Science Podcasts

Naked Scientists episode

Sun, 23rd Jan 2011

Analysing Antimatter

Cloud chamber photograph of the first positron ever observed (c) Carl D. Anderson (1905-1991)

We're analysing the matter of antimatter this week to find out what is antimatter, how is it made and why's it so rare in the Universe? We talk to researchers at CERN who are capturing anti-hydrogen so scientists can study it properly for the first time, and Dave and Meera call in to the hospital to hear how antimatter holds the key to better body scans. Diana discovers how gravity bends a beam of light and there's also news of a novel way to neutralise HIV, researchers uncover how brains gauge the passage of time, and agriculture on the microscale: scientists have found the world's smallest farmers, they're just one cell wide...

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In this edition of Naked Scientists

Full Transcript

  • 01:31 - How time flies

    A new study this week has found that, in order to keep track of time, our minds exploit as many clues in the environment as they can get hold of. This means that our internal clock isn’t solely controlled by pre-programmed cells in the brain...

  • 03:41 - RNA-away HIV

    A mouse given a human immune system has enabled scientists to take the first steps in testing a new treatment for HIV, the immune-disabling agent that causes AIDS...

  • 15:33 - World's smallest farmers: just a single cell

    There are many examples of organisms engaging in agriculture in the natural world, ranging from humans that grow wheat to leaf-cutting ants that nurture edible forms of fungi. But now scientists have discovered what is possibly the smallest of nature's farmers - a single-celled ...

  • 18:20 - Planet Earth - Studying Ocean Acidification

    Coral reefs are regarded as the rainforest of the sea. They play a vital role in marine ecosystems and now, a new reef research unit at the University of Essex in Colchester has been setup to study them and Planet Earth presenter Sue Nelson has been to meet the Assistant Direct...

  • 23:18 - What is Antimatter?

    Antimatter is usually thought of as being rather mysterious. But in fact, it is much more abundant than you might think and it may well be the key to explaining some of the mysteries that surround the Big Bang. We’re joined by Professor Andy Parker from the High Energy Physics...

  • 29:36 - Trapping Antihydrogen

    In November 2010, researchers at CERN announced that they had managed to make and trap the antimatter equivalent of hydrogen, so-called antihydrogen. We spoke to Jeffrey Hangst, one of the scientists behind that breakthrough.

  • 45:16 - Can antimatter make antimolecules?

    Can antimatter combine with other matter chemicals, just in the same way matter does? So if you took hydrogen and reacted it with hydrogen to make H20, water for instance?

  • 46:07 - Would an electron and positron orbit each other?

    If you fire an electron and a positron towards each other such that they just miss, would they orbit each other in such a way as to produce observable gravitational waves? Side notes: My physics understanding has mostly been gained from what I learn in school (I'm in year 12). R...



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Can you please explain how antimatter is used in medical imaging equipment? Gregg Abramovich, Sun, 23rd Jan 2011

Wikipedia has a good description of Positron Emission Tomography (PET)

Certain radioactive elements (carbon-11, nitrogen-13, oxygen-15, and fluorine-18) and others undergo what is called beta-plus decay in which a high energy photon is released, along with a positron.  The Positron travels a very short distance, about 1mm or less before it is destroyed and release two high energy gamma (x-rays) travelling in opposite directions which can be detected.

Older systems would just detect the line where the disintegration occurred, then compare multiple "events" to localize it.  Newer systems are able to use timing to localize the point on the line.

Substances such as glucose are labelled with radioactive carbon or oxygen, so the uptake of these substances can be monitored which gives an indication of activity within an area.

The competing technology is Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) which can look at the sizes of arteries to determine local activity without the need for injecting radioactive tracers. CliffordK, Sun, 23rd Jan 2011

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