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Magnetic properties of a single proton directly observed for the first time

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German researchers at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) and the Helmholtz Institute Mainz (HIM), together with their colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg and the GSI Helmholtz Center for Heavy Ion Research in Darmstadt, have observed spin quantum-jumps with a single trapped proton for the first time. The fact that they have managed to procure this elusive data means that they have overtaken their research competitors at the elite Harvard University and are now the global leaders in this field.

Double-Penning trap for the storage of one individual proton and the detection of spin quantum-jumps.

The result is a pioneering step forward in the endeavor to directly measure the magnetic properties of the  with high precision. The measuring principle is based on the observation of a single proton stored in an electromagnetic particle trap. As it would also be possible to observe an anti-proton using the same method, the prospect that an explanation for the matter-antimatter imbalance in the universe could be found has become a reality. It is essential to be able to analyze antimatter in detail if we are to understand why matter and antimatter did not completely cancel each other out after the Big Bang – in other words, if we are to comprehend how the universe actually came into existence.

The proton has an intrinsic angular momentum or spin, just like other particles. It is like a tiny bar magnet; in this analogy, a spin quantum jump would correspond to a (switch) flip of the . However, detecting the proton spin is a major challenge. While the magnetic moments of the electron and its anti-particle, the positron, were already being measured and compared in the 1980s, this has yet to be achieved in the case of the proton. “We have long been aware of the  of the proton, but it has thus far not been observed directly for a single proton but only in the case of particle ensembles,” explains Stefan Ulmer, a member of the work group headed by Professor Dr Jochen Walz at the Institute of Physics at the new Helmholtz Institute Mainz…. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by physicsgg

June 22, 2011 at 7:53 am