the antimatter equivalent to an electron is due to the fact the positron has an opposite charge to the electron, with both particles having the same mass, 0.5110MeV. This means that, if you were to collide both of these particles, they would annihilate into pure energy, typically emitting two high-energy gamma photons, which is a trait all antimatter pairs share.
With a brief introduction to the positron, the team of researchers approached this experiment by adjusting the original model. By using a series of diffraction gratings, and a positron beam, the team of researchers were able to produce interference patterns from a Talbot-Lau interferometer which prove the quantum effects of particle-wave duality on a deeper level than ever experienced before. This fundamental duality of matter has never been seen on this type of matter before, so not only is it a one-of-a-kind experiment, but also cements a fundamental aspect of the theoretical model of quantum mechanics. Delving further into the antimatter regions of quantum phenomena is a huge leap forward for the scientific community which may unlock greater aspects of the weird, and wonderful world of quantum particles, and could lead to a range of new prospects we may not have even dreamed of yet.
Not only has this experiment been one of the most recent major advances in quantum experimental physics, it will also provide details of the theoretical side—perhaps insights to antimatter interactions, which may be fundamental to the physical laws we experience every day (sometimes without even realising it!). Information from the researchers has been published that details the full experimental procedure, concluding that this specific experiment proved interference patterns at not one, not two, but five different energy levels, proving the basis of the wave-particle duality a multitude of times! The energies at which these patterns occur are 8, 9, 11, 14 and 16 keV, and heeds just a slightly larger peek into the wonderfully weird world of quantum mechanics.
This experiment has already had such a great impact on the Physics community, as the theorized behaviour matches with physical application on a whole new level—matter has been known to adhere to these quantum interference patterns, yet this truly is the first great insight into quantum phenomena of antimatter—an already greatly elusive aspect of physics due to the rarity and difficulty of maintaining many of these 'anti-particles' for any research to be undergone. Positrons are, however, a much more attainable antimatter, and pave the way to a deeper understanding of our incredible universe, and who knows? Perhaps one day we may be able to maintain more exotic antimatter particles due to the information uncovered from more incredible experiments like this one.
Want a more in-depth look into this experiment? Read the full research article here.