Anti-matter bid reaches for stars.
IT'S the stuff of sci-fi legend, the mysterious fuel so powerful it can take us to the ends of the universe and back.
Now, experts at Swansea University are heavily involved in a collaborative project at the European nuclear research centre CERN which aims to find out more about what highly elusive antimatter is made of.
And the Alpha-2 experiment in Switzerland could be the beginning of work to examine whether anti-matter could ever work against gravity thus creating a Star Trek style "warp drive" surrounding spacecraft in an impregnable "bubble" of normal space-time allowing it to travel at fantastic speeds.
"Antimatter is an enigma," said professor Jeffrey Hangst, a lead investigator on the team building the Alpha-2 experiment at CERN which will investigate anti-matter's properties.
He said: "We know it's like the mirror image of matter, with many of its key properties reversed. We want to find out whether that includes its gravitational properties.
"Put simply, if we put anti-matter into a gravitational field like that of the Earth, does it fall upwards or downwards? If it falls upwards, repelled by the Earth, then we'd have discovered something very new and exciting," Dr Niels Madsen is part of a Swansea team involved in the Alpha project which includes Professor Mike Charlton, Dr Stefan Eriksson, postdoctoral researcher Dr Aled Isaac, student Silvia Napoli and Dr Dirk van der Werf.
Madsen and his colleagues have created a magnetic trap, where atoms of antihydrogen can be held almost stationary in a powerful magnetic field.
Alpha was the first experiment to trap atoms of antihydrogen - neutral antimatter atoms held in place with a strong magnetic field for up to 1,000 seconds.
The problem is the field is so powerful scientists cannot measure the effect of gravity.
Dr Madsen said: "We're planning to investigate anti-matter step by step, the first step being examination of small amounts of it we have trapped by a detailed method of measurement called spectroscopy."
Scientists think the universe contained equal parts of matter and antimatter after the Big Bang, believed to have started everything 13.7 billion years ago.
But most of the matter and antimatter destroyed each other, leaving surplus matter that became today's stars and galaxies.
Dr Madsen said: "For some reason there are no anti-stars or antigalaxies.
"The anti-matter appears in small, scattered areas and we don't really know why.
"What we're doing is a bit like looking under a stone, we don't know what we'll find but it's defi-nitely one of the places to look."