Antimatter Research Facility to be Built at WSU with Keck Grant

PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University will build an
antimatter-physics research laboratory with a $1.1 million grant awarded by the
W. M. Keck Foundation of Los Angeles. The grant will be used to purchase
and install an accelerator, which will become the source for a unique positron
beam used in basic antimatter-physics research.

Kelvin Lynn, WSU professor of physics and mechanical and materials
engineering, is the lead researcher on the project. Lynn said research with
particles of antimatter, called positrons, probes the basic interactions and
properties of matter and has broad potential applications. “These range from
the development of a new generation of materials, such as high-quality
computer microchips, to detecting atomic size defects in thin layers or surfaces
of materials. Other antimatter research is aimed at solving puzzles of galactic
proportions such as positron annihilations in interstellar gas near the center of
the Milky Way or new states of matter.”

“Since their discovery in 1932, positrons (electrons with a positive instead of
negative charge) have been instrumental in research contributions in a wide
range of fields of physics and medicine.

“Antimatter research in the past has been severely limited by the strength of
the positron beam. There are a few facilities, either existing or under
construction, that provide beams with up to 1 billion positrons per second.
These are primarily used for applied- or defense-related research. University
laboratories, traditionally the breeding ground for fundamental discoveries,
work with positron beams that deliver on the order of a million positrons per
second or less. WSU will blaze a new trail for positron research and break the
million–positron barrier for universities by building a 100 million
positron-per-second beam and then boosting that power up to 100 times to
nearly 10 billion.”

Lynn and his colleague, Marc Weber, have built more than six positron beams
and Lynn is involved in the development of the world’s most intense beam at
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

“Receiving this grant, our first from the Keck Foundation, is a significant
benchmark for WSU,” said V. Lane Rawlins, WSU president. “The Keck
Foundation is noted for being willing to fund projects that are innovative and
have the potential for breakthrough scientific discoveries. Awarding this grant
to WSU speaks to their confidence in our capacity to conduct visionary,
fundamental research.”

“WSU’s nationally prominent team of scientists and engineers, led by Dr.
Lynn, has the talent and expertise to build and utilize this unique facility. Their
work may open doors to the development of important new technologies,
including a possible future energy source for space travel in which the Air
Force has already begun to show a strong interest. In addition, this facility will
offer extraordinary research and study opportunities to both graduate and
undergraduate students, another area where our goals match those of the Keck
Foundation,” said Rawlins.

The facility will initially serve research needs of WSU scientists and engineers.
When fully operational, it will become a resource for scientists in industry and
at other research institutions around the world. “We expect the facility to
attract others to become even more involved in this research, as there is no
other place, at the present time, that can provide this unique capability,” said
Lynn. “The physics and MME departments would also be pleased to hear from
graduate and undergraduate students who are interested in coming to WSU to
become involved in this kind of work.”

Leon Radziemski and Anjan Bose, deans of the WSU colleges of sciences and
engineering, which are providing infrastructure expenses and participating
faculty, concur that the facility has great potential to enhance interdisciplinary
education not only in physics and materials engineering, but also in electrical
engineering, computer science and the life sciences.

“Students in physics and materials engineering will have an unprecedented
opportunity to make discoveries with a unique research tool. These
discoveries will be in both fundamental and applied physics, and can shape
the direction of the field for years to come,” said Radziemski.